7 top tips for Christmas on a budget
- Credit: Helen Copson
SU CARROLL talks to two Devon mums with three children each about juggling jobs, family life and getting ready for Christmas
There’s a saying – if you want something done, give it to a busy woman. That’s certainly true of Devon mums Helen Copson and Hayley Jones. They each have three children under six (Helen’s tally includes twins!) and they record all the stresses and strains (and, obviously the joys) of life in a busy household with online blogs – Helen as Twins, Tantrums and Cold Coffee and Hayley as Devon Mama.
As Christmas approaches they share their experiences of planning Christmas, sticking to a budget and managing expectations.
Helen, who lives in Plymouth, says there are so many things for her three boys to do at this time of year that it gets quite competitive – and costly: “There are so many activities for them to choose from, which is brilliant, but it can get quite expensive. Last year we saw Father Christmas on every weekend during December. It does get quite hectic and we have to be careful that they don’t get too excited because then they get naughty and they fight.
“We try and balance it with things like seeing the Christmas lights around the neighbourhood or decorating biscuits with icing and decorations – you don’t have to buy those expensive kits.
“We try and plan and put money aside every month, ramping it up after the October payday. My husband, Nick, does about 80% of the present buying for the boys. I’m lucky he’s a big kid and likes toys!
“While we buy in advance, present wrapping is often last minute and we’re sometimes up until one o’clock in the morning on Christmas Eve. The children do their lists – for Thomas it helps with his writing. But we tell them writing it down doesn’t mean they will get it. We have a cut-off date of December 15, otherwise they will just keep adding things.”
On Christmas Eve the boys get Christmas boxes with their names on. They contain things like decorations to make, craft kits, pyjamas – something to keep them pre-occupied. And they all settle down and watch The Polar Express. Christmas stockings are kept in the lounge for the big day and include the traditional sweets and a satsuma.
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“I’m still finding my feet but I want to create family traditions like I had when I was little. We try to get them to take it in turns opening their presents but one twin races through while the other one takes a long time. Nick’s dad comes to stay and my parents come over at about 11. Nick does all the cooking and there’s lots of playing…and lots of noise!”
At the Jones home, Hayley and Dave’s children get up “ridiculously early” every day, so Christmas is not really that different. “Our families live nearby so everybody expects to see us with the kids,” says Hayley.
“We see my family on Christmas Eve and always go for a walk. The kids make a mince pie for Santa and a carrot for the reindeer. On Christmas morning the children come down and open their stockings then we go and see my husband’s family for a couple of hours and have Christmas dinner with my parents and then come home and collapse!
“Last year was the first year our eldest ‘got it’ about Christmas and he’s very excited this year. My mum was probably ahead of the curve with Christmas Eve boxes because we had them as children. For our children there’s a new pair of pyjamas, a book and maybe a game.”
Hayley is a woman after my own heart – lists are at the core of her Christmas planning. “I would say to people, make sure you write it down otherwise you end up rebuying presents. This year we started buying presents in July. We both pay into a savings account throughout the year and set a budget and we don’t buy each other big gifts.
“To keep the children entertained we print off colouring sheets and put them on the table with crayons and stickers – children love stickers – or little Lego packs. We bought them little Christmas trees for their bedroom and they can decorate them themselves. They are very enthusiastic and so proud of decorating them. Both their grannies bought them decorations as gifts and they make decorations at school so there’s always somewhere for them to go now.”
And Hayley’s top tip? “Don’t buy Christmas chocolates until the last week. They will be cheaper and you won’t end up eating them all!”
Tips for Christmas on a budget
1. Put money aside regularly.
2. Make lists of what you’ve bought and what you need.
3. If you buy items at a good price, remember to write them down otherwise you may end up buying them twice.
4. Christmas boxes are an opportunity to slide in useful things like new pyjamas or a winter jumper.
5. Manage expectations. It’s not a competition. Find the one present the children really want.
6. Do things that cost little or nothing – a walk around your neighbourhood to see the Christmas decorations of devise a nature trail of things to spot in the countryside.
7. Buy chocolates just before Christmas – they will be cheaper and you won’t be tempted to dip into them. Remember a pic of some holly and the word Christmas adds to the price. Look for alternatives like “normal” bags of nuts, fruit and sweets.
Meet the mums
Helen spent more than 15 years working as a journalist with Plymouth paper The Herald and still writes features and columns for local papers. Married to Nick, two days before their son Thomas turned two in 2017, she gave birth to twins Toby and Isaac.
She started recording life with three boys under three in a blog – Twins, Tantrums and Cold Coffee. It struck a chord with other parents and ten months later she won the Fresh Voice Award in the Britmums Brilliance in Blogging competition.
A year later she won the Readers' Choice category in the same awards and has just been named Baby and Toddler Influencer in the delayed 2020 MAD (Mums and Dads) Blog Awards.
Hayley Jones, who is married to Dave, lives in “deepest darkest Devon” and started blogging while on maternity leave just over six years ago. She had been working in procurement and set up content marking to promote products.
Blogging came out of a desire to learn more about social media. She was expecting maternity leave to be lunches with friends (she has the grace to laugh at the thought!) and not just sitting on a sofa with a baby.
She found a community of parent bloggers and with a job that she loves, decided she could write a blog “just for me”. She just carried on recording family life, and the renovation of their home as a bit of a “nice hobby” and a way of remembering her children growing up. She has two boys aged five-and-a-half and six months and a three-year-old daughter.