Monthly Archives: November 2017

How To Host Christmas Dinner On A Budget

How To Host Christmas On A Budget

What with all the gift buying, stocking filling and party hosting, it’s safe to say that Christmas is an expensive business. In 2016 the average family spent £174 on Christmas dinner – undoubtedly a hefty amount to add to your total Christmas price tag.

If it falls to you to host Christmas dinner this year, panic not, we have some handy tips to help keep costs to a minimum.

Get organised

As with everything Christmas-related, planning is key. Make a list of everything you’ll need for your Christmas dinner, right down to the last Brussel sprout. When you’ve finished your list, check through it and be ruthless – cross out any items that aren’t strictly necessary for a successful dinner.

If you meticulously stick to your list and avoid impulse buying, you can keep track of your spending, ensure you have everything ready for the big day and shop around to find the best prices.

If you want to plan your Christmas feast digitally, Trello is a nifty (and free) project management app, which will help you organise every last detail.

How To Host Christmas Dinner On A Budget

Trawl through your cupboards

Before you plan your Christmas dinner menu, have a rummage through your cupboards and see what you can use. A packet of gravy or bread sauce from last year, if still in date, will save you a few pennies this year. If you’re hosting a dinner party or buffet, you could base the menu around what you already have in your kitchen.

Sorting through the darkest corners of your cupboards also provides you with an excellent opportunity to get rid of all those out of date items!

Shop around

Once you know what you need to buy you can shop around and make sure you get the best deals on all your essentials. Discount supermarkets such as Aldi and Lidl offer excellent value for money, while stores like Poundland and Home Bargains enable you to buy cheap decorations and accessories.

My Supermarket is a handy app that will help you find bargains in the aisles, so you never have to pay more than necessary for your festive foods and trimmings.

Buy a little every week

Every time you do a weekly food shop, add a few items from your Christmas dinner list. This will help you stock up all you need for the big day while avoiding the need for a big splurge a few days before Christmas.

How To Host Christmas Dinner On A Budget

Ask guests to bring a dish

If you’re cooking for a lot of people, there’s no shame in asking guests to contribute. Perhaps some could bring along side dishes while others supply puds, nuts or crisps. And everyone can bring a bottle. Sharing the burden will really help to keep costs down.

Portion control

Avoid mountains of waste this year by controlling portions. It’s natural for us to pile our plates high at the Christmas dinner table, but inevitably we can’t eat it all. Try and dish up the meat and vegetables before the plates reach the table. You don’t have to be stingy with the portions but be realistic. Guest can always ask for seconds if they wish.

 

How To Brighten Dark Winter Days

How To Brighten Dark Winter Days

The days are drawing in, hats and gloves are out and frost is chilling on windowpanes – winter has well and truly arrived. For many of us, with the warmth and light of summer a distant memory, it’s depressing.

Winter days are literally dark and for some (especially those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder) figuratively so too.

Winter has a habit of promoting lethargy and depression. Even with the excitement of Christmas on the horizon, it can still be a struggle. It can seem hard to get out of bed in the mornings and motivation can crash to an all-time low.

If you dread the bleak winter days, here are some ideas to brighten them and make the long, desolate winter more bearable:

Light!

 Sounds obvious right? However, actively filling your home environment with lamps, fairy lights and candles will really help to lift your mood. It’s also a good reason to get the Christmas tree up as soon as possible! The twinkle of the pretty tree lights and other  festive illuminations really make you feel happier.

When the sun is being miserly with its own light – create as much of your own as you can!

How To Brighten Dark Winter Days

Inspiration

A daily dose of inspiration can really help you to keep going during the long winter.

While it’s true that inspiration often finds you in the most unsuspecting of places, if you’re feeling demotivated and uninspired you need to seek it out. Draw out positivity and motivation from any person, place or thing you can find.

It could be  listening to podcasts by people who inspire you as well as interesting TED talks. Or you could try a regular dose of inspiring quotes and stories.

