Time to confess: this Christmas isn't working out as (thriftily) planned.
Like many families, our festive spending had got a bit over the top: I threw money at it (panic-induced present shopping, getting stuff delivered) because I ran out of time.
So I assumed we could probably cut back quite painlessly this year. You can't move now for people touting a frugal, homemade, recessionary Christmas (led by Kirstie Allsopp and her icing polar bears) How hard could it be?
Well, after a fortnight roadtesting various tips, it turns out homemade can sometimes be a surprisingly false economy. It's a lovely way to spend a rainy afternoon with small children, but it can end up costing more money than buying the lot from a shop.
(Relatives who'd rather not know what they're getting for Christmas: look away...)
I thought about homemade christmas cards, but worked out I'd spend more on glitter and card than the usual big box from Oxfam - and the Oxfam ones include a donation to people rather needier than me. No contest.
Homemade presents, then? Ms Allsopp's chutney was out (I made loads in summer, but suspect none of my relatives will be terribly excited to get it for christmas).
So I made Lindsey Bareham's recipe for bottled preserved lemons instead. It's a joy to make - you warm the lemons in the oven to make them juicy, so the whole house smells of citrus, and it made me feel terribly virtuous - but using unwaxed fruit (I don't like using waxed ones if you're eating the peel) meant about £5 on lemons alone. If I hadn't already had seasalt and a glass jar, the whole thing could have cost nearly a tenner. Big jars of preserved lemons are about £4 in shops. Hmm.
It all reminds of the Great Potato Fiasco, when I grew potatoes on our London patio. After buying seed potatoes, special growbags, compost and the rest I could have shipped in Jersey Royals by private jet for less than my supposedly thrifty homegrown veg.
But in some cases the maths did add up. In no particular order:
1. Homemade decorations. Lots got broken last year by exuberant dog/toddler, but instead of buying more I did pine cones (scavenged from woods, stuffed in airing cupboard until they open up, rolled hamfistedly in glue and glitter by child) and dried orange slices (slice two oranges thinly, spread on baking sheet in oven on lowest heat until hard and crispy, arrange artistically on tree so light shines through them). Free child entertainment and orange-scented kitchen thrown in.
2. Cooking from scratch. We usually do this anyway but Christmas cake, pudding, chocolate truffles, bread sauce, brandy butter, etc are all satisfyingly cheaper homemade than bought.
3. Writing out cards in time to send them second class. Next year, will save on stamps by starting earlier and distributing by hand when I see people. In, like, July.
4. Using more imagination, and taking more time, buying presents. Remembering small children are so overwhelmed by big piles of stuff that they don't actually play with it.
5. Homemade wreath. Wreath ring about 60p from garden centre and the rest was free: moss to use as a base dug out of manky back lawn; fir and ivy from garden; berries, rosehips, holly, crab apples etc collected while walking dog. Wired together with garden twine: final cost about £19.40 less than last year's florist effort.
Not bothering with a wreath would, of course, obviously have saved another 60p. And I reckon I could've skipped the cards without offending anyone.
And that's the big lesson: it's too easy to get suckered into thinking you need lots of Christmas stuff that is utterly unnecessary. All those magazine articles hyping gourmet turkeys and iphones for the under-fives have an insidious effect, yet these are not the things that make the day memorable.
We're not quite down to a turkey sandwich, plus a hoop and a stick, in this house. But it has set me thinking. If you pared Christmas back to the absolute essentials, what would those be?