September is not yet over but talk of Christmas has already begun. Think it’s far too early to even think about the big C? Think again. Here are some of our family’s tips on planning a fabulous large family Christmas without breaking the bank – or losing your mind!
Yes, you read that right. The calendar hasn’t even changed to October yet we are already planning our Christmas. It’s the one time of year that we will have the whole family together and after last year’s pretty stressful Christmas I am determined that we will enjoy this one. And part of that means starting early, which for us meant beginning as soon as the sales began last December. We have since spent much of the year building up our Christmas stash so we don’t have any last-minute worries about money running low or emotions running high.
Set a budget
We work for ourselves so we never know how much money will be coming in each month. This means that budgeting plays a vital part in our lives; we have learnt to tuck away a little when we have a bit extra in order to give us some breathing space when we don’t. Some Christmases have been leaner than others while others have been a lot more comfortable. Either way, we’ve always set a budget and it’s rare that we’ve gone above £2000 – and never above £2500. That’s for everyone plus food. All in. It isn’t an insignificant amount but still not bad for gifting and feeding 15 people. And that’s another reason for starting early; when you spread it over 12 months instead of trying to squeeze it in two weeks before the big day itself, it’s far less painful to the budget and much easier to find in parts.
Get the lists in with plenty of time to spare
Our children know to get their lists in before our October 31st deadline. As they don’t watch mainstream television they don’t get bombarded with advertisements for stuff they ‘need’. Consequently, they ask for the stuff that they are interested, whether it’s ‘cool’, ‘in’ or ‘fashionable’ or not because they don’t know or care either way. All they know is that they like whatever it is. And these interests tend to grow and develop over the years. Paddy is a keen cook, Eddie is extremely creative, the younger ones all love crafts, Harry loves science and several children love books and Lego. This means we can see products throughout the year and immediately know who would love it. If it’s at a good price or in the sale we’ll grab it and add it to our stash. Any particular gifts that they specifically want (Minecraft is popular this year) will be listed on their lists and, where we’ve saved throughout the year on their other gifts means we can splurge a little more on specific wants.
Don’t go overboard
Once you have created your budget, stick to it. There are no laptops, iPhones or iPads for Christmas here, I’m afraid. If this is on the list we’ll give a range of small, token gifts and then we’ll give money which will go towards the bigger ‘want’. The rest of the money is down to them to earn or save.
Be a smart shopper
Another reason for shopping throughout the year and asking for lists by the end of October is because it gives us time to make the most of our money. Sticking to a budget does not necessarily mean avoiding more costly purchases. We get them – we just don’t pay for them at full price! For example, seven of our children have asked for Lego sets for Christmas. This stuff is not cheap! Unless you keep your eye out, that is. We hunted down a job lot of Lego on eBay – over 20kgs of the stuff including more than 17 new and as new boxed sets ranging from £25 to £200 each plus much more. We paid £320 for the lot. The total value is over £2000. We regularly scan the bargain and sales pages of websites too – sign up to emails and newsletters for companies you tend to shop from regularly to get up-to-date info on the latest deals. We also make a point of always trying to either shop via a cashback site such as Quidco or TopCashback or to hunt down promotional codes for stores before making our purchase.
My family mocks me for my love of excel spreadsheets but when you have 13 children and each child gets a gift from each sibling (a tradition began when we only had two children – one which probably wouldn’t have started had I known how many children we would eventually have!), it is an effective part of my Christmas-planning strategy. Buying and stashing gifts throughout the year means it’s easy to forget what you have bought and for whom so keep a running list that you can complete as you go. This will ensure all gifts are bought, everyone is accounted for and there is no doubling up of anything or, as did happen to me once, a gift I thought I had bought actually wasn’t.
Whether you love it or loathe it, Christmas comes but once a year. It always falls on the same date so really there is no excuse for last-minute Chrismas rushes and stresses of running out of time. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, starting early is the key. So don’t sigh at me for mentioning the word in September. You know it makes sense – especially for large families!
How do you plan your large family Christmas? Do you start early or is it all pulled together at the last minute? We’d love to know your own tips and tricks.