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Have Yourself a Merry Thrifty Christmas

by Kellie Whitehead

We are here, December, the most festive, and let’s face it, potentially expensive month of the year if you celebrate Christmas. It’s the end of year too of course, and traditionally a time to socialise, host at home , gift clients and more to reflect on the past 12 months, whether you believe in Santa Claus or not.

And when you are Santa Claus - the responsibility beyond setting out the sacks on the 24th can be overwhelming, to be felt best in January when the credit card statement hits.

Even if money is no issue, shouldn’t we all be a bit more mindful with our spending anyway? Isn’t it time to ‘read the room’ on extravagance and excessive displays of wealth, and indeed, the inevitable waste? If the true meaning of Christmas is reflection and kindness for your fellow man, it’s time to be kind to your purse and the environment at the same time.

I’ve always said that there is nothing clever about wasting money - but that doesn’t make me tight with the cash. Taking time to think about exactly what you are spending on, and what significant value it brings to you, your family or the recipient, is time well spent in my book.

So when it comes to a festively frivolous Christmas, is there any way to reign it in?

We think so…

Make a budget and stick to it

Write down every expense, definite and likely. Think outings, outfits, food, transport, gifts, wrapping, cards, decor if needed, charity donations etc. All. The. Things.

You will have an idea from previous years what you normally spend or are likely to spend.Your brain will trigger you to document every possible expense, and whilst it may seem overboard, it gives you a clue as to where the unexpected or unnecessary expenses add up.

How much money do you actually have? Be honest with yourself. Now - subtract your noted expenses from what you have.


The numbers don’t lie. Now time to make them fit.

Only you know where you can realistically cut back, or even the places you actually want to. From what areas of spending do you and your family really feel the most value. Note the word ‘feel’. Some things are worth so much more than the amount spent, other things, much less so.

What can you cut? What can you save money on? Take time to be mindful about where you can really save. Maybe you tend to spend more by being disorganised, and literally pay the last minute price. You are not alone in the December 24th scramble for more food, more gifts.. The list is endless. By taking the time earlier in the month to prepare better, you can really get a better handle on ‘extra’ spending.

Can you take advantage of vouchers or discount codes? Again - organisation is key, but have a browse through your ‘likely’ retailers and brands social media feeds or emails you are subscribed to. You can tick off your list by saving 10 or 20% here and there, it stacks up!

Do you need it?

There’s nothing nicer than feeling great in a new outfit, sure, but in an age of sustainability - do you need everything new? Either for yourself or the family, scout out what you already have clothing wise and think about what you can restyle or recycle with some low cost additions. Novelty clothing and items count too - I guarantee that nobody except you will know if the gang are wearing last year's festive jumpers, or the same sparkly heels as last New Years Eve.

The same absolutely applies to decor items for the home or any kind of extra homewares we only use in December. There is an ugly trend for ‘extra’ in the Christmas decoration department this year, but think of the environment and the importance of tradition and legacy. It’s not an instagram competition, it’s about what suits you and your family. In years to come the kids will love the fact that every year brings new memories from the old trinkets and baubles, and probably not the year you spent thousands on a balloon strewn door garland, or filled the pool with inflatable baubles at AED 200 a pop.

That’s entertainment.

Nothing nicer than annual gatherings with friends and colleagues. Dressing up and doing something ‘different’ is absolutely part of the charm. But what do you have to pay the Christmas tax on your social life? My favourite work occasion was the time we forgot to book anywhere - the December production in a theatre is the biggest of the year, cue insane workloads. An agency supplier had sent us some bottles of good bubbles, we got fish and chips from the best place in town - ate and drank in the building we worked in and had a blast. We probably didn’t even get changed. Five star memories don’t mean seven star prices. In Dubai, there is more opportunity than ever for filling holiday days with Expo 2020 and a great entertainment schedule there throughout the month, all for the cost of your entry fee, or even better, a month or season pass at a discounted rate. Going back to great memories, I once spent Christmas Eve afternoon eating a picnic in Safa Park 2 with the kids - they had a blast doing burning off the energy of excitement and we retired happy - much better than the time I had to pay the bosses bill in a bar/restaurant at the Madinat because he’d reached the limit on his card throughout the evening on a staff night out.

Presence not presents.

I know, I know.. It’s unavoidable and gifting gives you all the feels. Again though, especially when it comes to the kids, less can really be more. Especially if they are younger and really have no concept of what things cost. Teenagers are another story, but again, it’s not a competition to keep up with friends or neighbours. Experiences and time together are far more valuable, and truly, in this hustle driven, time poor world - our families and friends need more of *us*, not our money. Stay mindful, think sustainable, think ‘value’. Nobody needs more ‘stuff’

Camilla Hassan is the personality behind instagram account @mydesertvilla and is well known for her thrifty takes on interiors, cooking, home management and more. Scarily organised for a woman with three young children and a demanding job as a retail Managing Director, Camillas followers love her refreshingly down to earth attitude and seriously useful hacks and tips.

When it comes to saving money at Christmas, Camilla shares this;

“Getting together with friends over December usually means a potluck dinner for us and we love it. It’s all about the company and everyone gets to contribute a dish. You get to taste and share different things, and whilst it doesn’t sound very Dubai glam, it is always a great way to spend time together - saving money on taxis and overpriced beverages is a bonus alongside the benefit of spending time together”

On the extras that really add up - “ Yes, we all seem to be going extra year on year. Take door bows. I have started making my own and it looks great - fabric from Satwa for AED 50 and a 2 minute Youtube tutorial - voila! The same applies for garlands and any other seasonal decor. Try and re-use as much as you can year on year or repurpose existing items like frames, candle sticks etc. Expats are coming and going all the time, so buy second hand tress or decor where you can - total bargains to be found across second hand marketplaces online! No need to spend on things like ‘reindeer food’ either when it’s just a case of oats mixed with glitter - why pay over the odds?

And the main event? Camilla shares this year's top tip. “Ikea do turkey takeaways now - enough said!”

I think that we are definitely looking at both a season of goodwill this year, but also mindfulness. Going into the new year with debt for the sake of a flashy December has a longer lasting effect on your mental health far more than the dopamine rush of buying and unwrapping. Nobody wants to be a scrooge at Christmas, but I guarantee it is not the money that makes the memories, and there are no true friends who want to see you out of pocket for the sake of keeping up appearances. A little bit of pre-planning and organisation might mean you save enough for the next thing on the season calendar. How smug will you feel then? Now that’s dopamine for the soul.


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