I love Christmas but I hate the way it's so commercial. People shouldn't need to worry about spending money; they should be able to simply enjoy spending time with their families.
As the shops are daubed in decorations and the Christmas lights come on, I've been wondering just how much I need to spend to enjoy a full, traditional day and whether I could do it for less. And I'm not alone; new research show that 2011 is set to be the cheapest Christmas in five years.
The website MyVoucherCodes.co.uk found that people expect to spend £692.18 on average this year. That's just over half the amount spent on average in 2007. But it's still an awful lot.
A challenging budget
Many people will struggle to spend £700 on their 2011 Christmas and many more won't want to. Another Christmas survey, this one from cashback website Quidco, showed that one in 10 people plan to spend £200 less on presents this year.
That £200 figure caught my attention. If that many people are spending £200 less, I want to see if I could plan an entire traditional Christmas for that much or less. Lunch, pudding, booze, decorations and presents.
There will be four adults and my baby son at my house this year, so I've been planning my frugal festive budget.
Cards - £12.78
I send around 30 cards each year but I get them in the post early so they'll still arrive on time with second class stamps. That means postage alone will cost £10.80 (saving me £3 on 1st class), so I don't want to spend a fortune on cards.
Aldi has packs of 20 cards for 99p, so I can buy two packs and keep 10 for next year.
Booze - £9.99
It's lovely to begin the day with some Bucks Fizz, but there's no need to buy anything expensive when you're planning to flood it with orange juice. Instead of champagne, how about a bottle of Tesco's own Cava at £3.99 (price valid until 22nd November)? We'll need to add a litre carton of orange juice at £1, also from Tesco.
I don't drink while my baby is so small, so we probably just want one bottle of wine for lunch. Our guests are bound to bring another (especially if they read this).
There's a bottle of Jacob's Creek Chardonnay available at ASDA for £5, which should go down nicely.
Lunch - £20.99
Turkey for three; a nut cutlet for me; sprouts, parsnips, carrots, stuffing, potatoes, peas, cranberry sauce and gravy for four. It would be very easy to spend a lot of money buying lunch alone.
But Tesco has a half-price offer on a small basted turkey that will serve up to seven, priced at £10 until the end of the year. Then I used the website MySupermarket.com to find the best price on the rest of my shopping.
I entered my shopping list and the website flagged up that I could save £5.57 by swapping to a two-for-one deal on sprouts, changing to loose instead of bagged parsnips and buying own-brand stuffing instead of Aunt Bessie's. It's a very handy tool for a penny pincher.
It showed me that I'd pay £11.99 at Tesco, which would be several pounds less than the other major supermarkets.
|2kg Rooster potatoes||£1.47|
|500g Brussel sprouts (2-for-1)||£1.00|
|7 Loose parsnips at 22p||£1.54|
|1kg Frozen garden peas||£0.99|
|Packet 4 own-brand nut cutlets||£1.72|
|Jar own-brand cranberry sauce||£1.49|
|Jar OXO stock granules||£1.41|
|Packet own-brand sage & onion stuffing||£0.37|
Crackers - £2.99
Unless you pay a fortune for really luxurious crackers, I think they're all much the same. And, while I think they're a fun part of my Christmas meal, I resent paying much for a rubbish joke and a silly hat.
So I'm happy with a cheap option, like six reindeer crackers from Lidl for £2.99.
Pudding - £3
MySupermarket.com showed me that all the main supermarkets all offer economy puds that serve four at £1 or less.
But, while economy brands can be tasty, it can be a bit of a gamble and I don't want to risk pudding being a let down. ASDA has a six month matured Christmas pudding that should serve all four adults — including second helpings - for £3.
[See also: What economy brands taste like]
Tree and decorations - £16.58
From a strict penny pinching position, it probably makes sense to buy a decent artificial tree, so it can be used year after year.
But this is one purchase I can't scrimp on — for me it's not properly Christmas unless I've bewildered the cat by bringing a real tree into our home. A nearby garden centre is already advertising small trees at £10 and I think they are worth every penny.
I also think Christmas trees should be fun, so I'm not worried about pricey decorations. IKEA is offering 26 hanging ornaments for £3.29. I think I'll need two packs for a properly decorated tree.
Presents - £133.67
So far I've planned to spend £66.33 and I'm pleasantly surprised at how much festive cheer that's bought.
But obviously presents are the most expensive part, and I only have £133.67 to buy them with. A survey by Marks & Spencer found that the average shopper spends £378 a year on gifts for their family, so I'll need to be creative.
On Christmas day, there will be two friends, my husband and my son to shop for. On top of that, there are two sets of parents-in-law and seven siblings between us, plus their partners. If I want to come in on budget, I'm looking at an average spend of just over £10 each (assuming we give couples just the one gift).
Except this is my baby's first Christmas and I want to spoil him. The musical octopus I've spotted retails at £21.99 and I'd like to pop a further £20 into his child ISA.
So that brings my budget down to £91.68, with 12 presents still to go. £7.64 each won't go far, but Boots, M&S, Tesco and Superdrug all have three-for-two offers on Christmas gifts, pushing my budget back up to a respectable £11.46 each. If I limit it to £10 each, I'll have some cash leftover for wrapping paper.
That's not a bad haul for £200.
This is a pretty strict budget, but I know that some people are managing on smaller amounts, while others are shopping for bigger families.
I can also see how easy it would be to spend more than this; stocking up on extra food and nibbles, buying beer in case my guests don't want wine and splashing out on a pricier present for my husband.
But setting out a budget like this does help me plan my spending and keep the bulk of the cost under control. It also shows that I don't need to spend upwards of £500 to have a traditional Christmas, with all the trimmings.
Of course, this is a bit of a flippant look at the cost of Christmas — the expense doesn't all come from one day. We all tend to travel more, eat out while shopping for presents, socialise more with colleagues and family, and generally spend a small fortune every December.
It's so important to keep control of any extra spending at this time of year, and not to just hope it comes in on budget.
When I'm looking ahead at how much Christmas will cost, I always try to factor in a bit of a buffer in case of spending slip-ups. That way, there are no nasty surprises lurking to spoil my Happy New Year.
Felicity is Yahoo! Finance's money-saving columnist. If you have a money-saving scheme you'd like to see tried out then let us know in the comment box below.