There are just 42 more sleeps 'til Christmas and although that might seem like plenty, the demands of the festive season have a habit of catching us off guard.

To make sure your finances, prezzie shopping and Christmas lunch are in order this year, the Herald on Sunday has put together the ultimate silly season planning guide to get you to the big day with the minimum of fuss.

Read it and get to December 25 with a smile on your face.

Budgeting for the festive season

We're sorry to start with such a sensible notion, but Christmas can be expensive. So if you haven't already done so, sort out a festive budget quick smart.


Herald business expert Liam Dann says the key to avoiding debt is to budget well and realistically.

"You need to do a total, ballpark-figure budget that you can work towards."

Whether it was $1500, $1000 or much less, it didn't matter as long as it was manageable to work toward over the next month or so, Dann said.

"Once you have that ballpark figure you can decide how to divvy it up and how you're going to get there."

Putting aside a portion of pay every week was one option. Racking up huge bills on the credit card should be avoided, Dann said.

"You don't want to go over on a credit card to the point where you can't pay it back in a few months or else you're going to start paying much higher interest."

Low-cost activities like going to the beach and enjoying walks could help with paying back the debt over the summer months, Dann said.

"It's really hard to see, when you look at the spirit of Christmas, what's the point of going into debt on a credit card that's with you for half the year."

Talking with extended family about expectations for spending was a wise idea as well, he said. Families could set rules about number of presents, or maybe buying just for kids.

"Where it really starts to add up is when it's all the siblings, all the cousins, all the nieces and nephews.

"Some people are more inclined to do that even if they don't have the money. Talk to your family and that way you're thinking of everybody's needs."

Transport costs and the costs of hosting Christmas lunch or dinner should be considered as well, Dann said.

What to buy ...

To avoid getting hit with a stressful shopping session in the days before Christmas when the shops are heaving - and when you will probably spend more in a fit of panic-buying - try buying a gift or two or two each week. And keep an eye on what bargains you might be able to find online.

Deal sites like GrabOne often have great offers on toys, games and experiences.

And sights that deliver within New Zealand and from around the world, like Amazon, can take the hassle out of shopping and postage (more on that later).

What to buy: here are some gift suggestions.

A techie: a slimline cellphone battery case for multiple phone recharges on the go.
Apple's smart battery cases start at about $100 and slip around your iPhone like a glove, perfect for browsing memes nonstop during the long ride home from your family Christmas.

A big reader: Man Booker prize winning novel The Sellout, by Paul Beatty, the first American winner gf the prestigious award. The novel has been hailed as bitingly funny top-notch satire, as well as being righteously angry.

A foodie: Anna Jones' new cook book, A Modern Way to Cook. Jones has been hailed as the "new Nigella and her new book features 150 everyday vegetarian recipes. $59.99 at Whitcoulls.

Kids: Hatchimals are tipped to be the hottest holiday gift this year. The interactive toys have been an instant hit since their release earlier this month. Kids have to nurture their Hatchimal and it hatch from a plastic egg. Once it's hatched, they can teach it to walk and talk. There are five different kinds, selling for $79 at the Warehouse.

Keep an eye on what bargains you might be able to find online. Photo / Nigel Marple
Keep an eye on what bargains you might be able to find online. Photo / Nigel Marple

Getting your gifts in the post

Making sure your prezzies are in the post on time is crucial, and luckily for last-minute shoppers, gifts within New Zealand can be sent within a week of the big day and should still arrive on time.

Standard Post, ParcelPost, ParcelPost Tracked packages must be sent by December 20, but people sending presents by FastPost, Courier Parcel, Courier and Signature Parcel have until December 22.

If you're shipping goodies overseas, the times are a bit tighter.

Gifts to Australia need to be sent off by December 7 if you're using international air, December 12 if by international courier and at the absolute latest December 14, if you're using the international express courier.

Presents to the South Pacific, Asia, North America, the UK and Europe can be sent by December 12 at the latest if using express courier, or 10 days before that by international air.

Anywhere else in the world and gifts need to be sent by the end of November, or by December 9 if using express courier.

What to eat for Christmas lunch

Our star Canvas magazine food writer Annabel Langbein recommends a menu that's all about indulgence and minimal hassle, celebrating the fresh flavours of summer.

Start with a glass of bubbles and an antipasto platter to pass around followed up with a fresh seafood platter.

"The main course is focused on a big platter of fresh seafood, a bit like those amazing tiered platters you get in restaurants in Paris, using whatever fresh seafood you can lay your hands on from the sea or the supermarket," Langbein said.

"Oysters or mussels on the half shell, barbecued crayfish or whole prawns, little seafood fritters, maybe some grilled scallops wrapped in prosciutto or salmon kebabs.

"Serve it up with my famous Aquafaba Aioli to drizzle and dip."

Partner the kai moana with spring veges like asparagus, baby carrots and zucchini with herb butter, waxy baby new potatoes, a platter of cherry tomatoes with basil, fresh mozzarella and really good olive oil, and the freshest green salad.

"For dessert, a mountain of meringues filled with whipped cream served with a big bowl of strawberries and raspberries, vanilla icecream and a decadent chocolate sauce."

Aquafaba Aioli:

This vegan version of garlicky mayo tastes even better than the traditional egg-based recipes. The liquid in cans of chickpeas and other legumes (called aquafaba) has amazing properties that allow it to mimic egg white - you can even use it to make meringues. During the legumes' cooking process, starches, proteins and other soluble plant solids migrate from the seeds to the water. This gives aquafaba a wide spectrum of emulsifying, foaming, binding, gelatinising and thickening properties. To find out more about aquafaba and for recipes to use up all those chickpeas go to:

Ready in 5 mins
Makes 1¼ cups

1 cup neutral oil
3 Tbsp of brine from a can of chickpeas or beans
3 cloves garlic, crushed with ¾ tsp salt
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp dijon mustard
1 Tbsp lemon juice
¼ tsp fine white pepper
2 Tbsp tarragon leaves (optional)

Place all ingredients in a tall jug, sink a hand wand mixer to the bottom of the mixture and whizz until thick and creamy (about 10 seconds!). Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Where to stay

Still looking for someone to stay over the summer holidays? Here are some options

Splashing out: Stay at the quaint yet luxurious Bellbirds Cottage in Queenstown. A small family of three could stay in this sprawling lodge with enough room outside to land a helicopter.

At $1250 a night, it's one for the bucket list rather than a yearly tradition.

A little bit of luxury: For something a little more within budget, up to eight people can rent a gorgeous four-bedroom house with sea views in Te Wahapu in the Bay of Islands.

Surrounded by native trees, the spot is billed as the perfect place to unwind.

For families on a budget: Remember when we all bought a beach? Christmas could be the perfect time to visit Awaroa, the country's new shared property.

It's a remote spot so you'll need to tramp in or get there by boat, kayak or water taxi. It is accessible from Totaranui, Kaiteriteri or Marahau.

The nearest accommodation is Awaroa Hut and campsite, which are across the estuary from the beach. The hut costs $32 a night for adults and is free for children 17 and under. Bookings required.