Whatever or whoever inspires you, make sure you get your daily fix of them to keep you feeling stimulated and alive.

Try Something New

 Starting a new project or learning something for the first time is always exciting. Is there something you’ve always wanted to try? Now is the time to give it a go.

Hots Baths With Essential Oils

 A hot, steamy bath with a few drops of essential oils is a fool proof way to feel lighter. Add in plenty of candles, a face mask and a good book and there’s no better way of feeling rejuvenated at the end of a dark, drab day.

How To Brighten Dark Winter Days

Blankets

 A cosy, plump blanket is an essential part of any winter survival kit. Make sure you have warm blankets folded up all over the house – ripe for snuggling under and getting cosy.

An Early Night…

Like most parents, you are probably faced with the daily conundrum of going to bed early to catch up on sleep or staying awake to finally get some ‘me time’.

During the winter, an early night usually wins. Like a hibernating animal, you may need more sleep during the long winter months.

…And An Early Start

Waking up super early, (around 5am), may sound utterly bonkers but it will give you a delirious hour and a half to yourself before the kids wake up.

This could possibly to be the most productive time of the day because you’re more alert and energised than in the evenings.

Starting the day with some good quality time to yourself will really set you up for a better day and puts you in a positive frame of mind.

Slow Cooker Meals

 If you have a slow cooker, dig it out and use it often. There’s nothing better than coming in from the rain and bitter wind to a warm house full of the tempting aroma of whatever is bubbling in the slow cooker.

How to Have A Magical 1980s Christmas

How to Have A Magical 1980s Christmas

Christmas in the 80s seemed to be a far less complicated affair. I don’t remember my mum running round like a headless chicken, hiding elves on shelves and making life-sized advent calendars stuffed full of homemade toys. She never had a to-do list as long as her arm and seemed completely nonplussed by the whole event.

Her 1980s laid-back attitude towards parenting extended throughout the festive period with abandon. She was as cool as the Snowman, which in the absence of on-demand TV, we watched when it happened to on (unless someone had the foresight to video it.)

When I was a kid, I remember members of the older generation harping on about how Christmas was far too commercialised compared to the festive seasons of their youths. They were probably right, though I’d need to experience a 1950s Christmas to be sure. Thirty years on, however, I’m going to do some harping of my own. Christmas these days may be even more commercialised than it was in the 80s, but what gets to me is the amount of pressure we heap upon ourselves to provide our kids with the perfect Christmas experience.

Elves on my shelves, Christmas Eve boxes, all-singing and dancing advent calendars, handmade Christmas cards, credit card inducing trips to see authentic looking Santas (no polyester beards in sight)… I admit to trying and failing to do it all.

Who am I doing it for? Would the kids even notice if I stepped back a few decades and treated them to a Christmas from my youth? My advent calendars didn’t even contain chocolate. It didn’t matter to me – opening the little windows to find a new picture each morning was the highlight of my day. I was more than happy with a shopping-mall Santa, who we came across by chance while my mother was buying doilies in Debenhams. He may have been sitting in the most garish of grottos, framed by a few bits of tinsel and polystyrene snow. He may have dished out a truly crap present. Yet, in my childish state of wonder and excitement, I just didn’t care.

How to Have A Magical 1980s Christmas

We left mince pies out for Santa on an ordinary plate from the kitchen and he didn’t even mind that it wasn’t a specialised Christmas plate containing a personalised message. I didn’t have Christmas pyjamas, a box full of yet more gifts on Christmas Eve or a specially delivered message from the North Pole. And I survived.

I did more than survive. My childhood Christmases were memorable and magical. They fostered a deep love of Christmas within me and it has stuck until this day. As an added bonus, my mother wasn’t worn out from staying up past midnight trying to potato print Christmas trees onto homemade cards.

