Well the simple answer to that, is lists, lots and lots of lists!
But the reality is far more complex.
With 6 out of our 7 birthday’s between September – December, planning starts early in our family, sometimes even as early as BEFORE the previous Christmas. If there is something I wish I had done but ran out of time/money before Christmas, then I’ll make a point of putting it on the list for the next Christmas. Similarly, if there’s something that we did that we really liked/enjoyed, I’ll make a note to do that again, or something that we did that we decided we didn’t like/enjoy, I’ll make a note not to do that again. Obviously things change and my lists get updated and re-written multiple times before we actually get anywhere near the big day, but having those bases there to adapt and build on always helps to keep things organised right from the start.
Last year, I treated myself to a fab little Christmas Organiser from Jen’s Little T, complete with separate list sections so I have one place for all my Christmas planning lists….already into October, it’s now bursting with shopping lists and ideas to keep me busy from now until 24th December, when Christmas officially starts for us.
In addition to this, I have my Finances notebooks, the lists the kids have made themselves (this is usually an end of Summer Holidays activity for us, as the first one of their birthdays is in September, we do Birthday and Christmas lists all in one go), my trusty little calculator, my phone with Google/eBay/Amazon etc. and various coloured pens.
Actually physical shopping itself usually starts in the January Sales, with places like Card Factory selling their Christmas Cards, wrapping paper, gift bags etc. for half price immediately after Christmas, we tend to buy for the following year as soon as we’re done with the current one. I don’t think I’ve paid full-price for Christmas wrapping paper in years. Sainsbury’s is great for cut-price Christmas clothes, often double-discounted in January, I tend to stock up on things like Christmas PJ’s for our Christmas Eve Box then. Little things for stocking fillers we tend to collect throughout the year, usually in the sales, and around September-time we will usually get out everything we’ve collected so far and make a list of it all so that we know exactly what we’ve got.
September is the time when proper organising fully kicks in, once the kids are back at school after the Summer Holidays, the lists come out and shopping begins.
With 2 birthdays in September, 2 in October, 1 in November, and 1 just 3 days before Christmas in December, I try to plan and purchase the birthday shopping before I start on Christmas, with an allowance in there for Halloween too.
A lot more work admittedly goes into the planning than people realise.
With the main bulk of Christmas shopping, I will first go through the kids lists, weeding out anything completely unrealistic (rare limited edition Pokémon tins from 5 years ago that are impossible to get without a lottery win, are a no-no, sorry middle child!), then literally hours go into comparing prices of the things the kids have asked for. Amazon Wish Lists, eBay Watch Lists and various other websites Wish Lists come into play at this point. Once we’ve gone through the kids lists, we’ll agree on a limit per child, and draw up our actual shopping lists once we have that in mind. Anything not included in our lists will go into a separate list for family members that often ask what they can get the kids.
As much as we’d love to get the kids everything on their lists, we do have to be realistic, money doesn’t grow on trees, and it is important to us that the children understand that treats need to be earned in life, and that we do need to live within our means.
In addition to the kids present lists, we also have lists for family members presents, cards, accessories (advent calendars, crackers etc.), what we need for The North Pole Breakfast, Christmas Eve Box, Christmas Dinner itself and any other lists that are deemed appropriate. I did warn you that there were A LOT of lists!
Once the lists of what to buy are decided, and how much they are going to cost is worked out, then it’s time to fit those lists into our Finances. We try to make allowances for expenses that tend to come up around this time of year, from Panto tickets, visits to Father Christmas, school Christmas Fayre’s, and impromptu visits to Garden Centres to ‘look at their Christmas displays’, then work actual shopping around them.
I order our weekly grocery shopping online every week and in the run-up to Christmas tend to add a few extra small bits on each week for stocking fillers, to help spread out that cost.
I tend to write out a second Finances list, saying what money we’re likely to have available for Christmas Shopping and when, then will fit the shopping list itself into that list. This is where I do tend to have my own code that I work to, but it’s easily adapted to suit other people’s purposes. I give each item on my list a number in terms of order of purchase priority (i.e.: I’ll make sure each child has one main present each, before I buy second/third presents etc., just in case some unforeseen circumstances come along, I don’t want to end up with 5 presents for one child and nothing for anybody else). Those numbers then get put into the Finances list in order, so I know exactly when I should have the money to order/buy each individual item, making sure to factor in any delivery costs too, then it’s just a case of waiting for each date to come around, and ordering/buying the relevant items on those dates.
Once this mammoth task is complete, I can then relax, knowing that Christmas is covered and I can better use my time and energy into planning the more Fun elements of the season, but that is for another post 😉
Happy planning 😊