It’s hard to believe sometimes, but the real magic of Christmas can’t be ordered on Amazon or downloaded from the App Store. If you’re a parent, it’s worth remembering what the festive season meant to you before it became all about managing budgets and arranging the Christmas dinner seatings to minimise arguments.

If you free yourself up from the pressures of making the “perfect” Christmas for a moment, you could find yourself recapturing some of that old magic. Your heart might not grow 3 a full sizes that day, but you’ll quickly learn that sharing some old-fashioned Christmas cheer with your kids can be a lot easier – and cheaper – than it seems.

Here are a few quick tips for keeping the magic alive this year.

1) Whatever you’re doing, do it together

Let’s take the most obvious step first. Magical memories never involve tearing off wrapping paper. Be honest – do your kids even remember what their presents were last year? Come to that, do you even remember yourself? I bet you do remember the time you all sat under a cosy blanket on the sofa watching Elf and your youngest laughed so hard she snorted hot chocolate out of her nose, though. Or how about the time you all took a family walk together to see the Christmas tree in the park? When your children grow up and have kids of their own. Those are the memories they’ll carry with them forever, and they cost almost nothing to make.

2) Build the right kind of anticipation

There’s no denying the power Christmas holds over young imaginations. Obviously, when money’s a little tight it’s important to manage everyone’s expectations – but that doesn’t mean knocking those expectations down. The key to an amazing family Christmas is building the excitement the right way. One terrific example is the “Elf on the Shelf” craze. It’s such a simple idea: plonk a cheap little elf doll somewhere fairly inconspicuous and wait for your kids to find it. When they do, explain that it’s there to take notes for Santa about their behaviour. Every night, after the children are asleep, the elf will move around the house, ready to be found again the next morning. Sometimes, it might be found playing games with some of their other toys, or even exploring around the house on its own. The key is to keep your kids guessing, and to keep the fun building in the run-up to the big day.

3) Get everyone involved in the preparations

There’s nothing more guaranteed to kill the Christmas magic for your kids than shutting them out of the best bits. It doesn’t take a lot of artistic skill - or cash - to make a colourful paper chain or tree-topping star, for instance. You can’t put a price on the glow of pride you’ll see on your child’s face when their creation takes its rightful place on the Christmas tree, though.

4) Make the countdown meaningful

We’re talking about more than just getting your children excited about their presents here. Every day leading up to Christmas can be important if you know how to frame it. An Advent calendar stuffed with cheap, chalky chocolates is all very well - but why settle for something so meaningless and obvious? With a little bit of thought, you could build a calendar of fantastic festive fun instead. Each day of Advent could offer anything from a family film night, to a reading from a treasured story book, or even an evening camped out under the Christmas tree. If you’ve already got a shelf-elf snitching back to Santa about your kids’ behaviour, why not try a “kindness calendar” of good deeds they could do to secure a spot on the “Nice” list this year?

5) Set the scene for the big day

There are way too many magic ways to stage your Christmas morning to count here. The festive season brings out some of our best creative impulses. Here are just a few quick examples of what people are doing:

  • Leaving “snowy Santa footprints” leading to the tree with the help of a simple, free stencil and a little flour.
  • Going out to sprinkle a little “reindeer bait” (oats, cereal, etc.) around the garden. Not only is this scientifically proven to attract Santa’s sleigh to your home, but it might help out some of the struggling local wildlife as well.
  • Making up a plate of treats for the jolly fat man and his reindeer together on Christmas Eve. For bonus jingles, leave a “reindeer-chomped” carrot out somewhere it’ll be found in the morning.
  • Getting involved in free local community events like holiday carnivals, carol services and tree-lighting ceremonies. Check what’s going on in your area. You might be surprised.

The pressure to make the perfect holiday is real, but it honestly doesn’t all hinge on how much you’re spending. A very merry Christmas from the RIFT family to yours. Remember to keep checking back for more tips and guides – and use our calculator to see how much of a tax refund you could have to add to your christmas fund.