How I Manage my Christmas Budget: Mum plans all year with £60 food budget

Samantha Thomas says that she always lives very frugally, even at Christmas

In our Special How I Manage My Christmas Budget series, we speak to people to find out how they are saving and spending money during the festive period.

This week, we speak to Samantha Thomas, 42, who lives in Greater Manchester with her daughter, Holly, 15, and son, Alexander, three. Samantha once found herself saddled with £100,000 worth of debt. Now, she loves cash stuffing (where you save money in cash in folders in a wallet) and shops in the sales all year round) for Christmas.

With a budget of £40 for her kids’ Christmas presents, she’s snapping up bargains in charity shops and Facebook Marketplace.

My monthly income: I’m a trained primary school teacher currently working as a self-employed private tutor. Income from my private tutor work, Etsy sales of cash stuffing, for examples selling envelopes and plastic wallets, and savings challenges stationery, YouTube channel and child benefit is typically £1,659 per month.

My Christmas budget: Food, £60, drinks, £60, decorations, £10, pre-Christmas activities, £60, presents for family, excluding the kids, £60, presents for my daughter, £20, presents for my son, £20, charity donation, £10.

My main household outgoings: Rent, £450 – I live in a house share, council tax, £70, gas and electric, £200, water, £24, broadband, £14, Netflix, £10, TV licence, £7, mobile phones, £45, car repayment, £112, car servicing, £20, sofa repayment, £120, nursery, £72, children’s clubs, £20, insurance policies, including life insurance, £51.

This leaves me £444 per month, which I use for groceries, petrol, eating out, things my kids want to buy, treats and money for savings.

I’ve always been quite good with money. If I can find a more cost-effective way of doing something, I’ll do it. At 26, I owned a large restaurant, which enabled me to enjoy a great lifestyle. Soon after, I had my daughter and retrained as a teacher. A recession hit and I sold the restaurant, and due to a series of problems in my family life, I ended up in a large amount of debt.

It almost killed me as I battled day after day to find justice, solace and a way forward. At one point, I shared a bed with my daughter in my parent’s home while juggling three jobs. I sold anything I could, including sentimental jewellery from grandparents, to make sure my daughter could eat.

Eventually, I paid most of the debt off. Seven years after beginning divorce proceedings, I was finally granted my decree absolute, financial freedom and could take control of my life. I recently paid off the last bit of debt and now live very frugally, even at Christmas. I’m active on social media, including TikTok (The Budget Mum UK) and enjoy talking about budgeting.

I plan for Christmas all year round. I shop in the sales for wrapping paper and decorations and look for presents for people I know I like to buy for. I have a present cupboard and they all go in there until Christmas. I never buy cards for anyone. I do cash stuffing and savings challenges, which help me save up money for Christmas. I don’t just use cash stuffing for Christmas and have saved thousands while doing it.

Going out with the kids before Christmas can be really expensive, so I like to find council-run events as they are often much cheaper than privately run ones. We went to a free Christmas lights parade and Santa sleigh ride via my local council. I’ve also found that taking trips on, for example, the Santa Steam Express train, are cheaper soon after launching and get more expensive closer to Christmas.

For this year’s Christmas, my parents are coming round, along with my auntie and her husband and one of my uncles. The food budget is about £60, but my parents are paying for the meat and others are bringing dessert and drinks. I’ll do my shopping at Tesco or Asda. I have Asda vouchers I’ve saved all year round and have points saved up for Tesco. I plan to buy reduced items and freeze them if possible.

I’ll be spending about £60 on presents for my family, excluding the kids. I don’t buy gifts for friends, but do make a £10 charity donation at this time of year. For the kids, I’ll probably spend about £20 each on the two of them. I haven’t got my son anything new. So far, I got him some super hero toys for £8 online, which would have cost significantly more when new.

Last year, I got him a bundle of Toy Story items from Facebook Marketplace for £15, which would have cost £200 new. Some of the items I got from the Toy Story stash were duplicates, so I’ll be reselling them to make a bit of extra money. My daughter loves charity shops and so far I’ve got her a lovely bracelet for 50p and some brand-new premium hair products.

I’ll be making hampers for my brother and other family members. I’m making home-made festive liquors, family name plaques, candles and sweet treats. The hampers are fun to do, look great and help keep costs down.

When I was younger and earning more money, as a Christmas present, I paid for my mother to go to New York and would buy designer clothes and shoes for friends. Such extravagance seems a million miles away now, but we’ll still enjoy a great Christmas.

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