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Dublin: 13 °C Thursday 23 October, 2014

Column: 10 tips for a special Christmas with the kids… on a budget

Christmas can be expensive for parents, but it is important to remember that children remember the traditions and memories about Christmas, not the presents, writes Martina Newe.

Martina Newe

PEOPLE ASK HOW to ‘do’ Christmas on a budget. Well, it is easy if you simply concentrate on the memories and traditions of Christmas rather than the commercial aspects.

When you talk to older children about what they loved about Christmas, it is rarely that they will remember the actual presents and amount of money that was spent – those things leave our memories very quickly. What they do remember however are the traditions, preparation for Christmas and the memories that you made with them.  Toys will break or fall out of favour, but memories will last and last.  So while we have to spend on presents and so forth, these are not the most important part of giving your children a wonderful Christmas.  Making memories that they will treasure and pass on to their own children is much more valuable and important and they don’t cost a lot to create.

1. Stocking up

First of all, that big grocery shop for Christmas.  Before you buy any items, ask yourself if you really need them.  I used to get caught up every year in buying biscuits, party foods, dips, crackers, cheese and so on and usually ended up having to throw half of it out in January – so shop sensibly.  Years ago, shops remained closed for a good part of the season and so we had to buy a lot in advance.  Now, most supermarkets re-open the day after St Stephen’s day so if you need extra items, you can always buy them then.  Remember also that many of the items will be reduced in price after Christmas so it will pay to hold off until you need them.

When doing your grocery shopping, write a list of what you need and examine it carefully.  Ask yourself if you really need everything on the list and cross off items that are not really necessary.  Remember too to shop around.  The growing competition between supermarket chains means better value for the customers so if you have to go to a few supermarkets get your shopping, it will be worth it to save some cash.  Do stick to your list – it is very easy to see seasonal items and pop them into your trolley but again, ask yourself if you really need it.  If you don’t then don’t buy it – you might end up throwing it out in January and that is such a waste of our hard earned cash.

2. The free stuff

Concentrate on the free pleasures of Christmas – making memories and having fun with your children.  When it comes to Santa, we all want to get our children what they asked for.  However, we need to help our children to keep their requests within limit.  I used to tell my children that they had a budget because Mum and Dad left the money for Santa with a little extra for children whose parents weren’t so well off.  This allowed us to have a budget and plan for what we would spend rather than having a Santa list that we could not fulfil.

It also serves as a good lesson to children to remember the less fortunate.  Get the list early and watch out for mark downs in the major stores.  You may be able to bag a bargain!

3. Sharing is caring

Some ‘toys’ can be very expensive.  If your child is asking for something pricey (for example a Wii or Playstation) encourage two or more of the children to ask for this as a shared present.  An item such as that will be enjoyed by more than one child so the children can ask for it as a shared gift.

4. Making memories

Concentrate on the things about Christmas that will cost very little or indeed no money – the memories!  Use the time coming up to Christmas to have fun and make memories with your children that will stay with them forever.  Here are some tips on how to create these memories and fun:

Good old Santa gives us loads of opportunity for inspiring imagination in our children. Make a fuss about being good for Santa and use as many everyday happenings to help your children feel really excited about his visit. Perhaps you can point out when a helicopter is in the sky at night and pretend it is Santa’s sleigh.  The red and green lights on a helicopter look very festive and it is easy to capture your child’s imagination that it is indeed a sleigh with  Santa at the driving seat going around and checking on children to see if they are being good.

I remember this trick when my own children were young.  They believed that the helicopter was the sleigh wholeheartedly.  I remember one evening we were driving and I had just ‘collected’ the magic reindeer food that day (more about that later).  It was still in the car.  As we drove, we saw the ‘sleigh’ in the sky.

I am sure that you have noticed before how sometimes it seems like a plane or helicopter are moving at the same pace and in the same direction as your car?  Well my lot were so excited (and a bit scared) because they believed that the sleigh was following our car because the reindeer could smell the magic food.  The fun and excitement we had on that journey home was fantastic.  They still talk about that evening and how they were excited but at the same time, a bit scared in case the reindeer would land on our car!

