Just in case you didn't notice, we're now well into the month of December. The first week of Advent Calendar windows have just about been opened. You're either feeling smug because, thanks to forward planning, nearly everything for Christmas is sorted, or you're starting to feel the onset of panic as you realised just how much you need to do.
Now here's the leftovers, random top tips our PlayPennies parents have learnt over many years of making every penny count during the Yuletide season. And please do stop by and leave your own Top Tip!
Mum of five year old Sarah reckons the key to a successful Christmas is baking. "Bake, bake, bake. I make cakes, and Christmas cookies, pies, and crumbles, and more cakes in the week before Christmas. Just easy stuff. Nothing like mince pies. House smells great, and there's always lots of feel good stuff for the family to tuck into at any time over the hols." Her favourites are sponge cakes (Sainsburys Basics mix for 22p a pack), Christmas biscuits from BBC Good Food, apple pies and banana bread.
Christmas tree skirt
This one comes from ex-pat Cara, who has lived in the UK for 20 years now but originally comes from Maine, in the US. She explains that a Christmas tree skirt is something that covers up the ugly stand under the tree. She makes her own using cheap material, or odds and ends from remnants bins in material and haberdashery stores. "Last month I got a length of red crushed velvet on sale for £2.99 per metre. This should last me a few years yet. I wrap it around the bottom of the tree, and buy enough to also cover the floor under the tree. Presents look good on it, and it is easier to keep clean."
"One year, my mum made my sister, my dad and myself movie boxes. These had a video inside, along with popcorn, chocolates, crisps and a bag of pick 'n mix." remembers Sarah. A fun and inexpensive alternative to stocking fillers. Sarah does the same, coming up with different themes each year.
Brine your turkey so it stays plump and juicy when cooked. If you get a frozen bird (Lidl sells one for £9.99) make sure it isn't already pre-basted. Also, you can't use a kosher turkey for this. Both types are already salted. Mix up a salty solution - about 1 cup of salt to 4 litres of cold water. And cover the turkey in an appropriate container - a large thoroughly cleaned bucket (don't forget to cover it) or a large cooler. Do this the day before you want to cook it. In this recipe, they've also added brown sugar and peppercorns. Maybe I'll try that this year.
Trey, mum of three aged six and under, saves up the glossy inserts from newspapers and magazines like the Radio Times. "Often they have large wall posters, which are particularly good to use" she advises. I don't think I'd quite be able to do that actually. I'm not sure it would look that good under the tree! I rather like Shelley's idea. "When I was growing up, presents always came in brown paper festooned with lots of different coloured ribbon. Now I'm continuing the tradition!"
Hopefully even in these recessionary times you'll still be making a charitable donation this Christmas. Regardless there are a few things you can do to still make a difference. Make sure you tick the gift aid box when you do donate - the Inland Revenue contributes 28p for every pound you give. The shop can also claim gift aid on items sold in shops, so if you give unwanted gifts to charity make sure you stick around to give your details. Download free charity apps for your phone! Try ToiletFinder UK for your iPhone from Water Aid. You'll not be caught short again!
Use Faresharemusic to give new music releases as a gift. The site will send them for you via email. Half of all profits go to charity.
Play the Christmas Game
Instead of all the adults buying gifts for each other, you could do the Secret Santa thing. But that puts pressure on people to find something that suits the recipient, and can lead to hurt feelings as inevitably someone gets something so unsuitable they question their entire relationship with the giver.
It is far more fun to play the Christmas Game. Every adult has to bring a gift with them, with a price limit of £5. Then you need a pair of dice. Set a time limit, based on how many people there are present. Twenty minutes is good for half a dozen people. Then take it in turns to roll the dice. When you get a double, you either pick a present from the pile if you don't have one. Once you do have a present, rolling a double means you HAVE to swap your present with someone else. Once all the pressies are open you'll find that there will be at least one that EVERYONE wants desperately and the competition can get tough as the last minutes count down. A double 1 allows you to skip swapping if you want, and if the dice add up to six the game direction reverses.