Two thousand years ago a baby was born in Bethlehem, bringing salvation to the world. Depending on your own personal religious beliefs you may or may not subscribe to that view, but we can all agree that it now brings salvation or, at the very least, temporary respite to shopkeepers in the second decade of the 21st century.
If we are not careful, splashing our cash and flashing our credit cards at Christmas can lead to a very lengthy hangover. But is it really necessary to spend so much, anyway?
Market analysis company Verdict Research predicts that UK households will spend £86.5 billion in the run-up to Christmas, much of it by parents being generous to their children.
That’s up on last year, largely due to the rise in VAT and inflation, so we will actually be getting less for our money. Personally, I am so fantastically generous to all three of my children all year round, that I have re-named them Cost Centres number 1, 2 and 3.
I think we should reconsider what is notionally a celebration of a baby born in first-century Palestine who had nothing, not even the safety net of the NHS and the welfare system, let alone interest-free credit on anything he wanted. Do we really need to bankrupt ourselves once a year on his birthday? I don’t think so.
For a working mother like me the most precious gift of all is time, and money can’t buy that. So one of the best presents under the Christmas tree for me is my own iPod wrapped up and given back to me, loaded with new songs that have been culled from the Cost Centres’ various collections. The time they spend choosing tracks for me and uploading them is a wonderful gift.
With a bit of thought and planning, presents don’t have to be expensive. I rack up air miles on my travel and points on at least two of my credit cards. By getting organised in November and redeeming them I can usually organise at least one major gift for free.
A packet of herb seeds and a little flower pot tied together are nice for cooks, who won’t even need a garden to grow them in. And even china ramekins picked up cheaply can be filled with homemade pâté and tied with ribbon.
The Cost Centres still like stockings, even at the advanced ages of 22, 17 and 13. Their contents come mainly from charity shops and Superdrug. Cost Centre number 1 is a student of English literature and his stocking usually features his writer of the moment. You would be amazed how many different Martin Amis books you can buy in an Oxfam bookshop.
And what about food? Christmas is a time for entertaining, but that can get horribly expensive, too. I love having people round, but why not make it self- liquidating? If you have family visiting, then ask them to bring something specific – the pudding, vegetables, brandy butter.
Whatever Christmas lunch cost you last year, challenge yourself to cook it for half the price. Do you really need to serve two different types of potatoes in goose fat?
In our programme, A SuperScrimpers Christmas, we challenge a mother to cook a Christmas lunch for the whole family, for just £50. Christmas is a time for sharing and generosity, but often this leads to both the purchase and preparation of far more food than we need, or even want.
By simply planning ahead and doing some research, our superscrimper family found that cooking to a budget was not quite as hard as they had feared. And if you can cook for less, there’ll be more money left over to celebrate Christmas with, which will be useful if, like me, your children are older and more expensive than a baby in a cradle.
Mrs Moneypenny is a columnist in the Weekend Financial Times and presents SuperScrimpers: Waste Not Want Not Christmas Special at 8pm tonight on Channel 4