£5 Charity Shop Secret Santa

£5 Charity Shop Secret Santa

Unfortunately, Christmas is well and truly over and 2017 is coming to an end. However, it is only 361 days, 6 hours and 41 minutes to next Christmas so it’s never too early to start dreaming of Christmas 2018! When you are planning the festivities next year, give some thought to this, as it is my favourite family Christmas tradition of all time and it could be yours too!

I am sure everyone has heard of the normal ‘Secret Santa’, well our family take a slight twist on this! A few years ago my sister came up with the idea of ‘£5 Charity shop Secret Santa’, as she had taken a fascination with charity shops and thought it would be great fun on Christmas day. How right she was, as years later, it is still one of the most anticipated activities over the Christmas period amongst my family.

In our house, Christmas really is one of the most wonderful times of the year. Everyone comes home to spend time together, the fridge and cupboards are filled with food, and the wine glasses and cheeseboards never seem to empty!

On Christmas day my family of seven either host my godmother’s family of six or we head up to Fermanagh to join them, so there is a total of thirteen of us in totally taking part in this novelty Secret Santa.  Some of us are studying at university, some of us are living in England so it is the one time of year where we all come together. As this is a rare occasion, we use a website called ‘DrawNames.co.uk’ to generate everyone’s Secret Santa through email. We do this three weeks before Christmas, and then the fun begins as you spend time thinking about what absolutely hilarious item you are going to go on the hunt for.

The general rule of thumb, is the funnier, the better. The more random, the better. The bigger, the better. Therefore everyone is trying to outdo each other with hilarious finds they have come across in the charity shop on their search for the perfect present. Everyone has had a few drinks in them whilst exchanging gifts, so we probably think we are ten times funnier than we are, and the Snapchat and Instagram stories go overboard!

Over the years there have been some absolutely hilarious presents.

My brother Dermot got my auntie a guitar (that is in perfect condition) for £5, so that in her retirement she could ‘work on her music career’… I don’t know how promising this will be!


Two years ago my daddy got my sixteen year old brother at the time, a pair of hilariously hugely oversized cricket shin pads, with the reason being, “he has to start learning how to use protection soon” … Cringe for my little brother but absolutely hysterically funny for the rest of us!


(My sister Lisa having great fun with them instead!)

A few years ago I got my youngest cousin Grainne, who would be known as the ‘baby’ of the house, but also as a completely spoilt ‘princess’… So I got her lots of children’s toys, a child’s princess handbag and tiara. This year my brother got her a pony, as apparently she has been begging her daddy for one for years!!


This year my Daddy thought he absolutely hilarious. He got me a toy chair with a big sign saying ‘The Naughty Chair’, apparently for all the badness I get up to partying in The Holylands!!


There is also some very dodgy wrapping along the way. My youngest brother Dermot wrapped his up in a bin bag and I ran out of paper along the way..


I was in a charity shop with my friend this year explaining to her what the tradition was whilst searching for a funny present, when one of the women who worked in the charity shop approached me. She apologised for listening to our conversation but she was truly amazed at this idea, she said she had never heard of anyone doing this before! She loved the idea so much that she wants to incorporate it into their Advertising and Public relations strategy next year. She explained they had quite a low budget for this, but thought this would be a really effective message to target people in the lead up to Christmas next year!


It would be amazing if more families got involved in this and made it one of their own traditions. As each year we raise a small sum of £65 for charity shops across Northern Ireland, but throughout the years it has been hundreds of pounds. For example, if ten families of five were to do this every Christmas, that is £250 raised for charities, so imagine if hundreds of families did this!

Here’s a video of what everyone got a few years ago.

Oh and YES, my family are slightly crazy if you haven’t guessed that by now!


