’Tis the season to be spending – or so it would seem if one had to take stock of the peculiarities that give the “silly season” its name.
But the reality is Christmas passes very quickly, and what often comes next is several weeks of uncomfortable barren brokedom.
So how does one avoid the Christmas cash whirlpool – or at least minimise it?
Here are some tips:
Trim the frills and rough it
Any manufacturer will tell you that packaging is a big factor affecting price. Major retailers come packaged with frills like trolley wipes, wide aisles, loyalty cards and well-oiled trolley wheels. These frills are not free. They are worked into the overheads and the price of your groceries. So if you want to get a really good deal, you will need to rough it a bit and buy at factory shops, wholesalers or niche wholesale supermarkets.
These shops are dotted all over the city and they offer an all-year-round no-frills discount. There are several dairy factory shops where, if you can buy cheese or long-life cream or milk in bulk, the saving would offset the cost of the drive.
Factory shops also have a lovely habit of clustering together so you would likely find other good deals close by.
Make from scratch
It is far cheaper to make your own cakes, breads and desserts than to buy them. Time is money as they say, so when you buy ready-made anything you are also paying for the time used to make it – not to mention the packaging and nasty preservatives.
Making from scratch can be daunting but start simple and soon you may even have the confidence to make home-made jams, yoghurts and cheese – all of which is easier than you think.
Bring and share
I’m not sure where the tradition of cooking for an army at Christmas came from. I suspect that with all the work that goes into the day, our foremothers did it this way so that there would be several days after Christmas when no cooking would be necessary.
Cooking for an army was one of the first traditions our family were keen to let go of. So we do a bring-and-share lunch instead. This way there is still enough food to feed an army but at least there is an army to eat it too.
Of course, this also means that you may well have to cook in the days after Christmas.
If you don’t have an army of relatives, invite others who are alone on Christmas too. Or even better, invite those who are alone at Christmas to the army’s bring and share. Christmas, after all, is a time of giving.
Don’t shop just before Christmas
In the weeks before Christmas, prices are inflated. One may be able to pick up a good deal here or there, but mostly it is not worth the stress and aggravation. It is better to buy before the silliness starts.
With non-perishables, buy bulk when things are on sale or from wholesalers well in advance. With meat, buy when it’s cheap, (like just before Eid) and freeze it. Most meat can be stored for up to six months in the chest freezer and with a six-month window to work with, you’re bound to find that corned tongue or leg of lamb at a cheaper than normal price.
With things like cream and or cheese or vegetables that have a short shelf life, buy alternatives, like coconut cream (which can be whipped) or frozen veggie prepacks.
Cheese can be frozen and while this does change the texture, it doesn’t affect taste.
And yes, some of these alternatives can be pricier than the original, but the overall savings will offset this.
Think out of the gift box
Groceries are not the only expense at Christmas: there are also gifts and wrapping to think about. But these too need not put a hole in your pocket.
Gifts can also be bought and stocked year round.
Wrapping doesn’t need to break the bank. Why not wrap gifts in jazzed-up newspaper? With a bit of paint, glitter or origami-type folding – online tutorials abound on this subject – newspaper wrapping can be just as pretty as the regular variety.
However, if you are a stickler for traditional wrapping paper, save the scraps and reuse them as collage book covers when school reopens.
Secret Santas are also a good way to go for savings. The tradition need not be reserved for office parties and can work really well in families too because it is much nicer to give one really good gift than several, less expensive and therefore maybe not so nice ones.
The biggest risk with secret Santas is having your name pulled by the Grinch, but this only increases the chance that the same person won’t pull it again next year.