Adverts for short-term loans are everywhere. These companies know that people are more cash-strapped than ever.
Austerity Christmas it is, then. Is it worth getting the giant inflatable Homer Simpson in a Santa suit out of the loft? Can you afford the illuminated parade of sparkly reindeer? Or, more importantly, can you afford the bills in January? And what can you do if you can't?
Those jolly companies who offer short-term loans -- with the 1000 per cent and 2000 per cent and sometimes nearly 3000 per cent APR figures not nearly as prominent as the smiling faces of the families who are HAPPY because they have CASH -- are filling up the advert breaks.
They're not dumb. Parasitic, perhaps; feasting on the misery of others, quite possibly; evil, well I wouldn't go that far -- but not dumb. They know that this year, more than many others in recent times, people are going to be feeling less festive about opening their wallets than ever before -- and they're offering the "buy now, pay much more later" solution to tide folk over.
Britain's been living on tick for a while now. With banks cheerfully whacking overdraft penalty payments onto the accounts of people who've overspent by a couple of quid, the never-never is getting more and more expensive.
But what do you do? Those of us who are fortunate enough to have paid employment are just clinging on and hoping that we're going to ride out the storm. Having been plunged into the void of joblessness earlier this year, I'm here to tell you that there are few better feelings than going back to work and feeling like you have a purpose in life again. Is it enough money to make everything all right again, though? Well, that's a different thing altogether.
This is the time of year when we're bombarded with aspirational messages that tap into our sense of entitlement. We want our lives to be like those glamorous people in adverts, swaggering from one crystal-embellished cocktail party to another; we think our children should be ignoring the mountain of presents at the foot of the John Lewis kid's bed in order to thank us for being so great, and buying them so many things.
Our leaders tell us that debt is bad, mmkay. For months, we've been lectured about how the economy is a bit like a credit card, which has been maxed out -- because we plebs are essentially thick, you see, we can't be trusted to handle concepts any more complex than the idea of a credit card -- and how everything now needs to be paid back. But how many of us are making the kind of swingeing household cuts that will see us pay everything back in a couple of years and get us back on track?
We don't mind so much if it's those nasty grasping public sector folk who are being bashed around the head and told they've got to cough up more pensions, because they were getting too much in the first place; but when it's us and our responsibility, we're not going to pay it back unless the red-topped letters start appearing.
There's a strange chasm, then, between what we're told to do by our leaders, on the one hand; and what the tempting short-term loan companies are (entirely legally) telling us on the other. Do we scrimp and save, or do we splurge now and regret it later? It could be a big, big hangover in the new year.