When it comes to Christmas shopping, I’m a bit rubbish. Every single year, I end up leaving it until mid-December then doing a frantic online shop without even checking how much I’m spending. The result is predictably rather stressful and ends with January being fulled by beans on toast and regret.
This time, I decided that I was going to be much more
of a grown-up organised about the whole thing, be conscientious about my spending and I even set up a spreadsheet to help me keep tabs on things. It began well. I logged every single penny, made a list of what I’d be buying for whom, and enjoyed feeling like I was in control of the situation.
I had set a small budget for each person and told the kids not to expect too much. They each chose one ‘main’ present and I used the rest of the allocated budget for smaller gifts. I took pride in updating the spreadsheet every time I bought something and seeing the boxes change from red to green.
But alas, my well-meaning mission backfired. You see, starting my shopping in August meant that I had even more time to buy unnecessary crap. A few weeks ago, I’d officially finished my Christmas shopping – hurrah. And it was then that I realised my new system was utterly flawed. I’d completely overlooked the splurge on overpriced tat at Manchester Christmas markets after drinking too many £6 mulled wines.
Or the spontaneous trip to Newbank Garden Centre when I blew £40 on more tree decorations that we didn’t need. And the night that I decided the fireplace looked bare so bought a £25 pinecone garland online. Not to mention the little extras I’d spotted for friends and family and added to my basket without a second thought.
I sat down and modified my list to include the festive food shop, kids stocking fillers and Christmas Eve pyjamas, Secret Santa and gifts for teachers, Christmas jumpers, the last minute ‘bargain’ Soap and Glory set, a poinsettia plant, and festive candle or two, a bottle of fizz and box of chocolates to enjoy while decorating our tree (it’s tradition), two mini Christmas trees for the kid’s room, token gifts for the neighbours, another trip to markets to meet friends, Christmas cards, advent calendars…the list goes on.
When I added up exactly how much cash I’d blown (not including Adam’s shopping. Each year, Adam buys the gifts for his friends and family and I sort out my family, the kids, food, decorations, and so on), I felt utterly sick. The total amount I’d spent on ‘Christmas stuff’ to stay at home this year was far more than I paid for a luxury family Christmas trip to Paris a few years ago, including flights, Disneyland park passes, a lovely Christmas dinner with the Disney characters, a 4* hotel and spending money. Fuck.
And the saddest part of all? Spending Christmas Day with my girls in Paris was one of the most memorable, stress-free Christmases we’ve ever had together and something that they still talk about regularly. Yes, it may seem extravagant and I know that most people may prefer to spend the day with their loved ones but for us, it was something to treasure and the memories we made there mean more than the mountains of ‘stuff’ that will be sat under the tree this year (and most likely will have been forgotten about by March).
The lesson I’m taking away – apart from learning the art of self-control when shopping – is that experiences mean so much more than ‘stuff’. Next year, I’m determined to go back to basics and enjoy spending some real quality time with my family, not just pissing away more money.
This will also be reflected in the gifts I chose for others (a homemade afternoon tea with their favourite cake or a day on the steam train as opposed to another bottle of perfume or gift voucher) and I’ll be resisting the pressure to create a ‘perfect’ Christmas.