We've had Bonfire Night, so Christmas - horribly expensive Christmas - must be next. Already there are mince pies and yule logs in the supermarkets, and scaffolding for Christmas lights is going up all over British high streets. Oh joy. Time to think about ordering the turkey. The problem is that we've all got less money than last year. (Unless you're Wayne Rooney or a banker.) Market researchers Mintel reckon that each of us spent over £360 last year just on gifts for close friends and family. By the time you've added in food and drink, decorations, the Christmas tree, presents for teachers, 150 Christmas cards, and a large box of chocolates, bankruptcy beckons.
So what can you do to cut the cost of Christmas?
1. Make a list. Impulse buys are a very bad idea, especially if you have a credit card in your hand at the time.
2. Make a 'no presents pact' with family and friends. Father Christmas will, of course, come to the little ones, but us adults can probably do without jolly reindeer jumpers and the latest Nigella cookbook. If you think it's really sad not to exchange presents, set a price limit, or insist on something home-made. (You may not be super-creative like Kirstie Allsopp, but everyone likes fudge.)
3. Use eBay.
4. Don't get hung-up about December 25th. It really is OK to promise to buy your teenage daughter a new coat for Christmas, but to suggest you look together in the sales - most of which start on the 26th anyway. If you want her to have something to open on the day, write your promise down on a card and sign it.
5. Get your Christmas cards off by 18 December, and you can get away with second-class post. See Royal Mail's website .
6. Before you even think about going shopping, read Martin Lewis's fantastic tips on Christmas savings at www.MoneySavingExpert.com . This man knows what he's talking about.
7. Be brave with the Christmas menu. The fully Monty - turkey, chipolatas, cranberry sauce, bread sauce, etc - costs a fortune. One year we had spaghetti. Whenever I mention this, people look utterly horrified, as if I'd confessed to eating a hedgehog or a large rat. But it was fantastic - one large pot of food and minimal washing up. (And no arguments about Brussels sprouts.)
8. If you're determined to have turkey, clear space in your freezer so that you can squirrel away leftovers before you get sick of the sight of them.
9. When it comes to the big Christmas shop, compare prices before you go, by logging on to www.mysupermarket.com.
11. Before you hit the supermarket aisles, check your cupboards for ingredients. You've probably already got a packet of raisins lurking on the top shelf, and there may well be enough rum in the dusty bottle under the stairs.
12. If you're having a large family Christmas, share out the cost by asking everyone to bring something on the day. (Be very specific about what you need, though - everyone's so full of the Christmas spirit that you could end up with enough food to feed an army.)
13. Club together with friends and family, and bulk-buy at wholesale warehouses like CostCo.
14. If you want to drink wine, but can only afford the cheap stuff, make mulled wine instead. Use Jamie Oliver's recipe , or adapt it to suit what you've already got in the cupboard.
15. Make your own Christmas crackers. Start from scratch, or get a kit from HobbyCraft, £2.99 for six.
16. Don't start stocking up for Christmas too early - Christmas puddings, for example, are always pricey in November because the supermarket price-slashing wars haven't started yet.
17. On the other hand, keep your eyes peeled for November bargains. If your little girl has her heart set on Sylvanian Families Motorcycle and Sidecar (RRP £24.99) - one of the Toy Retailers' Association 10 ten toys for 2010 - and you see it on sale at a discount, snap it up straightaway.
18. Remember that very small children have more fun opening presents than playing with what's inside. Even a small and inexpensive present should be packed in a large cardboard box.
19. Remember, too, that Father Christmas often puts very cheap but extraordinarily useful gifts - like new toothbrushes and pencil sharpeners - in Christmas stockings.
20. Get organised for next year - the best time to start shopping for Christmas is Boxing Day. (I once met a friend weighted down by carrier bags of angels and tinsel on New Year's Eve. 'It's the only way,' she said wearily. 'Buy next year's Christmas cards in the January sales.')
OK - so all this forward-planning isn't going to help with cutting the cost of Christmas 2010. But it's unlikely that any of us are going to feel any richer in twelve months' time....
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