Helen McAleer is a final year BSc in Communication, Advertising and Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be found on LinkedIn on linkedin.com/in/helen-mcaleer-6b1221b4 and on Twitter: @Helen_McAleer30

How to lose 7lbs in 10 days

How to lose 7lbs in 10 days

A few weeks ago a personal trainer named Tara Grimes, who is also a brand ambassador for Spar NI, asked would I trial her new “10 day kick-start” program. It was the second week of university, so my final ever ‘Freshers’ week had taken its toll on me. I was also recently back from Thailand (which meant eating out four times a day, and drinking beer from noon to night) and had put on the ‘placement pounds’… as sitting at a desk from 9-5 without eating some sort of chocolate is basically impossible. So I thought, sure why not?!


I play Gaelic football so train regularly, although my eating isn’t great and has never been. I eat out regularly and can’t go a day without bread! So when I read what the program consisted of, the Sunday night before I started it, I was really doubting myself.


On Monday 16th October I started the program. It was a calorie deficient program where you were only allowed 1400 calories daily. I know, it sounds terrible! On the first day for breakfast I had scrambled eggs, bacon, tomatoes and spinach WITHOUT bread and it was surprisingly lovely. Lunch consisted of a tuna salad and dinner was chicken and vegetables. The first day was awful as I found it so hard to not snack (especially when storm Ophelia was battering outside and everyone in my house was drinking hot chocolate).

On the first day I was also required to do a HIIT session, which is a high intensity interval training session where you do certain exercises and repeat them in sets of four, whilst taking a thirty second break in-between. I am not joking when I say, I could not walk for two days after. I hadn’t done proper training like this in months so this was definitely a shock to the system!

Days two-five continued on like this which a very regular routine of breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack when it allowed for it on the plan. It was extremely difficult, especially being a student in Belfast when there is temptation everywhere. In saying that the meals were great with lots of options and choice to cater for everyone’s taste. There were ten different breakfasts, lunches and dinners however I found my favourites and stuck to them. The turkey mince curry was one of my favourites. There was also carbs on the program which was ideal!!

On the kick-start program, no alcohol was permitted. Not to sound like an alcoholic or anything, but I did my first ever sober night out in Belfast on day two, and it was fine – although there are only so many glasses of water you can drink!

Day six rolled around and I thought, I will weigh myself that morning to see if this is working at all. I could not believe it. I had lost four pounds in basically five days!! The HIIT session that morning was surprisingly easier than normal as weighing myself was the best motivation to keep going strong.

Tara wanted someone in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s to trial the program to see if it actually worked before she officially launched it to the public. We had a private Facebook group where we all posted in pictures of our food, any questions we had and really motivated each other throughout the process. Around day 6/7 other women had weighed themselves and also lost in and around 5 pounds too. So clearly, the “kickstart” program definitely works. The private Facebook group now has over 300 people all supporting each other.

By the time day ten had come around, I felt like I wasn’t as hungry in-between meals and that my body had started to get used to the normal routine of breakfast, lunch and dinner without eating any crap. On the tenth day I really couldn’t believe it when I had lost a total of 7 pounds. It is a crazy amount to loose in ten days but I never felt like I was totally starving myself, as the portions Tara planned were huge! It was an amazing feeling and clearly visible as my clothes were fitting better. I had tried a formal dress on two weeks before I started the program, which didn’t zip up. After the ten days it zipped and fitted perfectly!

Two sober nights out, no take-aways and no coffee was extremely hard. In saying that there are no juices, no powders or pills, it is just good food! However, when you realise that 10 days is only a third of a month, a small percentage of your year and a tiny part of your life – it is so worth it!

Tara has now launched her ten day “Kickstart program” on her website and the sales are rocketing! For the launch period she has a brilliant deal were you can buy the program for only £14 instead of £28. Get it here at https://taragrimesfitness.com/product/10-day-kickstart/

I can vouch for it – It is truly AMAZING!

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Helen McAleer is a final year BSc in Communication, Advertising and Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be found on LinkedIn on linkedin.com/in/helen-mcaleer-6b1221b4 and on Twitter: @Helen_McAleer30