In my vain attempt to strip Christmas back to basics and recreate a magical 1980s Christmas, I’ve decided on the following actions:

Unplug

My mum never had the ‘highlight reel’ of Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest to contend with. If little Patrick from down the road went on a sleigh ride with real reindeer, she wouldn’t have known about it unless she spoke to his mum. She didn’t have hundreds of other people’s Christmases to compare ours with – and I’m sure she was all the happier for it.

Yesterday I made gingerbread men with my kids. My son insisted on eating all the dough (despite being told not to) and then totally lost the plot when he realised it was all in his tummy and he had no gingerbread men to show for it. My daughter carefully prepared a whole tray of the little blighters. Unfortunately, I accidentally spilt Mr Muscle on them while they were cooling. In total, after an hour of misery, we were left with just two gingerbread men.

How to Have A Magical 1980s Christmas

Had I uploaded a picture to Facebook of my (hastily baby-wiped) children grinning and holding up their creations, you may have been fooled into believing it was a wonderfully magical experience. However, such an image wouldn’t have conveyed their tears and tantrums, my flour-bombed kitchen and me losing my shit.

Social Media never shows the whole picture. This Christmas, I shall remember that.

I’m also going to remember to give the people in my living room my undivided attention. In the 80s, no-one was taking selfies or tapping away on their individual screens, oblivious to what was actually going on around them. There was a real sense of togetherness, as we all gathered around the same telly to watch the Christmas movie of the day or see who had made it to be Top of the Pops. I miss that.

Ditch the guilt

My mum never woke up at 3am in a cold sweat because she forgot to move the blasted elf. She didn’t felt guilty about the fact we weren’t going to Lapland. In fact, if she were here today to discover that Lapland UK is situated in the forest a few miles away from my childhood home, where we used to walk our dog, she would have roared with laughter. Until she saw the price of a visit, that is.

I can’t do it all. I have neither the money nor the inclination. This year I’m not even going to try.

Instead, in true 80s style, I shall get sloshed on Baileys, safe in the knowledge that Father Christmas has it all in hand. He’s the main attraction after all – the anticipation and excitement of his arrival was always enough for me as a child. I didn’t need Christmas Eve boxes, countless Christmas craft activities and personalised jumpers, pyjamas and crockery to make Christmas special. And I doubt my kids really need all that stuff to enjoy Christmas either.

How to Have A Magical 1980s Christmas

Remember what it’s all about

We seem to put so much pressure on ourselves to buy the most expensive and sought after toys for our kids (Hatchimals last year anyone?!) only to marvel over how they play with the wrapping paper and the boxes.

I’ve watched my daughter ripping open presents, tossing one aside for the next without even really looking at the contents. The toys are soon forgotten as she plays games with her auntie and grandparents and wants to set the table and help in the kitchen. Even though she doesn’t know it, the presents are the least important part of Christmas Day for her. As long as she has some toys to unwrap, they don’t have to be the most expensive and I shouldn’t have to go into debt over it.

When I was about eight years old, I remember waking up mega early on Christmas day (about 4am), bombing downstairs and tearing open my presents. No-one else was up and nor were they going to wake at such an hour. Halfway through my present opening spree, I came to a realisation. Unwrapping presents alone in the early morning silence, without excited faces to share in my delight and my mother chasing after me to pick up the wrapping paper, was boring.  So I wrapped up all the presents again and went back to bed.

When I woke later at a more appropriate hour, I unwrapped the presents alongside peals of laughter, the flash of my dad’s camera, Christmas music and my mum with her bin bag. I also delighted in seeing the others open their gifts. This was my first lesson on the true nature of Christmas. And you can’t put that on a credit card.

How to Have A Magical 1980s Christmas

A few presents under the tree, which is glistening in the glorious imperfection of its haphazardly placed ornaments and a house full of laughter and love. That’s what it’s all about. My mum knew that and so did I.  Somehow in the years between experiencing Christmas as a child and trying to create one for my children I forgot.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s time to ditch the to-do lists and pointless pressure to be perfect and enjoy Christmas as it should to be. An unplanned and non-colour-coordinated free for all, where the focus is on people instead of things. I don’t think my kids will be disappointed in the slightest.


