Ten ways to avoid getting stressed out over Santa in the Christmas countdown
Sorry, it's not even Halloween yet, but there are only 10 weeks to Christmas.
Every year, people end up saying they wish they had planned earlier, so here are my top 10 tips to make sure you're organised in good time.
1. Make a List: Actually, make two, and check them twice, just like Santa. Lists are my life, and they work. The first is one I keep on my phone's Notes app: who I need to buy a gift for, the budget and what I think they may like. When I've bought it, I change the colour. This far out you should be buying gifts, but it's easy to put them away and forget you've got them.
The second list is for managing time. We all have a ramped-up social life from November onwards: mark planned lunches, outings, school concerts and the like on your calendar. It will avoid the stress of double-booking (and may be an excuse to get out of things).
2. Budget: Christmas comes around relentlessly, so you already know exactly what you need to buy, from the tree to turkey. Write it all down (I keep mine on the fridge door).
Cost it out (even an estimate is fine) and you'll have a figure at the end. You might not like it, but knowing what it is gives an immediate sense of control. As things are bought, cross them off the list - also satisfying.
3. Money: Most people go into temporary debt for Christmas. This is fine as long as it's controlled - not crazy shopping on Christmas Eve.
Think about it now: consider setting up a Christmas account on your bank app - deposit accounts are free. Put in cash every time you save on something or get paid or find a little extra somewhere.
Be ruthless about this. It will save so much stress when you come to buy things later. If you really can't get by without a loan, now is the time to sort it, not in January. Drop into your credit union or arrange an overdraft at your bank. Both are preferable to putting things on expensive credit cards.
4. Delegate: No one can do everything; the very best hosts farm out jobs. If you're the one hosting Christmas dinner, it's vital to get a head start. Your guests will be so relieved to not be doing it themselves that they'll guiltily and gratefully accept a task. Apply each to people's strengths. The cooks get to bring a dish, the non-cooks a game, wine, cake or whatever.
Line up cutlery/dishes/glasses now. Laughingly apologise for being so efficient, but remain focused. If anyone even vaguely asks if they can do something, say yes before they change their mind. Write down all offers of help.
5. Gifts: Kris Kindle, or Secret Santa, is the budget-friendly option. The joy of shopping for one gift for one sibling or one workmate is blissful - lots of thought can go into it as you don't have to buy 10 or 20 things.
Discuss with family and friends now and decide on a limit. If you're buying for a whole family, consider one gift instead of one each - a board game or hamper is perfect.
If you're really strapped, give chutneys, jams or biscuits, beautifully wrapped; a personal photo in a pretty frame; or even gift your time with a voucher for an evening's babysitting or minding someone's pet while they're away.
6. Home Economics: Getting your home ready starts now. Consider what freezer space you'll need and start defrosting and eating what's in there now. Clear out cupboards and spare bedrooms if you'll have guests staying.
7. Re-gifting: You got gifts last year you still have at the top of the wardrobe, right? We all do. Dig them out and make a plan to re-gift. It's not cheap, it's thoughtful.
Re-wrap beautifully and think about who would benefit from a lovely thing you can't use. You can also give items you own, such as jewellery and picture frames.
8. Shop Online: If you're buying online, do it now to make sure everything arrives and you have time to exchange it. Consumer law allows you to return goods within the EU in 14 days for any reason and get a full refund. Avoid buying any-thing on Chinese or US websites - you'll be whacked for VAT, customs duty and even countervailing duty for Asian products, making them not so much of a bargain.
9. Shop at home: When you're doing your weekly supermarket shop, add one or two non-perishable items starting this week to lessen the load. Booze, sweets, turkey bags, tinfoil, napkins will all be there in Christmas week.
10. Plan for January: January is the longest month of the year as we limp towards pay day. Plan for it now, accept you'll be financially challenged and give yourself free treats to look forward to - a winter picnic with the kids, a warm gallery visit or a bracing beach walk with a hot flask of soup.