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Tuesday, September 01, 2015



Very soon.

Actually not very soon. 114 days as at time of posting this article.

However I am excited. I LOVE Christmas and everything about it. Except the shopping - which is why I already have done 70 per cent of all my shopping for this coming Christmas. 

One of the Mermaid's former Christmas Trees
Rightly, many people may mock me for being super-organised when the sun has barely set on summer. 

However - given that the sun barely shone this summer, and given the fact I am now wearing black tights, which means the one month of bare legs is officially over for the whole of the UK, it is worth providing you with some of my personal money-saving tips for Christmas. 

According to research from the Halifax, there are 17 weeks to go until Christmas. 

Their study provides some interesting facts and figures to which the money-savvy should pay heed. 


From now to 24 December, you will need to start saving around £28 a week (£120 a month) to cover the full cost of Christmas.

This is because, according to the Halifax: 
  • The average person spent £469 on Christmas in 2014, including all spending on gifts, food, drink and socialising. 
  • One in four Christmas spenders admitted that they had spent more than they did the previous year to the tune of £110. 
  • Some 29% agreed that they had overspent over Christmas 2014.
I, however, did NOT overspend. I always ensure we have an indulgent Christmas without a financial headache. And here are my money-saving tips.

1) Points cards
Boots, Sainsbury's, WH Smith and all those stores that offer you points are of course only doing one thing: ensuring your loyalty to the brand. However, it is worth you making the most of the points you can get so that you can spend them at Christmas. If you combine it with other savings ideas, you can make a decent packet on each card throughout the calendar year.

For example, O2 customers can now use Boots to get their meal deals for £1 on a Monday. So not only can you get a cheap lunch, if you use your points card at the till, you can get 4 points on this. Make the most of special offers on things you need - deodorants, hair products, etc whenever there is a special 'bonus points' weekend and you will find the points do build up.

Nectar points can be gained on certain Train company operators, EDF energy, certain attractions and petrol. Make sure you have registered your card with these various additional Nectar points providers and you will see the points build up.

For example, last year I had saved £70 worth of points at Boots and £45 at Sainsbury's. I bought a shed load of 3-for-2 gift items from Boots (some of which I still have) on my card, and deducted £40 off my Christmas shop at Sainsbury's, taking the food bill down to about £60.

2) Make your own cards
I make my own cards. Over the years people have provided me with so much card craft material I could set up my own shop. However, I find that making a couple of cards a week - sometimes more - can not only be cost-saving but theraputic in the extreme. 

You can check out some of my creations on my facebook site here: OriginalShimmeringDesigns

However to do this cheaply all you need is some white/cream cards and envelopes (you can buy a box of 50 from Amazon at a good price) and you're set. Simply use the colourful insides of envelopes or scraps of paper to create folded Christmas Tree shapes. Use old buttons to create baubles or snowmen. I also cut out those annoying ribbons inside clothes (except dresses) and use these for decorating cards. It's simple and cheap and unique. 

3) Buy what you need, not what you see
Make a proper list of what you really need. Do you need two jars of mincemeat or will it end up sitting in the fridge? Do you need to buy two large bags of carrots? How many people really do eat the satsumas - and given how much chocolate you get given, do you really need to buy additional chocolate?

By creating a proper list and keeping to it - perhaps only taking enough cash out to cover your shop, rather than bringing the credit or debit card - you will find that not only do you save money, but you also do not have to waste food.

4) Buy when you can, not when you have to
I HATE and LOATHE shopping at Christmas. It is too much stress. So when I see a deal during the year or a discount on some lovely items, I buy them. I often like to trawl the January sales for this. I'll see some gorgeous candlesticks and think 'oooh, I know who would like these', or I will go to a sample sale and get a massive discount on some high-end goods from Aspinal or Smythson. I will then put these into my Present Cupboard, ear-marked for friends and family throughout the year for birthdays and Christmas. 

