As we head closer and closer to Christmas, you’re probably ticking off the list of things you need to get sorted before the big day. The festive season represents a huge cost for many people, with presents, food, parties and guests dominating the month’s spending.
Of course, on top of that, you also have to pay your bills. Christmas can see these rise too, thanks to the sheer number of guests you might have round alongside the colder weather. But how much is your Christmas energy actually costing you, and are you paying more than you did 10 or 20 years ago?
Why is Christmas so expensive?
Christmas is a time where (rightly or wrongly) you’re constantly thinking about things you need to buy. With over 308 billion slices of turkey eaten and £19 billion spent on presents in the UK alone, Christmas is the most expensive time of year for the vast majority of people.
When you consider just how much preparation most of us will have to do during the season, it’s no wonder that the pounds start racking up probably halfway during November. As well as the cost of food and gifts, Brits travel 5.6 billion miles to friends and relatives during Christmas, meaning that petrol and other expenses can add to the overall cost.
The average Brit will buy 22 gifts for nine different people while spending nearly £380 in total. £4.9 billion is also spent on Christmas nights out, something that you’ll find yourself doing often if you’re getting involved in both social and work parties.
Once you’ve arrived at the big day, the spending doesn’t stop. On top of the turkey, around 411 million sprouts are consumed, with 205 million slices of Christmas cake served afterwards. This is all washed down by 205 million glasses of champagne.
76% of families eat turkey on Christmas Day, but this is a relatively recent addition to the table. Up until the 1950s, turkey was a luxury meat thanks to the rise of refrigerators, with goose being more popular with the majority of families in the 19th and early 20th century. That’s why Bob Crachit and his family were about to tuck into a goose before a reformed Scrooge replaced it with an expensive turkey.
Christmas in the 1960s wasn’t the drawn out affair we know today - most people only celebrated it during the day itself, with Christmas Eve used for buying any gifts or food needed (unheard of today) and Boxing Day spent visiting family. With only two TV channels to choose from - BBC and ITV - everyone watched the same things, so there was no squabbling between Doctor Who and Die Hard.
The ‘70s wasn’t much better on the TV channel front (the Christmas movie was a big highlight in the days before streaming and rentals), though it did see a big surge in how much we spend on presents, with toys like Action Man and Evel Knievel making their debut during this period.
The ‘80s saw an even bigger increase in the amount the UK would spend over the season, though you were more likely to have a sip of Babycham or eggnog in the days before you could get decent wine on the cheap. Wham’s Last Christmas was the biggest festive hit, and you would probably all sit down to watch Noel Edmonds together on Christmas morning. A chilling thought in a world where you have hundreds of hours of entertainment on your phone.
The commercialisation of Christmas took a new leap in the ‘90s, with toys like the Tamagotchi, Furby and Game Boy being huge sellers across the decade. Christmas TV might include Mr. Bean, The Muppets Christmas Carol or even The Simpsons. It was also probably the last decade where the Christmas number 1 was truly important, with the Spice Girls dominating with 3 in a row.
Since then, the cost of Christmas has only risen higher and higher thanks to our need to outdo ourselves every year with more lavish gifts, decorations and events. On top of this, you also need to get the bills paid. Energy consumption can be a concern during the festive period, but what are the true facts surrounding Christmas energy?
Christmas energy tour
During December and even November, energy use is at an annual high. With the colder weather creeping in, you’ll probably find yourself keeping the heating on for much of the day, especially during the Christmas break. Throughout the house, there are a number of household appliances that all play a part in your Christmas energy use. Some of the biggest hitters are:
The kitchen is probably the most busy part of the house, especially during Christmas day itself. Cooking the turkey is obviously what springs to mind, but people tend to take for granted just how much gets eaten during the period. While the oven is used to cook meat and potatoes, the microwave also gets its fair share of use, with gravy being warmed up and leftovers prepared during Boxing Day.
You’ll find that you have a number of hobs on the go as well, especially if you’re boiling Christmas veg or cooking a fry up for the extended family. The fridge has also become an essential item for the British Christmas, with it being overstocked with food and drink before the big day. All these appliances can mean you use a lot more electricity than you normally would.
