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save money at christmasToday we welcome a guest post by Jane from the blog ShoeStringCottage.

You are bound to fill the house up with more items over Christmas. From toys to clothes, now is the time to clear some space and make room for all of your gifts and purchases. If you haven’t tried eBay, here is my guide to selling. Facebook Marketplace is also a fantastic place to get rid of your unwanted stuff locally – perfect for larger items. Better still, there are no eBay or Paypal fees.  Wouldn’t the extra money come in handy?

Try the discount supermarkets

If you have never visited Aldi or Lidl, you are missing out. Both sell quality products at prices that are much lower than the big three supermarkets. I prefer Aldi but Lidl has some great items too. When I was shopping for a family of five, I found I could save at least £30 a week by shopping in them.

Sure, they don’t stock the huge range of items that your average Tesco does. Initially I found I had to go and top up in another supermarket to buy some things. However, as I began to try the products, I started to plan my meals around them. I still have to buy some items elsewhere. My cats do not appreciate anything other than branded pet food, for example, but they are fussier than the rest of us!

As I am generally short of time, I also love that the discount supermarkets are small. I can whizz round in no time as I don’t get lost or distracted by the multitude of buy one get one free offers.

The Christmas range in Lidl and Aldi is interesting and different. I have already purchased my turkey, crackers and Christmas pudding from them.  The Aldi range includes such items such as Christmas lights and decorations, clothing items like slippers and pyjamas, and a range of toys and gifts. You have to be quick though, as stocks are usually quite limited. Last year Mr Shoestring’s present came from Lidl – a cordless drill that he still uses regularly.

Try supermarket own brands

If you don’t happen to live near a discount supermarket, look at ditching the brands and trying your supermarket’s own products. I always try the basic or value products first and if we don’t like them I gradually move up to their regular own brands. Branded items are rarely found in our cupboards.  Often I don’t find the quality is proportionately better and resent paying for the expensive marketing campaigns.

Beware the BOGOF branded offer. They can represent good quality but you should still look at the price by weight to see if they really work out cheaper than buying just one of the supermarket own brand equivalent.

Find some cheap activities for the family

Christmas is expensive enough without having to worry about how you are going to entertain the children over the holidays. I brought up three daughters and, looking back, they enjoyed the cheap or free things just as much as the expensive excursions. The dressing up box, filled with stuff from the charity shop, was the most popular ‘toy’ they ever had. They played make believe for hours dressed in old frilly nighties, hats and shoes that cost just a few pounds. I saved everything from sweet wrappers to toilet roll tubes for the craft box. Cheap paints from the pound shop and a bit of glitter allowed them to create lots of fabulous and quirky decorations and kept them amused.

What child doesn’t enjoy a muddy walk in the woods splashing in puddles and collecting treasures like leaves, sticks and feathers? Wrap them up warm and the can burn off lots of energy this way, then come home and cosy up with a hot chocolate.

If you don’t belong to your local library you are missing out on a fantastic free resource. If you need to get out of the house, get along to your library, borrow some books or join in the free activities such as story time. While you are there pick up some leaflets to find out what else is going on in your area. At this time of year you will find information on Christmas fairs, church bazaars, carol services and so on.

Find out about your local museums. Many of them will be free. Visit the tourist information centre in your town – they aren’t just useful for tourists!

We are blessed with some fabulous nature reserves here in Essex. Most places have a wealth of them. They have nature trails and visitor centres, as well as holiday activities such as bird watching and pond dipping. You can also volunteer for some conservation projects and make new friends in the process. This isn’t just for kids! Find out where your nearest reserve is at the Wildlife Trusts website.

Stop spending

Now is a good time to focus your spending on the essentials. We regularly have no spend days, weeks and months and it is remarkable what a difference they make to your bank balance. You can make your own precise rules, but basically you pay bills and buy essential items such as food and petrol, but nothing else. It is actually quite liberating to say no to yourself, your family and your friends. Tell them you are on a no spend week! More often than not, they will accept this and may even think it is a good idea. A no spend period at this time of year for me would allow for the buying of Christmas items. You will feel less worried about spending your cash if you know you are cutting back generally.

There are tons of easy ways to save money in the run up to Christmas that will help ease the New Year financial hangover that many of us suffer. What are your top tips?

Shoestring Jane blogs about living a fun and frugal life at http://www.shoestringcottage.com. She writes about healthy eating on a budget, frugal gardening and growing your own food, making extra money and finding the best bargains. You can also find Jane on Twitter (@shoestringjane), on Instagram (@shoestringcottage) and on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/shoestringjane). She recently featured in the Daily Mirror with her ideas for a frugal Christmas: http://www.mirror.co.uk/money/meet-jane-money-saving-mum-11487252

For more ways to save this Christmas, check out ThriftyMum’s other ThriftyChristmas posts here.

Hollie