Photo courtesy of TIO at Flickr
Well, it is officially 21 weeks and 5 days until Christmas.
I love Christmas, really, really love Christmas and start really getting into the spirit every year around the beginning of November.
Sometimes though, Christmas can jump up and bite us on the ass. With the cost of almost everything on the rise, it's very important, this year especially, to really plan ahead.
I had the sense and forethought to start right after last Christmas. I made a list of anything I had seen in the shops which I thought would make good gifts and went back in the sales to get a few things which I really thought my family would like and they have been carefully stashed away for this year.
I like to give as many hand made gifts as possible and we keep our lists pretty short here. We only give gifts to the children in the family, not the adults, but I like to give something, usually baked goods, to the household so that everyone feels included.
In fact I've gotten to the point now that I receive orders from everyone at that time of year.
I try to be quite minimal at Christmas. I don't want my daughter to associate it with a time to spend to money and get into debt, I think that's a very unhealthy way to go through life and I believe it's the main reason my mum doesn't like Christmas.
She was on her own when we were growing up and I think I realised when I was quite young that things were very difficult for her. Christmas was a time for worry, she barely managed from one month to the next and the thought of presents for her own children, never mind anyone else's, along with expense of entertaining any guests who might drop by must have been so stressful for her.
I try now to take the worry out of Christmas for my mum, she doesn't get any enjoyment from cooking so my mum, dad and brother are always invited to my home for Christmas.
And therein lies my downfall.....Entertaining. It's my passion. I love to see everyone happy after a good meal, with bellies full to bursting and contented smiles on their faces. This is the one area at Christmas time I find hardest t cut back on. But I have to try, there really just isn't the money for it in the budget this year.
I've already made a good start on the presents. I have a huge stash of yarn which I need to try to cut down so I've been keeping an eye out for patterns to use this up and also things which will make nice presents.
I have managed to finish three scarfs, two pairs of mittens, a hat with a scarf attached and pockets at the end of the scarf tails. This is my personal favourite, it's for my littlest cousin and she will just have started primary school in September this year. Hopefully this gift means that she gets to be lovely and toasty warm on the way to school but only have to keep track of one item while she's there. This should, in theory, mean that my aunt will have to spend less replacing lost items. I also just finished a pencil case (also for the same cousin), two soft toys, a bunny and a bear, two shrugs and some hair accessories and knitted jewellery for the girly half of the twins.
I have a few more projects still on needles. My mum has asked if I will make wash clothes in various shades of blue to go with her new bathroom and I'll knit a little square basket from plain string to hold them. I have some cotton in a few different shades of blue and I have quite a lot of natural cotton and a lot of dylon dyes picked up on sale, so again I shouldn't have to spend any money on this gift.
Foodwise, I'll start this week, picking up a few extra bits and pieces in the monthly shopping. Anything which will either keep on it's own (dried goods mostly) or anything which will freeze well (in particular butter, I get asked to make a lot of shortbread over Christmas and the butter can get very expensive). I'll try to keep an inventory of the things I buy specifically for Christmas and try to keep them separate from everything else to make sure they don't get used in the meantime. Later in the year I can add more things to the list, red meat can be frozen for longer than white so in November and I can start to buy in a few extra bits and pieces and store in the box freezer. This way I can take advantage of the inevitable meat sale which always occurs a month or so before Christmas and hopefully not buy anything once the prices skyrocket.
At the beginning of the year I also entered into a salary sacrifice package called Employers for Childcare. This has turned out to be a great scheme. Basically you can elect to have anything up to £243 of your monthly salary paid into an online account in the form of childcare vouchers. My childcare provider happily accepts these as they're basically cash. The benefits to me are that tax and National Insurance payable on your salary is now calculated after the voucher amount has been deducted as the vouchers are not means tested. In total this will end up saving me £901 in tax and National Insurance over the course of the year. Toots' creche fees are roughly £600 a month so I worked out that by paying an extra £50 a month to her creche and holding that amount back in the online account, I'll end up with a creche fee of £50 in December. Plus the £50 extra I've been paying each month doesn't even eat up all of the tax and NI saving so I've still felt slightly better off.
I'll be posting about any other ideas I have for making Christmas a little less hard on the wallet, but if anyone has any great stories about what you do, I'd love to hear them (hint, hint).