Jill Kerby: A happy, affordable Christmas

There will be plenty of time to dissect today’s Budget next week. So let us consider an even more pressing budget – and for a much happier cause – our annual Christmas celebration.

There will be plenty of time to dissect today’s Budget next week. So let us consider an even more pressing budget – and for a much happier cause – our annual Christmas celebration.

Whatever your financial circumstances, Christmas in Ireland is still a mainly social occasion that is shared with family, friends and community and it can still be a pleasurable holiday, even with a limited budget.

For those families that have set aside some income or savings for the holiday presents, food and entertainment, the expectation is for an average spend of just under €1,000, with Ireland second only to Luxembourg in the spending stakes. Of the approximately €1 billion national Christmas outlay here, as much as €420 million will be spent online this year, according to Visa Ireland.

Our online shopping is up sharply (from around €257 million last year) for a number of reasons: online activity is growing anyway; it is convenient and a good way to stick to lists and budgets; delivery costs are falling (and are free in many cases); and consumer rights and security keep improving.

For all of that, Christmas gifts bought by Irish people over the internet don’t always go to Irish retailers and many people are not aware of the Irish shops that sell and deliver their goods online. This is an issue that Irish retailers need to address if they are to compete with the global players such as Amazon and eBay.

You need a plan

Since every cent has to count this year, try to avoid the most common Christmas shopping mistakes by having a proper plan. My top money and high street shopping tips for this December include:

Set a spending limit.

Make a list of all the children/ adults/ teachers/ tradesmen/ charities that you want to gift.

Big families should do a Kris Kringle with a reasonable spending limit

If your budget is very tight, consider limiting purchased gifts to young children only.

Choose one form of money only – cash or credit card or debit card, not all three. Ideally, spend only what is in your Christmas spending account (which you can open separately and at no cost at your bank or local post office, for example).

Prepare your high street shopping campaign: go early to avoid the crowds; park or shop close to car parks or public transportation. Wear light, comfortable clothing. Don’t bring partners or children unless they are willing load-bearers. Stop every two hours for a food break.

Consider a gift ‘theme.’ It means you don’t wander aimlessly from shop to shop looking for inspiration. (See below.)

Ask whether your local store will deliver. Many florists, butchers, vegetable shops and delis, will try to accommodate their local customers. (They are competing with Tesco/Superquinn, who do.)

Check out whether your local department store, bookshop, electronics shop has an online service.

‘Buy Irish’ at local and national craft fairs.

Give yourself plenty of time to shop or order via the internet. Don’t rush, or you’ll spend more than you intend. Be aware of delivery order deadlines.

Not everyone can afford to buy as many Christmas presents as they would like, especially if they have little ones to consider.

This is where the true spirit of Christmas is tested and where the old adage “it is the thought that counts” comes into its own.

‘Theme’ gifts, recycling and homemade Christmas presents are the ideal way to spread holiday cheer far wider than your cash budget may permit, and I have yet to meet anyone (with an open heart…) who doesn’t appreciate the thought, effort and time that often go into such presents.

Here are some of my tried and tested, low-cost and/or recycled and homemade gift suggestions:

Food gifts. Either make your own homemade jam, bread, mince pies, cakes, sweet biscuits or sweets and sauces or buy them homemade at Christmas fairs and bake sales (freeze until ready). Wrap them in clear plastic with pretty labels and ribbons.

Small boxes of luxury Irish chocolates/sweets are a modestly priced but wonderful gift: Aine Handmade Chocolates, Lir and Lily O’Brien all offer online shopping; my all-time favourite, Cocoa Atelier does not, but should. Lily O’Brien has a Christmas box for sale that allows you to slip a photo into the cover to personalise your gift.

Candles and soaps, small picture frames, books, DVDs and CDs, are all popular ‘themed’ gifts if you personalise them and choose them based on your recipients’ tastes and interests, not yours.

Consider living gifts – house or garden plants, flowers and seeds/seedlings are a wonderful gift for everyone and you can buy new or recycle from your own garden.

Recycle. Many people are cash-poor this year, but the last few decades have all been about accumulating a lot of ‘stuff’. Consider giving away books (hardbacks are usually in better condition than paperbacks), stacks of DVDs (chick flicks for teenage girls and their mums; comedies for young family; action movies for young fellows and dads; histories/documentaries for the serious-minded). Share your music the same way.

Give ‘Time’ gifts (this is a great, low-cost Kris Kringle idea.) A beautiful card that includes a precious gift of your time is always welcome: young families would love to receive baby-sitting time; older people, an outing or regular visits. Offer to give your gift recipient a baking, cooking, photography or sports lesson or a few hours of help in planting bulbs or weeding, interior decoration or a monthly manicure (or massage) if you know how.

Finally, a charitable gift in your family’s name is much appreciated by local and overseas charities and is a way to teach your children about the real message of Christmas. Send a cheque or give online.