Christmas is, without doubt the most celebrated and joyous time of the year. It is the time when families reunite and when children look forward to the arrival of Santa.
For many however, it can also be the most stressful time of the year with the costs mounting and pressure on families to pull everything together for the big day. With just over seven weeks to go until the festive season is upon us, planning is of paramount importance and the County Leader has put together some useful tips to help you keep Christmas as stress-free as possible.
Also included in this edition is some very valuable financial advice from MABS, the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, with some top advice on how to plan your finances around the most financially stressful time of the year.
When planning presents, you should make two lists and check them all the time; the first one is for the people you need to buy gifts for. Use your phone and put everyone’s name on it with a suggested gift and budget. As you buy, cross them off so you don’t forget anyone, or worse, buy twice and end up going over budget.
The second list is managing your time. We all have a ramped-up social life at Christmas as we plan lunches, dinners and get-togethers as if we’re not going to see anybody again. If you don’t use your phone calendar or diary, start now. Use colour coding to signify day or evening events, parties, concerts, school shows. There’s nothing worse than double-booking yourself. If you’re technologically challenged, print off a six-week calendar and keep it in your bag.
Delegating responsibility is vital. Nobody can be expected to do everything and there are no gifts for being a martyr. If you’re having the whole family to Christmas dinner, it’s even more important. Most people feel guilty (but relieved) if they’re going to someone else’s house, so they’ll be happy to be let off the hook by being asked to bring something.
Kris Kindle your gifts where possible. Buying a little something for all your office colleagues, siblings, nieces and nephews is expensive. Everyone gets something decent, but you only buy once. In our family, no swapping of names (even the ones nobody wants to buy for) or buying of vouchers is allowed, but make your own rules. The stress relief from only having to buy for one is incalculable, so you’ll take extra care to get something perfect. For large families, consider buying a board game, rather than individual gifts.
Budgeting is crucial as Christmas is the most expensive time of the year and terribly difficult for those who don’t have a lot of money. If you’re on a really tight budget this year, then you’ll have to employ creativity instead of money. If you’re crafty, or a great cook, a homemade gift is ideal, like chutneys, jams, biscuits, beautifully wrapped.
If not, a voucher for an evening’s babysitting, digging the garden or minding someone’s pet while they’re away will be much more appreciated than another scarf or socks.
Don’t be afraid to tell people money is tight. They’ll have invited you for your company rather than what you bring.
This week is the time to start getting your freezer cleared out to prepare it for all the leftovers and food to come. Put everything in it out on the kitchen table (quickly, so it doesn’t defrost). Chuck out anything you don’t recognise or which has crystallised; it’s potentially dodgy. Put back what’s left in order – meat, veg, and leftovers all in different places.
From this week on, buy one or two extra, non-perishable items to spread out the cost. A bottle of wine, box of chocolates, tin of biscuits, small stocking-filler, so you’re not rushing around Christmas week which can cause you to panic and over-buy.
Stock up on all those things you don’t think you’ll need, but you always do: foil, paper plates, cocktail sticks, napkins, cling wrap, batteries. They’ll all get used eventually. Buying in bulk can save money too.
Plan the entertaining you’re doing well in advance. Most people eat and drink far too much at Christmas. A refreshingly simple get together is all that’s needed. Some cheeses, salty snacks with mince pies, wine, beer and soft drinks (forget spirits), and using/paying your children as waiters/coat checks, will allow you enjoy the party too.
Plan the parties you’re going to carefully also. There’s no need to buy a new outfit for each one – swap with friends or family members for the ones they won’t be at, and vice versa.