Now that Christmas is over, it’s time to count the costs. Here’s a little insight into how much we spent on Christmas this year. When I say “we”, I actually mean “I” – if it were up to Mr W, Christmas wouldn’t happen at all. He claims that he’s crap at thinking of present ideas so he doesn’t even bother to try.
So it’s all down to me. I love Christmas, especially now the kids are old enough to appreciate it. This year I went a bit overboard on organising activities and making presents and baking and, and, and…
I know the point of Christmas isn’t to spend as little money as possible, so we don’t consciously try to not spend money on it, but I do try to be mindful of what’s worth spending money on and what isn’t. As you’ll see below, I made a lot of the presents and cards myself, but that’s not just to save money – it’s mostly because I enjoy it and I want to give Christmas a personal touch. Here’s what we did for Christmas and how much we did (or didn’t) spend on it. (If you don’t care about the details, just skip to the bottom to see the cold, hard numbers displayed in a pretty chart).
Christmas Cards: 15.85€ (roughly 50/50 split between photo printing and postage)
In the UK, sending Christmas cards to everyone you know is a big thing. It’s a big social embarrassment if someone sends you a card and you don’t send them one back. My mum even keeps a stack of extra cards especially for that eventuality. The post office issues special Christmas stamps and everyone spends a fortune on postage. The trend is changing among younger people, but my mum’s generation is still right into card giving. In Germany it’s not such a big deal, and it was only when I moved here that I realised that it wasn’t necessarily normal to spray greeting cards about like they were going out of fashion. Cards aren’t a big thing among Hungarians or Romanians either, so that makes it a lot easier for us to take a minimalist approach to card giving.
To cut a long story short, we decided to only send cards to close family, but to make those cards more personal and put more effort into them. So each year, we plonk Santa hats on the kids and chase them round the living room taking photos until we get something we can use on a card. Then I use free software to add text and graphics (borders, holly berries, snowflake effects – you name it). I print the photos out and stick them onto blank cards then we print out some good photos of the kids taken over the last year and put 2-3 of them in each card. We write longer, more personal messages in each card and then post them off. It takes a lot more time and effort but the end result is much better and I’m completely fine with spending money on this. The people we give the cards to appreciate them much more than if we’d just bought ready-printed cards from a shop. At least, I think they do. Maybe they don’t actually give a shit and all that time and effort is actually wasted. Who knows?
Alternative Christmas Cards: 24€
While we don’t send cards to our friends, we don’t just ignore them. Instead, I make an online album of the 50 or so best photos we’ve taken over the year and send the link to our friends along with a Christmas e-mail saying that instead of sending them Christmas cards, we’ve donated money to Oxfam Unwrapped (Oxfam Unverpackt in Germany). This year we donated 24€ to pay for school fees for kids in developing countries. Money well spent, if a little vague. Maybe next year I should donate money to a cause closer to home where I can actually see the benefits?
Experiential Advent Calendar for the Kids: 67.63€
Rather than buy standard advent calendars for the kids with a chocolate for every day, I have to confess I went a bit mental this year. Last year I found a blog article about experiential advent calendars and I wanted to try it out, but the kids were just too little to appreciate it. So I decided this would be the year. The idea is that Santa sends your kids an elf that brings them a surprise or activity each day instead of the usual unimaginative chocolate. It’s more interactive and I thought it would help us get in a Christmassy mood. Being the craft nerd I am, I decided to make an elf from scratch. But then I kinda underestimated how long it would take to crochet the bloody thing and spent the last 3 days of November stressed out my mind trying to finish him. His name is Jingles and I quite like him, although for some reason Little W has a problem with his eyebrows. I might fix them in time for next year:
Jingles cost me 11.25€ to make. I already had the stuffing (cotton wool balls) and some of the yarn, but I had to buy some more in different colours and I still have quite a bit of it left, as well as quite a lot of the other craft supplies I had to get (pipe cleaners and bells). So let’s just say those things cancel each other out. Since Jingles will be visiting the kids for a few years to come, we’ll be getting a lot of wear out of him so I think this was money well spent.
