The quantity surveyor’s guide to nailing Christmas
Quantity Surveyors can have a reputation for being boring, loving a spreadsheet and counting the pennies – but at this time of year, those skills could come in really useful for planning Christmas, budgeting and keeping everyone, including yourself, happy!
Especially this year when it’s not building regs we need to keep coming back to – it’s the Government’s Covid guidelines.
Laugh, you may, at our carefully compared stuffing pricelists and wrapping paper aesthetics vs quality assessments but you’ll find no profession better equipped for a financially controlled, rule-following and precisely executed yuletide extravaganza!
So, unroll your eyes, stifle that yawn and read on to learn how you too can use the tricks of our trade to produce an on-budget, on-time, expectation-exceeding Christmas:
Facilitate a multi-generational, domestic festive experience, maximising time and budgetary input to deliver four key outcomes:
- Christmas movie-style feelings of magical wonder
- Achievement of responses to gift-opening by way of:
- a) Gasping, b) Whooping, c) Actual tears of joy
- Participant reports of being a) ‘more stuffed than the turkey’ and b) ‘pleasantly pickled’
- Optimum envy among neighbours…especially next door who always create that Disney-esque woodland scene in their front garden, powered by approximately one million fairy lights and visible from space…
The first rule of a quantity surveyor-grade Christmas is that Excel is life. No twinkly tree will ever outshine the beauty of a meticulously formatted Christmas spreadsheet, encompassing strict timescales, deadlines and progress measures.
You’ll (or is that ‘yule’?!) need to cover these four main elements:
- Who is coming.
- Who is not coming and preferably being fobbed off to a sibling instead – all within the Covid rules of course, because us QS folk have an inner need to dot the I’s and cross the t’s!
- Identify who will drop a hint at the 11th hour to wing an invite (you can always refer back to the Covid rules to see them off).
- Risk management of the seating plan to avoid cross-dining table bickering/all-out war.
- Food & drink:
- Allow enough for a secret stash – like a Christmas bonus for yourself
- Plan online time and if you can be bothered, actual trips to the shops to see what they’ve got
- Keep a list of what you’ve bought so you don’t duplicate at a later stage – duplication is unnecessary use of budget and time resources
- Carry out a freezer audit and start running the contents down so you can fill it like a nuclear bunker of stuff you may or may not (more likely) need, and can whip out for a buffet party later in the year
- Conduct a detailed dietary requirement survey at least one month in advance.
- Source the egg-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, joy-free, keto-friendly, fun police ‘food’ for your brother’s girlfriend who swears she’s ‘cursed with intolerances’ yet somehow always emerges unscathed after inhaling 12 Ferrero Rochers following a vat of Prosecco.
- Test the nut roast, meat-free gravy and cruelty-free Baileys for the vegan and have a selection of alternatives available at the drop of a hat.
- Stock up on extra pigs in blankets in preparation for the vegan ‘forgetting’ their meat aversion after consuming the vat of Prosecco with the brother’s girlfriend.
- Request gift lists in October.
- Carry out an audit of what was given/received last year, factor in whether gifts were received well on a 1-10 scale, and also what is needed in terms of expenditure and ‘wow’ this year.
- Refine the gift list and stick to it to avoid over-buying, duplication or over-generous gestures that surprise you when you come to wrap.
- Repeat this mantra: ‘Stick to the list, stick to the list.’
- Audit last year’s decorations, scour social media timelines from 12 months prior to remind yourself how fabulous other lounges / dining tables were.
- Create a mood board of shots from Instagram and Pinterest to assist in managing partner’s expectations and assuring them that a full annual refresh is essential (refer back to point 4 on the brief).
- Ensure colour scheme accentuates new cushions and candles.
- Ban all matches and lighters from the vicinity as the candles cost £85 and are under no circumstances to be lit. Cite safety concerns if questioned.
- Recreate the nativity scene on the front lawn, featuring Swarovski crystals and a million and one fairy lights. Tell partner it is for the nieces and nephews (but refer again to point 4 on the brief).
Ensure key dates are highlighted within the Excel planner:
- Scour end of summer sales for bargains. Assure partner this is essential planning and definitely not an excuse to book a spa hotel for a shopping weekend with a friend.
- Send out invites.
- Check if sister-in-law is flying in from Sydney. (She won’t be – Covid etc, but if you don’t ask, she’ll say she wasn’t invited and then what have you started? A good QS thinks ahead and covers all bases!)
- Begin negotiations early, in the event that sister-in-law books flight for Christmas Eve, prompting a designated driver debate.
- Begin tactical hint-dropping of gift suggestions to partner. Seal the deal with a formally issued list stating colours, sizing, prices and retailers. Allow times for drafts and redrafts.
