Pricewatch: The 12 buys of Christmas . . . and 12 ways to save
How your bill for food, parties, decorations, presents and clothes could surpass €2,000
You may live to regret bringing your credit card with you when you go Christmas shopping
Reading reports about Irish people’s lavish spending on the festive season is a tradition almost as old as Christmas itself.
Every year, for as long as Pricewatch can remember, a blizzard of studies has been published in late November and early December telling us how much money we’re going to blow before the Christmas trees come down and the lights get turned off in early January.
While Christmas spending soared when our boom was at its boomiest, even in the darkest days of the most recent economic collapse, we were not found wanting in the Christmas blowout leagues and we never finished outside of the medal places in all of the European spending surveys ever published.
Unlike the Dutch.
While a typical Irish home will easily spend in excess of €1,000 on Christmas, the Dutch will get through December with change from €300, helped in no small part by the fact that they don’t make a big deal of the big fat man with the red suit and white beard.
They prefer to get their gifts on the evening of December 5th from Sinterklass and his uncomfortably incomprehensible (at least to us) servant Zwarte Piet – or Black Peter.
Anyway, we digress.
We spend way more on Christmas than the Dutch and yes, yes, yes, we know that complaints about rampant consumerism and wild overspending have validity, but – honestly – where would you prefer to spend the most wonderful time of the year? Indulgent Ireland or Ascetic Amsterdam?
There is no contest really.
But how much does Christmas actually cost here?
Many studies will suggest that Irish households will get away with spending less than a grand – admittedly not much less, but less all the same.
Can that be true?
It seems unlikely and many Irish households – even those that will struggle to afford it – will spend much more once the 12 costs of Christmas are taken care of. Here’s how:
Irish people stock up for Christmas with all the enthusiasm of a nation heading into a nuclear winter. Our compulsive need to pile shopping trolleys dangerously high, two or three days before the big day, has its roots in a time when shops would close on Christmas Eve and not re-open for four long days after that.
Of course, that doesn’t happen now and shops are open on Christmas Day so, if you run out of milk or stuffing or sprouts – it won’t be the end of the world.
But old habits die hard and our Christmas shop is not going anywhere, nor is all the eating.
Irish adults are likely to consume around 6,000 calories on Christmas Day alone and we will also put on an average of half a stone over the festive period.
But at what cost.
We filled a virtual shopping trolley made up of a turkey, ham, mince pies, breakfast material, melon, plum pudding and a few other Christmas Day essentials – including tins of biscuits and chocolates and the like.
We did not go mad but, even so, the cost of our basket of 25 items, sufficient to feed a family of two adults and three children on the day itself, with a few leftovers, came to €280.
Add another €120 for food over the period between December 23rd and December 31st and the grocery bill is more than €400.
And we haven’t had as much as a glass of light ale yet.
Let’s say the Christmas period lasts from the night of December 23rd to the night of January 1st – that is 10 nights. Perhaps you would buy a case of 20 bottles of beer (€27), four bottles of red wine (€48), four bottles of white (€48), two bottles of cheap Champagne (€50), a small bottle of brandy for the lighting of the plum pudding (€11.50) and one bottle of whiskey, to make Irish coffees, (€30).
We’ve priced 80 units of alcohol spread out over 10 days for two adults, which works out at four units per day over the course of the holiday season.
Despite our comparative temperance, the bill still comes to €214.50.
To this, we add the cost of two adults going to a pub just twice over the Christmas period and having four drinks each on each occasion – hardly excessive by Irish standards – and the bill for booze hit €312.50.
The Christmas party
If your place of employment is having some class of an office party, you may feel compelled to go. You may even want to go. Even if you only allow yourself €20 for a taxi to take you home from the boozy affair and €30 more for drinks, you will have still spent €50.
You may spend more – and there may be ill-advised kebabs and curry chips at 4am but we’ll stick with around €50. But our imaginary household might have to go to two Christmas parties, so that takes the total to €100.
A real tree will set you back €50. You can buy a fake plastic tree but, really, is that the kind of person you want to be? (Ah, we’re only joking, lots of lovely people have fake Christmas trees.)
If you’re not starting completely from scratch and shop for decorations in Penneys or Ikea, as opposed to some high-end department store, you should spend no more than €20 on refreshing your decorations. Some Christmas lights – to replace the tangled, broken mess you pull down from your attic – will cost another €20.
