Having a blast on a budget

The money pinch is more real now than ever before, with the petrol price on a continued upward trajectory. You have stripped your budget to the bone, but nobody wants to cut down on Christmas when there are kids involved. Here are some holiday tips that will suit your pocket and make magic holiday memories.

There’s no denying that more and more families are opting to stay home for the holidays. This can be challenging when you have kiddies, because four to six weeks at home can get pretty boring and frustrating for everyone.

Although most of your budget has been set aside for presents and the events and meals surrounding Christmas day, there’s all this other time to fill. It’s daunting, but you have two factors in your favour. The first is that small children are easy to please, and the other is that South African summers are the loveliest in the world. The weather is on your side. You can do this!

1. Plan ahead

You don’t need to be an accountant to put together a holiday budget, and it’ll save you money. Start by finding online resources for all the activities in your area and surrounds. Ask friends, family and people in your office about local destinations that they’ve tried. Find the schedules for local malls, entertainment venues, movie and game theatres.

Now, this is the clever part. Create a calendar for each of the unassigned days on your holiday and fill them according to the activities that look interesting to you. Don’t worry too much about cost or logistics at this point. Just make sure that you have all your dates and times right (double-check start and end dates of specific events).

It helps to remember that mid-days on weekends are usually extra busy for any Christmas event, so try to select days or times that are off-peak for the sake of your sanity. Now that you’ve filled the days, you can start thinning the events. You won’t need an activity for every day, so now you can remove the really expensive ones.

If there’s an event you’re not sure about, but it doesn’t cost too much, keep it on and place a question mark next to it. This adds a nice extra option if the family starts getting cabin fever at home by the time that day rolls around. Add up all the money that you’ll need and include extras like parking, lunch and curios.

You can decide to divide it all by a flat “per day” amount or put some aside for one or two big outings and keep the rest low key. Either way, be sure to put this money away separately. It’ll save you from overspending.

Top tip: A lot of malls and entertainment complexes host free events like “Santa’s workshops” and craft markets. Take a limited amount of money along and pack snacks for the kids to avoid expensive purchases.

2. The great outdoors

Holidays are the perfect time to show your kids the joy of being outside. The more walking and exploring, the better. Venues like the botanical gardens, zoos and various animal parks are perfect for this. But your own backyard can become a place of adventure too. You can camp outside overnight or create obstacle courses for the little ones by day – tunnels, obstacles to run under or jump over and things to go around.

If you don’t have access to a swimming pool, there are a variety of portable, upright pools available in most large retail shops, and they come in a variety of sizes and prices. If you’re worried about the safety considerations around getting a pool, consider a slip-n-slide. It attaches to your hosepipe, and children can slide along it in their costumes. Other fun outdoor games include swing ball, badminton sets, or just a good old soccer ball.

Top tip: If you have children under the age of eight, be sure to purchase a cover with your pool and fence it off.

3. The magic of DIY and baking

Very often during the year, we tend to exclude our kids from cooking and maintenance activities because our objective is to get the job done. Holidays are the ideal time to let them help. Children love it, and it’s a nice opportunity to try some things you’ve been putting off.

“A holiday is a break from the humdrum of daily life. It’s an opportunity to unwind and enjoy your kids.”

There are hundreds of recipes and home improvement tutorials and videos online, and you can even make shopping for the ingredients or components part of the activity. Also, don’t exclude little girls from DIY, or boys from baking! Those absorbent little minds will be happy to be a part of literally anything you do, and they’ll benefit from it.

4. Family and friends

Although the season tends to be wrought with parties and events, it’s also the perfect time to create short, happy celebrations. Invite your favourite people over for a braai, or even some cake. Breakfast is a great way to entertain people because you can put out muffins and sausages, and it only lasts a couple of hours. These little drive-by gatherings are especially useful when all your friends and family are busy or leaving the province at different times.

Rather than stress about trying to get everybody gathered in one place, arrange a small itinerary of meet-ups and gatherings. Meet old friends at a coffee shop before their work year is finished, or print out some lyrics and have your neighbours over to sing a few Christmas carols.

5. The gift of giving

There’s a twofold benefit to choosing a charity or cause to support over the Christmas season. Your kids will learn what giving is all about, and you will get an opportunity to do a bit of clearing out. Although nobody really thinks about the holidays as a time to spring clean, clearing out helps to start the new year on a fresh foot. And all your unwanted clothes, toys, baby accessories and equipment may be very valuable to a local cause.

Try children’s homes and shelters and ask what they need. Adult clothes are always useful for women’s shelters and old-age homes. Even an old television, microwave or washing machine can change a life if you know where to give it.

The biggest tip of all

In the end, a holiday is a break from the humdrum of daily life. It’s an opportunity to unwind and enjoy your kids. So, whatever you choose to do this festive season, be kind to you. Remember that your kids will benefit from a relaxed parent. Get plenty of sleep, and don’t spend all your money on entertainment for your children. Happy relaxed parents are the real secret to happy relaxed holidays.

Also read:

A domestic family holiday that will take you off the beaten track
Enjoy water, play safe: The NSRI’s safety tips for the summer holidays