Want to enjoy a stress free Christmas? Then avoid the shopping mall this Christmas. I started from 1 December.
Earlier this week I ventured into my local Westfield shopping mall. It was relatively quiet as it was lunchtime mid-week. But already the atmosphere was headed into Christmas overdrive. There is so much stuff you can buy. Like as in personalised Vegemite jars (really?) Huge hampers filled with chocolate (for the middle of summer?) Stocking fillers. Cheap Christmas decorations made in China under doubtful labour conditions.
OK, I could keep on venting but I will stop here. What this post is about is how to save not just your money but your sanity this Christmas.
Simple rule: from 1 December onwards, do not step foot in a large shopping mall. Ever.
I have been following this rule for over a decade. Without fail. And every year I count it as one of my own personal Christmas miracles. I started after someone told me about someone who committed suicide one December by jumping off a balcony right in front of kiddies lined up for happy snaps with Father Christmas. Terribly sad for the individual and those who witnessed it (and I am not suggesting this happens often). But it really spoke to me about the forced and fake consumer happiness that shopping mall advent has become.
No fighting for car parks, no tacky Father Christmas photos (honestly, if you are teaching your kids about stranger danger, why would you encourage them to sit in the lap of some guy they don’t even know?), no queuing in line to buy overpriced gifts you don’t need (and that your recipient probably doesn’t need either), no dealing with toddler tantrums at the checkout counter, and no eating unhealthy takeaway in the food court.
How do I manage to get ready for Christmas?
I know you might be thinking this. The shopping mall has become such a symbol of the Christmas season. It is where we go to visit Santa Land or whatever those special Christmas trees on display are called. It is where we need to go to buy presents. It is where we take our kids because it is air conditioned and offers special Christmas events that help make summertime in Australia easier. And it is where we all rush to – just flick on the news and see pictures of people pouring in on the final days, fueled by special extended shopping hours.
Truth is, I don’t miss it at all. And here are a few of my tips for preparing for Christmas without going into a shopping mall:
- Buy online. Pretty obvious, and makes a lot of sense when (like me) you are sending things interstate. Rather than buying and wrapping and sending, why not just buy online in the first place? When we lived overseas, we used to send our own custom hampers to Australian friends via specials on Grocery Run. It was a nice way to send some Christmas cheer in a way that was unique and customized.
- Visit a bookstore. As an aspiring book writer, I have been appalled to learn about the lack of interest in buying Australian written and published books. Authors need your support, especially first time authors. And so do Australian bookstores. Because if they all close down, we lose a part of our culture, and a part of our soul. Top tip for a feelgood book this Christmas that will really make you value your family: The Barber from Budapest.
- Regift. This is a fairly obvious one, and something have been doing for years. To be clear, I do not regift things that I do not like to people that I do not like. Instead, I accept gifts with gratitude. But where I do not need them, I store them for future use and if I believe someone would really like something, I wrap it up and pass it on with love. Beyond the cost saving, I cannot tell you how many times I have been saved by needing to produce a last minute gift. Kris Kringles is a case in point.
- Make edible gifts. Christmas is the time for entertaining, and if you gift things to people they can incorporate into their hospitality it is a win win. I am yet to find someone who doesn’t appreciate home made goodies. Some of my favourites are butter spritz cookies, Taiwanese nougat, Sicilian blood orange cordial, chocolate ginger coconut balls, and baby plum jam.
- Go op shopping. Just as shopping malls are filled to overflowing, so too are op shops. Some op shops in my neighbourhood are no longer accepting donations until January because they have too much stock, and others have 50% off sales to cope with the excess. Buying vintage or from an op shop does not automatically mean it is inferior quality. Once price tags are removed and items are packaged, does anyone know or care where the items have come from? One advantage of op shopping is that you have a greater diversity within a smaller space. And you know that the items will be really unique. And that the money goes to support good community causes.
- Visit garage sales. December is also a time for moving. There are some amazing garage sale finds. Take a drive around your neighbourhood and see what you can find. Even better, go for a walk or cycle and get some exercise as well. You might even meet some neighbours.
- Buy Christmas lights at a hardware store. If you really need Christmas essentials like lights, you don’t always have to go into a shopping mall to get them. Think outside the box. They are likely to be cheaper and better quality. Oh, and same goes for things like replacement Christmas light bulbs as well.
- Give useful gifts, like say a goat or a chicken. My church supports TEAR Really Useful Gifts, and there are I believe a few other similar programs. Isn’t Christmas supposed to be about peace and love and good will to all men (and women?) I know I would love to get a present like this; knowing you are doing something to help others can be tremendously useful.
- Give to charity instead. For the last four or five years, my father, my sister and I give to a chosen charity rather than give gifts to each other. We have supported a project making beautiful living spaces for emergency accommodation for women, drought relief, and the Let’s Give Everyone a Christmas hamper appeal. I like the way that we have a discussion about what projects we would like to support, and what is important to us. And really, to me Christmas is about family and connection and two of those aims are crossed off right there.
- Accept that you will not stave at Christmas. I am making an assumption here that you are not one of the 3 billion people in the world living below $2.50 a day. And if you are anything like me, you are probably struggling to contain excess weight gain in the silly season. (Even by living within $50 a week, I still eat too much – and yes, this challenge is going strong.) By the time it gets to Christmas day, I am already bloated and full. Save on the January guilty-resolution gym membership (unless you will actually use it), and just don’t go overboard at Christmas. I am not saying you should have an austere bread and water lunch, but just to accept that you do not need a table laden with absolutely every type of Christmas food imaginable to enjoy your day with family. I mean, when my Dad was growing up a roast chook was a luxury but these days in addition to turkey there is also turkey a whole baked ham and a barbecue and prawns and oysters and bowls and bowls of nibbles beforehand and plum pudding and pavlova and custard and ice-cream and cheesecake and fruit cake and chocolates and stollen and gingerbread etc etc. Instead, consider buying locally and sustainability and practice a more is less attitude. This changed mentality alone will save you hours of queuing to buy food. Set a simple menu early and try to avoid the supermarkets the day before Christmas.
- Buy Nothing at Christmas. That’s right, nothing at all. Recently, a blog post about a lady who buys nothing each Christmas circulated through my friends and church community. Oh, radical. But when I think about it, my kids have hardly played with the toys they received last Christmas. I should know, as I am selling my house at the moment (yes, the one that I just paid the mortgage off), and I have half a storage unit filled with toys as part of decluttering. Do my boys miss their toys? If they do, they haven’t said so in the last six weeks. If anything, they seem happier because now they can actually find their favourites.
Do you have a frugal tip to make Christmas easier? If so, I would love to hear it.