School & Family Family life 17 ways to prepare for Christmas Planning ahead will have you smiling serenely through the festivities but you’ve got to know where to start. Here’s our ultimate guide to ensure Christmas cheer… 1 of Ad break Ever noticed how Christmas creeps up on you? It seems ages away now, but before you know it you’ll be running around the supermarket trying to find the last jar of cranberry sauce. And now you’ve got a little one, there’s even more to juggle. Start preparations now, however, and you might actually start looking forward to hoards of guests, giant turkeys and flashing toys (we promise!). “If you plan ahead, Christmas can be peaceful and fun. If you’re relaxed, your family will be relaxed,” says life coach Diana Parkinson (www.dianaparkinson.co.uk). Sounds great! Here’s how to get started… Get gift listingIf you have older tots, they’ve probably already got must-haves on their lists, so start asking them. It’s the only way to avoid tears on Christmas Day because something’s sold out. Make a list and note down exact makes and models. Well, who wants Toy Story 2 now that it’s all about Toy Story 3? “I’m forever making lists,” says Rachel Jones, 33, from Chester, mum to Tom, 2, and Joseff, 1. “Particularly lists of where I’ve stashed everything. With another baby due in December, everything has to be done early so I started on pressies for the boys in July.” No more impulse buying“It’s very easy to get distracted when you’re out shopping with everything that’s on display, so a clear list will help to stop those impulse buys,” says Diana. Impulse buying leads to cupboards full of random items and a messed-up Christmas budget. Stay away from temptation if you’re shopping for a certain item by not going into departments or stores that don’t stock it. Try this... Ask people to set up a wish list on www.amazon.co.uk. They can add anything they like, even from different sites, for anyone to view, and there’s no chance of you losing it, like you might a piece of paper. You could also try older tots on this, sitting with them while they browse. Divide the presentsWhen you’ve got an idea what your tots would like, spread the present-buying out among relatives so you know who’s getting what and there aren’t any double-ups on Christmas morning. Continue slideshow > Spread the cost“It makes real sense to have a separate savings account for Christmas costs in the run-up to December,” suggests financial planner Martin Bamford (www.icl-ifa.co.uk). “This means you can also take your time to find the right presents at a good price, rather than being rushed into buying expensive last-minute gifts when you’re caught up in the Christmas rush," adds Martin. And if you don’t want to use it yet, don’t open the PIN number when the cash card arrives. Wrap as you goThere’s nothing more soul-destroying than knowing you’ve got a mountain of pressies to wrap on Christmas Eve, so wrap as you buy – making sure you label everything clearly of course. Some stores will even wrap for you. “Last year I bought a pile of gift boxes and just put everything in them to save on wrapping,” says Lea Humphries, 25, from Milton Keynes, mum to Charlie, 4, and Katy, 2. “They were a bit more expensive, but the extra cost was worth it in terms of me holding on to my sanity.” Stock up on batteriesGifts for children nearly always seem to need batteries and you’ll probably find you’ve got four AAs when you need two AAAs or vice versa. Yes, the gifts should come with them, but odds on they’ll be flat by Boxing Day and you’ll never remember to buy more in the last crazy weeks up to Christmas. Stock up a drawer with the various sizes to make sure you’ve got every toy power emergency covered. Check now what size your camera takes and organise chargers for phones and cameras in one place so you’re not searching for them on Christmas Day. Fine-tune your menuFor nearly half of households, the cost of food and drink at Christmas adds between £100 and £300 to the usual monthly groceries bill – that’s if you do it all in one go. So it makes sense to shop as you go along rather than one big shop with tired kids in tow. “Remember that you’re not stocking up for a siege,” says Diana. “Decide on a menu now and order online in plenty of time, way before the last delivery date too.” Buy your tinned and non-perishable bits now (checking the use-by dates) and visit your local butcher (or farm) to order your turkey so you know it’s coming, and you only have to pick it up in December. Continue slideshow > Cook your cake Christmas cake tastes loads better the earlier you make it, so get baking now and wrap it up to keep until the festive period. Delia has a cracking recipe at www.deliaonline.com. Remember to get the kids to stir the mix and make a wish as you do it as it makes a great family tradition that they’ll love being involved with. Finalise the guest listWorking out who’s visiting and who wants to stay over now means no last-minute surprises as you can say ‘Sorry, we’re full’. Once you know who’s coming when, and for how long, ask if they can bring things like blow-up beds. If you don’t want anyone staying as it’s your first Christmas as a family, then make that clear early on. You could research and recommend some local hotels. Or maybe go for an ‘open house’ Boxing Day buffet so you don’t have to manhandle a massive roast for guests on Christmas Day. Try this... “Most of my relatives are on Facebook so last year I sent them out an invite in October to work out how many would be coming to my house at Christmas,” says Laura Jenner, 38, from Kent, mum to Ryan, 5, and Ashley, 3. “They all replied pretty quickly and it meant I knew well in advance what was happening.” Share the loadWorked out who’s coming? Great, now give them a job! If everyone knows what they need to bring/cook, there’s no excuse for them not to help and it’s another thing off your list in the run-up to the big day. Check the beddingWork out well in advance where you’re going to put house guests. “Go through your spare bed linen and check you’ve got enough, and they fit the different beds your guests will be in,” advises de-cluttering expert, Beverly Wade (www.cluttergone.co.uk). The last thing you want is to reach midnight with a bunch of tired, tipsy relatives and suddenly realise that there’s not enough room and you’re a couple of duvets short of the full complement. Continue slideshow > Clear cupboard spaceBetween rounding up the summer toys and getting the autumn wellies out, there doesn’t seem much time for tidying for Christmas. But it’ll make life a lot easier if you keep on top of the chores now. Nicky Morris from cleaning company Merry Maids, says, “Mums are so busy rushing around at Christmas, it’s easy to let the tidying get out of hand. Before you know it, it’s become overwhelming, so it’s best to deal with the big clear-up in manageable chunks.” Defrost your freezerWe know it’s a boring job, but set some time aside to clear out the freezer and let it defrost. “You can then leave a drawer free to start buying bits for Christmas,” says Beverly. “In the next few weeks, try and use up bits and pieces from your freezer to free up some space,” she adds. Finish the DIYThe last thing you want is granny arriving on Christmas Day, walking in and tripping over that picture you’ve been meaning to hang for six months. Go around the house and note down any DIY jobs you need to finish and work out a timescale for getting them done. Write your cardsMake this year the year you get this job done early. Order a job lot of cards this month and start writing a few each night. Keep them in a safe place, away from grubby toddler hands before stamping and sending out nearer Christmas. You’ll feel so good about yourself. Try this... This year, make a word document of who you send your cards to and their addresses. You can use this to print labels to save writing out loads of envelopes, and you’ll have them ready for next year too. Check out stationery shops for sheets of labels to print them at home. Continue slideshow > Lower your expectationsYour family and friends won’t care if your house isn’t blinged up like Santa’s grotto and they’re not getting a four-course meal, as long as you’re relaxed and organised they’ll be relaxed. So, over the two months before Christmas, note down jobs to do for the big day and you’ll be sorted when December arrives. Did you know... 43% of women would prefer to cancel Christmas and spend it somewhere hot and sunny with their families. 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