5. Letter to Santa

The ‘letter night’ can also be another big occasion! Set aside a night for your children to  make final decisions on what they want from Santa and get involved in the very important task of writing to Santa and asking for their gifts in the politest tone ever.  Your children can draw pictures to decorate the letters and you can have lots of fun with them when they are writing the letters.

6. Baking

Do some baking! Whether you are a budding Rachel Allen or not, you can bake your own pudding and cake.  There are very simple recipes available online and you can shop around for the ingredients at the best price.  Set aside a time for you and the children to undertake the task of making the cake and/or pudding (or indeed any other cake such as a chocolate house).  Give each child a little job – maybe grinding orange peel, sieving flour or helping with stirring the mixture.  This can be great fun for the children and for you too.

One tradition that we had in my house when I was growing up and I have continued with my own children, is that you can make a special wish for Christmas on the mixture.  We stir the pudding mixture three times with your eyes closed and making a wish.

Decorating the cake can also be great fun with your children.  Who cares if the finished product does not look professional – the important thing is that you made it together and had fun doing so!  Let the children keep a bit of icing to one side and make some little treat to leave out for Santa on Christmas eve.

7. Magic Reindeer Food

This is simple and really captures your child’s imagination. Try to get some stars or glitter – most supermarkets stock these. You will then need a dry mix that the birds will eat – porridge oats, crushed plain biscuits, crushed cereal etc. Mix a handful of the dry mix with a handful of stars or glitter. Tie up in a Christmas napkin or some Christmas paper so that it looks like a little sack. You can then give it to your children and they must keep it until bedtime on Christmas eve.

Before they go to bed, they should sprinkle the magic reindeer food in the garden or somewhere outside your home. Because the reindeer will be so delighted with the food, Santa will leave an extra little treat! Don’t worry about the food disappearing, the birds will eat that up early on Christmas morning. Just remember to keep the proportion of oats or cereal much higher than the glitter!

8. Make Some Decorations

If your child is in playschool or primary school, they will probably make some decorations there – but they can still make some at home. Forget about the tree being a ‘designer’ tree or following a particular colour scheme, encourage your children to make a decoration for it every year and hang these on the tree each year. Children love to get involved and how better than for them to display the decoration they made on the Christmas tree for all to see. Materials for making decorations can be found around your house (empty toilet tissue rolls make a great Santa body!) Look around –  cotton wool for snow or Santa’s beard, coloured paper to make Christmas decorations cut in various shapes and so on.

9. Leave Food For Santa on Christmas Eve

Before the children go to bed, they can make up a snack for Santa and leave it beside the tree or the chimney place. This can be a glass of milk and some biscuits for Santa and maybe one or two carrots for the reindeer. If your children have made something out of the icing from the cake, that can also be left out.  The important thing for you to remember is to make sure that the food is gone and only some crumbs left before the children get up on Christmas morning so Mum or Dad have to eat or hide the evidence!

10. Leave Evidence That Santa Was Here

What better to stimulate your child’s imagination than to leave some type of evidence that the big man was in your house on Christmas eve! This could be done by sprinkling some fake snow around the Christmas tree or fireplace, putting a large footprint or two near the tree, leaving a Santa hat behind or something similar. The excitement for your child to see the clues will be worth the effort!

I know this all sounds so sentimental and you are probably wondering if I have been partaking of the Christmas festivities a little early!  Not so, I have just got such wonderful memories of Christmas that I enjoy reminiscing about them.  I also want to encourage you, as parents, to really treasure every moment of this time with your children. Remember, giving nice memories to our children is one of the most important gifts that we can give and Christmas gives us lots of opportunities to do that. More importantly, it is free but yet priceless. Christmas is a lovely time for families so make the most of it while you can. Keep all the memories, embrace all of the traditions and enjoy and relish every moment of this wonderful season with your children!

Have a very happy and peaceful Christmas.

Martina Newe works for HelpMe2Parent.ie, which provides parenting classes, teenage self development, antenatal classes and much more. To read more from Martina click here.

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