Aimee Foster is a mum, freelance writer and social media manager, bookworm and sea lover. Find more of her ramblings over on her blog, New Forest Mum.

14 Essential Christmas Websites and Apps for Parents

14 Essential Christmas Websites and Apps for Parents

With Christmas just around the corner, children the world over are beginning to feel the excitement as they eagerly await the big day. As parents, we want to make the festive season as magical as possible for our little people. Luckily, help is at hand. We’ve scoured the internet and found the 14 best Christmas websites and apps to help parents spread some cheer this festive season.

14 Essential Christmas Websites and Apps for Parents

1. Portable North Pole

Sprinkle a bit of Christmas magic with Portable North Pole. This clever website will create a personalised video message to your child from Santa for free. The video itself is beautifully made and will leave children of all ages completely mesmerized.

2. Capture the Magic

Using this website or app, you can give your child proof that Santa was indeed inside your house. Simply upload a photo of the room in your house that Santa visited and add one of their Santas to it. Voila – a picture of Santa in your house for the kids to treasure!

3. Christmas Countdown

‘How long is it until Christmas?’ Are you fed up of being asked this question? With Christmas Countdown you can pinpoint how long they have to wait to the second, so you’re always ready with an answer.

14 Essential Christmas Websites and Apps for Parents

4. North Pole

North Pole is your ultimate Christmas resource. Packed with crafts, games, gift ideas, recipes and letters from Santa, this website is a must for adults as well as kids.

14 Essential Christmas Websites and Apps for Parents

5. Why Christmas?

Why do we have Christmas trees? What is Santa’s first name? Find out everything you need to know about Christmas, including the stories behind all our Christmas traditions, on this informative website. There are also Christmas games and activities to delight the little ones.

6. Jinglebell Junction

For all your Christmas downloads, look no further than Jinglebell Junction. Avatars, wallpaper, ringtones…you’ll find it all here plus fun activities and games for the kids.

7. Elfster

If you’ve been tasked with organising Secret Santa for your or your child’s friends, Elfster is a handy website to guide you through it with ease. Each participant can create a wishlist, upload their details and Elfster will conduct the draw plus send out reminders and thank yous. For stress-free Secret Santa, Elfster is a must.

8. NORAD

Thanks to the North American Aeorospace Defence Command, you can track Santa as he flies through the skies on Christmas Eve. Your little ones will be beyond excited to watch it all as it happens.

14 Essential Christmas Websites and Apps for Parents

9. Elf Yourself

Elf Yourself is loved the world over and is fast becoming a Christmas tradition for the digital age. All you need to do is upload a picture of yourself or you child and you will be transformed into a dancing elf. Magic!

10. Email Santa

As the name suggests, this website allows your child to receive a personalised email from the big man himself. Simply fill out a form with a few details and your message from Santa will appear within seconds.

11. Santa Tracker

This beautiful creation from Google provides stimulating games, activities and animations for the kids. You can also learn more about how children all around the world celebrate Christmas.

14 Essential Christmas Websites and Apps for Parents

12. Live Santa

From the 1st December you can watch all the comings and goings in Lapland via the Live Santa website. Watch Santa prepare for Christmas, see the elves and reindeer and marvel at the beautiful, snow-covered landscape.

13. Claus

With Claus.com you have access to your very own Christmas village. Check to see your naughty or nice status and find songs, games and interactive activities.

14. Letter from Santa

For a suggested donation of £5, you can order a beautiful, personalised message from Santa, while helping children in need this Christmas.

 

And if you’re worried about how much Christmas is gong to cost, don’t forget to check out our Christmas money saving tips here.

