Countdown to Christmas – 8 weeks to go
If like most mere mortals you need to lie down at the thought of yet another year of planning hell, fear not – at least here you are amongst friends.
I don’t claim to be the most organised person in the world, or to be an expert planner, but I do know that the best way to approach Christmas is with a set of to-do lists and a serious commitment to crossing off items sooner rather than later. I will be giving you an eight-week planning guide to getting Christmas under control, together with a few new recipes to see you through. Don’t forget there’s an enormous catalogue of previous christmas recipes to also look at when planning your menus and gift ideas.
This week, Week 1, is all about facing your fear – that of having to plan and cater for Christmas – and staring it down. It means having a long hard look at your finances and making some sensible choices to stick to a Christmas within your means. And it also means setting a few dates aside.
To begin with, you’ll need a calendar or diary and your address book.
1. Fill in your calendar or diary.
December is a hugely busy time and you’ll have lots of competing demands. NOW is the time to fill in your diary with all those end of year events, parties and gatherings that don’t happen any time of year. Include the following:
- End of year concerts, school prize or speech nights, Christmas parties put on by your children’s sporting and your activity clubs.
- Work Christmas parties, both during work hours and those on a Friday or Saturday night.
- The last day of school. Highlight the week before this date. This is important for when you want to do your Christmas shopping without the children around.
- Dates for family Christmas parties. This is not always on Christmas day and many families have a series of Christmas gatherings that can take place in the week before or after Christmas day. Block out those dates now.
- A date for a street party or for drinks with the neighbours (often early in December)
- The day of the last mailing for overseas countries – this is especially important for those of you with friends and family overseas. If your loved ones are serving in the military you will need to post early rather than later. Check with Australia Post or your local army contacts for further information.
Don’t forget to synchronise your calendars and diaries on your smart phone or computer. There’s nothing worse than filling in a date on your phone and not the one on your fridge.
2. Update your address book
Look, I know it’s quaint, but this is the time of year an up to date address book, whether it’s on Outlook or in a little black book, comes into its own. Those people who you only ever send Christmas cards to once a year could well have moved. I’ve moved since last Christmas – how many others do you know? When the time comes to sit down and write those cards (not for another few weeks I promise), you will appreciate that you don’t have to muck around looking up a new address.
3. Set your budget
Take a deep breath and try to do this next step without a glass of wine at hand.
You need to be sensible about Christmas and over doing it on presents and food is the cause of much distress in January and February. There’s only so much you can do and doing it on a budget does not mean it has to be nasty, or worse, avoided altogether.
- If you are in a large family, ask the adults to agree to a Kris Kringle present for their gifts. A Kris Kringle is where each adult gets just ONE present (of a pre-agreed value). Every name is put into a hat and you pull out a name at random – you then have to buy something for them, but ONLY them and not every other adult at the gathering.
- Focus on the children in your family but again, be thoughtful rather than throwing money away. If you are exchanging presents with other family members come to an agreement on the value of each gift so that competitive family members don’t feel the need to out-do each other.
- Set aside a food budget separate to your weekly groceries. No matter how generous your budget it will not be enough The trick is to do more with less by getting other people to contribute dishes and drinks to the occasion. Don’t feel you have to do it all and bear the cost by yourself. That’s not how it works. If you have $1000, $500 or $250, tailor your menu to suit rather than trying to squeeze out extra dollars from a maxed out credit card. Divide your budget by 8 weeks and start putting the money aside, bit by bit. It will soon grow.
4. Get cracking on your Christmas pudding, cake, fruit mince recipe or limoncello
We had a long discussion last weekend on the Facebook page about the relative merits of starting your christmas cooking early. I don’t think there’s any point in doing any more than you have to and many people reading this will never ever make their own cake or pudding. However, if you do like a spot of baking, these are the recipes that will benefit from being made and sitting and maturing for as long as possible. Make them and store them out of sight.
5. Start a Christmas club account with your butcher and the fishmonger
A lot of people, better organised than most, start a Christmas club account every January with their bank and put aside twenty or thirty dollars every week. Then there’s the rest of us who are starting to panic about now. Without doubt, after presents, buying meat or seafood will be your biggest cost.
However, if you ask nicely, there are a lot of butchers and seafood shops who will set up an account for you and let you pay off that twenty or thirty dollars every week towards your Christmas order. In fact, those shops who I have had christmas accounts with routinely out-perform others and drive bigger sales when they do. My local central coast seafood shop would be open for 72 hours straight in the lead up to Christmas Day just to get through the orders placed by those who had put down money since the beginning of October.
Do make the effort to ask and help them out by being a regular customer, even if all you can manage is a bit of mince or sausages from them – a good butcher or seafood shop is invaluable and we don’t look after our small businesses enough.