Friday, December 17, 2010

Cheap Christmas shopping

Discounting was something that didn't happen until after Christmas. This year, though, Santa's price-snipping elves have been out in force during the pre-Yuletide period, and evidence of their handiwork is to be found everywhere.
"Twenty-Five Per Cent Off Everything", blare the signs in my local Past Times store. "Fifty Per Cent Off Autobiographies", says W H Smith. And on, they're selling 100 ml bottles of my mother's favourite Nina Ricci perfume, L'Air du Temps, at (look away now, Mater) £22 instead of £48.
Good news, then, for skinflints such as myself, although there are still some traditionally-minded people who feel there is something a bit, well, distasteful about getting gifts for loved ones at knock-down prices. "A lot of our customers don't like it known that they buy from us," confirms Kim Nicholls, managing director of ultra-cheap mail-order firm The Book People. "That said, people do seem to be less shy than in previous years."
No prizes for guessing why. A quick look at my last few bank statements has turned me from a boy who didn't acknowledge the existence of the Special Offer Fairy into a fully paid-up believer in Christmas bargains.
First step in my Supersaver Santa initiative was to place a bulk order for 16 books by children's author Michael Morpurgo for my four nephews and nieces. Only instead of paying £95.84 in the High Street, I got the lot for £16.99 from The Book People brochure.

It was, I confess, an exhilarating sensation. And, once you've started down the discount slope, it's an unstoppable sleigh ride. Not only do you feel the financial wind in your hair, you have the sheer satisfaction of piloting your own snowplough.
The shops don't like it, of course, preferring to keep us dependent upon them for reductions. When I asked Selfridges at what point before Christmas their prices would be cheapest, they didn't want to say.
"Discounts are not something which we particularly publicise," they replied, "in the interest of driving traffic to the store right up to Christmas."
Note the word "drive", which is the same as what happens to farm animals. This Christmas, however, more and more shoppers are resolving to rise above the level of turkeys. Me included.
The fact is, once you start looking for savings, you see them everywhere. Especially in your own home. Peering into my wardrobe, I see shirts and ties that have remained unused since the day they were given to me. What could be nicer, at this time of year, than letting others experience the joy of receiving these same gifts, albeit with a little note attached, saying you've lost the receipt (more believable if you're a man, than a woman).
Bottles of drink work well, too, when it comes to re-gifting, though if you won them in a raffle, do remove the little numbered ticket beforehand; there's a bottle of Warninks Advocaat that, to my certain knowledge, has been doing the rounds of south-west London school fairs for at least the past three Christmases.
Unwanted holiday souvenirs work well, too. I know just the couple who would like the hand-stitched Croatian tablecloth we bought a couple of summers ago in Dubrovnik. And, speaking of foreign travel, you can make good use of your unused air miles at this time of year. I was delighted to discover that I could exchange my 45,000 NatWest Your Points, not for a return flight to Krakow, but for £250 worth of Marks & Spencer vouchers. Job done. Another five people who are going to be bowled over by my amazing £50-a-head generosity – and it won't cost me a penny.
Then there are all your old childhood possessions. Sorry, did I say "old"? I meant "retro". That's not just a toy car, that's a classic Dinky. And that Rupert Bear annual is a nostalgia-rich collector's item, if given to the right person (that is, someone over 50). The same goes for old football programmes: find a game played on the day of the recipient's birthday, or involving their favourite team half a century ago, and you've given a gift with genuine meaning, for no money.
Oh yes, there are big thankyous to be had for giving a present that is Thoughtful. My brother-in-law, for example, is always having to go off on business trips at short notice, so I'm giving him my own, home-made Frequent Flyer Pack. This involves two miniature tubes of toothpaste, several free hotel shampoo and conditioner sachets, plus little plastic bottles of mouthwash, eye drops and contact lens liquids, all within the 30ml hand- luggage limit imposed by airport security. Cost to me: negligible. Thoughtfulness rating: priceless, as they say in the ads.
Operating a similar, person-targeting policy, I've gone on a gift hunt to Poundland. Here, I've bought an Archers autobiography (Brian Aldridge) for an Ambridge aficionado (brother), I've sourced a set of six brightly coloured egg cups (mother-in-law), a pair of Simpsons socks (teenage son) and a Cliff Richard 2011 calendar as a supplementary gift for my mother. Cost of each item: £1.
Of course, the key to getting away with cheap presents is presentation. Immaculate gift-wrapping can elevate the most bargain-basement item up to penthouse suite level. Which means that instead of using the same clingfilm that the chestnut stuffing has been wrapped in, you invest in a roll of up-market cellophane, complete with decorative ribbon-shredding-and-curling machine. And, if possible, go to Gift School.
"The perfectly wrapped present should not need to be ripped apart, it should elegantly unravel," declares Neelam Meetcha, who runs £95-a-day gift-wrapping courses all over the country (I've gone for the free mini-video instead, on her website
"And remember, if you are putting together a little collection of gifts, the secret is to use a small basket that looks full, rather than a big basket that looks empty."
How right she is. Armed with her tips (Sellotape is for amateurs, use double-sided tape instead), I set about making my home-made items look shop-bought (gingerbread man, potted plant from garden, re-sealed Lord of the Rings DVD).
After a while, however, I discover that there are limits to how low I can stoop, and I don't just mean in terms of price. For while I don't hesitate to use the advice from the website, which is to put a miniature brandy bottle inside a £1 Poundland photo frame, and affix a sign saying "In Emergency Break Glass", I find myself stopping short of filling a Fortnum and Mason box with cut-price liqueur chocolates.
I also can't quite bring myself to print out my own Name A Star certificate, confirming, on behalf of the (non-existent) Interstellar Identification Commission, that a particular astral body now bears the name of my five-year-old godchild. I may be a cheapskate, but I know when I'm on thin ice.
However, when it comes to the sums of money I've saved, as part of my festive fiscal freeze, I feel no remorse whatsoever. Well, only a tiny bit, and it will be gone the minute Christmas is over. After all, as Santa will tell you, present-giving involves going down a large number of grubby chimneys, and, at the end of the day, a little bit of guilt comes off a lot more easily
than soot.


No comments:

Post a Comment