5 tips on how to save money over the winter break

3 December 2020

The winter break is a time of giving and celebrating. However, it can also be an expensive time of the year. Our Student Funding Adviser, Katy, gives us her top 5 tips on how to save and shop smart.

christmas gift bags

The winter break comes but once a year, which – considering how much it can cost – may be just as well. If you celebrate at this time of year, students all over the country are looking forward to a well-earned rest and lots of good food, the cost of festive fun can be altogether less appealing.

If the expense of celebrating this year makes you feel nervous, here are 5 top tips on saving your pennies this festive period:

1. Work out what you can afford

Although there may be a temptation to hit the shops and spend extensively on your nearest and dearest, unchecked spending on gifts is likely to lead to money problems come January.

So before you start shopping, take a look at your bank balance and work out how much cash you’ve got to play with over the festive season.

If you’re new to budgeting and want some help, there are lots of useful resources online like this student budgeting guide from Save the Student.  

It's also worth finding out about bank accounts like Monzo which help you track your spending, helping you to stay accountable. Find out more about app-based banks here. 

2. Drop the unnecessary presents

This time of year is a time of giving, and there may be people in your life you’d genuinely like to treat, like your closest friends and family. But do you really need to spend your hard-earned cash on your cousin’s boyfriend’s kids, or that distant colleague just because you know they’re getting something for you?

It's not a retail festival, or a competition, but the obligation to buy gifts for an ever widening circle of people can turn it into just that.

Why not suggest a 'Secret Santa' with a set budget (£5 or £10 per gift) to reduce the burden, or simply agree that you’ll stop the obligated giving this year.

It's also worth being mindful of the amount of waste generated by gifts. Can you buy more sustainably this year, and focus on gifts with less plastic, gifts that you know will be used, and ethically produced products? Read more about living sustainably in London and pick up some gift ideas while you're there. 

3. Get creative and do it yourself

Once you’ve trimmed down your ‘to buy for’ list, save further by getting creative and making your loved ones some homemade gifts.

There are loads of great ideas out there, from mix tapes to photo scrapbooks, homemade bath bombs and even personalised board games.

Even if the end products look less than perfect, your homemade gifts are sure to touch the hearts of those who receive them – what could be better than that?

4. If you must shop, buy online and get discounts

Although trawling Oxford Street might be some people’s idea of fun, there are often much bigger savings to be had online, and it's also safer to shop from the comfort of your own home. This year, make sure that as much as possible, you avoid the crowds, shop early and keep you and your loved ones safe. 

If there’s a particular item you want to buy, you can also track its price with sites like Idealo, which will not only show you how the price has changed over time, but also tell you where the cheapest place to buy it is.

Consider supporting independent businesses too, pouring your hard-earned cash into diverse, creative and exciting business ventures. If you're buying books, for example, independent bookshops tend to have the same prices as the big chains! Many people have set up their own small businesses to get through the pandemic, so why not support them and pick up some unique gifts? Etsy is a great place to start. 

5. Book train tickets in advance

If you are travelling over the winter break, ensure that you have followed the guidance and tested negative for COVID-19 before you travel. Find out more here. 

You can save money by booking your journey in advance. Be mindful to avoid travelling at the busiest times, read our advice for travelling safely, and remember you should be travelling within the students travel window between Thursday 3 and Wednesday 9 December 2020. 

Even if you’ve left it late, there might still be cheaper advance tickets available – some operators now let you buy them on the day.

And of course if you’re making any train journey, whatever the time of year, make sure to use a 16-25 railcard (full time students of any age are eligible) to get 1/3 off.

If you do fall into financial hardship at any time of the year, check out the financial support available from UCL.

Katy Foster, Student Funding Adviser

Updated by Student Support and Wellbeing, December 2020