10 Christmas Money Saving Tips

10 Christmas Money Saving Tips

With the average British household spending £753* on Christmas last year, many of us will be looking to save as much as possible on festive expenses this year. Now Halloween is over, the stores will be ramping up their Christmas displays and so the financial outlay begins…

Helping families save money is our whole motivation here at Baby and Children’s Market. With this in mind, we’ve put together some Christmas money saving tips to help you get the most bang from your buck this festive season.

1. Make a list and check it twice

When it comes to saving money, preparation is key. Make a list of everything you’re going to need this Christmas, including gifts, food, drink and accessories. If you stick to the list, you can avoid any unnecessary spending.

You can use your list to work out a budget – so you know how much it’s all going to cost. Keeping a tab on what you buy and how much you spend will really help avoid any nasty surprises with the incoming January bills. The Money advice Service has a handy online budget calculator to help you plan your Christmas spending wisely.

2. Make some extra cash

Selling items your children have outgrown can be a simple way to make some extra cash for Christmas. You could hold a stall at your local Baby and Children’s Market and flog your pre-loved items to other parents. As well as taking home the money, you will clear some precious space for all the new toys Santa is going to bring!

Also use Ebay, Gumtree and Facebook selling sites to sell any other items you don’t need anymore – from clothes and unused toiletries to household and garden items.

Matched betting is another way you could try and make some pre-Christmas cash. Check out this guide for more information.

3. Buy second-hand toys

Children don’t care where their toys come from or if they are brand new. Buying your children preloved gifts will save you a fortune and is also more environmentally friendly.

In the run up to Christmas our Baby and Children’s Markets are often packed to the rafters with toys which you can buy at a fraction of the cost of high street prices. Many charities, churches and community centres host toy sales in November and December. Don’t forget to see what’s on in your area.

4. Find the cheapest deals

Make sure you shop around to find the best deals on all your Christmas shopping. PriceRunner compares the prices of millions of items from hundreds of different retailers to find you the cheapest price. To track prices on Amazon, try CamelCamelCamel and you’ll be alerted when the prices of your desired items drop.

10 Christmas Money Saving Tips

5. Embrace Secret Santa

Secret Santa is a brilliant way to save money on gifts while ensuring nobody misses out. Suggest organising a Secret Santa amongst all your different friendship groups – work colleagues, old school friends, parent friends etc. You can also organise a Secret Santa with your children’s friends too. To make this process super easy, use free Secret Santa website Elfster.

6. Be ready for Black Friday

Utilise the Black Friday sales wisely, by being prepared to spring into action on the day. Know what you want and make sure you get there early to avoid disappointment. This year Black Friday falls on the 24th November.

And don’t forget Cyber Monday! The same principle applies – plan what you want to buy and from where. Get online as early as possible on Monday 27th November to ensure you don’t miss out.

10 Christmas Money Saving Tips

7. Cut down the gift buying

Take a look at your gift list. Are there any extended friends and family members on there that you could strike off? Have a word with them and mutually agree not to buy gifts this year. They’ll probably be as relieved as you to save the pennies!

8. Santa freebies

Your little ones can post a letter to Santa and receive a reply – all for the cost of a stamp. Royal Mail has it covered here. And don’t forget to create your free, personalised video message from Santa at Portable North Pole.

The International Space Station is passing over the UK on the 21st December this year. The flyover can be sold as an opportunity to see Santa’s sleigh as a bright light passing through the sky. For more information on times, check out the NASA website.

9. Book train tickets in advance

 If you’re travelling to see friends and family this Christmas, make sure you book your train tickets as soon as possible to save on the ticket price. Check out Trainline to see the best prices.

10. Make your own gifts

10 Christmas Money Saving Tips

Delight your friends and family by creating thoughtful gifts with the personal touch – and save some pennies at the same time. Kids will love getting involved in making Reindeer Poo for their friends or why not try some homemade fudge or bubblebath?

Take a look at some homemade gift ideas here and here. And you’ll find plenty of inspiration on Pinterest!


*Figure taken from http://www.gocompare.com/press-office/2016/cost-of-christmas/