Christmas is a few weeks away now, and, as a parent, I've started to look at my budget for presents for the brats.
It seems now more than ever, despite the credit crisis still effecting lots of families, toys and tech is ever increasing in price. Most toys now start at £15, with some reaching well over £100. If you have older children who want the latest games console, for example, the latest XBox One, you wont have much change left from £370.
So, whilst the majority of us will think about how we'd love to buy everything our little cherubs write on their list, most will take a small selection and buy what we can afford.
For others, they find another way- the pay day loan or Brighthouse.
I decided to test Brighthouse after hearing some horror stories from friends who have been taken in by their glitzy adverts.
Brighthouse is the largest rent-to-own company in the UK with 270 shops in High Streets from South to North. They offer their "customers" the chance to own those "must have items" like iPhones and TVs, and rather than saving up for these luxuries, they can take them away almost straight off for a relatively small amount.
Sounds easy? The adverts certainly make it sound very simple.
They use normal looking mum characters who, for example, have had their pesky and much used washing machine go bang, and then show them happily putting their feet up after Brighthouse solves their issue- they even watch a big, pricey TV with their cuppa courtesy of Brighthouse, of course.
Its almost like Brighthouse paint itself as a modern day Fairy Godmother. However, when I saw this advert, I wondered why the Mum wouldn't simply claim from her home insurance, or use a laundrette. She could even have advertised on Freecycle, or bought a good second hand model for under £50 from eBay or Gumtree.
Sadly, for every person who feels like me that these ads are too good to be true, there are those who are taken in.
So, just how easy is it to become a Brighthouse customer?
I picked a random product- a laptop- from their site, and in under 1 minute I was offered it. All they asked for was my address, phone number and email address, along with my marital status (all very easy to fake as they only ask for proof of your bank details to be brought into store).
If I had of decided to proceed, for £17 a week I could have had a top of the range Samsung model.
£17 a week doesn't sound like much really. And when you consider you would need to walk into a regular retailer with between £250 and £300 for the same Samsung model, that's not going to be possible for everyone, especially at Christmas.
However, when you read further, and yes, Brighthouse does make the full pay back clear on the site (although its a scroll down the page and its not clear right at the top what the interest is, in fact it makes more effort to tell you the spec and its £17 a week) you will pay 94.7% APR over the time you owe them money.
If you pay this loan off within 104 weeks (that's assuming you don't fall behind), you will pay a staggering £1,768 for a laptop.
That's an extra £1,468.
Not surprisingly, I wasn't in the market for that kind of mark up. No laptop is worth paying that much for (in fact, I think that was about the price of the first home PC my dad bought on Windows 95 in the mid 90s).
I had no intention of continuing with them. If I want a new laptop, I am much happier keeping an eye out for a bargain on second hand sites (my current laptop cost me a mere £20).
However, Brighthouse had my phone number and email address- part of the process to see whether they will take you on as a customer (and their owner, Caversham Finance promises they are a "responsible lender"). Once they have this, they will not leave you alone.
Since Thursday of last week, when I decided to investigate how easy it was to gain Brighthouse Customer status, I have been phoned 73 times on my mobile, from 8.30am until 9pm.
I have been bombarded with calls from the local store to me, telling me they are happy to sign me up for whichever "must have" my heart desires. They have left voicemails to this effect. All I need to do, they say, is bring in my bank details and I can walk out with a range of items!
As for my inbox, well, its the same story. Despite clicking "unsubscribe"on the first email I got, I have had several "are you sure?" type emails.
Even if you decide that, actually, its not a luxury item or must have enough for you to be ripped off, Brighthouse just does not leave you alone.
It can be tough being a parent in financially difficult times, and, to my mind, Brighthouse makes it their business to sign you up by playing on the need for ever more impressive consumer goods.
Saying that a top of the range mobile phone or laptop is a "must have" for instance. Since when?
They seem to really play on the heart strings of the less well off.
Brighthouse should be avoided, but sadly, it's obvious that many will be taken in and no doubt will still be paying for this Christmas for many more Christmases to come.
Yes, in an ideal world we'd all love to give the family every top item they would wish for. But, in the longer term, Christmas is about family, about being with your loved ones and enjoying yourself, and no amount of debt is going to change that. Once there are presents under the tree, the younger kids will be happy that Santa has come, whether they have a sensible amount spent on them or not.
It doesn't hurt children to say no, nor does it hurt to want an iPhone but to settle for a second hand lesser model that works. Giving it, whatever the price, is never a good lesson to teach your children, but Brighthouse would disagree if it means ever more customers lining their pockets.
The only people who gain from Brighthouse is the fat cats that own it.