Children don’t remember ‘stuff’
When they are older, children will no more remember with disappointment the presents they received during a ‘lean’ Christmas then they will remember with joy the more expensive gifts they received during a more extravagant Christmas.
Your children will remember the anticipation of Christmas, the build-up at school, the laying out of food for Father Christmas, the getting cosy with a film and a hot chocolate. They remember the Boxing Day brunch, consisting of weird and wonderful combinations of food that would normally not feature on their plates. They will not note the fact that you haven’t got a tin of branded chocolates but will enjoy dunking biscuits or baking a cake if that’s what you can manage.
All that glitters is not gold!
Just because we are bombarded with what the advertisers’ version of Christmas is, we don’t have to comply with them. Adverts depict beautifully made-up women and handsome men, serving a sumptuous lunch in a stylishly co-ordinated dining room. The reality of Christmas with children for the masses usually involves mess, noise, gravy spillages, ‘make do’ chairs and ripped paper underfoot while trying to make a cup of tea and remembering where you hid the crackers. This is the reality for most families and this authenticity is to be cherished.
Involve the children
Even small children can help make some decorations in the few days running up to Christmas Day; saving you a bit of money as well as keeping them occupied. They can cut out snowflakes from plain white paper or scraps of wrapping paper you have lying around, decorating them with pens or glitter or both. They could prepare some reindeer food by mixing cheap porridge oats with a handful of glitter to sprinkle outside on Christmas Eve. A plain paper plate could be customised ready for Father Christmas’s mince pie/biscuit/cake.
Children love helping, they love the praise that comes with a job well done. They can help you tidy and sort things around the house. They will certainly enjoy decorating the Christmas tree or displaying the family’s Christmas cards.
If they were feeling really creative (and if you don’t mind the mess), they could decorate plain biscuits with icing or chocolate spread as a tasty reward for their efforts in helping you. Activities such as these, spread over a few days, can help make the holiday period feel a bit different as well as fending off boredom.
Don’t carry the burden alone
Don’t be afraid to confide in close friends and/or relatives about your anxieties about affording presents or food. Maybe agree on a ‘no present’ rule for this year and instead, all contribute to a shared meal where everyone spends an agreed amount on their offered dish. Or a ‘no present’ rule for the adults you know but a small stocking-filler present for children you usually buy for. I doubt anyone would be offended by this – if anything, they would probably be inwardly thanking you for being the one to take the plunge and say ‘enough already’!
If you have teenage or adult children, don’t be afraid to manage their expectations about Christmas. While you won’t want to worry them, it will alleviate pressure on you if you encourage them to be realistic about what you can afford to buy. We can scrimp and save to afford the ‘perfect’ Christmas but sometimes an honest conversation can create the same outcome.
Better late than never…
Like me, you may have read accounts of families who have postponed their Christmas Day to a later date in the month. Fed up of overpriced food and toys, families are increasingly looking at ways to cut the cost of Christmas while ensuring there is still a celebration. This is a real option if you want to save on the cost of your food and gifts; I think most adults have grimaced at seeing the half price aisles on the 27th December or even Boxing Day.
Avoid debt if you possibly can
Christmas Day lasts for 24 hours, just the same as any other day. If debt can be avoided this is preferable to having your purse-strings tightened for the next six months (or longer). Fast credit is available at our fingertips but often comes with extortionate charges which force many households out of the frying pan and into the fire, impacting on their ability to meet the priority expenditures of rent/mortgage and council tax which can have serious consequences.
The period after Christmas is a popular time for people seeking help with their debt issues, keen to start the New Year on a positive footing. If you have debts and feel they are spiraling out of control or are having a detrimental impact on your mental health, do consider seeking free, independent debt counselling from reputable sources such as Citizens Advice or the Money Advice Service. Their websites offer self-help budgeting resources (including help with Christmas budgeting), as well offering more tailored help where necessary. They can also tell you about your local Credit Union which can offer an affordable way to save money in the future if you’re on a low income.
Details of your local Foodbank are available online, via your local Citizens Advice Bureau or your local Council if you are struggling to buy essential groceries (including toiletries and sanitary products).
Above all, try to remember that the health and well-being of you and your children are far more important that the latest gadget or toy. Try to enjoy your Christmas as much as you can and take comfort from doing your best with what you have; as they grow older your children will remember the time you spent with them, not the money you spent on them.