Then I spent a whopping 56.38€ on stuff for the activities. Yeah, that was steep. In my defence though, this total includes €6.95 for finger paint and 99% of it is still intact for the kids to use. Quite a few of the things I got turned out to be mistakes, i.e. too expensive or not really worth it. I spent 5.95€ on a bath bomb from to turn their bath water blue. Unfortunately it turned them blue too and Little W was scared of the blue water. We ended up having to drain the water out and run a new bath with fresh water. Won’t be doing that again, but at least we learned from it. Next year I need to start planning the activities earlier so I have time to think of more activities that don’t involve buying a tonne of stuff. Some of the most fun activities were the ones that were free or cost next to nothing (making paper snowflakes, going to the Christmas market, watching The Snowman).
Nikolaus Stuff and Stocking Fillers: 2.00€
Our kids put out their boots on December 5th and Nikolaus comes in the night and fills them. We filled the boots with fruit, nuts and chocolate we had anyway, so no extra expense there. We did the same with the stockings the kids put out on Christmas Eve – all I bought specially were two bags of chocolate coins at €1 each, because I always got chocolate coins in my stocking as a child and I wanted to pass the tradition on to my kids.
- Miss W: 21.97€
Craft supplies, jumper
- Little W: 14.89€
A recorder, because his big sister has one and she won’t let him have a go on it
- Both kids: 13.93€
In my wisdom I made them some joint presents because I thought it would encourage them to share. Instead, Miss W commandeered all the little coloured foam letter and number shapes and they shared out the crocheted ice cream cones three each. At least they like the presents though.
- Mr W: 0.00€
What can I say, he’s cheap! As his presents I’m going to fix and alter the pile of clothes he keeps complaining about and make him a nice dinner. Miss W made him a present but the price for that is included in the advent calendar, since one of the activities was to make the present.
- Mrs W: 0.00€
Mainly because Mr W is rubbish at gifts so he just doesn’t bother. As his present to me he’s going to help me with a Hungarian translation I’m working on. He won’t enjoy it but he’ll do it, which means a lot to me.
- Mr W’s parents: 8.40€
They’re not really into presents – they don’t get presents for each other or for us, only for the kids. Every year I spend HOURS making a calendar with the best photos from the year, so that each month they can look at photos from exactly a year ago. I print out three copies of the calendar – one for Mr W’s parents, one for my parents, and one for us.
- Mrs W’s parents: 18.96€
My parents are much more into presents, to the extent that we’ve had to reign them in when it comes to getting stuff for the kids. So I feel obliged to get them stuff, but they don’t really need anything and I’m not sure how much they’ll like the stuff I got them. Apart from the photo calendar I got my dad a book and I knitted my mum some wrist warmers. Exciting stuff!
Over Christmas we’re spending a month in Romania at Mr W’s parents’ house. Getting here is a bit of a hassle but the price could be worse:
- Transport to and from airport: 82€
- Flights: 240€
The cost here was definitely worth it because it made us, the kids and Mr W’s parents happy. That’s the most important thing for all of us.
So how much did we spend altogether?
…drum roll please…
All in all not bad. The travel was the main killer (Mr W: I wouldn’t include them in the Christmas expenses though…). Without the travel expenses our costs were only 187.63€. And we’ve had a wonderful, if very busy, festive season. I don’t feel like anything was missing. The kids are happy with their presents and aren’t complaining about not getting stuff they wanted – although I’m sure that’ll change soon enough. They’re still young enough that they don’t really want anything specific (except their own weight in chocolate, and they ain’t getting that!). I’m sure future Christmases will be a lot more expensive, although we hope to avoid/defer the fights over expensive electronic gifts for the kids for as long as possible.
We’re also lucky that we don’t have a huge family and don’t traditionally give presents to our friends. Not because we’re stingy, but because it’s just never been an issue. We spend time with our friends drinking a glass or two of good wine and enjoying a meal rather than feeling pressure to find the perfect gift for them, which they probably wouldn’t really like all that much anyway. And in turn we’re not going to go back to Germany with a suitcase full of random but well-meant crap that people have given us. All in all it’s a pretty good setup.
This will be our last post of 2016, so we’ll leave you with a taste of all the things we got up to this past month that have made the festive season so special and full of memories. Happy New Year and see you in 2017!