It could be a difficult Christmas for many. Credit: Pixabay

Food banks, charity shops and inflated baskets: The realities of Christmas in a cost-of-living crisis

‘I’ve had to explain to my kids that Santa’s been really busy this year so they might not get as much as they’ve asked for’

CHRISTMAS might not be merry for everyone this year with the cost-of-living crisis in full swing.

Inflation has risen by nearly 11% over the past year, fuel and energy prices are through the roof, food bank usage is growing and industrial action is widespread.

Even as people continue to turn to discount retailers and own-brand ranges, the cost of Christmas will prove difficult to meet.

The Cardiffian takes a look at just how much Christmas 2022 could set a small family back, as well as hearing the realities of those who are struggling to get by.

The dinner

As food inflation has risen over the last 21 months, the cost of a Christmas dinner for a family-of-four has reached £31, according to researchers.

A traditional Christmas dinner.
Credit: Pixabay

Using Tesco, the grocery market leader, and sticking to own-label products we have priced up a budget version of this four person festive meal.

The first question was to define what counts as a traditional dinner, something which varies between households.

Fortunately, YouGov asked Brits this question in 2019.

They found that turkey is the meat of choice for 54% of people while we chose the top 10 most popular sides to make up the remainder of the plate.

Starters, desserts and drinks have not been included while pack rather than portion sizes have been priced, since shoppers cannot rip open a bag of 12 Yorkshires if they only want six.   

We then applied the 12 month food and drink inflation rate of 16.5% to estimate 2021 prices and found that the price of this dinner had increased by over £4 during this period.

The expectation would be that discount supermarkets would vastly undercut this cost. However, the cost of the same basket at ALDI was only a pound less.

This is perhaps a sign of the times, where even the discounters are struggling to drive a harder bargain than the big chains they have squeezed over the years.  

The tree

Along with the dinner, a Christmas tree is a key part of the festivities and is the centrepiece of the decorations.

Whether you buy an artificial one or a real Norwegian spruce, there can be a significant outlay involved.

Of course, for those who have already dug the previous years’ plastic one out of the loft then there is no need to spend big.

Christmas trees rarely come cheap.
Credit: Pixabay

But for those who normally buy a fresh tree then they may feel they have little choice but to get another.

In Cardiff, it could cost between £25 and £60 to buy a six foot tree depending on what type.

Jamie Brown, 43, has sold trees for the past nine years outside the Ffynnon Wen pub in Thornhill.

He says his business, A-G Christmas Trees, which he runs with his wife Kim, has been feeling the pinch in recent months.

Jamie and Kim Brown sell a range of trees at the Ffynnon Wen car park.
Credit: A-G Christmas Trees

“Wholesale costs have gone up for us and haulage and fuel prices have been affected and are having a big impact on our costs,” he said.

“We tried to keep costs the same as previous years but eventually we had to put our prices up.

“This hasn’t affected demand and hasn’t appeared to affect how much people are willing to pay. Most people are expecting to pay more,” Mr Brown said.

The presents

With a tree comes the need for gifts to put under it.

For many families this year, the types of presents afforded in previous years may be out of reach. For parents especially, it is a difficult reality to accept.

Working out how to put a smile on their children’s faces this year, at an affordable price, seems to be a common theme of the festivities.

The outcome of this is reflected in Amazon’s bestselling toys and games list. It is dominated by card and board games which tend to cost less than large play sets or video game consoles.

Amazon’s top toys of 2021:
1. L.O.L. Surprise! Movie Magic Studios (£129.99)
2. Little Live Pets: Gotta Go Turtle (£32.99)
3. Squeekee the Balloon dino (£69.99)
4. LEGO Supermario bros Luigi set (£34.99)
5. Paw Patrol transforming paw patroller (£59.99)

Credit: Amazon
Amazon’s top toys of 2022:
1. Herd Mentality board game (£15.99)
2. Asmodee card game (£9.00)
3. It’s Bananas game (£21.99)
4. Crayola washable markers (£5.00)
5. SUSSED: Would You Rather? card game (£8.99)

Credit: Amazon

The Cardiffian compared the current top five products in that list with last December’s and found a gulf between the prices.

The most expensive toy in that list last Christmas was the L.O.L. Surprise! Movie Magic Studios set which came in at £129.99.

Compare that to this year and you will find that It’s Bananas! The Monkey Game for Kids, Teens, and Tipsy Adults takes the crown at a more modest £21.99.  

The cheaper nature of 2022’s most in-demand toys suggests a change in shoppers’ habits as they try to make ends meet.

Despite these changes in behaviour, the total costs of the above, and what many would count as the bare necessities of Christmas, could still hit triple figures for a four person family.

The reality

For one mother, this year has been harder than ever.

Kath Whyte, 35, has two boys aged six and nine. She works in a supermarket and says she often struggles to deliver the sort of Christmas that she wants to.

“Normally, I get through it by working overtime and getting a bit of help from my family,” she said.

“This year’s been the toughest yet. My mam and dad are really feeling it with the cost of their mortgage doubling so I can’t ask them for the same level of help.

“My bills have gone up too and I’m looking in charity shops for presents. I’ve had to explain to my kids that Santa’s been really busy this year so they might not get as much as they’ve asked for,” Ms Whyte added.

People are turning to charity shops to buy their Christmas presents.
Credit: Google

For others who are struggling to even put food on the table and pay their bills, the thought of spending tens to hundreds of pounds on gifts, trees and a huge dinner is hard to imagine.

And they may feel there are few places to turn to for help if they want their families to enjoy some Christmas cheer.

Cardiff Foodbank is one such place. According to Emma Shepherd, the food bank’s project manager, volunteers have been putting together gift bags alongside food parcels over the festive period.

“We’ve been really fortunate this year with lots of businesses wanting to volunteer with us,” she said.

“They’ve been collecting Christmas supplies and coming into the warehouse to make up festive bags for us, so people visiting the food bank will get a bag of Christmas goodies to go alongside their standard food parcel.”

Managers and volunteers at the Cardiff Food bank warehouse
Emma Shepherd (left) alongside other volunteers at Cardiff Foodbank.
Credit: The Cardiffian

Ms Shepherd also talked of the change in demographic of people using the service.

“We are seeing people that we didn’t really see in the past. For example, pensioners who have worked and provided for themselves and their families all their lives but now just don’t have enough to live on,” she said.

“The cost-of-living has risen so much and they just can’t stretch their budgets any further. Our stats from October showed a 42% increase on this time last year and we’re expecting that increase to get even higher as the winter really kicks in.

“Just today, in a two-hour session, we’ve fed 94 people. These are numbers that we’ve never seen before.”

Ms Shepherd thanked the public for their support and praised the overwhelming response to their winter collection at Tesco stores in Cardiff, where more than 10 tonnes of food was collected in three days.

“Demand for our services is at an all-time high and we’re expecting that to rise even further, so this volume of food is vital to allow us to continue supplying emergency food to people in the city,” she said.

  • To find your nearest food bank or donation point in Cardiff, as well as warm spaces, food pantries and food markets, click here.