Santa Claus will spend around €100 on presents for children this year. Luckily, parents are spared that expense but his outlay will come to €200 for a two-child household. Parents might wish to buy their offspring presents too – which might cost a further €100 per child. If we allow just €100 per adult in the house, the total gift bill will still hit €700. If you want to buy parents, siblings, friends or colleagues presents, that will be extra.
A visit to Santa Claus in the Blanchardstown Centre will cost you €12 per child if you want a photograph taken. The starting price for tickets to the Gaiety panto is €19.50 and if you add a visit for a family of four to an ice-skating rink, and the cost of some food and treats while you are out, then you will do well to have change out of €200.
Sometimes Pricewatch is hard on Christmas cards – and, truth be told, we don’t send (or get) too many of the things. But they are still part of Christmas and some people love them – and who are we to judge? So, you buy 50 cards, they will cost you around a tenner. It costs 72 cent to post one card, so you will spend a total of €46 on buying and sending cards.
If you would like to buy yourself a gúna nua or maybe a new shirt or (shudder) a Christmas jumper for that office party, you might have to set aside €50 for each adult. We’re talking Penneys prices here not some fancy designer shop. Children might also be in the market for new clothes – both to sleep in and to wear to church services or to the neighbours.
Gorgeously fluffy and festive pyjamas in Dunnes Stores cost €20 each, while clothes might cost the same again if you are canny. All told then, the Christmas clothes bill will come in at €180.
If you want to visit relatives, either down the country or in the city, you’ll need to get there. A trip to and from Dublin to Cork will cost you about €100 in fuel, although you will spend more if you go mad in petrol station shops as is Pricewatch’s wont.
The average monthly gas and electricity bills come in at around €85 each. Assuming more gas is spent cooking and heating over the festive period and more oil is burned keeping the Santa on your roof illuminated, we will allow €30 for Christmas-related energy costs.
And the rest
What did we forget? Probably loads of things. So, to be safe we will add on just €150 to cover the cost of babysitting, charitable donations and the odd selection box over the 12 days of Christmas.
The Pricewatch total household spend for what looks like a fairly standard Irish Christmas is an eye-wateringly expensive €2,242.50 which is 10 per cent more than when we carried out a similar exercise in 2012.
And we haven’t even covered the cost of New Year’s Eve, yet.
Twelve tips for a cheaper Christmas
1. Be realistic with your food shopping. It is easy to buy more than you need and the shops will open again. Make a list. And stick to the list.
2. Do not shop last-minute. A panicked shopper is a stupid shopper.
3. Go shopping for gifts off-peak. Early in the morning is a lot calmer. And if the atmosphere around you is calm, you will be calm.
4. Leave the credit card at home and bring cash or your debit card instead.
5. Make like Santa and list everyone that you intend to buy for, then budget a reasonable amount that you can afford to spend on each person.
6. Don’t go mad on the gifts. Agree a spending limit with friends and family, or try a Secret Santa.
7. If you have a present in mind, shop around and compare prices – both in store and online.
8. The German discounters can be your friend. Shop wisely in one of them and you could easily knock 30 per cent off your grocery spend while getting some unique European Christmassy treats too. And look out for Crémant, sparkling wine which costs about 40 per cent less than Champagne.
9. Call into a charity shop when out looking for gifts. We’re not suggesting you give your loved-ones a pair of second-hand shoes from the 1970s, but you never know what cool things you might be able to get for less in a charity shop.
10. Get cooking now. Make stuffings and soups and the like ahead of time. It will take a bit of the sting out of the big Christmas shop and take a bit of the hassle out of it, too.
11. Keep your eye on online coupon and voucher services such as Living Social, Groupon or – dare we say it – the splendid Rewarding Times which is owned by this newspaper. There will be bargains to be had and they could make your life, in the run-up to Christmas, less stressful and less expensive.
12. Lower your expectations a bit. Yes, we know this sounds a bit miserable but that is not our intention. The truth is we are constantly being told the perfect Christmas exists. But it doesn’t. No one roasts chestnuts on an open fire, and Christmases are rarely white, and when they are it can be a bit miserable.
Save money by resolving not to put yourself under pressure to serve the perfect meal and hand out the perfect gifts. Focus more on laughing and having fun. That can cost a whole lot less.