A Guide to a credit-crunching Christmas
As a single mum raising a teenager I know all to well the constant counting of pennies and for those of you with sons know all too well the cost to feed one of these…. Small mortgage comes to mind.
Penny pinching meals
- Don’t go mad with food! I used to spend loads on ‘special food’ and then find I threw loads out and eating Christmas stuff for weeks on end.
- Just have leftovers on Boxing Day. We did last year and it was really nice. There is no point having two really big meals.
- Buy a smaller turkey and use all of it – even down to boiling the bones for stock.
- Don’t be sucked in by all the yummy food advertising. You can always go shopping again on the 27th if you run out.
Giving and receiving (er, not quite as much as usual)
- Think about what the kids actually need. If they already have 25 DS games, they don’t need another!
- Buy decent ‘family’ presents instead of separate ones. Getting ‘family’ gifts is great, and you can have a bit of togetherness using them, too.
- Use pound shops for stocking fillers.
- Jazz up the present-giving in some way instead. My friend does elaborate treasure hunts around the house and garden: the kids love it and it spins out the present-opening.
- Some charity shops do cheap new stuff, too: the British Heart Foundation, for example, have some nice stone jewellery and key rings.
- In our extended family we ask to just buy the kids something (rather than the adults) – and then only if they want to. Kids won’t go short of presents anyway in a big extended family.
- Do a secret Santa for the adults with a price limit.
- If you have family abroad, send them money early, so they can buy their own gifts, rather than you having to pay a fortune posting parcels. Send ‘family batches’ of Christmas cards to one member of each family and ask them to distribute them.
- Buy the kids a big joint present, such as a pool table/garden swing, and get it second-hand (look at adverts locally). And recycle: swap unwanted toys with friends.
- If you’re buying big electrical type things for pressies, remember the shops want sales and have targets to meet, so haggle! This works even better if you are buying more than one thing, so try to go to one shop and purchase them all at the same time. If you don’t get money off, ask them what they will throw in for you.
- Ask grandparents for something like a year’s National Trust membership. It allows a whole year of free car parking and entry to stately homes – perfect for Easter/summer picnics.
Be a techno-savvy Christmas shopper
- For grandparents, I get calendars made up with photos of the children over the past year. You can get them at Jessops or Snappy Snaps, or online. They are universally loved by all grandparents – and aunts and uncles and great grandparents.
- Do a list of everyone you need to buy for and set limits you will not go over. Then get things from the internet, using sites like offeroftheday and popvoucher. That way, even though you’re spending less, it looks like you have spent way more.
- I do think buying now is the key; it’s surprising what £20 can buy you. Keep checking websites like Hot Uk Deals and MSE for deals.
- I am a big fan of buying on the internet and using a web cooperative site such as quidco.com. Click through to the home pages of the shops you want and you’ll earn cashback on purchases. It works for all sorts of purchases. After about three months (depending on the cashback deal), you get a little bonus in your bank account.
- I am eBay all my old stuff to raise funds for her Xmas present.
Develop a seasonal allergy to tat
- Don’t buy loads of overpriced throwaway tat that neither you nor any recipient would want or need. Both your purse and your planet will thank you.
- Remember that most people would much rather have a nice bottle of wine than any cheapo toiletries giftset/scarf/address book. MIL buys me pointless cheapo tat every year like this. Quality always triumphs over quantity, in my book. I’d much rather receive a small bar of really decent chocolate than my own bodyweight in Celebrations. Or one small pot of lovely handcream than a huge box of naff toiletries packaged in a kilo of moulded plastic.
- Avoid ‘joke’ presents. If anyone gives me tacky mugs or gross ornaments, I throw them in the bin.
- We use Xmas as an excuse to buy something nice for ourselves/ each other that we wouldn’t normally splash out on. In the past, we’ve upgraded computers, bought a games console – stuff we both enjoy all year round.
Say (cheap) pants to all of it
- In our house, Father Christmas always brings pants and socks.
