A FRUGAL festive shopper has cracked making Christmas sustainable by crafting her gifts or finding second-hand bargains to upcycle – paying as little as 30p per present.
Family and community worker, Victoria Billington, 31, who lives in Oxford with her husband, Simon, 32, a senior support worker, and their two children Teddy, five and Elisabeth, three, was first spurred on to get creative and save some cash because money was tight and she had 12 nieces and nephews to buy for.
Rooting out 10p books and creating a doll's house for £30, she has become an expert at giving generous presents while spending less, but over the years she has been increasingly keen to make Christmas eco-friendly too – so she reuses her home-made advent calendar each year, buys from charity shops and makes her own recyclable wrapping paper.
Victoria said: “My husband and I used to be freelancers so we couldn't always rely on how much income we were going to have at that time.
“So about five years ago, I started making a gift for each of the children on my list as it will be meaningful but won't cost anything.
"Now, it’s not really about the saving for us and more about being as eco-friendly as possible.
“Obviously it does work out cheaper than buying a lot of new presents, but I find by carefully choosing each gift it's more special."
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Going the extra mile by making rather than buying new is something Victoria grew up with.
She said: “I come from a big family as I have four sisters and we had a lot of home-made traditions.
"My mum always said she'd rather have a bar of soap wrapped up than a really expensive present.
“So we grew up with this idea of being generous at Christmas, but that doesn't have to be extravagant.”
Ultra-organised Victoria starts her Christmas shopping early, keeping a list and methodically checking it off as she sources the perfect gift for each person.
“I start as early as January,” she said.
“I used to lose track when I started, so now I keep a list and write down what I’ve got everyone as I go.
“I really think about what each person wants. I don’t have a spend limit – I just try and make it meaningful to that person."
But despite not having a set budget, Victoria always sets out to find a festive bargain.
“At some charity shops, you can get brand new, unread books for as little as 10p," she explained.
"So I grab a few of someone’s favourite books and their present costs me like 30p.
"I also found one of my nieces a doll that retails at £36 for £4, so I'm definitely saving a lot of money.
“Plus it saves any last-minute panic buying!”
But Victoria admits it wasn’t until she became a mum that she really started to think of the environmental impact impulsive festive spending was having on the world.
“Since having my own children, I have become more aware of the impact that we have on the environment,” she said.
“It broadens your horizon that it's not just about yourself. You start thinking, ‘What are we leaving for our children?’
“I've always been quite thrifty and I've always looked to find a bargain. But especially in the last few years, I've been thinking about where I spend my money.
"It made me realise charity shops and small businesses will benefit more from my spending as well as being more sustainable.
“In the last two years, I've been able to really focus on that for Christmas and I love gift giving.”
Victoria also tracks down her gifts and materials through zero waste app Olio and Facebook Marketplace, often upcycling her finds or making her gifts from scratch, even though she doesn't think she is arty.
“I can't draw so I wouldn't call myself creative in that way,” she laughed.
“I suppose I have the time. When I’m making things, I usually start with an open Google search to find out how to use a material or how to make a particular toy.
“I got a lot of crafting supplies from Olio. I think for me that was one of my most exciting finds."
Victoria's favourite upcycling gift so far is the doll's house she upgraded for her two children to share.
She said: “Last Christmas, we got a second hand doll's house for the kids for £30.
"It was their big present so we'd got it early and we'd planned ahead so we were able to spend a while decorating it.
“There's tiny little bunting, made from paper and string, that we put on the walls.
“I made the carpet by gluing down some felt which was scrapped leftovers from my Olio haul.
"The kids loved it and I think it's lovely to have something they can hand down to their families."
It's not the only home-made gift she hopes will be treasured and eventually passed on.
“I made Teddy some Peter Pan bunting for his first Christmas and I’ve got that to hand down the family too,” she said.
But Victoria’s thrifty gifts aren’t just for the children – she sources bargains for the adults on her list too.
“We got some really beautiful olive oil one year from an Italian restaurant that was closing down and so they were giving away stock because they didn't have anywhere to store it,” she said.
“So we got this really lovely basil-infused olive oil that they were just giving away for free on Olio.
“We gave that to the adults. We hadn't paid anything for it but it was new, unopened and a nice gift.”
And Victoria helps save the planet as well as her purse on more than presents at Christmas.
She said: “We make our own wrapping paper. Most people don’t know that shiny or glitter wrapping paper isn’t recyclable but brown paper always is.
"We use brown paper and then put our own designs on it, with the children with coloured pens and pencils.
"We try not to use wax or paint as that can affect whether or not it is recyclable.
She also reuses her advent calendar.
"I made our advent calendar five years ago. It's made of felt, sewn onto a canvas and we use it every year.
"Sometimes we put chocolate in it and one year my husband filled it with a different bad Christmas joke every day."
Simon also gets involved with making presents.
Victoria said: "My husband is actually very creative so he draws pictures that we can then frame and gift to people.
"We also make decorations out of pine cones. By just adding festive ribbon or felt greenery, you can make a wreath with a timeless Christmas feel."
And none of their arty work is thrown away come January – instead it is carefully stored away in the airing cupboard in a reusable shopping bag, ready to use every Christmas.
But Victoria, who also tries to shop as locally as possible, doesn’t want other parents to feel the overwhelming pressure of an eco-Christmas.
“I recognise I have the privilege of time,” she explained.
“What we don’t spend in money, we do spend in time and I know not everyone has the ability to do that.
“But for us it makes Christmas more special and it's really enjoyable to see everyone love the gifts you’ve put so much time into."
Victoria’s top tips for a sustainable Christmas:
- Don’t leave it too late – Get started early so you have plenty of time to look out for bargains.
- Shop local – Reduce delivery and shipments by shopping in your local area. You don’t have to wait and can guarantee your presents will arrive on time.
- Charity shops are great for a bargain – Many businesses donate brand new items to charity shops. Not only do you save money but the money you do spend goes to charity.
- Watch how you wrap – Not all wrapping paper is recyclable and making your own can be a fun activity with the kids. Make it a family activity using stamps to create fun recyclable paper.
- Don’t follow trends – You don’t need to change your decorations every year or follow the latest fad. Make decorations that are timeless that you can reuse every year.
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