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Cheap and cheerful Christmas

Cheap and cheerful Christmas

by Frank and Muriel Newman

It’s been a tough year for many but more and more are meeting the challenge by living off the smell of an oily rag. It’s certainly been a busy year for the Oily Rag team. Membership of the Oily Rag Club has more than doubled to just over 2300 creating a vibrant exchange of money saving ideas.

It’s Christmas again (already) so we thought it appropriate to reflect on some of the best Christmas tips. The oily rag trick is to be generous, but frugal. Being a creative lot, oily raggers do this in many ways.

• 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 a budget, and even better, set yourself a challenge of spending less!

• Check out the number of credits you have on your reward cards, like Fly-buys. Redeem your points for product or vouchers and use them as gifts. This is a great way to save cash. A reader redeems their rewards for gift vouchers and gives these as presents. That means the person receiving the voucher can use them to buy whatever they want and they can buy when the New Year sales are on so their voucher buys more.

• Buy on barter. There are a number of barter exchanges, with about 10,000 members, mostly small businesses. Some are doing all of their Christmas shopping via the barter exchange and giving barter gift certificates to employees, friends, and family which may be redeemed at any one of the members of the exchange. You don’t need to be a member of an exchange to barter. Make your own gift vouchers - a free car wash, babysitting, lawn mowing… all sorts of things.

• Have a kids-only Christmas. A reader says the family only give presents to kids.

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

• Have a make or bake Christmas – only exchange gifts that have been made or baked by the giver. Start making now – pottery, a painting, a calendar featuring family photos, or print a photo annual, or make a family recipe book featuring each persons favourite recipes.

• Give a tree. There are lots of gardens with self-sown native trees that can be replanted without difficulty. Present it in a special pot and there you have a gift that is everlasting, great for the environment, and can be enjoyed for years. Or what about giving a sunflower plant? Kids love them and it’s a real treat to see them grow into huge happy flowers. Or what about giving seeds, vege 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!

• Other do-it-yourself gift ideas include making a bird feeder out of wood, or what about decorating a brolly - take a plain coloured umbrella and add drawings and decorations to personalise it… use song lyrics like “rain drops keep falling on my head…”. Or peronalise kitchen containers, like the cookie jar… “Prohibited area - keep out!” Or make a sign for a kitchen door, “Nuclear waste area”.

• For many, Christmas budgeting begins at the start of the year, not the end. Some oily raggers stash away their spare coins, others set up their own Christmas savings fund and make modest but regular contributions. That means the added cost of Christmas does not encroach on essential household costs like rent or mortgage, debt repayments, phone, power, and so on.

Living Off the Smell of an Oily Rag by Frank & Muriel Newman is available from all good bookstores or online at Tell us about your cashless Christmas gifts and we will share them with others. You can contact us through the oily rag website (or write to Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag, PO Box 984, Whangarei.


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

© Scoop Media

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