I want to do something a bit different today, rather than focusing on Christmas deals, discounts and wine - I want to look at some other ideas that'll help your Christmas run smoothly.
1. Give time, not money
Christmas isn't a retail festival. Don't feel under pressure to always spend money to show your love and affection. One of my tips is to give a personal Christmas gift cheque. It could be a promise to babysit for a friend you know who never goes out, to wash a car, cook a meal, or if it's your partner, to give them a 'massage' on demand. There are some lovely personal cheques available on the internet.
2. If you don't know what to give, donate to charity
Tit-for-tat giving usually results in giving a load of tat. So why not simply tell friends and family you're stuck buying for, that this year you will instead give to charity in their name - then at least you know your money is doing something valuable. It could be a straight donation to the Philippines via the Disasters Emergency Committee. Or, for gift cards that tell the recipient what you bought in their name - a £5 donation pays for 50 bowls of rice to feed fifty hungry children via Good Gifts, or you could give the gift of sight for £28 via Sightsavers. Yet go quick, the last order dates before Christmas are coming up for many.
3. If you've small children, don't feel forced to spend
The other day a man approached me to say "I've an eight month old daughter, do you have any tips on buying her toys and things more cheaply as we're skint?" My answer was do you really need to get her anything big? I'm sure she'd be delighted by a little thing like a bottle of bubbles, which you could blow for her. She's not demanding a high cash equivalent gift - that's just personal guilt and pressure, which has been fed to us. In fact, last year I ran an experiment with a group of five-year-olds where I gave them empty Christmas present boxes. They loved it and were still playing with them 40 minutes later. When they're very young, give them something to make them happy, not something that costs lots.
4. Beware gift vouchers
Gift vouchers are an easy option, but not always a good one. In the current economic climate we need to be honest that some firms will go under. If that happens and you've a gift voucher, usually it becomes worthless and you've effectively no rights. Then there's the fact many expire after a set time, and they're also relatively easy to lose.
While it's less romantic, I'd always err on the side of giving cash instead, or at least do a Google search first to check whether there are any reports of the company who's vouchers you are giving getting into trouble.
5. Delay Christmas
It's maddening. The most expensive time of the year to buy things is just before Christmas, while the cheapest time is just after. But you don't need to be locked into this cycle. If you're buying gifts, especially big electronic goods that you know will be cheaper after Christmas, then why not do something radical? Give your family an IOU on Christmas day explaining you'll buy the gift a couple of weeks later in the sales. With some of the money saved you could buy a couple of small holding gifts in the meantime. Plus, even better, by explaining this you're giving the gift of financial education to your kids.
6. Going to buy perfume? Do it now
It's said that more people buy perfume or aftershave on Christmas Eve than during the entire month of August. So be honest with yourself, if you're going to resort to buying smellies then, do it sooner instead and it should be cheaper.
Boots and Superdrug currently have up to 50% off selected fragrances, while O2 customers can get £10 off fragrance and gift sets in-store only at The Fragrance Shop via O2's Priority Moments. The offer ends today and there's no minimum spend. Before you buy, do a comparison for the best price via Fragrances Compared.
To be really radical, there are a growing number of smell-a-like perfumes sold by major stores that resemble expensive fragrances where much of what you're paying is to build their brands. For example M&S Isis (100ml) at £16 smells similar to Issey Miyake L'Eau d'Issey at £44 ish and Lidl Suddenly Madame Glamour (50ml), £3.99 at Lidl has great feedback at being similar to Chanel Coco Mademoiselle at £67 ish.
7. Write 'it's a gift' on receipts
You have no legal right to return shop bought goods just because you change your mind - you can only return them if they're faulty, and even then the right belongs to the person who paid for the goods. So if you're giving a gift, the recipient technically can't take it back. However gift receipts can transfer these rights or, if one isn't available, on the receipt (yours and the shop's if possible) note that it's a gift and who it's for - e.g. "bought as a gift for Bob" - and the rights are transferred.
8. Don't upshift your turkey
From mince pies, to chocolate logs and turkey, around the country people are saying "it's Christmas, let's buy something special" and going up a brand at supermarkets. Yet remember the only people saying it's "Finest" or it's "Taste the Difference" and pricing it higher are the supermarkets selling it to you - and it can be more about packaging than product.
For my TV programme, I recently ran an experiment by throwing a party in the Royal Alexandra Children's Hospital in Brighton with an up-brand and down-brand version of each product in a blind tasting test. While sometimes up-brand won, on turkey, 73% preferred own-brand compared to the most expensive brand, while Lidl champagne was preferred to treble the price Moet at 61% to 17%. Overall 38% preferred the costliest food, 38% preferred the cheapest, and 24% couldn't tell the difference. So while up-brand may feel 'special', it isn't always better.
9. Last orders dates imminent - go quick or it'll get costly
While online shops never close, the key is when the shutters start being pulled for delivery. The last free or cheapest Christmas order dates are starting to hit, so if you're planning to shop online - sooner is cheaper.
Wednesday (18 December) is the big day for many dates ending, meaning now is key order time. Amazon's free delivery ends on the 18 December, after that delivery prices rise as high as £14.99, unless you've Amazon Prime. That's the same day that House of Fraser, Debenhams, Urban Outfitters, WHSmith and more all end their 'free or cheapest' delivery. After that, the end dates come in thick and fast, though many retailers do offer slightly later cheap or free delivery to stores only, so do check first.
Also, if you're posting prezzies yourself, the last standard Royal Mail posting dates are Wednesday 18 December for 2nd class items and Friday 20 December for 1st class items. After this, you'll pay a hefty price.
10. Got kids? Let them track Santa online
NoradSanta is a nifty little site where you can watch Santa's progress bringing gifts for your little ones on Christmas Eve. Grab a mince pie and log on.