Mum reveals how she'll feed her family of six for less than £21 this Christmas
The expensive annual chore that is Christmas dinner is very nearly upon us, and this year, we're expected to blow a terrifying £51.47 on turkey, trimmings and all the rest.
And that's just food. Come Boxing Day, the average family will have burnt a hole worth £812 in their wallets, according to Comparethemarket.com - factoring in travel to see friends and family, parties, and gifts.
See also: How to keep Christmas simple
But one mum refuses to just sit there and take it - she has a plan. Louise Smith from Kent is on a mission to curb her spending this Christmas - she's got family of six to feed - but has worked out how to cap her bill at just £21, without cutting back on any traditions.
The best bit? She's even treating them all to three delicious courses each - mince pies, Christmas pudding and all.
"Christmas is such an expensive time of the year," Louise told Mirror Money.
"But the food on the day doesn't have to be,"
Like many households she admits that over Christmas, her budget tends to go out of the window - but not this year.
"I have been trying to save money on food all throughout the year, but usually I spend a small fortune on the Christmas dinner without even looking at prices, but this year I had a thought to challenge myself on making a three course Christmas dinner for as close to £20 as I could but without compromising on taste (excluding drinks!)."
My £20.77 Christmas dinner...
Over the past few years, Brits have become accustomed to the skill of 'shopping around' when it comes to buying anything - from a Christmas present to a new toothbrush. Gucci handbags included. But when it comes to food, is there a saving to be made?
According to Good Housekeeping's annual festive food poll, the average cost of a dinner this year will set you back £25.53 at Lidl (the cheapest supermarket going) or £41.47 at Waitrose (the priciest store, right now).
Louise's local supermarkets are Asda, where the average Christmas dinner will cost you £31.37, and Aldi, where you'll spend £25.86 - but with a budget at just £20, she decided to put them both to the test.
To start with, she compared 'own brand' products across both stores and eliminated the items she already had at home, such as salt, pepper and oil. Most people will also be able to knock these off, providing you've cooked at least once in the past year.
She then ticked off the turkey - which she invested in for £8.99 at Aldi. At the same store she picked up her pigs in blankets, which set her back £1.49 - leaving her just the vegetables and sides to finish off.
Her cheapest of these was the stuffing mix, which for 19p at Asda represented a saving of 81p compared to Paxo's popular version.
She then threw in Aldi's Deep Filled Mince Pies - which are a friendly 79p (and have won many a taste test).
But she says it was Asda's 20p gravy that she took the real risk on.
"The most surprising item was the gravy! We, as a family, are gravy snobs and only buy Bisto Granuals, so I was a bit hesitant about buying Asda's smart price version at 20p for 200g.
"But, surprisingly, we all agreed that it tasted really lovely and I think it may be a permanent swap in our household!
"The 19p sage and onion stuffing from Asda was brilliant! I rolled it into balls so that I could portion 2 per person (serving 6). They tasted really nice, especially with the 20p gravy on top. I think to enhance the stuffing, add a knob of butter if desired.
"The dinner went down really well with the family and everyone almost cleared their plates apart from a few odd potatoes here and there. There was also loads of Turkey left over, even though we all had a generous portion each. Plenty of leftovers for bubble and squeak for Boxing Day!
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Louise's three saves of Christmas
Don't overbuy food - Realistically, you only need a maximum of two meats. The six of us struggled to get through our plates so try not to over do it! It's worth noting that you'll also be eating smaller portions on Christmas compared to a regular roast because of the pudding and starters.
Be practical - Most people only want two or three different types of vegetables. Sprouts and carrots are very cheap - so cash in on them!
Don't be frightened of frozen - Fresh is great and homemade is even better, but sometimes frozen is cheaper all in - as was the case with our 15 Yorkshire puddings. Also, the turkey crown was bought frozen and was succulent and golden when cooked.
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What about alcohol - and everything in between?
Louise may have successfully cracked Christmas, but for most households it's the gifting that's the real headache - and the biggest cause of New Year debt. We asked our money-saving mum for some tips on everything else:
If you've got guests joining you, ask them to bring a bottle of something that has not been drunk yet from their booze cabinet (it's a win, win for both of you). Christmas is all about having fun so the more obscure the better (Ouzo from Greece, 2011, anyone?) Also, ask them to bring any half opened drinks that have not yet been finished.
For the non-drinkers, Tesco's fizzy white grape spring water costs just 45p a litre and always goes down very well. Or how about J20 which supermarkets often reduce to £3 for 6 bottles around Christmas.
Bargain hunter who's basically finished her Christmas shopping reveals how to cut your own festive bill in half this year
And for the gifts...
"I'll be gifting my two sons (13 and 8) a Nintendo Switch this year. But, I've decided to make it a joint present as it'll be kept in the lounge for everyone to play with. I've warned them that this year's gift will be a shared one - and that means less tidying up for them, too! It is also about giving them that important life lesson of learning to share."
But while sharing is caring, it's still hundreds of pounds in expenses for Louise and her partner - so here's how they've knocked it down.
"I bought 2 games for the Nintendo Switch for free with gift vouchers I earned from cashback from my John Lewis credit card (if you opt for one, always pay in full to avoid interest). You get points for all purchases and I managed to earn £80 over the course of the year.
What are cashback websites and can they really save you money? All your questions answered
"I also bought a lot of toys during Argos' 2 for £15 sale. Black Friday always helps, too."
But when it comes to spending money - Louise says it's also important to remember those that aren't so fortunate.
"I think the only thing I have paid full price for is Christmas cards this year because I bought them directly from the hospice who looked after a close relative that recently died.
"I know that there are plenty of Christmas cards that are 3 for 2 out there at the moment (Waitrose) but that was something that was too important for me not to save on."
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"Christmas is a wonderful time but it doesn't have to leave you without a penny to your pocket, come Boxing Day.
"Our low-cost dinner went down really well with the family and everyone almost cleared their plates apart from a few odd potatoes here and there.
"I've learnt that you can definitely have a lovely Christmas dinner that tastes delicious for less, but the most important thing is being around the table together and telling naff Christmas jokes."provided by