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Cheap Christmas Cheer

I have recently written two articles on budget Christmas celebrations, which can be leaner and greener. You can read the latest here. I hope I have proved that you don't have to be a Scrooge to save!

On several forums (or should I say fora), this is being discussed in earnest, so here are some tips I have gathered while lurking around. Many come for the great NCT group for editors.

Here they are:
  • Save on Christmas presents. Go for a Secret Santa or a ‘present grab'. Secret Santa is an American tradition where each person buys and wraps just one gift, giving it anonymously. In some workplaces names are put in a hat and individuals pick one without revealing who they are giving the present to. One word of caution, make sure that all the names are correct and in the hat, I once took part in a similar initiative for a birthday and a child ended up with two presents, while one went without. Things were eventually rectified but it did spoil the secrecy of the scheme. Present grab is apparently a Swedish tradition  and involves just one gift per person, but the gifts go on display (still wrapped). You select one in turn. However, anyone can choose to grab someone else’s gift if they prefer, as long as everybody ends up with only one! Hard to do with kids as it might trigger tantrums, but fun for adults! 
  • Make your own gifts for relatives and encourage your children to do the same: grow plants from seeds, decorate boxes, make jewellery with kits, bake cookies, etc.
  • Get some things for free: swap things with friends, clothes, accessories and toys (with your children’s permission). Check on Freecycle for free stuff and on swap forums.
  • Give a little money to charity or buy a charity gift. It seems hard if you are on a budget to give money away, but a small amount may be cheaper than buying lots of expensive gifts that aren’t needed.
  • Make the most of stockings: fill with cheap and cheerful items. Charity shops are really good for this, many sell new items, so you're doing a good deed too.
  • Find free fun things to do such as go to a nativity play, church or  community activity. Festivals of trees are very popular and they are great fun for kids.
  • Share a meal with family or friends, this is cheaper than hosting a party or paying for a whole meal and it's fun, too.
  • Deck your halls with love not cash! Get your kids to help making decorations and cards.
  • Get a small Christmas tree in a pot so you can use it year after year.
  • Save money on postage by sending free email cards or email out a message with a photo. This can save the planet as well as your cash!
  • Mix glitter with porridge oats and give it to the children to sprinkle in the garden, after dark, on Christmas Eve. This is to encourage Santa's reindeers to stop and not for the kids to eat. Find your own family traditions that don’t cost anything and enjoy them.

Pick up more saving top tips from www.christmasonabudget.co.uk


How to knit an easy hat with straight needles - free pattern

Most knitting patterns for hats require circular needles, but what if you want to use straight needles? If you follow this free pattern, please email me photos of your creations!

This hat is so easy to knit it's foolproof
You can easily adapt this foolproof knit by bearing in mind that I used 5mm straight needles and my sample in stockinette knit measured 3.5cm (5 stitches) in width and 2.5cm (4 rows) in height. I used two different yarns together to thicken the yarn.

I started the border, which can be folded up, with rib knit (alternate 2 knits with 2 purls till the end of each row). Bear in mind that you need to cast off an even number of stiches. I casted off 76, as my head circumference is 54cm at its widest (you work out the number of stitches from your sample's size).

Each row starts with 2 knits and ends with 2 purls, if they don't, you made a mistake somewhere along the line. In doubt, unmake and restart.

I knitted 3cm of rib knit in height ending on the right side of the knit. Then switched to stockinette knit (one row knit, one row purl and so on). I knitted stockinette for 10cm (in height), ending with a purled row.

This is where I started to decrease. I knitted 10 stitches, knitted 2 stitches together, then knitted 10 stitches and so on till the end of the row. I purled the whole row without decreasing. Then knitted 9 stitches, 2 together, knitted 9, 2 together and so on till the end of that row. I purled the whole row without decreasing. Every knitting row I decreased the number of stitches (8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1). There was no decrease in any purled row. The last row was knit 2 together throughout.

I was left with seven stitches. I cut the yarn leaving a good length and pulled it through the seven stitches using a needle, leaving a loop of yarn at the start. I inserted the end of the yarn in the loop and pulled. This tied up all the stitches together and formed a point. The overall shape of the hat is like a fat bell and all you need to do is sew the sides together.

The colourful tassel is made by grouping yarns and tying them together. The petal effect around the tassel is achieved by sewing loops around it.

Inspiration from other knitters - more hats with straight needles, including tutorials: 

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Home renovation for less

I have started writing a series on renovation on the cheap. The first article, which you can find here,  is about the renovation of a horrid 1970s kitchen, one of the most awful rooms in my first house (damp, with peeling wallpaper, horrid lino and coakroaches behind the units). The house was an ex rental, late Victorian and badly renovated in the 1970s, where all the internal period features disappeared.

I bought this house in London in 2002 and resold it in 2005 after it was completely renovated. It was my first step on the property ladder, followed by house number two (bought with my current partner), a beautiful Victorian semi, which we sold last year when we left London for greener pastures. This semi was in good condition with great period features, but we added an original cast iron fireplace and changed it into a cosy family home as it was previously owned by a childless couple.

We are now renting but we are looking to buy, so roll on renovation number three (unless we find a spotless house).

PS. I published another instalment in the renovation series, about building a conservatory on a tight budget.