I was worried that Christmas might blow our budget completely. But we had agreed to cut any extra spending to a minimum so December passed the acid test. Savings over 50% on the normal weekly shop. Last year I was careful and struggled to shave £5.00 off our bills. This year I was wanton, trying every strategy I could think of for lowering our bills whilst still living comfortably.
Our Christmas menus were loosely based around the goose (a present from my mother) and a half leg of organic ham that we cured and smoked ourselves. This made the ham a real bargain. The remains were frozen in chunks to be used for other meals in the future. Small packs of goose meat were also frozen to be added to game pies. The slow cooker bubbled away for a day creating a superb goose stock from the carcass.
We also set a maximum limit for presents. I’d been squirreling away little bits and bobs throughout the year so filling the Christmas morning stockings wasn’t a problem. We didn’t have time to send many cards last Christmas so had a couple of boxes just pleading to be filled in.
I was also lucky. Finding good crackers in the Tesco sale just before Christmas and a living tree in a pot for a fiver at the Tesco garage. Our old tree was bought for ten quid a few years ago and is now to big to drag into the cottage. The great thing about a smaller tree is that I could decorate it in half an hour. The only problem was searching the dingy attic for the small Christmas tree decorations and the mini lights.
The amazing thing was that we enjoyed each treat far more than the lavish flamboyance of past. Each mouthful of the wedge of Stilton was relished, and the fresh fruit savoured. Our vegetables (organic and on offer were snapped up a week before Christmas and stored in the barn. They were fine and tasted as fresh as if they’d been bought on Christmas Eve. It didn’t feel like a budget Christmas at all.
Our ceiling on the cost of the presents forced us to find luxuries for each other for under £25.00. Danny’s favourite present was a cashmere beanie from my mum. It folds easily into a pocket and is very warm when he needs it. My best present was from my mum too, she has the knack. I now own my very own pair of fur (fake) lined Wellington boots. Perfect for this chilly weather.
We were lucky too. I was given a brace of pheasant just before Christmas and a wonderful bottle of pink champagne when I fixed someone’s computer. I also discovered that the left over ingredients from last years Christmas cake, just slightly out of date made a superb cake this year. Our best ever.
So we’ve completed the challenge (initially the target was to save 25%), doubled the savings and will continue it forever as in the end we’ve really enjoying the ducking and diving.
In a couple of days time I’ll outline the strategy that worked best for us in 2008 and announce our new challenge for 2009.
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