A budget-friendly Christmas

This year has been tough on everyone’s pockets, and most of us are worried about the costs of Christmas. From gifts, decorations, nights out...it’s all notoriously part of the festive fun, but costs can add up! 

While this means that Christmas may have to look a little different for many people this year, a budgeted Christmas can still be a special one. Spending less doesn’t mean you can’t still have a great time. Some good ways to save money over the Christmas period can be to plan, shop around for the best Christmas deals, be a bit creative and use your imagination to make your Christmas extra special.

Remember, if you’re having a hard time with your finances, you can learn more about the support we offer plus lots of different ways to save and manage your money on our Cost of Living Support page.

Plan, plan, plan!

Santa isn’t the only one who likes to make a list at Christmas. Planning what you need to spend your money on can help make sure you've got the necessities covered and hopefully reduce any stress for a fun, yet cost-effective Christmas.

Before you start spending, make sure you factor in your usual expenses or any pending transactions, so you know how much money you have to work with. 

Shop second-hand

Why not shop second-hand? You don't always need to splurge on a new present.

second hand

Upcycling, regifting, and reusing items is good for the planet, and your Guild President Amira tells you why you should consider doing Secret Santa and buying charity shop gifts: 


Guild President

“Secret Santa is a really good way to try to save money, because you only have to get one gift per friend! I also find that going to charity shops for gifts like scarves and gloves is a really good way to save money - there are lots in Harborne which isn't too far from campus!”

Our Student Content Shaper Karina also tells you some of her favourite gifts to give this festive season.


BSc Geography and Urban Regional Planning Student

“My favourite way to get crafty during Christmas is through handmade gifts. Christmas gift shopping can feel really difficult and I feel putting in the time to make gifts for my loved ones is always received with a big smile and a hug! Some handmade gifts that my friends and family have loved are handmade magnets, beaded bookmarks, handmade cards and boxes to hold cupcakes, and brownies. Try it out!”

Plus, there are lots of charity shops in Birmingham, especially Selly Oak and Harborne, which are full of hidden gems. Not only are you being sustainable but you’re also supporting a worthy cause. If you're more of an online shopper, then start with places like Vinted, Depop, or Hazaar.

Secret Santa


Talking of presents... 

Buying gifts for everyone can get expensive, fast, which is why lots of people choose to take part in a classic Christmas tradition called ‘Secret Santa.’ So, how do you play? 

  1. Write everyone’s name down – Whoever you’re playing with, it’s a good idea to write the names of everyone participating on individual pieces of paper. 

  1. Toss the names into a hat – A hat, bowl, or a Christmas stocking, place all of the folded names and mix them around a bit so all names are shuffled. No cheating! 

  1. Set a price limit – Set a price that you know everyone in the group can afford. It’s better to be safe than sorry by choosing a lower price limit. 

  1. Draw names – Give everyone the opportunity to choose a name. Just don’t share who it is! 

This is a great, fun way to save money with friends or housemates and make Christmas more affordable and manageable for everyone. Our graduate Gracie used to live in a house of five last year, and she shares how they enjoyed a Secret Santa. 


BA Politics and International Relations Graduate

“To save buying presents for everyone in our house we’re doing Secret Santa. We’ve set a £10 limit. We write our name on a piece of paper, fold it in half and place it in a hat. Each person draws a name out and we buy a gift for that person. Before we all go home we always plan a Christmas afternoon to exchange gifts and watch a festive film together. You don’t have to spend lots of money to celebrate and means everyone gets something too.”

Get crafty 

There are so many opportunities to be creative with things like presents, cards and decorations including at different events held on campus throughout December


Whether you’re whipping up some mince pies or crafting some paper snowflakes, you’ll score points for the thought and effort you put into gifting something personalised, truly unique, and which money can’t buy. The best thing? You don’t need to be that creative. Crafts can be so simple and really make your space feel extra Christmassy. To get you started, we’ve put together a list of some simple festive ideas: 

  • Got some paper or even old wrapper paper lying about? Why not create paper chains, stars, or snowflakes to decorate your digs? Follow this tutorial by Crafty Daily on YouTube. 

  • If you have last year’s Christmas cards knocking about, then you can use them to create gift tags to make your presents pop. Cut out a tag shape and punch a hole in one end for a ribbon to go through. You can also use old Christmas cards to create hanging decorations.   

  • Battery-operated lights are a great way to add some festive sparkle to your space without spending a fortune on energy bills. Why not use some reusable batteries? You can find affordable lights and batteries in places like Aldi, or Amazon. 

Our Student Content Shaper Alice has some tips on gifting photos:


BA Digital Media and Communications Student

“If you want to turn a heartfelt memory into a gift, why not gift photos? See if you have any old photos lying around or have a rummage through your camera roll and use affordable apps such as FreePrints to get them professionally printed. Make cardboard photo frames for your photos to sit in and decorate them with paints and coloured paper, pressed flowers, twigs and shells!”

Other tips and tricks

If you love baking or cooking, then why not get in the kitchen and surprise someone with a festive treat?


Get some inspiration from our Student Content Shaper Izzy and EDI Student Ambassadors Olivia and Clemmie.


