buy nothing christmas '03
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In the cheap midwinter

More of a Scrooge than a Santa? Determined to hold on to your money this year no matter what? Kathleen Hennessy - and a team of unscrupulous penny pinchers - offer their tips for negotiating the festive round of parties and presents without putting your hand in your pocket

By Kathleen Hennessy

From The Guardian, Monday December 1, 2003

Ah, Christmas. Chestnuts roasting, sleigh bells ringing, log fires burning - and a huge hole in your wallet. Because peace and goodwill cost, my friends, and Christmas is where you start paying - in cold, hard cash.

A recent survey by Deloitte & Touche estimated that the average Briton spends 750 on Christmas presents alone, while the Association of Investment Trust Companies (AITC) reckons that a fifth of parents will spend more than 300 just on their kids this Christmas.

So to avoid raiding your savings for the sake of inclusion in the annual round of excess, it's time to resurrect the Christmas hero who turned penny-pinching into an art, and whose spirit lives on in the contributors to this piece: Ebenezer Scrooge.

Unsurprisingly, all of them wish to remain anonymous - particularly the mother who gave her own seven-year-old daughter an IOU two Christmases ago, hoping she'd forget to claim its value. So what other lowly tricks have our seasonal skinflints got up their festive jumper sleeves?

What comes around, doesn't go around

Christmas cheer often comes in bottles, but the near-endless round of trips to the local to raise a festive toast can leave you financially flat - unless you apply a Scrooge-like technique. One City slicker (who has no excuse, on his salary) suggests only going out in large groups and ensuring you're always deep in conversation as you enter the pub. "That way, someone else will be first to the bar and is bound to buy a full round," he says. "Pace yourself so that you are not the first to finish your drink, as that person will have no choice but to buy the next round."

If there's a danger you might drain your glass before anyone else, toddle off to the loo while you still have a drop left. Provided you keep an eye on the numbers and leave before it's your round, your night's drinking won't cost you a penny. And everyone will be so drunk they won't remember that you didn't stick your hand in your pocket.

All present and incorrect

The biggest obstacle to seasonal solvency is, of course, the price of presents - so how about telling people you've taken a stance against commercialism and decided not to buy presents at all? This idea has already been stretched to global proportions by the Buy Nothing Day group, which celebrates on November 29th. The ethos behind Buy Nothing Day is that commercialism is destroying the planet, but nobody needs to know that you're fuelled by financial, rather than environmental, concerns. There's even a Buy Nothing Christmas website, with alternative gift suggestions, such as vouchers for babysitting and spring-cleaning.

Alternatively, why not discover religion? "Tell friends and family you're having a traditional Jesus-based Christmas, with presents of oranges and incense and other such crap," suggests one advertising executive, who clearly knows how to spin a bad message. Other suggestions include telling people you've converted to Islam or that you're Jewish - though you need to proceed cautiously here: "Your gentile friends won't expect Hanukah presents, but make sure none of your mates are Jewish or you could get badly stung."

Save money on your Secret Santa present by giving whichever poor workmate's name you pick that dreadful free calendar from the local Chinese takeaway. And if you want to avoid splashing out on the biggest present source, one romantic darling from the banking world suggests breaking up with your partner just before the season gets underway. "Alternatively, tell people that you're saving up to buy a house or go travelling next year, so you can't afford presents this year," she continues. "You could also pretend to be away for the holiday season and say you won't be back till January, so nobody should bother with presents. This also gets you out of having to see your family!"

Cheap as chips

If opting out of present-giving altogether is not an option, open any gifts you receive early and rewrap unwanted ones to give to other people - keep a list of what came from whom to avoid the humiliation of presenting Aunt Hilda with the same vile 'precious moments' figurine she gave you.

"Check attics and cupboards for unwanted gifts from Christmas past, especially from relatives you don't see often, and redistribute them," suggests one less-than-PC public relations officer. "There are bound to be some engraved glasses or a salad spinner that you've never used, probably still in the original box."

Not seeing your relatives until the new year? Buy their presents in the January sales.

None of the trimmings

Make your own gift tags by cutting up last year's Christmas cards and don't waste money on wrapping paper - cover everything in newspaper. The first person to raise an eyebrow can be told pityingly that this is the latest City chic.

Recycle old Christmas cards by tippexing out the original names, then hand-deliver as many as possible. Wait until Christmas Eve to buy your tree, when you can usually pick one up for a fiver.

Visiting friends? Bring a fruitcake, says our PR woman. "Nobody actually eats fruitcake - they just bring it because they have to bring something and these cakes are usually on special offer," she explains. "So once someone has brought one to you, you take it to the next person's house and so it goes on. Saves you having to splash out on bottles of wine instead."

Finally, unless you get invited somewhere for Christmas dinner, tell everyone you're on a strict diet throughout December - that should ensure nobody tries to wangle an invitation to eat at your expense.

Merry Christmas!

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