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Christmas Austerity

It seems the oily rag word has got out this Christmas - more people want to put the fun into Christmas but take the cost out. We think that's a good thing. .

 Read more Oily Rag articles by Frank and Muriel Newman

It seems the oily rag word has got out this Christmas – more people want to put the fun into Christmas but take the cost out. We think that’s a good thing.

A survey commissioned by Sorted ( has found that two-thirds of those polled said they intended spending the same or less than they did last year. About a quarter said they intended to spend more.

The other great news was that more than half (55 percent) said they were not going to get into debt as a result of their Xmas shopping (i.e. they were not intending to use their credit card, get an overdraft, use hire purchase or a personal loan). Unfortunately 31 percent said they would, so there is still some work to do educating the community about the virtues of an oily rag lifestyle!

The trick of course is to enjoy all of the good things about Christmas and holidays but to do so in a frugal way. We have ventured into the oily rag archives and dug out some Christmas favourite ideas and tips.

Decide a maximum amount to spend. One way is to set a spending limit on each gift, or a limit on the total Christmas spend. Some families give small items on Christmas day – home-made items of things costing less than $10, and leave serious buying until the Boxing Day sales.

Make a list of those on your Christmas gift list, the maximum amount to be spent on each gift, and the sort of thing they may appreciate (socks, undies, hankies… oily rag book!).

Stick to the budget, and even better, set yourself a challenge of spending less!

A reader gives shopping vouchers – that way those redeeming the vouchers can do so during the sales. Some take this one step further. Christmas costs them next to nothing because they “cash in” their Fly Buy and credit cards reward points for vouchers which they give to their family. Or what about giving a gift certificate where you offer your services, such as babysitting, gardening, cleaning, and so on.

How about giving seeds, vegetable plants, herbs, or fruit trees to encourage family and friends to grow their own – it’s easy, rewarding, saves loads of money and is good for you!

What about a stationary pack for an elderly relative – writing paper, envelopes, cards for all occasions, and of course, stamps.

MB from Auckland has a unique Christmas gift idea: “See if you can buy magazines from second hand book stores dated the month and year of the birth date of the person you are buying for. Try to find magazines featuring their specific interest if you can – motoring, cookery and so on. The magazines will only cost a few dollars, but you will find the recipient really enjoys looking at ads for the new fangled gizmos of the year they were born!”

And for young children, Sara from Hastings suggests a tape recording of you reading their favourite book. If you prompt them on when to turn the page, they can learn to read along with you.

Gift baskets are always popular but why not make them a little different? Have a theme basket: sweet treats, or herbs and spices, or Indian cooking, or cleaning products, or coffees and teas, or barbeque accessories and condiments, or home baked goodies like bread and biscuits, or summer fruits.

If you have a favourite Christmas tip then share it with others so they too can have a happy and frugal Christmas. All tips can be sent via our website or posted to Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag, PO Box 984, Whangarei. All tips are posted on the

* Frank and Muriel Newman are the authors of Living Off the Smell of an Oily Rag in NZ. Readers can submit their oily rag tips on-line at The book is available from bookstores and online at