BA Music Graduate

“You don’t have to spend a lot of money on Christmas presents and sometimes the gifts with the most thought and personalisation are the ones that mean the most. So maybe make your own this year - it could be as simple as framing your favourite photo with the person you are gifting to or baking them their favourite baked good. As the saying goes, it’s the thought that counts!”

Every picture tells a story and in this digital age, printed photos are a wonderful idea. We love Olivia’s idea of making a photo scrapbook. If you’re registered with UniDays or StudentBeans check out the student discounts and deals, including free prints from Photobox.


BSc Psychology Student and EDI Student Ambassador

“Why not get creative and make some handmade presents? It could be photo scrapbooks or baking some treats. These gifts can be a lot more personable and thoughtful, whilst also saving you money.”

From washing the dishes to making a dinner of their choice, another great tip is making your own Christmas gift 'I owe you' or vouchers like student Clemmie. 


EDI Student Ambassador

“I recommend making vouchers/coupons to give to people. They can cost nothing or very little and are often much more personal than a material gift. For example, you could give one to your dad that says you will watch any film of his choice with him and even supply the snacks! This would probably mean more than you realise and is a great way of spending time with your family/friends over the holidays”


  • Wondering how to have an eco-friendly Christmas this year? Our Student Content Shaper Alice has some great hacks to follow for an environmentally friendly festive season, full of all the things you love – but better! Read her blog.

An important reminder...

During this time of year, scammers may take advantage of the increase in Christmas shopping. Whether this is promoting ‘too-good-to-be-true’ deals or giving you misleading information about any parcel deliveries, you should be extra cautious in the festive period. Criminals will try to reach out to you to get a hold of personal and sensitive information. Some examples may include text messages, phone calls or email attachment scams by impersonating companies such as Amazon, DPD or Royal Mail. We encourage you to avoid clicking on any suspicious links, be careful where you share your personal information and be wary of false urgency. If you think that you have been scammed, report the activity as soon as possible to the police, your bank (if you have given away bank details) and the Community Safety Team

Festive food


From mince pies to pigs in blankets, food is an important part of Christmas celebrations, but good food doesn’t have to be expensive! Meal prepping and planning is a great way to keep costs low, especially if you’re planning on spending Christmas with your mates.  


MA Creative Writing Student

“For things like vegetables, it's usually cheaper buying them frozen, so that you can spend a bit extra on a good quality Chicken/Turkey/meat of your choosing. Bonus tip: Iceland does wonderful frozen desserts - their £4 chocolate Gateau’s are perfect for big gatherings!”

Buying frozen food will also help with costs as recommended by student Zainab, but if you do want fresh vegetables then shop around the local supermarkets for discounted Christmas dinner veg. Lots of supermarkets have their own brands which are cheaper but just as tasty, just watch this video from Student Content Shapers Srushti and Ishita.

If you’re having a Christmas dinner with your friends or housemates, then student Issy recommends sharing the responsibilities and getting everyone to chip in so you’re not doing or paying for everything yourself. 


EDI Student Ambassador

“Why not share out the cooking responsibilities by planning a ‘Bring and Share’ Christmas dinner? This way one person isn’t left to pay for all the ingredients and do all the work, but make sure to plan everything out so you’re not left with a table full of Brussels sprouts! Some dishes may be more expensive than others, so it might be a good idea for everyone to contribute a set amount (say £10) then pool the funds and do one group grocery shop. Or divide the tasks Secret-Santa-style. Get everyone together to pick one dish each at random, so it’s a surprise to see who’s cooked which meal during dinner!”

Travelling back home

If, like many other students, you’re planning on returning home to your family for Christmas, it’s a good idea to consider the cost of travel in your holiday budget. We’ve put together some handy tips to help you save on costs this holiday.

christmas travel


If you’re travelling within the UK, you’ll most likely be using the train. Train companies tend to release their tickets early in advance, so as soon as you know when you’re heading home, book that ticket! You might want to use an app called Trainline. The earlier you book; the cheaper tickets will be, plus, you might want to look around at different times to travel.

The Friday night and the weekend can be very expensive, as can peak tickets. You can also buy split tickets to save money on your journey so take a look at the SplitSave options. Also, remember to add your student railcard (if you have one) when booking your tickets to save up to 1/3 on prices. 


Coaches are a great option for the holidays and can be much cheaper than taking the train. To get the most choices and best prices, we recommend booking early on on sites like CheckMyBus or Megabus. You can book your Christmas trips already! There are even special services across the festive period, including on the 25 and 26 December, and services from London on the 31 December after the New Year’s festivities. 

National Express 

Whilst getting a coach can sometimes take a lot longer than a train, you'll often find that the ticket prices are a lot cheaper. Especially as National Express is partnered with UNiDAYS, StudentBeans, Amazon Prime Student and TOTUM to provide students with 15% off National Express coach journeys. For any festive trips you may plan to take, their services will continue to run on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day. 

Whatever you decide to do this Christmas, and however much you decide to spend, we hope you all have a wonderful time. If you have any other tips you’d like to share with us, email The Student Communications Team at studentcommunications@contacts.bham.ac.uk


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