Christmas should be about indulgence, spending a little bit more, treating yourself and your family. But it shouldn't be about getting yourself in debt or leaving yourself broke and without a brass farthing on January 2nd. With three weeks till payday.
So there's a balance to be had in there, a middle ground where you can achieve the former without ending up with the latter as well. As always I'm following in the footsteps of cannier parents here, PlayPennies mums and dads who've learnt their lessons the hard way. And now they're sharing with me, and you, so we don't have to!
If you're after a cheaper Christmas this year, there here's what you should be doing now in late November to get ready.
Make a Christmas schedule
"You only have to really do this once", Holly, mum to three, explained to me. "And then you can just pull it out each year." She is telling me about her Christmas Schedule (you can hear the upper case letters when she speaks). Laminated, A4 wipe clean cards, that she blu-tac's around the kitchen. These have everything she needs to do, with space to make changes if the schedule needs to adapt.
Factor in decorations, wrapping paper, cards, sundries like extra tin foil, and all the regular stuff you'll be using a lot more of over the holidays like sandwich loaf (with everyone off work and eating at home).
"I can spread the cost out, keep an eye out for bargains closer to the date especially with things like cheese boards and vegetables, and know what I've done and what I've got to do. It saves me a lot of time, and frankly when you're balancing a job and kids your time is hugely valuable," explains Holly. Crucially, she has found it stops her for splurging out more than she might have spent just for the convenience of 'getting it all done'.
If you don't want to do this all yourself, make use of this handy Christmas Planner, that you can download from NetMums.
Carolyn makes a plan too, for meals. "At this time of the year I sit down and do my meal planner. We often have guests so I like to include breakfast in this as well. In late November I do my kitchen clear out and sort out the fridge as well. This also reminds me of all the things I've tucked away in the cupboards thinking they'll be handy for Christmas, like toothpicks on sale, and napkins!"
Now is the time to make the cake and Christmas pudding too, if you fancy having a go yourself.
Make a Christmas budget
Now, take a good hard look at your finances. Work out what you have to spend, and work out what you are going to spend it on. Over at the blog Ready For Ten, there's an interesting post from Joanne Mallon about What to do at Christmas if your kids have too much stuff already?
It has made me think to be honest. I normally limit son's Christmas list to three, maybe four items. But then I throw in a whole pile of other gifts in his Santa Sack. Plus there's everything he gets from other members of the family.
And really all he wants to play with are a bit of K'nex, and some straws. Daft I know but true. So why am I going over board? It is more for me really, and this year I'm going to reign myself in and focus on just getting what I know he'll really love, and a few items that have a limited shelf life (like chalks, felt tip pens, and a chocolate Father Christmas).
Work out exactly what you can afford to spend and then don't spend a penny more. Ha. Sorry I couldn't even say that with a straight face. I mean, it just doesn't happen in real life. You get into the spirit of Christmas and you don't want to be holding back too much.
But you know, if you have already worked out a budget, and done a bit of planning, then a bit of excess over the holidays won't hurt so much as you'll unconsciously reign yourself in. I know from experience that doesn't happen if you've no idea how much money you really have to spend!
I use a good, old fashioned, Excel spreadsheet. But if you do a search you can find budget planners all over the internet.
On the US blog Simple Mum you can download a simple, single sheet budget/planning form in PDF format. This is designed for parents, so it includes stuff you might not think of like craft supplies (so you can save money on decorations by getting the kids to make them but don't forget to factor in the expenses involved), and ingredients for Christmas cookies.
If like me you love nothing better than a good spreadsheet, try this one. Created by Melbourne mum Andrea, you can download it from her blog Planning With Kids. It dates from 2009, but these things are fairly timeless. You'll need either Excel or a programme that can open Excel spreadsheets. One idea of hers that I will definitely be nicking is to include the previous year's worksheets in the same spreadsheet. Handy for quick reference and undoubtedly there will be a lot that doesn't change.
What are you doing right now to get ready for the holidays? Or do you find more of an adventure to leave it all to the last minute?