This means I rarely, ever, buy gifts at full price, and I can get some top-end stuff during the year for less than I would pay at Christmas time. I am therefore never, ever stressed out in December about getting the shopping done - and surprise birthdays throughout the year? Well, they never surprise me.
One of my first Christmas Creations from 2009
5) Cook your own
It is amazing how few people will cook their own cakes. It is such a wonderful way to create something that the whole family will love - and can get involved in. I always make my own cakes and puddings - and believe me, soaking fruit and nuts in alcohol for nearly a year and storing it, well-covered, in the fridge makes for a woozily boozy pudding come 25th December. If you can manage NOT to have a cheeky mouthful or two 'just to test it' throughout the year.  

The melting ice-caps upset this poor penguin family
The whole family can have fun decorating it, as well. It does not have to look professional, you're not trying to 'wow' anyone. Mine often look like a one-armed colourblind child has had a go with a garden trowel and some felt-tip pens. People eat it all the same. 

Another basic attempt at icing. Keep it simple (c2013)
Try your hand at gingerbread cookies - so easy! Christmas cakes, chocolate brownies, apple strudels, puddings, and get the household involved. It saves so much money in the long-run to bake your own and use up food you already have, rather than buy expensive, pre-packaged, preservative-laden comestibles.

6) Make your own gifts
One year when I was leading the choir I realised I had to give them all a thank-you present for participation. This was 28 people, all of whom had received a Chocolate Orange the year before. I was not prepared to spend £28 on Chocolate Oranges from Poundland. So I decided to make gingerbread men. Gingerbread Angels and Men, I should say, and decorate these myself. I tied a set of three up into clear plastic bags, one chocolate dipped, one plain, one iced and decorated, added a curly bit of red ribbon and a hand-made tag, and voila! The whole thing cost me £8 for the ingredients (I already had the cutters).

Gingerbread fury
Other cute gift ideas: make jewellery; try your hand at creating your own jam/jelly and putting it into pretty jars, with 'personalised' labels. You can buy pretty china tea cups and saucers from charity stores, cleaning them thoroughly and then putting a little bag of marshmallows, a stirring stick, some chocolate powder sachets, into them and decorating with a bow; embroidering small Christmassy images and putting these into little frames... all these things could be used to lower the cost and raise the Christmas Spirit.

7) Don't throw away the decorations!
Never throw away Christmas decorations. I see people giving their decs to charity in January or throwing them out. WHY? You'll only need to buy more again 10 years down the line due to breakage or wear and tear. I pack my decorations away carefully each January and mark the boxes according to colour/theme. This means I rarely ever have to buy decorations (although I do love them and get tempted by pretty shiny things). 

Also what is wrong with making things yourself? Cutting up old books that have fallen to pieces, or old sheet music makes for a unique and rather charming paper chain material. Lacquering some starry shapes made from aforementioned paper (or using a papier mache technique to layer the paper) means you can have some beautiful tree hanging decorations once dried. A bit of glitter glue, a piece of ribbon - it does not have to look cheap to be cheap. You can make beautiful, stylish ornaments that would cost £8 a pop in Next or House of Fraser on your own table. 

For example, I like to make paper roses out of old books and a bit of green florist's wire. How about these little charmers for a Christmas gift or decorating idea? I actually sell these for £5 a pop at craft fairs, and if someone commissions me to do something bespoke - for example their wife's favourite book - then I will do that for them ahead of the fair. It's always good to be unique.
Home-made Christmas Roses (all pics SimoneySunday)
7) Save a little, and often
I tell people that if they even put aside £10 a month for the whole year, they'd have £120 to spend at Christmas. If this were put into a decent savings account there would be some compound interest building up on this as well, even considering how low interest rates are at the moment.

While I admit £120 + interest does not meet the Halifax's revelation that we spent £469 last year, it can make the difference between falling into the overdraft or relying on the credit card too much at what should be a lovely time spent with our loved ones. 

And let's face it, every little (to coin a phrase from a supermarket I have not name-checked here in this blog) helps...

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