- Do PJs, nicely wrapped on pillows, as an exciting Christmas Eve treat! They’re actually a really boring present but the children don’t realise that yet and think it is amazingly exciting getting a present before Christmas Day.
- On the pants subject: if I need to buy my son pants, they get cheapo, plain Asda multipacks. However, Father Christmas is somewhat more generous than me and will pop Star Wars or whatever into their stockings.
Deck the halls with small sprigs of (‘rehomed’) holly
- Get the children involved in making decorations: loads of glitter, cotton wool, glue – all the stuff you normally ban the rest of the year round. Oh and food: let them help make the mince pies, the Xmas cake and all that nonsense – magic! As a child, we had some very generous Christmases and others more meagre, depending upon income at the time, but the build-up, making decorations and stuff was really and truly the most memorable and enjoyable part of Xmas for me.
- A big roll of brown parcel paper, a glue stick and some glitter keeps small people happy for hours and makes really lovely wrapping paper. Collect evergreen leaves (nearer the time) and make a hole with a hole punch and thread onto natural string for tree and present decorations. Collect autumnal leaves now and store them until they go veiny or partially veiny, dip in silver or gold paint, dry and use them as tree decorations.
- Don’t bother buying crackers. They are expensive and are just junk. You could make your own I guess, but really what’s the point – they look pretty on the table for about 5 seconds and then you just end up with cracker strewn all over the table.
- Make your own Christmas wreath (wire coat hanger, ivy, bit of holly and some red ribbon or similar). And make tree decorations from salt dough or make pomanders. You can also drape ivy round picture frames, clocks etc. Our table ‘centrepiece’ is basically a red pillar candle with ivy round it and some Christmassy pot pourri type stuff bought in last year’s January sales!
Keep busier than Santa’s elves
- Arrange other activities for Christmas Day, so that it’s not all just about opening and then playing with presents. We like to go to the beach. It means that if you aren’t buying them that much, they quite likely won’t notice.
- There’s always a Father Christmas at a local museum and it costs about £1.50-£2 to see him and have a small gift, so you don’t need to spend £££ to have the Santa experience. There were reindeer there too.
- Some towns have amateur dramatic groups that do pantomimes cheap (a family ticket for ours costs £18 with a drink in the interval!) – they can be just as good as the big productions and in a smaller theatre you get a much better atmosphere!
- Do an activity advent calendar. Plan it around your shifts and other obligations, some of which are the activity e.g. school nativity and Christingle service. Do things like mince pies, stained glass window biscuits, homemade cards, posting said cards can be an activity on a busy day, choosing and decorating tree, paper chains, homemade wrapping paper. Choose and wrap present for siblings. Gingerbread flavoured play dough and seasonal place mats. Church. Read Christmas story. Act out nativity with Happyland People. Homemade crackers. Gingerbread house.
- Do the elf on a shelf thing, with an elf toy that arrives 1 December and goes back with Santa on Christmas Eve. Elf moves every night so the kids have to find him each morning. Have him doing things like putting out the breakfast bowls, writing messages on the blackboard, eating biscuits etc.
Children have too much stuff!
- The trouble is that children today just have too much stuff. So, another tip is to collect all unwanted soft toys, wash and tumble dry, and package any good ones off to other children for their presents. You really can’t tell if they are new or not – if the labels fade, cut them off neatly!
- Everyone is obsessed with buying named stuff/game consoles/brand new this and brand new that. Children do not notice things like that unless you are obsessive about it yourself. Fair enough if you have the money to buy new and want to spend in that manner but, if you don’t, there is no shame in second hand.
- Remember that it is only one day and probably the thing you’ll most recall is spending that time with your family. It’s not worth stressing over lots of details/extra bits and bobs; just over those that matter
Love and (exceptionally thrifty) good cheer,
- It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas (subcritical.org)
- Regina charities face Christmas fundraising challenges (metronews.ca)