It’s the most wonderful time of year, right? For many of us, this season is far from that. We may feel lonely or isolated, grieving those who are no longer with us, struggling with health issues or dread the awkward family gatherings. For some, the added financial pressure is extremely stressful. We often place high expectations on ourselves to perform and impress others or create an unforgettable time for our family.
There are some things you can do earlier in the year to help set you up for a less stressful Christmas season. Here are ten tips.
1. Have a sinking fund. Start saving early for Christmas. Figure out how much you’ll need: presents, food, travel etc, then work backwards about how much per week or pay cycle this equates to. Open up a separate savings fund and nominate a figure to be transferred into on a regular basis (eg. $50 every fortnight). Christmas can feel like it comes faster every year but it isn’t an emergency. Don’t let it creep up on you and stress you out! Make a plan and stick to it. Little amounts throughout the year add up!
2. Kris Kringle. This is popular in many work places and families. Rather than everybody buying a present for everybody, do a simple draw to figure out the one person that each person buys for. Set a limit (we do $30 in our family) and create a wish list of ideas for that person to choose from. This is a great idea for buying for children too – they really don’t need that many presents!
3. Set limits. Be realistic about what you can afford to spend and what you actually want to. Have a conversation with family earlier on in the year and put your concerns on the table if you feel the spending is too high. It is ok to have boundaries for presents throughout the year too. We have $30 for close family, $20 for other family, $20 for kids and $10 for children’s parties. Write down your budget, figure out what you can buy with this money and keep a record of what you buy throughout the year. It’s easy to forget things that you may have bought, and then overspend when you purchase more things closer to Christmas.
4. Write gift ideas. This is especially important for children. Most relatives want to be generous and buy an exciting gift for their child, and want the wow factor. To help avoid excess in your home, try creating a wishlist of ideas. This can be on a website like Amazon or simply a list emailed out with prices and links to the shop. Include a mixture of toys (focusing on open ended or good quality), clothes, books and experiences (eg cinema, bowling or swimming vouchers). See my post on How to declutter your children’s toys for good for more tips.
5. Buy second hand. I love op shopping (or thrifting). Most of my children’s clothes, shoes, books and toys are bought this way. I always encourage relatives to buy things on marketplace or from op shop if they want (eg get a bulk set of Fireman Sam toys for $30 rather than one new truck). I only buy second hand for others with their permission (eg. would you prefer five gorgeous dresses second hand or one new one for your two year old?). This not only reduces cost for people, or gets more for their money, but it also reduces the environmental impact.
6. Limit wastage. Writing lists and doing Kris Kringle can help limit excess presents but how about food? Discuss and plan meals with family, organise who brings what, try not to go crazy at the grocery store before hand. Make salads to go with leftover cold meats, cook veggies in a creamy cheese sauce, make yiros, soups or platters. Use it as a chance to have a few days off cooking. Jamie Oliver has some fabulous ideas for this in his book, ‘Save with Jamie.’
7. Choose your favourites. Covid has certainly changed the way way we live recently and for many of us, has forced us to slow down (see Why adjusting to isolation was hard, but why I’m not ready to come out of it just yet …). As mothers, we often feel pressure to create a magical Christmas experience.
Sit down and figure out what is most important to you and ask your kids what they love the most. Is it Christmas carol events, Christmas lights, visiting markets, sitting on Santa’s lap (or the socially distanced version), snuggling up watching Christmas movies, baking honey biscuits or decorating gingerbread houses? Pick your favourites, schedule them in and create times of rest and togetherness at home. We don’t and can’t do it all. ( The art of saying no.. )
8. Everyone contribute. Discuss with family what you can all bring to ease pressure on the host. Divide up meat, veggies, salads, dessert, drinks and snacks (even bonbons, serviettes and declarations can be brought by someone else if they come early to help set up. It shouldn’t be organised and paid for by one household (in my opinion).
Two years ago, I had a baby on Christmas Eve. I went home that night and made it for Christmas lunch at my parents and Boxing Day at in-laws. Whilst I don’t recommend doing this (😂😂), they made it simple for us. I pre-bought and packed drinks and nibbles, and contributed some money towards food.
9. Limit alcohol. This is one area that can add up really fast. If you enjoy drinking, especially at this time of year, look out for specials the month or two leading up to Christmas. Put some boxes aside (and try not to drink them!) to reduce costs closer to the festive season. Mix up drinking alcohol with water, soft drink, juice, soda stream, flavoured milk or hot drinks if you can.
10. Return or regift excess. People love to give women hand creams or bath lotions. It’s a lovely gesture but how much can you actually use? I regift these items unless I really love the scent. If I take the time to create a wishlist with my child (or on behalf of young children), and the relative chooses to buy a noisy plastic toy that will not last (or clothing that is the wrong size), I don’t feel bad about exchanging this or regifting (unless your children really love it or are old enough to make their own decisions).
This may be seen as ungrateful, but isn’t it worse to open the package, let the kids play with it a week before it breaks or put the clothing in a drawer never to use? It might seem harsh at the time but if you do it quietly, and buy something else with the money for your child, surely that is a better solution.
Ultimately I choose what comes into our house and stays there, as I am the one to pick up and organise all the things. Last year, our boys got so many toys for birthday and Christmas. I took some to my local department store and asked if they sold it and whether they would let me return it. One shop took most and gave me $120 in credit notes. I used this to buy clothing they needed and some toys they’d wanted for ages.
In closing, despite the expensive season that Christmas can be, you can have a say in how prepared you are and how much you choose to spend. Take some time to plan ahead, set your budget and gently communicate with those around you about these plans. Brainstorm together about some changes you can make that will honour the family traditions whilst respecting your financial situation. It’s ok and healthy to have boundaries. We don’t have to do what we have always done.
I hope that Christmas for you this year will be special and with those that you love. ❤️
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