A couple of recent stories by Simon Read in the UK’s “Independent” newspaper  (see below) reveal that UK consumers are once again extending their credit card debt, after a period when the trend seemed to be reversing.

What’s more, they are using cards not for luxuries (i.e. “discretionary spending”) but on essentials.

Christmas is coming: the debts are getting fat

The situation for many of those “hard-working families”, as our politicians like to call them (surely that’s discrimination against single people and lazy people?) will probably get worse in a month or two. Why? Not just because of the underlying economic situation and rising inflation, but because of the “retail eternity” (to quote my hero Loudon Wainwright III) that we call Christmas.

Peer pressure

 We have been conditioned to believe that one can’t celebrate Christmas properly without spending a load of money. So those in debt are going to get deeper in debt. If you have young children, peer pressure and the blandishments of advertisers will try hard to ensure it.

US blogger promotes debt-free Christmas

That’s why I gave three hearty cheers when I found that an American blogger called Brad Chaffee had started a discussion thread called “Debt-Free Christmas”. I communicated with Brad and told him how much I liked the idea; he got back to me promptly, saying that the concept was very much alive and well in his family, even if the blog thread is less active right now.

Practical solutions?

What I take as the meaning of his “Debt-Free Christmas” was not so much to get right out of debt at this time of year – that would be a very tough aspiration – but how to find practical ways of having a great Christmas without getting further into debt; despite inflation and peer pressures.

Gift spend limit

In future posts I’ll be talking about how we’ve done it in my family. The most successful method was putting a limit on the gift spend per person. That forced a rethink, compared with the previous procedure of: “Oh God, only a week to go and I haven’t finished my gift shopping; must throw some more money at the problem”.

The new rule didn’t just save money, it unleashed lots of creativity.And we had just as much fun, maybe more.

Over to you

I’d like to throw this open. All contributions welcome!




For Simon Read’s article in the Independent, 6 Nov 2011:


For info on my e-book “Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way”:  


Kindle version:

Other versions:


Would you like to win a free copy of my e-book “Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way”? I’m giving away five copies for the best “budget Xmas” ideas I receive between now and 20 December.

The reason is simple: getting out of debt is one thing but of course you probably won’t stay out if you carry on spending money at the same rate as before. Cutting costs is not easy, but generating more income is harder, especially in today’s climate. So we all need to share ideas on saving money.

Santa reports peer pressure still strong despite recession

Managing costs is, of course, especially difficult at Christmas, with all the pressure from advertisers, and even harder if you have small children.

Right now, wearing my actor’s hat, I am spending ten days as Santa in a budget store in Wales.  When I ask the children (who are, without exception, delightful): “what’s the best thing about Christmas for you?” the answer in 95% of cases is, predictably enough, “lots of presents”.

Peppa Pig

By the way, if you are interested in toy branding, Peppa Pig is the name I hear most often while wearing the Santa hat. The name comes up unprompted, although I try to avoid getting into discussion of specific gifts. I don’t want to provide yet more cost pressures for the mums and dads who are generally standing nearby.

The popularity of Peppa Pig is good news for the BBC, as they no doubt make lots of money from the merchandising of this TV show. I’ve heard that Toys R Us has 84 Peppa Pig products; that’s a juggernaut for any parent on a limited budget to resist.

Ideas win books

My book has a final chapter called “Keep up the good work”, which is all about ideas for staying out of debt, once those debts have been cleared. Most of the ideas in that chapter are about saving money but I’m always on the lookout for new ideas. So the five best “Budget Xmas” ideas, suggesting how you plan to have a great Christmas without spending a fortune, will receive a free copy of the book in .pdf format. The ideas will also be featured in the book’s second edition.

Please e-mail ideas to me (, or you can post them on this blog as comments, whichever you prefer. Entries requested by 20 December, please.

Want to know more?

My book “Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way” is available on the Smashwords site. To sample (first 20% free) or to buy at only $3.99, go to