By all means shop the high street for what you want. But window shop. If time is with you, note down how much an item costs, what the store return policy is and try it on, if it's an item of clothing or pair of shoes. Now take your list, and start scouring the net for better prices. With the exchange rate against sterling and the dollar you can probably do better online.
There's been a lot of talk from retailers about reducing their prices here but we are still paying 16pc more (officially - but a hell of a lot more in reality) for our goods here, according to recent reports. And, first hand, I was recently in London. The euro price and sterling prices were both marked - and in no way reflected the current exchange rates. I couldn't make £145 convert to €220 no matter how I tried, so naturally I declined to pay the euro price in a couple of stores - and have just received my credit card bill. At most I paid the fair exchange rate - and nothing more. Just for the record, at today's exchange rate (though this is subject to change) £145 should convert to €162.
Auld Lang Syne
Sign up to websites' newsletters for sale or discount alerts. It may not always be offered on the high street or you may be unaware of a sale coming up in the high street stores and wind up paying full price for something, when a week later, you find it reduced by 20pc or worse 50pc. There were a few disgruntled people last year when Brown Thomas slashed designer shoe prices days before Christmas Day. And, to add insult to injury as one disgruntled customer put it, he had to spend three hours in the shoe rooms. We suggest unsubscribing after Christmas so you won't be tempted into further spending. There's a reason why January is a miserable month.
I'll be (shopping from) home for Christmas
And speaking of shopping online. Well it's just like shopping on the high street but you'll have to use your credit card (or laser if the site accepts it). And just like the high street, set yourself a budget and stick to it. It's very easy to be tempted.
The good news though is, what you'll find online is generally cheaper but sometimes it's a good idea to cross-check products. Just because you find it for a good price on one site, doesn't mean there isn't another one out there selling it for less.
Add up the cost of packaging and the cost of returns. See if the items can be returned to stores here - that way if you're living near the store you can just drop it in, as opposed to paying to post it back to the website's returns department. Remember the postal service is under strain at Christmas and any extra delays in getting your return processed means mounting interest on your credit card - something we all want to avoid.
It came upon a midnight clear
Make sure you allow enough time for delivery - there's nothing worse than realising your gift won't be delivered in time for the big day. We suppose you could print off the confirmation email and put it in a little shiny box with a bow on top, but it's not the same really, is it?
All I want for Christmas is you
Shop from sites you trust too - or if it's a new site look for the padlock symbol before entering your credit card details when you're at the checkout or even better if there is https in the URL address. The s at the end means the site is secure, and you are communicating in secure code - basically no one can eavesdrop on your private conversation, ie swipe your credit card info or passwords. You can enter your details without fear.
Allow the recommended time for delivery - if it doesn't arrive then contact the site immediately. Things do go missing in the post - but most decent sites will replace the product free of charge or refund your money. Iwantoneofthose.com and gadgetstorm.com are good for quirky gifts that don't cost too much and we also like notonthehighstreet.com though some items can be pricey. For kids clothes, we love boden.co.uk - it does nice adult clothes too and if you can hold off til a couple of weeks before Christmas, the site does a decent sale. (Which is great for people who annoyingly have birthdays in January.) Check out complaintsboard.com if you are unsure of how genuine a site or product is.
There is nothing more lovely than a hand made gift. No really.... whether it's homemade star-shaped cinnamon cookies or a jar of jam made from berries you picked yourself. Knitting is back in vogue too - and a warm scarf is easy to do and very much appreciated (or else my friends are very good liars!) Or a compilation of photos of grandchildren for grandparents in a new photo album or made into a calendar. My personal favourite is baby-sitting vouchers. They're free and this is the only one pressie no one will mind if you re-gift to them at a later stage. That way we can all have ourselves a merry little Christmas with no fighting!