In the red: Last-minute shopping doesn't have to be a panic

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The Independent Online

And so here it is, my final column before Christmas. Usually, come this time of year, I would be complaining over how little I have in the bank, despite having just been paid. Christmas presents, I would be saying, they really bleed you dry.

Not this year. Oh no. Totally different kettle of fish. Have I suddenly had a pay rise? Become better at managing my budget? Managed to do all my shopping on a shoestring. Alas, no. I just haven't done any yet.

This is your cue to scream, collectively, "Panic!" But scream all you like. I won't be budged. "Last-minute" is my watchword this year and I don't care who knows it. True, last time I said this I wound up in HMV buying my dad a Kylie Minogue calendar on Christmas Eve (it was, I feebly explained, "ironic"). But this year, there is one crucial difference: I know what I'm getting. All I need do is arrive in store and hand over the cash. Minimal shopping time equals minimal expenditure; this has been the mantra that I have taken to repeating.

If only the same could be said of my Christmas party. People came, incidentally –which was an excellent and somewhat unexpected, turn up for the books. Some 40 guests arrived in total, all crammed into my postage stamp flat. And it was jolly good fun (too much you might say; I managed to miss the final hour, conceding defeat to the forces of mulled wine. Then again, the end of a party is so tedious, isn't it?) But it wasn't cheap; social occasions never are. There's the booze, the food – if it's December, the festive decorations. Unlike many costs, though, I tend to think that these are worth it. After all, life would be miserable without friends and family and wine-fuelled gatherings. What would be the point of the weekend if we closeted ourselves away? Certainly, the hangovers, the mess, the money all add up – but then what, after, all is the point of living? Or, for that matter, of Christmas?

So this year, if there's one thing I've learned about the festive season, it's that money spent on getting together trumps money spent on gifts. Who wants some frantically chosen John Lewis thingummybob when you can have canapés and smokers' corner? Who needs stockings when you can have sausages (mini ones, of course)? Who wants presents so long as there are party poppers? Sounds great, doesn't it. Now, let me just practise that one for Christmas morning.

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