Look ahead, not down at your feet. Run lightly. Breathe deeply. These are instructions from a running handbook I'm currently following, but they could just as easily be tips on how to achieve a thrifty stance for the December shopping frenzy.
Blessed as I am with a giant family, Christmas always produces somewhat of a lurch in the Millard finances, but this year I have taken a leaf from my running guide. I am focused not on Christmas, but beyond it – to the 2008 sales. I am going to run lightly throughout the festive season, and breathe deeply. I am also going to try to do all my Christmas shopping before Gilbert O'Sullivan's birthday which, as people who read Jackie in the 1970s will know, is 1 December. I am hoarding books, make-up, CDs and the like, and will have a giant wrapping session on 30 November, which has become my favourite day of the year.
As well as making you feel fantastically smug, doing your shopping in November is the only way to avoid the credit crunch. If you get going with your Christmas list NOW, you will avoid all those last-minute dalliances with the plastic at Heal's, because at the moment you can get veritable bargains before the shopkeepers realise that it is indeed nearly O'Sullivan Day and put their prices up.
Also, you'll have time to order from the net, which you wouldn't dare to do after about 10 December. Currently, you can go for "5 for the price of 3" offers at www.booksforchildren.co.uk and enjoy an array of bargains on www.asos.com, which is running 30 per cent off fragrance and beauty brands, and which has key Crimbo ideas including Hot Head, an animal-shaped oven mitt, for a fiver, or the stunning Disco Alarm (£15), a Saturday Night Fever-inspired item whose ball lights and revolves when it's time to get up.
Sites such as The White Company have bespoke sales areas, currently offering children's pyjamas for £10.50 and women's lace trim long-sleeve shirts for a tenner. If you avoid beachy things like espadrilles (although, at 70 per cent off, why not?) no one will know you've plundered last summer's shelves. There's an exciting sales area at www.figleaves.com, where you can get a Calvin Klein antique lace bra for £20, down from £29. Even Igloo, the world's most expensive children's toy-shop, has its own "reduced" area online (www.iglookids.co.uk), where you get a £6 dinosaur set thrown in for orders over £10. Which means two presents for the cost of one.
Plan ahead, have faith that internet Christmas shopping is by now tried and tested, and you will find that by Gilbert's big day, you'll have it done – for a third of what you would have spent had you chosen to do it just before those rather better known natal celebrations on 25 December.
Frankly (and this is where the trouble begins), I have become so adept at roaming the net for bargains that it's difficult not to start picking out self-directed presents. At www.mandmdirect.com, there's a pair of women's Nike Air Max 97, RRP £109.99, for a mere £39.99. Given that you'll be saving £70, is it really any bother to pop into JD Sports, try them on and then rush back to the computer to order them?
Last year, I advised you all to go to eBay for stocking fillers. This year, I've decided to be even lazier and buy my stockings ready filled, which I've found for a bargain £3 or £5 each on www.partytoo.com. There are posh ones for £25, containing things like Luxury Afternoon Tea, and a Build Your Own Lamborghini set, but that seems far too hedonistic for a stocking. To be authentic, a stocking should have the same peculiar value system as a Christmas cracker.
No: it must be the stockings for a fiver, which you can match to gender, age and even species (they do Dog and Cat ones). Said stockings contain Dickensian things like whistles, rattles and puppets, but also trash like chocolate lip gloss, whoopee cushions and jumping beans, which hit the spot for me.
The site even offers Adult stockings, which are tempting enough for me to break my resolution that adults are just too, well, adult for stockings. Can I really see Mr Millard relishing a £5 stocking promising contents such as a Credit Card Torch and a BlowCopter (which sounds far too exciting for Christmas morning)? Er, yes, I can.