If you’re having guests over for an extended period, they might expect their laundry to be done at some point, meaning you’ll be using your washing machine and tumble dryer more than you would normally.
When we think of the classic family Christmas, the living room is where we picture it. A family sitting together, watching TV in front of a roaring fire is one of those images of an ideal Christmas, and though you’re unlikely to use a real fire, it’s still where many of us will find ourselves in the late afternoon of the 25th after lunch.
The living room is a real energy glutton over the festive period. Not only is there lights on almost constantly, the TV is also likely to see plenty of action thanks to the hundreds of Christmas films and TV shows that are broadcast every year. A shiny new games console on Christmas day will also add to the pile of electricity use.
Christmas tree lights have changed a lot over the years. Far gone are the days of standard electric lights, which first saw popular use in the 1880s after the traditional candles were deemed too dangerous. Now, most Christmas lights are likely to use LED bulbs, making them more energy efficient but also more reliable on the whole. While you’re unlikely to have a Rockefeller Centre-style Christmas tree at home, many Brits enjoy decorating the outside of their house with lights as well, something that can quickly ramp up your Christmas energy bill.
While you might not think that the bathroom is going to contribute to much energy usage over Christmas, it might end up being used a fair amount. With the amount of guests you’re expecting, the bathroom is about to resemble Piccadilly Circus in the mornings and evenings, with plenty of hot showers on Christmas morning if you’ve got relatives staying round.
The bedroom is another place where you probably assume Christmas won’t have any effect, but the amount of energy used can sneak up on you. If you’re having relatives or friends over for Christmas, the spare bedroom might play host to one or more of them. With extra people over the amount of electricity used can increase, especially if everyone’s got smartphones to charge or are watching individual TVs. Radiators are also likely to be turned on in these rooms for the first time in the year, adding extra cost to your gas bill.
Christmas Day’s biggest energy users
So, you’ve finally reached the big day and everyone is happily enjoying Christmas dinner, the Queen’s Speech and a tipsy doze in the afternoon. But while it’s great to have the whole family around for Christmas, it does make energy consumption get higher. Whether it’s those family members enjoying their first few Christmases or older Christmas veterans, let’s take a look at the biggest energy users on the day.
Whether it’s mum or dad that does the cooking in your house, we’ve already mentioned how much energy your oven will use on Christmas Day. Cooking is likely to take up quite a bit of your time, with many UK households getting up early to prepare a large Christmas feast. Cooking a huge turkey could take up to 5 hours if it’s big enough (longer if its stuffed), which is a long time for any appliance to be on.
Outside of cooking, however, most parents rate pretty low on the energy consumption scale. Whoever’s cooking is too busy running around getting things ready to affect the scale too much, and unless your dad is a huge decoration fanatic and has decked your house out like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, he’s unlikely to do much else other than veg out in front of the TV.
Kids increasingly love their gadgets, with 2019 set to be a big year for gaming consoles and other devices doing big business. Gone are the days where your child would ask for an Action Man - these days they’re more likely to be hassling you for an iPad. Younger children are this year going to be asking for the latest in Frozen merchandise thanks to the release of the new movie, but if your kid isn’t interested in that or is a bit older, expect them to be using energy charging their new electronic device.
Consoles like the Nintendo Switch are set to be all the rage this year, with a lot of parents underestimating how long the average kid will sit playing Fornite or other smash-hit games. Devices like this need charging, and if there’s a few members of the family who have received similar gifts, you might find yourself running out of plug sockets quickly. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One use up to 3 times more energy than the previous consoles, with both featuring standby modes that sap energy even when off. This is, of course, on top of all the lights you might have running.
When you think about your grandparents and other elderly relatives at Christmas, you probably picture them sitting in an armchair in the corner of the living room before slowly drifting off to sleep. Older people tend to get cold quite easily, so you may find yourself turning the heating up before the day is out. Other than that, they rank reasonably low on the energy use scale, but if your grandma likes reading and you buy her a Kindle, remember - that’ll need charging as well.