- Avoid settling for Lidl’s ‘looks like Cadbury’s/Nestlé but definitely doesn’t taste like it’ chocolate tubs by stocking up on Roses and Quality Street before they all run out.
- Set reminders for Black Friday and Amazon Prime Day. Consider appointing a deputy (your best friend, Liz) to assist with purchase decisions. Preferably over a meal and cocktails.
- Clean oven to avoid mother-in-law uncovering splatters from last New Year’s Eve’s chilli con carne explosion during her annual forensic inspection.
- Book oven wizard man after your own feeble attempts result in nothing more than greasy smears and borderline lung damage due to fume inhalation.
- Purchase microwave to ensure absolutely no dirtying of oven whatsoever prior to 25th
- Designate a ‘wrapping weekend.’ Compile a decorating kit containing sharpened scissors/Stanley blades, ruler and protractor for ensuring precise consistency including matching ribbon lengths and cutting angles. Calculate formula for minimum paper wastage.
- Conduct a survey of the home to find best hiding place for presents
- Go over plans as people start to change their mind / let you down / whinge etc /n need a Covid bubble re-think.
- Make sure family members ‘bubbling’ elsewhere understand how zoom works – a dry run with a test call is highly recommended. Check the lighting, make sure they know that we don’t want to see up their noses, ensure they most definitely know that if the Brussels come back, they need to mute or else we can all hear it. Charge the devices, dig out leads, a tripod maybe too and of course fill a glass at the start – one glass should cover the first 10 minutes of ‘can you hear me?’, ‘can you see me?’ and ‘am I on mute?’!
Planning a family quiz would require another 1000 words to be written – please look this up online!
Tightly drafted contracts are the key to the successful delivery of festive joy. Consider inserting appropriate penalty clauses for non-compliance such as washing up duties and sacrificing extra pigs in blankets. Allocate suppliers and sub-contractors as follows:
Minors to decorate the tree within strictly defined parameters i.e.
- Baubles to be spaced no more than 50mm apart.
- Contrasting colours to be place on alternating branches.
- Adorable school-made creative masterpieces to be placed at the rear of the tree.
- Include disclaimer that client reserves the right to refresh the scheme in the event of an unsatisfactory display.
- Ensure each participants’ strengths are utilised by assigning Dad the ‘very important job’ of folding the napkins and definitely not coming anywhere near the kitchen to ‘check on or adjust’ the temperature on the oven or hob!!
- Delegate vegetable peeling and preparation to Mum.
- Demonstrate rejection of sexist stereotypes in the workplace by appointing sister-in-law to carve the turkey. (Although this may backfire depending if carving is before or after the vat of prosecco)
- Concede that your meat and dairy-free offerings will fall flat and allow the vegan to bring their own Christmas dinner alternative and dessert (making four Nigella desserts was probably optimistic anyway).
- Outsource extra seating – remind suppliers that boxes, stepladders and piled up cushions contravene health and safety regulations.
- Mum to supply best crockery in place of your finest scratched and mismatched IKEA set.
- Everyone to bring their own paper, pen, glasses, cutlery etc – to reduce any risk of contamination!
- Soap – get some nice stuff in – it’s the first year that anyone will notice or care because it’ll be used so much!
- Personalised towels – so that people can dry their hands on their own towel – without Covid cross-contamination!
If it’s not in the Excel budget tracker, it’s not happening. Plan your budget thus:
- Create two Excel budgets – the actual one and the partner-friendly version.
- Set an alcohol budget. Then double it. Then add another 20% for contingency.
- Value engineer the dessert and evening buffet – will anyone actually notice whether the Christmas pud and cheese biscuits are Heston Blumenthal or Harry Bottomfeel from Aldi? Sticking to the 2nd bullet point above should assist in this.
- Ensure any overspend is allocated to birthdays, for the next five years, if necessary.
Conduct a full and thorough after-dinner team debrief to establish any key learnings, viable adjustments, and outstanding tasks including:
- Finalise the cost value reconciliation (CVR) by devising a comprehensive scoring system to assess the food, drink and present expenditure vs the perceived value of the experience.
- Ensure maximum value for money and minimum wastage by brainstorming a turkey-centric menu for the next 2.5 weeks. Consider lesser-known delicacies such as turkey souffle, smoothies, ice cream and home-made protein bars.
- Appoint an adult in charge of the playlist next year to avoid another two continuous hours of Justin Bieber Christmas songs.
- Cross check actual gifts received against final approved lists issued – plan Boxing Day slot to source missing items and make exchanges.
- Increase Champagne and Bailey’s orders next year. No one drinks those weird, syrupy, flavoured gins.
- Reluctantly admit meat-free gravy was actually quite nice and not the salty fake meat juice expected. Consider switching.
- Plan a trip to the DFS sale for a bigger sofa.
Happy calculating and Merry Christmas!