By popular request, here’s the first of a series of articles to help spread the cost of Christmas. Yes, it’s only August, but that’s plenty of time to prepare something really special, all without breaking the bank…
Before we get started with any preparations, let’s all take a moment to think about our ideal festive celebrations. What’s most important to you? How would you like to spend the time?
What do you want? Or, what do you need?
For example, on the style front you might want a homemade Christmas with everything made from scratch. You might decide to have something unique or very modern, or you might like to go for something a lot more traditional.
On the money front, you might want to get the best Christmas you can from your allocated budget, or maybe you’re low on funds this year and need to have the cheapest yuletide possible.
If you start thinking ahead in August, you can stretch your budget a little further. There’s also more time to get ready if you want to have a homemade sort of Christmas (buying everything ready made at the last minute tends to be very expensive, not to mention extremely stressful).
It’s okay to have a simple Christmas too, if that’s what you want. There’s nothing wrong with small, thoughtful gifts, and if you think about it a traditional festive lunch isn’t that much more complicated than a straightforward roast dinner really. Alternatively, if you want a big blowout then there’s nothing wrong with that either, but you can still bring it in within budget with some smart shopping and by staying away from panic buying.
Bargains and offers in August
This is the time to look for stuff in the end of summer sales, as many shops are doing their final clearance offers around about now as well as their headline sales. Look out for toys and gifts (try the Argos clearance for starters), and think about whether you need any extra items for your home (cookware, tableware, crockery, glassware, ornaments, candles, home fragrance, furniture, bedding, etc).
You can also start to monitor the prices of big ticket items such as gadgets, laptops, tablets, TVs and games consoles. Do your research to find the right model, and follow the prices up and down for the next few weeks.
If you’re likely to be buying wine by the case rather than a bottle here and there, start looking at a few wine merchants from now onwards. There are often decent end of season deals and bin ends to be found at Majestic, Tesco Wine, and Morrisons’ Cellar, and the online customer reviews tend to be very helpful if you’re considering buying something unfamiliar.
Getting a headstart on homemade gifts
You might be able to get a good deal on materials around this time if you’re considering homemade gifts this year. That could be knitting wool, fabric, wax for candlemaking, or anything else you fancy.
Traditional cold process homemade soap needs to be made in advance because it needs time to ‘cure’ (become less alkaline). That process tends to take four to six weeks, sometimes longer depending upon the recipe, so if you made some this month or next month it would be nice and mild by Christmas. Or you could just buy the ingredients this month, shopping around to see if they’re on sale anywhere, and start to use them up from the end of October.
If you really want to, you can start to make your own handmade cards now as well, or some home decorations.
It’s also a time to look for personalised printed gift offers as there’s often a lull in demand during high summer, so the prices may go down. You might be able to get a discount on personalised printed calendars, mugs, and so on. For example, Snapfish has lots of discounts on its website this weekend, and more offers if you download its free app.
Food, drink and more
For baked goods and for making decorations such as pomanders, you might like to stock up on a few spices this month. Now’s also a good opportunity to start stocking up in general on dried and tinned foods. That could be baking ingredients such as sugar, flour and dried fruits, for example, or things like savoury biscuits. Check their use-by dates, just in case, than stash them away.
It’s definitely the perfect season for making preserves and most infusions. If there’s a glut on the allotment or at the market, now’s the time to turn it into something special such as a jam, chutney, or infused spirit. It’s even cheaper if you can forage some of the ingredients, such as blackberries for jam or brandy, or sloes or damsons for infused gin. Once made, chutney needs to sit in a cool, dry place for a few weeks to mature, and fruit infusions need to be filtered out and rebottled and left to rest for a while in the dark too.
For the traditional sweet festive foods, consider maybe making one of the following if you want to get well ahead of yourself this month: Christmas cake, mincemeat, mince pies (or just their pastry cases), Christmas pudding.
Cake: If you’re really in the mood for a headstart, you could bake a Christmas cake and put it – uniced and very tightly double wrapped – into the freezer for the next few weeks. Most people will prefer to go for the more traditional 12 or eight weeks ahead and start it at the end of September or October instead, however.
Mincemeat: There are various kinds of recipes for Christmas mincemeat. Some of them only keep for two weeks or so, but others last a lot longer and often take three weeks to mature for a fuller flavour. There’s a lovely Mary Berry mincemeat recipe that uses butter instead of suet, so it’s suitable for vegetarians, and it lasts for a good six months if you follow the instructions properly too – plus it makes another nice festive gift if you put it in an attractive jar and / or give it a pretty label.
Mince pies: You can freeze uncooked mince pies in their baking tray, transferring them to a box after they’ve frozen solid, or do the same thing with just the raw pastry cases. Alternatively, bake up some mince pies, allow to cool and freeze them in a box between layers of baking parchment. To cook or reheat, just put them back into their tray to keep their shape before putting them back in the oven.
Christmas pudding: It’s too early to be making a traditional pudding, which is usually kept in a cool, dry place for just over a month. You could make one and freeze it though. My favourite recipe is a very untraditional one from Diabetes UK that’s tasty, light and a bit like carrot cake – it can be frozen ready-to-cook or cooked, and reheats well in the microwave (love it with some sweetened whipped cream and Cointreau or brandy on the top).
Coming up next month
I’ll be mentioning:
- Some of the hottest 2017 trends in festive food, drinks, gifts and decorations
- Sales where you can find some buy-ahead bargains to spread the cost
- Christmas planning and budgets, and managing other people’s expectations
- More festive preparations you can get started on in September
If there’s anything you’d especially like to see covered then do let me know!
Will you be spreading the cost of Christmas this year? What are your best thrifty traditions?