If you’re looking at a cousin or uncle and thinking, “what can I get for the man who has everything,'' you might be tempted by a smart assistant like Amazon Echo or Google Assistant. Since these are plugged in, many assume that they’re going to be expensive to run. However, tests have shown that they use less power than expected, with each only costing around £2.20 a year to run. So if you’re looking for a great, energy efficient gift this Christmas for a tech-savvy family member, these are the way to go.
Why has the cost of Christmas increased?
Christmas has become one of the most expensive times of year for many of the country, with the cost gradually going up over the years. One of the big reasons for this is simple: inflation. The cost of everything has increased throughout the years from the ‘50s, all the way to 2019, so it makes sense that Christmas is all the more pricey too.
Energy trends show that prices generally fluctuate, with the privatisation of British Gas and electricity providers in the ‘80s and early ‘90s allowing companies to dictate the prices. Largely, however, prices for energy have increased steadily over the years, rather than sharp increases occurring. The market is also more competitive than ever, meaning you can find a better energy deal pretty easily.
Saving money on your energy during Christmas makes for good timing, as you’ll have more money for treats and gifts, which you’ll need thanks to the increase in interest in smart devices. As previously mentioned, you might be looking at getting iPads in for the kids rather than dolls and action figures like 20 years ago.
While the cost might have increased in some ways, it’ll have decreased in others. The rise of energy-efficient appliances mean you’re probably spending less on electricity overall than you were a few years ago, and a smart meter means you can control your heating wherever you are.
What you can do to reduce festive costs
All this extra energy consumption will leave Brits with a combined energy bill of £15 million over the Christmas period. But there are a lot of ways you can save money on your energy bills this year - even if it’s just by a few pence or so, every bit is important. Follow some of these tips and save over Christmas.
This is probably the most simple way of saving money when your decorating the tree. Instead of using the same old lights that you’ve had in the attic since 1999 (of which half don’t work anyway), treat yourself to some new LED Christmas tree lights. Not only will they be brighter, they’ll use 90% less energy than incandescent lights.
Energy efficient appliances
When you’re buying a new fridge, washing machine or installing a new oven, take a look at the energy efficiency score. Some fridge-freezers can run for only £30 a year, and over Christmas it’s probably the most used kitchen appliance. Thinking ahead when buying new appliances could save you a lot of money both at Christmas and in the long run.
Prep electronic gifts
If you’re buying someone a shiny new gadget for Christmas, why not take the time to get it sorted out before you wrap it? iPads and iPhones all require setups and updates before they can be used, and will come out of the box with minimal charge. Gaming consoles also require being connected to the internet and set up before use, something that can take a long time on Christmas Day thanks to everyone doing it at once. Setting all these things up before they get opened on Christmas day will not only save you loads of time (little Timmy will love being able to dive into Mario Kart straight out of the box), but will save energy as well.
Keep draughts out
In order to avoid having to put the heating up as much as you normally do, invest in some draught excluders to put under doors and some window-seal tape to keep your home draught-free. Your elderly relatives will thank you and you’ll some money in the process.
Turn your thermostat down
Turning your thermostat down by even 1 degree can save you about £85 per year and shortening the times your heating comes on can save you even more. Have a think about when you actually need to have the heating on during the Christmas break.
Don’t leave electrical items on standby
As you enjoy the myriad electronic gadgets that you might be giving and receiving as gifts, it’s important to remember how much energy they use when in standby. The PS4 and Xbox One both have standby modes, so make sure you’re turning them off when you’re not playing. The same goes for your TV - most people don’t know that their TV goes into standby automatically - quite often unnecessarily.
Switch energy suppliers
Switching energy suppliers in time for Christmas is an ideal way to see how much you could save before the busy festive period. Energy Helpline can help you save up to £461* on your annual bills. Simply enter your details about your current supplier and we’ll handle the entire switching process for you. It’s that easy.
*10% of customers switching their gas and electricity suppliers with Energy elpline (and their partners) between 1st Jan 2019 and 30th September 2019 saved £461 or more.