By Rebecca Drew
MEET the British money saving blogger and mum on a mission to show that you don’t need to break the bank to celebrate Christmas this festive season.
Blogger, customer services manager and mum-of-three, Jane Berry (54) from Colchester, Essex started her blog, Shoestring Cottage, after spending years plagued with anxiety about finances and working hard just to scrape by as a way of embracing and enjoying a frugal lifestyle.
Jane starts her Christmas planning in January when she buys her wrapping paper, cards, decorations and giftsets in the sales. In September, she starts buying smaller items when she sees them, which saves a last minute expensive rush in December.
Jane’s family save their coppers up throughout the year, cashing them in at Christmas which goes towards gifts or a couple of rounds at the pub. Jane said the most important thing to remember at Christmas is that family really matters and setting a realistic budget she can stick to.
“I spent many years in a state of some anxiety about finances, just about scraping by,” she said.
“Then I decided to get a grip, to embrace and enjoy a more frugal lifestyle, wasting nothing, making do and mending, growing our own food, cooking healthy meals from scratch, buying second-hand and making the most of every penny we have.
“There are so many ways to save money once you start.
“I start planning for Christmas in January. I try to buy my wrapping paper, cards, decorations and gift sets in the post-Christmas sales for the following year.
“I also check out the summer sales for suitable items. Then, from about September, I begin my purchases. I usually buy small things as I see them – either presents or food items.
“This saves the last-minute Christmas stress as well as spreading the cost and saving money.
“If you want to avoid getting into debt over Christmas it is really important to save for it. If you don’t have a lot of money it can feel hard, but it is so worth it.
“I put money aside each month and I save my supermarket loyalty points as these come in handy for present and food purchases.
“We also save our coppers in a bottle – every little helps. This year I have made some extra money by making my online purchases through cash back sites and by doing online surveys, which will all go towards Christmas presents.
“It isn’t essential to spend a lot of money if you can’t afford it. It sounds like a cliché, but your family will appreciate the time you spend together and not just the money you spend on them.
“We play board games and charades and sometimes one of my daughters will organise a Christmas quiz with silly prizes from the pound shop.”
Jane has three grown-up daughters, Beccy (25), Chloe (22) and Izzy (19). She lives with her partner of eight years, Justin, who is affectionately known as Mr Shoestring on her blog.
Jane reuses the artificial Christmas tree and decorations each year and would encourage people who are looking to save the pennies this year to try out budget supermarkets and would encourage parents to search out free activities to take part in with their children.
“I set a realistic budget and stick to it. I make lists of who I need to buy for and the food I would like to serve,” she added.
“I have never been one to spend thousands at Christmas and I didn’t spoil my daughters when they were small. I like the idea of the four gift rule for kids, giving something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.
“I didn’t stick with this slavishly, but I didn’t over indulge madly either. I wanted them to appreciate all that they were given and not to expect the earth when we couldn’t afford it.
“They tell me that they never felt hard done by or deprived. For the adults in the family we do a secret Santa. There are too many of us to buy individual presents and we all have so much of everything anyway.
“It is too easy to purchase too much food and waste a lot of it. The shops are only closed for one day.
“Plan all your meals over the Christmas period and buy only what you need, with some extra treats of course. Think about what you can make with the leftovers too.
“If you have children, research free Christmas activities in your area. You don’t have to spend lots of money if you stick to traditional pastimes like carol concerts, school and community Christmas sales and bazaars, for example.
“Churches often run Christmas crafts workshops too. My children loved going to the Christmas Eve carol service at our local church, singing all evening and then having a Christmas ‘sleepy’ biscuit from the vicar on the way out.
“They also enjoyed a tour of the local ‘Christmas houses’ – you know, the ones that are lit up so they can be seen from space! Get them making snowmen out of old toilet roll tubes and cotton wool too. We still have some of these treasures from years ago.”
Jane budgets between £10-£15 a head for Christmas dinner which allows for leftovers and food for boxing day too. In terms of presents, her family spends £20 on secret Santa gifts and between £65-£100 on gifts for her partner and daughters.
“If we were all at home and cooking together I would budget £10-15 a head for Christmas dinner, which will allow leftovers for tea and for boxing day too,” she added.
“I can’t stand waste, so I won’t cram the fridge full of food unless I am sure it will be eaten. In the end, Christmas dinner is just a fancy version of the Sunday roast and we can only eat so much.
“We spend £20 each on our Secret Santa presents. I budget around £65-100 each for Justin and the girls, depending on how flush we are.
“It often ends up more as I buy little gifts and stocking fillers throughout the year and don’t always remember what I have bought.
“The only hard and fast rule is to spend what we can afford. If we don’t have the money, we don’t spend it! Simple really.”
For more information see www.shoestringcottage.com