Five ways to cut the cost of Christmas extras
1. A tree is not just for Xmas
Artificial trees can save you money because they can be used year after year. You'll have to fork out a little extra for more realistic models, but if you're tired of clearing up pine needles, this probably won't seem a hardship.
Christmastimeuk.com has a great selection from as little as £10.99. Look out for the number of branch tips in the description as this is a good indicator of how full the tree will look.
If you do decide that only the read thing will do, check with the retailer whether its trees are delivered just once or at different times throughout the season - which would mean they are fresher.
Obviously, you should choose a tree that doesn’t have a lot of brown needles, but a further test is to run your hand over a branch – the needles should be flexible and not fall off easily. Another test is to lift the tree about 10cm off the ground and then drop it back down again – it’s perfectly normal for a few of the inner brown needles to drop off but the green needles shouldn’t.
Of course, the most environmentally-friendly and cheapest option of all is to buy a tree with roots that can be replanted each year.
2. Lighten the load
LED light bulbs use 90% less energy than conventional incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times as long. You can find them in many hardware and DIY stores, but a great place for online deals is lights4fun.co.uk.
Solar Christmas lights are also much improved from their earlier prototypes. Look for the sort with batteries that charge during the day in order to power the lights through the evening.
3. Make your own
Nothing gives a tree that X-factor more than homemade decorations, and they can be all the more special if you make them together as a family. Spray-paint pine cones with metallic paint and attach a ribbon for some cheap and natural baubles, or use flour and water to make biscuit dough and cut out Christmas shapes to bake in the oven.
Remember to pierce a hole in the dough first so you can hang the biscuits on the tree. Popcorn and cranberries threaded onto a piece of string make great garlands, and simple paper chains can look festive if you use patterned paper.
4. Early-bird xmas cards
The best way to save on Christmas cards is to buy them in the January sales for the following Christmas. If you're not quite so organised, then buy them in bulk from supermarkets, which often have special offers. Making your own cards can also save you money, but don't splash out on expensive card-making kits. Shop around for a good deal on paper and decorations - remember, as it's only going to end up recycled or in the bin it's hardly worth spending a fortune on.
You can also find cheaper cards online than on the high street - try vistaprint.co.uk, which also allows you to customise your own creations with text and uploaded photos.
Make sure your Christmas cards arrive in plenty of time. The final deadline for overseas delivery is 11 December, and you have until 21 December for first-class post to UK addresses. To keep costs down, send your cards by second-class post before 18 December.
5. It's a wrap
If you can't be creative, at least be inventive with wrapping paper. Think about the gift and wrap accordingly. For example, if the present is something for the kitchen, try wrapping it in a nice tea-towel. There are loads of novelty ones out there and it can add personality to the present.
For a child's gift, why not use the pages of old comic books? Also, some stores will be more than happy to gift-wrap your purchase for no extra charge.