The Christmas crunch: Shopping on a budget

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The Christmas crunch

The stock market’s in turmoil, the housing market’s throwing a strop and the price of bread is skyrocketing. Not ideal conditions for celebrating our annual festival of excess and gluttony. Don’t worry, though, The List is here to help. Ahead of our seven-page budget present-shopping guide, Jasper Hamill investigates ways to cut the price of Christmas without turning into Scrooge.

In times of economic strife, even good children should expect their present yield to suffer. With fuel prices expected to stay high for some time to come, even the traditional austerity gift of a lump of coal and a satsuma might be too expensive for unlucky parents.

But it’s not just embattled parents who will have to make cutbacks this Christmas: the ominous news of impending financial meltdown is forcing most people to gird themselves against the fiscal indulgence that usually riddles Britain at this time of year.

News from the financial world suggests it won’t be such a merry Christmas this year: online savings watcher Moneysupermarket has predicted UK consumers will cut their average spending from £393 in 2007 to £376, which means the retail sector should expect to earn £1bn less than last year. Their suggestion that consumers will shop for presents ‘without the usual trimmings’ is reinforced by Woolworths’ announcement that the predicted smash hit of this year is not a high falutin’ gadget or games console worth hundreds of pounds, but the humble Rubik’s Cube – a snip at just under a tenner.
Woolworths claims that the current trend for puzzle games and ‘speedcubing’, a Youtube sport, is responsible for the demand for the iconic 80s toy, though the High Street chain admits parents will be ‘delighted’ at how much it costs.

Retailing experts aren’t so sure. Fiona Moriarty, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, whom the John Lewis Partnership once called ‘the authoritative voice of a multi-billion pound industry’, warns that shoppers are particularly price-conscious at the moment and predicts that smaller items such as perfume, novelty toys and books will sell more than expensive items like iPods. She feels parents are unlikely to feel confident enough about their finances to splash out, which explains the popularity of the Rubik’s Cube.
Thankfully, she jokes, the spirit of Christmas isn’t about to be starved out by the recession: ‘I don’t think Scrooge will ever be a role model. Christmas is about celebrating with families and friends and we can all do that, irrespective of our budget.’

Money talk

As the host of the BBC’s Money Programme, Max Flint is not afraid of saying ‘humbug’ to the Christmas splurge. ‘The Christmas spirit is gone forever,’ he reckons. ‘As soon as you feel you’re running out of money, it just disappears.’

Unlike the many parents who’ll have to explain the lack of prettily packaged gizmos to their disappointed children, Flint believes that a bit of restraint at Christmas time could actually benefit them in the long term.

‘Just flick on rolling news for half an hour and it makes you want to throw yourself out of your own window. I think it’s impossible for children not to pick up on that. Kids need to realise that it’s not an endless flow of money. Telling them that means they might not grow up and blow a whole load of money on credit cards.’

Some of Flint’s suggestions are arguably a little draconian. He suggests that hard-up consumers could make a bit of extra money by charging their friends for lodging when they come over to stay. Pub-goers can save on booze by choosing a ‘round partner’ when out for festive drinks, he suggests. He even advises hard-up parents to tell their kids they can’t have presents on Christmas day and will have to wait until the January sales.

Recently, Flint even pitched a program called Cheaponomics about living a life where the heating gets turned on for two months a year, showers are lukewarm and shopping baskets are small, to stop wanton shelf-pilfering. Sadly, the BBC felt it would be too galling for an already hard-up audience and rejected his idea.
The knock-back hasn’t prevented him from conducting a war on the Christmas bonanza, though.

‘Manufacturers make it difficult to resist the Christmas splurge, because of this idea of building up to a huge feast of food and presents. You don’t need to go to extremes. There has always been this massive con trick of pricing everything normally up until Christmas and then knocking 25% off in the sale. But if you don’t gorge yourself one year, you won’t do it the next and can rein in Christmas in your own family for good.’

Gift aid

One of the meanest tips for a meagre Christmas is called re-gifting. Originally an American idea, it involves the careful storage of unwanted presents over a year, which are then passed onto other friends the next. The scheme relies on having ample storage space and strong archival skills, to avoid the embarrassment of giving a less than tempting Lynx deodorant box-set back to the auntie that bought you it. Nigel’s Eco-Store (www.nigelsecostore.com/forum) offers a service for swapping hi-tech gifts, in case you feel you need to ‘self-gift’, another slightly depressing American import.
If your presents are, frankly, rubbish, take the Andy Warhol approach and concentrate on the surface of things. Wrap up your gifts in glitzy packaging and whack a bow on top. Glam-wrapping, as it’s known, is perfect for skint aesthetes.

Christmas could well be thrifty this year, but with the right present, you could confound the bankers and actually make some money. Mr Site’s Takeaway Website Beginner is a kit you can use to set up your own website. For just under 20 quid, you get a domain name and all the jiggery-pokery you need to start selling. See www.mrsite.co.uk
Non-peaceniks can save some dosh if they don’t send presents to troops in Iraq. The MoD has expressly requested that people don’t send unexpected prezzies to soldiers in action, in case they clog up the usual ‘logistics chain’ that makes sure packages from loved ones reach soldiers. Donate the money to charity instead, they urge. We suggest donating to www.stopwar.org.uk

In tough times, it’s more or less a given that people stay home and have sex. Instead of the wearisome task of buying your partner the wrong thing, write them a card that promises them you’ll finally do that filthy thing they’ve been going on about for years. If you’re chaste as well as skint, why not gift your flatmates vouchers guaranteeing that you’ll do the washing up for the next wee while.

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