10 ways to enjoy a stress-free Christmas
It's November, which means many of us are already in full planning mode for the festive season. Sinead Ryan shares her top tips so you don't get your baubles in a twist.
With just over six (short) weeks to go, for a stress-free, consumer-friendly Christmas, planning is everything. To ensure you avoid a frazzled festive season, here are my top 10 tips:
Santa's making his list and checking it twice. My advice is to make two lists and check them all the time. The first one is for the people you need to buy gifts for. Use a Notes App on your phone and put everyone's name on it with a suggested gift and budget. As you buy, cross them off so you don't forget anyone, or worse, buy twice and end up going over budget.
The second list is managing your time. We all have a ramped-up social life at Christmas as we plan lunches, dinners and get-togethers as if we're not going to see anybody again. If you don't use your phone calendar or diary, start now. Use colour coding to signify day or evening events, parties, concerts, school shows. There's nothing worse than double-booking yourself. If you're technologically challenged, print off a six-week calendar and keep it in your bag.
This is vital, so let me repeat it: delegate! Nobody can be expected to do everything and there are no gifts for being a martyr. If you're having the whole family to Christmas dinner, it's even more important. Most people feel guilty (but relieved) if they're going to someone's else's house so they'll be happy to be let off the hook by being asked to bring something.
You don't want them all hanging around the kitchen while you're busy so divvy out jobs according to their skill-sets. I use the Three Ws: What (needs to be done), When (by) and Who (will do it).
Kris Kindle your gifts where possible. Buying a little something for all your office colleagues, siblings, nieces and nephews is expensive. Can you group your common gifts with others? Everyone gets something decent, but you only buy once. In our family, no swapping of names (even the ones nobody wants to buy for) or buying of vouchers is allowed, but make your own rules. The stress relief from only having to buy for one is incalculable, so you'll take extra care to get something perfect.
For large families, consider buying a board game, rather than individual gifts. Tesco has a huge range this year, including traditional games like Cluedo and Monopoly which have been re-packaged, and some new ones such as Pieface Showdown (€27) and Speakout (€26).
For something personal, Marks & Spencer has lovely 'Alphabet' tree baubles for €5.50-€7 which are initialled.
Christmas is the most expensive time of the year and terribly difficult for those who don't have a lot of money. If you're on a really tight budget this year, then you'll have to employ creativity instead of money. If you're crafty, or a great cook, a homemade gift is ideal, like chutneys, jams, biscuits, beautifully wrapped.
If not, gift time instead; a voucher for an evening's babysitting, digging the garden or minding someone's pet while they're away will be much more appreciated than another scarf or bath salts.
Don't be afraid to tell people money is tight. They'll have invited you for your company rather than what you bring.
Oxfam's 'Unwrapped' range of gift cards for chicks, bees, mosquito nets and more help third world families (from €5). All proceeds of Barnardos' beautifully illustrated book 'The Girl and the Cloud' go to the charity and the 13,000 families they will support this Christmas. It costs €8.99 in '3' shops, Eason and Barnardos stores, available from next week.
This week is the time to start getting your freezer cleared out to prepare it for all the leftovers and food to come. Put everything in it out on the kitchen table (quickly, so it doesn't defrost). Chuck out anything you don't recognise or which has crystallised; it's potentially dodgy. Put back what's left in order - meat, veg, leftovers all in different places. Have some 'eclectic' family dinners to use up frozen food, even if it doesn't go together. Shepherd's Pie and pizza? The kids won't care.
6. Stocking up
From this week on, buy one or two extra, non-perishable items to spread out the cost. A bottle of wine, box of chocolates, tin of biscuits, small stocking-filler, so you're not rushing around Christmas week which can cause you to panic and over-buy.
7. Fantastic food
Now's the time to get your recipes for dinner together - if you always forget how to make the stuffing, or Aunt Mary's roasties, check it out now so you can start storing ingredients. Delegate ... again. The work will start piling up, and you'll need to keep on top of it. The later you wait, the more ruthless you will become. Make life easier with a boned and rolled turkey instead of the full bird. Aldi will have free-range 'Stuffed Turkey Parcel' which is a great no-waste option from December 19.
8. Extra 'extras'
Stock up on all those things you don't think you'll need, but you always do: foil, paper plates, cocktail sticks, napkins, cling wrap, batteries. They'll all get used eventually. Buying in bulk can save money too.
9. Party planning #1
Plan the entertaining you're doing well in advance. Most people eat and drink far too much at Christmas. A refreshingly simple get together is all that's needed. Some cheeses, salty snacks with mince pies, wine, beer and soft drinks (forget spirits), and using/paying your children as waiters/coat checks, will allow you enjoy the party too.
M&S has a fantastic Cheeseboard Christmas Tree for €35 which would look stunning with zero work. Some holly (if you can find it) and ivy dotted about with candles is far nicer than tinsel and glitter.
10. Party Planning #2
Plan the parties you're going to carefully also. There's no need to buy a new outfit for each one - swap with friends or family members for the ones they won't be at, and vice versa.