A single mum who admitted to getting into debt by splurging up to $2,500 on festive presents for her daughters has managed to bag this Christmas virtually free—thanks to coupons and competitions.
Previously, Natasha Whitehead, 32, of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, England, would spend the Yuletide feeling stressed about money, anxious to provide the perfect day for her girls, Bailey-Grace, 12, and Isabelle, 9.
But, after reading an online article about couponing—where someone collects discount vouchers to score as big a saving as possible—she decided to tackle this year’s celebration a little differently.
$20 worth of stationery that Natasha got for just £1 (PA Real Life/Collect)
Beginning her preparations in January, Natasha stockpiled freebies or items she managed to blag for a fraction of the original price throughout the year—amassing presents worth around $770 for her family for next to nothing.
Natasha, who works at a junior school, said:
“Christmas is difficult, as you want to be able to give your children everything and when they think it’s Santa bringing the gifts, they don’t understand why he can’t just make whatever they’d like in his workshop.”
“It’s easy to panic buy and spend far too much. In the past few years, I’ve ended up getting myself into debt, easily spending $2,500 on gifts that the kids get bored of opening half way through.”
Natasha’s loyalty cards (PA Real Life/Collect)
“This year, I wanted to take things back to an old school family Christmas, and focus on appreciating the magic of the season, rather than stressing about money.”
While she dabbled a little in money-saving tactics—using discount codes or entering online competitions—when the girls were tiny, Natasha only decided to get serious about couponing at the beginning of the year.
Vowing in January to be as organized as possible, so her festivities would be close to free, she said:
“When I first found out about the couponing world, it was by stumbling across a freebie that was being offered by a skincare company on Facebook.”
Natasha and Isabelle (PA Real Life/Collect)
“At the time, I didn’t understand why brands were just handing stuff out—but now I see that the savings are out there if you know where to look.”
“It gets almost addictive, seeing what else you can win or what other discount coupons you can find. It doesn’t just help me, either. I’ve managed to win food that I’ve donated to food banks.”
As well as entering online competitions—enabling her to buy some books as presents after winning a $64 WH Smith voucher, as well as food, thanks to a $640 Co-op voucher she scooped—Natasha also swears by cashback apps.
Bailey-Grace and Isabelle with Santa at Christmas 2016 (PA Real Life/Collect)
Soaring in popularity over the past couple of years, the apps work by inviting users to upload pictures of their receipts, which are then scanned, before money is given back on certain items.
“If you’re smart and combine coupons with cashback apps, you can even make a profit.”
“You literally get paid to buy things you’d need to get anyway. Sometimes, they also offer freebies. I’ve managed to get some bottles of nice alcohol, which ordinarily would cost at least $25 each, and chocolates.”
“I’ve then put together little hampers as Christmas presents for people, made up of things I’ve been stashing throughout the year. I think it helps me to be more thoughtful in my gifts, as I’m not just grabbing something straight off the shelf in a panic. It’s more personalized.”
In addition, Natasha also has a number of store loyalty cards, which she has managed to build up enough points on to buy presents like beauty products and candle gift sets in shops she would have needed to use anyway.
And she regularly signs up to online mailing lists, to take advantage of the introductory discount codes they frequently offer.
Free alcohol Natasha got with a Majestic Wine promotion (PA Real Life/Collect)
“The best is when there’s no minimum spend. I got a $6 Boux Avenue one the other day, which I got some really nice socks with. I also got a Jack Wills one, again for $6, which enabled me to get some lovely accessories for just $0.25 each.”
“I always opt to pick things up in store, too, to save on delivery. I’ll put aside one day when I go and collect everything, so I don’t have to go back and forth.”
Explaining that, when it comes to money saving, organisation is key, Natasha told how she sets aside time every morning to sit down with a cup of tea and scroll the web—in particular social media —for new deals.
Bailey-Grace and Isabelle on Christmas Day 2015 (PA Real Life/Collect)
She then checks again on her phone throughout the day, just in case anything new has sprung up, and regularly fills out online surveys in exchange for cash or high street vouchers.
“I know lots of people can’t be bothered with sifting through emails, especially when you’re signed up to a lot of mailing lists, but it’s worth doing in case you miss a discount code.”
“The same goes for surveys, too. You can sit and fill them out in front of the TV in the evenings. It doesn’t need to take long, but it pays off.”
A free food shop Natasha bagged with a discount code (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I’ve even managed to get ahead with next Christmas and already have $51 worth of Love2Shop vouchers, which can be used in loads of different high street stores, to go towards it.”
Now, more or less finished with Christmas shopping before December has even begun, Natasha is looking forward to being able to properly relax and enjoy the season of goodwill with her daughters.
“If you can afford to splurge at Christmas then that’s fantastic, but that wasn’t me, and it was getting silly—the amount of stress I’d cause myself. For the first time ever, I can actually sit back and enjoy it.”
$100 worth of beauty products that Natasha got for free via Simply Be Perks (PA Real Life/Collect)
“Christmas doesn’t need to break the bank—there are ways of saving money. You’ve just got to think outside the box.”
“This has also been a great learning curve for the girls. I like to get them involved, too.”
“The cost of living is going up, but wages aren’t. I dread to think what it’ll be like by the time they’re adults, so it’s important to learn now about being savvy.”
A version of this article originally appeared on Press Association.