Turn a grimace into a smile



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With the cost of Christmas 2014 rising 10 per cent above the rate of inflation and up 19 per cent on the halcyon days of 2007, it's probably as well that Santa comes just once a year....

With the cost of Christmas 2014 rising 10 per cent above the rate of inflation and up 19 per cent on the halcyon days of 2007, it's probably as well that Santa comes just once a year.

According to research from The Sunday Times, increases in the price of "essentials" such as food, presents, cards and stamps are to blame. But hey, Christmas is Christmas - we Brits are used to being up to our necks in debt and this year will surely be no exception.

Latest Bank of England figures show consumer borrowing leaping 6.4 per cent in the year to October, on the assumption that seductive interest rates will remain for ever - an apparition that has taken on a new significance since we finally embraced Black Friday.

One measurement alone of the impact of this US import is enough to bring me out in a cold sweat. The UK having finally got to grips with the concept, Black Friday delivered the biggest ever week for sales in John Lewis's 150 year trading history.  

Overall sales were up 22 per cent on last year with online sales recording 42 per cent year-on-year growth. Several stores achieved record takings on Black Friday itself, including Oxford Street, York, Southampton, Liverpool, Ipswich and Tamworth.

Good news for some retailers but how about the consumer? The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) reckons that the ratio of household liabilities verses incomes is set to increase, with liabilities steaming ahead to 184 per cent of incomes over the next five years. That compares with 169 per cent in 2008 and we all know what happened next!

It's as if we never learn that history is prone to repeating itself, especially at Christmas. Personally, I think the up-and-coming festive season should be less about baubles and more about trees. Sorry if that doesn't sound much like Xmas cheer but hey ho, it will soon be Easter ... marketed from end of December actually.

You see, it is generally accepted that trees make people happy, as does an unexpected kindness, particularly from a stranger. So I am recommending a slowdown on credit-funded consumerism and a shift towards "Pay It Forward", a global initiative that acts as an antidote to Black Friday.

To sum up from the Pay it Forward website, "one good deed might not seem like much, but if everyone did something good for someone else, then the cycle of generosity and kindness can spark us to become better people".

This year, over 500,000 people across 60 countries signed up for Pay it Forward Day and the movement is still gaining momentum. All you needed to do to take part is perform one good deed. Then tell the recipient you don't want anything in return but for him/her to "pay it forward" to the next person they meet who could do with a hand or a handout. You will get a bigger buzz than when Christmas shopping and instead of paying credit card interest you are investing in a more compassionate and cheerful society.

We can't change the predictions that we will be up to our necks in debt again shortly (if we ever got out of it) but if we do something good for someone else, then the cycle of generosity and kindness will take on a life of its own - for good. That should make Santa smile.

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