It is officially about a fortnight left until Christmas… gosh where did the year go? As a mum; or even just an individual, it is a particularly exciting time of the year. Because you only have the festive season once a year it is rather important to make it a memorable one. For a lot of us, work is suspended and there’s time for family, friends, rest, events and all the good stuff. The responsibility for the family enjoying the festivities often rests on the shoulders of the mum. Although impulsive muddling through this season can sometimes prove rewarding, I find that conscious planning is absolutely necessary for maximum enjoyment of this season. Here are some of my thoughts on how you can prepare for Christmas.
The Money Matter
Although Christmas is an exciting time of giving and receiving of gifts, travelling and banqueting; it is important to remember that there is always life after Christmas. Having a budget and sticking to it is very important for this reason. I have learned this the hard way. January is an incredibly long month on the occasions where I have failed to stick to a budget. Here are some ways you can have a fantastic Christmas on a budget.
- Start Early: I personally, as a general principle try and tend to pay for big plans before ever the time comes. I try to pay for parties, holidays and of course Christmas well in advance. This takes away the pressure of coughing up large amounts of money in one go. Advance planning also allows me shop around for bargains and compare prices to get the best possible deals. I realise that the last thing on your mind after Christmas is next Christmas but you can take advantage of the price drop in most shops. OK maybe not the Turkey for next Christmas; but you can buy Christmas decorations, cards, gifts for loved ones, Serve ware, dinnerware, cooking utensils and other bits and pieces. Other sales throughout the year are opportunities to stock up for Christmas at a reduced price.
- Stay within your budget: If you start spending without first deciding to have a budget and stick to it; you can get into “impulse buy” mode. Especially for those who live in the western world, there is something about the shopping experience. For some reason, there exists a “spirit of shopping” that tends to come over you the minute you enter the shops. From the lighting, to the illusion that they create of goods being cheaper when they add the “.99” in the price, to even the strategic positioning of the products, you are just compelled to keep buying. I also find that paying with bank cards is another way that you can be lured into uncontrolled spending. To keep myself on track, one of the things I try to do is withdraw the cash I need to cover my shopping. There is something that paying by cash triggers in my psyche. I find that spending cash helps me remain true to my budget; unlike with card spending where the depletion of your funds is hidden.
- Buy only what you need: As a mum I find that this is the hardest thing because shops are shut on on Christmas and boxing days. This usually leads to a frantic clearing of all the shelves for fear of forgetting to buy something essential. I am particularly guilty of overbuying Christmas presents for my children. The need for under the Christmas tree to be so full of wrapped presents is another psychological thing one has to combat. Sometimes, we get so carried away with foreign traditions. Growing up, your Christmas clothes and shoes used to be your Christmas present. These days, I find myself wanting to do stocking fillers, educational items, big price items, full new outfits and so many other things. The budget can be so easily exceeded if care is not taken. Last Christmas, I decided to stick to my budget by buying only one gift requested by each child out of a list of three items they would like for Christmas. Not only did the children enjoy their gift which was actually something they really wanted; the house was not littered with too many toys that were never really used.
- Keep it Simple: Two Christmases ago, I must have been in the kitchen cooking from 9 am until 6 pm with only one hour sitting down. I guzzled down my Christmas meal as I still had more things to make. Many of the dishes I prepared ended up in the freezer which wasn’t a bad thing in the grand scheme of things. However, this meant that I really didn’t need to cook them on Christmas day as they did not contribute to my Christmas day experience at all. I probably ended up spending all day in the kitchen with no time for my family. Planning a special but simple menu can be the key to enjoying your Christmas much better. And although you may feel as a mum that the more dishes you cook, the more enjoyable the day will be for your family, nothing could be further from the truth. Simple, well thought out and delicious dishes are the way to go in order to both have nice dinner table ensemble and quality time with your family.
Home or Away?
The decision of where to spend Christmas is a crucial one and is one that needs to be made early. Although I have never really been away on a paid vacation for Christmas, I know it can be an interesting option for a change from time to time. A change of environment at Christmas time, is sometimes the icing on the cake that can make your Christmas holidays spectacular. I know this because growing up, we never spent Christmas on a paid vacation but we would travel to our home town . A tradition like that in our family was the source of many pleasant memories around Christmas. Sometimes, Christmas away from home may not require a packed suitcase or hotel accommodation. It may be as simple as joining with friends who live near you to celebrate Christmas day together. Especially if you live in a country where you are away from your family; doing Christmas with friends can be fun. Not only does it make life easier as responsibilities for the Christmas day plan is shared; it is a cost effective way. Again, planning ahead is key once the decision about where to spend Christmas has been made.
Creating the atmosphere
From music to food preparation, shopping to home decorating, from nativity plays to gift wrapping; there are many ways you can get yourself and your family in the mood for Christmas. Growing up we always had a Christmas tree. And although it was no more than 3 feet tall, it did give us a feel of Christmas and put us in a great mood for the festivities. I can still remember it sitting in the corner of the living room of our country home (village house). It was covered in coloured lights that twinkled. When we were kids, my dad would play his Pat Boone Christmas record on Christmas morning. Something about the combination of Pat Boone’s baritone voice (as he sang ‘White Christmas’) and chilly hammattan air in our village; combined with the smell of burning firewood and the bleating of the Christmas goat screamed CHRISTMAS to my brain. I’m not entirely sure why dad played ‘white christmas’ a lot back then. I certainly had no idea until very recently what a white christmas meant. But just as the song says, back in our home town in Africa we were definitely allowed to “dream” of it.
Creating tradition and memories for your children gives them a sense of identity. These days I have a 6 ft Christmas tree in my living room which we decorate together within the first two weeks of December. This tree decorating activity gets the kids excited and puts my family in the festive mood. You can be as traditional or as creative as you like. If it is fun, and brings the family together, then it is perfect for building family tradition.
Giving and Receiving
I am yet to meet anyone who doesn’t enjoy receiving gifts. Christmas is a great time to appreciate your family members. I always try to buy something (no matter how small) for every member of my family. It is often said…”you can give without loving, but you can never claim to love without giving”. Christmas is about giving too. In your preparations it is important to think of creative ways to give. Do not forget your friends either. Acknowledging and appreciating friends for all the laughter, fun, good advice or even favours done is quite important. With friends, it can be a little bit more challenging as you may not know what to give. I find that depending on where you are, certain kinds of gifts may be more suitable. So whether it is a monetary gift or food, clothing and home ware gifts; plan to give something and enjoy every minute of receiving gifts yourself. I tend to appreciate my friends by giving gifts that can be enjoyed by all the family. Some ideas of family gifts that can be shared would be packaged edibles like in hampers, actual food stuff or even family board games.
Probably the most overlooked aspect of enjoying the Christmas holidays is the opportunity to get some well deserved rest. It is amazing how much hard work it takes to actually get to resting. It is really about shutting down the mind even though there is probably lots to do. If you are a mum like myself, you probably need to schedule a time for rest. Part of this scheduling begins with planning ahead. It helps to take advantage of spouses being available or on leave from work during the festivities. Sometimes, just letting dad take the children out for a few hours can give you the time to get some well deserved rest. Storing leftovers from the Christmas meal can also be very helpful in saving you “kitchen attendance” time as well. Avoid the temptation of doing too much and maximise the opportunity to recharge your batteries.
Whatever you do this season, be sure to create fun memories of the holidays with just the right amount of relaxing. There is no time for regrets, so focus on your family, stay healthy and happy. Have a time of reflection and gratitude for the year you’ve just had while dusting those diaries and journals and putting down your 2018 resolutions. Have a very Merry Christmas.