Sorry to mention the C Word, but we’re three pay packets away from Christmas right now. It’s a good time to think about spreading the cost of the festive season, and think of a few ways to do what you want to do for the holidays in December without running up debts.
Yes, it’s also time to mention the D Word. There is no shame at all in having an affordable – or even a ‘budget’ – Christmas. Many of us have a little less disposable income in our pockets this time around, so it’s wise not to go over the top. The last thing anyone needs for the New Year is a millstone of debt to pay off before you can get back to stability.
Remind yourself what’s most important
Before we all become caught up in the worst excesses of the season, take a brief moment to think about your favourite things about Christmas (or Hanukkah or Yule or anything else you’re celebrating). Is it making Christmas stockings for kids or baking mince pies? Decorating a tree? Seeing someone you don’t get to see very often? Putting your feet up for a few hours and watching some movies on the telly? Something else?
Getting back in touch with your own personal meaning of the season is a good reminder. It’s what’s really important to you, not what marketers or other people think should be important to you, and it can be a great help in prioritising your spending and staying on budget.
Food prep for the festive season
Resist the urge to stockpile or over-buy. You don’t want piles of leftovers going off before you can eat them. Make a menu, then create a shopping list based on your menu, then stick to your shopping list. Don’t panic, don’t overthink, don’t deviate. Stick the menu and list on the fridge to remind yourself you’ve made a proper plan. It’s all going to be fine.
If possible, make most of the food and some of the drinks yourself. Now’s a good time to cook up Christmas cakes and Christmas pudding, and maybe your own mincemeat too. You could also infuse a bottle of not-too-expensive gin, vodka, bourbon or brandy with fruit or spices this week to make a special festive tipple.
While you’re shopping, don’t buy too many premium brands. Purchasing top price everything won’t give you an upgraded Christmas experience – because it’s something you can’t actually buy.
It’s okay to have a treat or two here and there, but most people can’t tell the difference in blind taste tests and some of the cheapest supermarket offerings regularly win medals for their flavour and quality. For example, unless you drink champagne on a very regular basis you probably won’t be able to differentiate between most non-vintage brands, even if we all secretly like to kid ourselves that we can. You might be better off with a cheaper prosecco, cremant, cava or other sparkling wine instead, or forget the fizz altogether.
If you’re the host, don’t be scared to keep it simple and don’t let your guests dictate what you buy and serve. If you call up and ask people in advance what they want, you’re only going to cause yourself extra work and stress – entitled folks are never going to be happy with anything you serve anyway, so you might as well please yourself. It’s a tough lesson to learn, but I’ve seen it with my own eyes, as the example below will illustrate.
By all means cater for allergies etc, but don’t end up in a situation where you’re serving icecream, whipped cream, rum butter, brandy butter and custard with your Christmas pudding just because each one of your relatives is demanding something different. Like it or lump it, Auntie Edna! Bring your own, Great Uncle Bill!
It’s also fine to put a reasonable amount of portion control into meals. You’re hardly starving people if you give them four slices of turkey instead of five, and the easiest way around that is to plate up the expensive ingredients in the kitchen, then give people free rein over the veggies and potatoes at the table. Works a treat. Don’t feel obliged to buy the giant turkey, or whatever else you usually have.
Now is a good time to sort out gifts, if you haven’t started already. Set a budget, then make your gift list (not the other way around, or you’ll end up in trouble). The next couple of weeks or so will see a few sales and price reductions, so you could start monitoring prices.
If you start to feel as though your gifts are ‘not enough’, gently remind yourself that giving overpriced presents will not raise your social status, make anyone respect you, or make someone like or love you if they don’t already do so. Also, you’re not The Great Provider for your family or partner if you’re putting yourself into debt, so avoid taking on that potentially toxic role if you can.
These insecurities drive so much financial self-harm that I hardly know where to start with them, but I’ve had good results from taking a deep breath and thinking ‘people not things, people not things’ over and over again on occasions when that sort of thing starts to sneak up on me.
It’s also worth discussing price limits with friends and family, so that nobody is being pressured to go over the top, and nobody gets a nasty surprise when they present a lavish gift only to receive a more modest one in return. If a friend or relative of mine was having serious money trouble, I’d happily tell them not to buy me anything – letting them off the hook is a gift they’d almost certainly appreciate.
Be careful around the 3 for the price of 2 offers that start to spring up at this time of year. They aren’t always bargains. However, I have been known to buy a single large good-quality gift set and split it up to make several stocking-filler size token presents for people.
Are you making any of your own gifts this year? Things like chutneys and traditionally-made soaps need time to mature before they can be used, so it’s best to start gifts like that off now. You can also do a bit of knitting, sewing or jewellery-making in front of the telly before the party season starts…
You could get started on a few homemade Christmas cards and festive decorations too, if you’re in the mood. For example, traditional decorations such as orange and clove pomanders or salt dough shapes need a bit of time to fully dry out, so it’s best to start them off early. I’m doing up some dried orange and lemon slices this weekend, and will eventually be mixing them into bowls of whole dried spices in December as natural room fragrancers.
In the past, I would have suggested looking through magazines or trawling Pinterest or Instagram for festive design inspiration, but I’m starting to find a lot of it to be ‘too perfect’ or super-curated to the point of being over the top, unattainable and essentially unaffordable. If in doubt, pick a simple colour scheme or a general style to easily create some visual impact, and start by looking through things you already own and can easily repurpose.
So there we have it: personal meaning, people not things, make a list, and don’t worry too much about what you ‘should’ be doing. October, we’ve got this.
Are you doing any festive season prep this month? What have you been up to?