Rat a tat tat….

My daughter is 13, and is growing so fast that she no longer fits in her cabin bed. She rolls over and her knees bang the sides. She stretches and some trinket from her shelves will end up in pieces on the floor.

It is time to build her a new bedroom, fit for the young woman she is becoming with a bigger bed and some grown up furniture. Maybe even a dressing table, and perhaps a telly. Thirteen was the age the boys got their first telly, as she keeps reminding me. How times have changed! Back in my day, we didn’t even have a family telly, until I was 13, never mind our own personal viewing device.

Anyway, last weekend, we set about decluttering her room with a view to selling some of her stuff to raise funds for the transformation.

Now, please bear in mind we are not hoarders. I usually go through this process at least once a year, usually before Christmas to make way for all the tat that Christmas inevitably brings. But this felt different. This time, my daughter seemed happy to part with objects, books and toys from her earliest years that she previously wanted to hang on to. Some special items she kept, her special teddy ‘golden-bear’, a golden Wenlock from our trip to the Olympics, a battered copy of Guess a how Much I love You, a musical box with a townscape of Munich (where we lived for a while). We had lovely warm snugly conversations about the happy memories these seemingly insignificant items brought forth.

Some things she refused to part with. Some she lingered over, and then decided they could go. But what really shocked me was that all of the things that she did not hesitate to put to the boot sale, the things she did not linger over for a single minute, were all without exception Christmas gifts. Usually stocking fillers, or things I’d bought to make the pile of gifts look a bit bigger, or to even the piles up a bit as one kid’s pile looked a bit bigger than the others. Or something I’d bought because I felt guilty as one kid had more spent on them, or some other spurious panic induced, guilt laden reason.

These gifts hold no intrinsic meaning for my daughter. Which is quite a revelation, because for me, buying gifts at Christmas is a way to show the children that I love them. Now, these gifts are not the only way I show my love. I am not trying to buy their affection with gifts because I starve them of my time. It’s simply that I love to see their faces on Christmas morning when they see that Santa has been (yes, he still comes here). I cannot imagine them having a Christmas where there aren’t mountains of gifts to open. And they do love opening them and the ritual of it all. They are not ungrateful or spoilt, but they don’t really love the gifts. They don’t REALLy love the gifts because the gifts don’t mean anything. The gifts are just stuff. Tat.

Which is interesting because I put myself under enormous pressure at Christmas time to buy the right gifts, as I am sure many women do. I usually end up in a total exhausted meltdown, and with high levels of anxiety at whether we can afford it all. Christmas is no fun for me, and all because I am trying to keep everyone else happy and make memories. But you can’t force happy memories.

So, this Christmas I am going to try and take the pressure off myself a bit. I don’t quite know how I am going to do this yet. I really can’t imagine a Christmas without mountains of gifts. Heavens, that would be bloody awful!! And I’m not going to just give them money either. I know some parents do, but that feels so cold and heartless.

I will find a way to ensure that each gift this Christmas has some real meaning or purpose, so that they don’t end up in a boot sale during Summer 2015.

Five Ways To Enjoy Christmas (in March)

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Christmas is Coming. Fa la la la la, la la la la la

At the time of writing, there are only 295 days, 4 hours and 21 mins to go. By the time I get around to actually posting, there will be fewer….

I am not one of those women who goes into Christmas meltdown because everything has to be perfect. I’m fairly chilled about buying gifts at the last minute, think tree ‘themes’ are stupid. I wrap gifts like a man and I enjoy eating and drinking too much. However, I do usually end up having some kind of meltdown, and it is usually financial in origin.

Christmas just comes at the wrong time of year!

Here’s why. Christmas and New Year are traditionally times to weigh up your life, and decide whether you want more or less in it. Eighteen, 16 and 14 years ago, I decided that I would quite like some more people in my life, and that I would quite like to squeeze them in before the following Christmas so that I could indulge in some Xmas cheer. Consequently, we have three children’s birthdays, all within two months of Christmas. Oh, and we got married at Christmas too. Oh, and its my birthday in December as well. Oh, and as a Freelancer, the run up to Christmas is one of my leaner times.

What this all means is, generally, by the end of November, we have usually reached the very limits of our generous overdraft, and end up scrabbling around for bits of money. We throw some stuff on the credit card, which we will have intended to pay off previously, but haven’t quite got around to, and we get very stressed and shout at each other a lot. Then, immediately after Christmas comes a massive tax bill, which we are never ready for, even though we have had 12 months to prepare for it.

Then, sometime around Feb, the husband gets his yearly bonus, which almost fills the overdraft hole, and we almost get back to square one. And we breathe again, and swear that it will be different next year, because… (a million reasons blah blah blah). And then it happens again the following year.

By the way, I hate to tell people that Husband gets a ‘bonus’. Since the banking crisis, the word ‘bonus’ has become interchangeable with ‘a million pounds given to people who haven’t earned it”. It isn’t a million pounds, and he definately earns it.

So this year I am going to plan ahead, and I mean Like now!

Here are the 5 ways I am going to kick Christmas’s ass, and enter 2015 with a bit of cash, and my sanity.

1 Love to Shop Vouchers

These are a simple way of saving a little each month, and then you receive vouchers to spend in a large number of shops. You get back exactly what you put in, and are a nice way to save a little extra. Plus, as they are vouchers, there is no way that they can get accidentally swallowed up in the overdraft hole. We are also putting some money away each month in a tax free savings account for the post Xmas tax bill.

2 Charity Shop Gifts

I really hope none of my ‘giftees’ are reading this, but there is a high probability that your next present came from the cancer research shop in Brownhills…which is by far the best charity shop I have ever been in! At the moment, the shop is full of brand new, unopened, expensive looking department store gifts, donated by kind people who were given stuff they didn’t want.

3. Make stuff.

Little proviso here, make stuff that you are good at, and that you would want to receive. Unless you are a child, in which case you can be a bit rubbish. Don’t be fooled by the trend in many ‘craft stores’ to charge you a small fortune to buy the stuff you need to make your home made goodies. Sure, make your own jam but don’t be fooled that you need to strain it through a hand woven muslin into a fancy jar that cost a tenner…

4. Don’t devour as much

I always over cater. Unless my guests are groaning with discomfort, and pissed as newts, I don’t feel that I’ve done my job as a hostess properly. I also feel acute anxiety if a plate is cleared, as this is evidence that I didn’t make enough. Consequently, I spend obscene amounts of money trying to make people happy giving them food they can’t eat, and that gets thrown away. So, I apologise if you’re coming over to ours this Christmas. You may find you can still do up your zip when you leave.

5 Budget

This feels so silly to write, it should be so bleeding obvious. But we have never properly budgeted for Christmas. We’ve always just kind of reacted to it. We need to decide how much we are prepared to spend,and then spend that. As opposed to what we usually do, which is decide what we want to buy, and then wonder how on earth it cost so much. And then cry.

Happy Christmas everyone. Xxxxx