Get it right this Christmas with shopping tips from Rachel Riley

When it comes to Christmas shopping ‘you have to love a spreadsheet,’ says celebrity mathematician Rachel Riley. Read on for more of her tips in our Q&A…

09 Dec 2016


Struggling to find the right presents for the right people this Christmas?

We caught up with Countdown and Sky Sports star Rachel Riley to ask how she plans to get it right this year.

The celebrity mathematician tells us how surreptitious questions, wish-lists and spreadsheets, and the ability to pick up on hints are all key.

Rachel spoke to us after lending her mathematical mastermind to our get it right formula alongside Essex University statistician Dr Dai. The formula helps you work out your probability of getting your presents right this Christmas.

Here’s what Rachel had to say about Christmas shopping…

On the advantages of maths…

TechTalk: You’re known for being particularly good with numbers – does this give you a head start when it comes to buying gifts?

Rachel: ‘It gives me a head start in getting the best prices for gifts and making a budget for the large numbers of people to buy for – that doesn't necessarily always equate to sticking to it though!’


On tackling hard-to-buy-for types…

TechTalk: You’re the queen of conundrums – how will you tackle the toughest person to buy for on your list?

Rachel: ‘I much prefer buying a gift that the recipient can open and hopefully enjoy on Christmas morning rather than having a gift voucher to play with, so I'll try to surreptitiously test the water with present ideas before I take the plunge. 

‘Often I'll use white lies about friends’ mums/boyfriends/puppies being bought certain things to see what kind of reaction my toughie will give, but the old adage of it's the thought that counts is what I go by. And the newer adage of there's always the receipt is the backup!’


On spreadsheets and holding it all together…

TechTalk: How important is being organised when it comes to Christmas shopping? Is it worth knocking up a spreadsheet?

Rachel: ‘Absolutely! Every year the number of people I need to buy for seems to get bigger and bigger, especially now being in my 30s so many friends have husbands and babies, without at least a list I'm lost

‘Spreadsheets help even more as I prefer giving presents in person and as the clock ticks down so quickly to Christmas get-togethers you need to be more organised.  And all those benefits before you even get to budget planning, you have to love a spreadsheet!’ 

On the rules and etiquette of hinting…

TechTalk: When it comes to hinting for gifts, is there a code of conduct? How many hints, how obvious, and should the focus be on a single product or broader?

Rachel: ‘It's a difficult one but I enjoy giving presents more than receiving and of course everyone wants to buy something the recipient will like, so if you're asked for a hint, it's better to give one

‘Budgets are awkward so make sure you give a range of options so the buyer can feel like they've actually chosen something you'll like, and something they can comfortably afford. Whether that's a list of specific items to choose from or a generic idea depends on your wishlist and how much you trust the taste of the buyer! If you don't give a hint and end up with another pair of socks for the drawer you'll only have yourself to blame.’


On finding the time to shop around work…

TechTalk: Your current TV work includes Countdown and also Sky Sports’ Friday Night Football – how will you fit in your Christmas shopping between filming? 

Rachel: ‘It's lovely having a different schedule each week as it normally means I can beat the crowds and sneak into the shops on a Monday daytime. Inevitably indecision in present-choosing will mean a lot of things still get left to the last minute, which often leads to overspending in a blind panic in my case!  

‘I always like to make sure I'm buying in the right timeframe so if the present isn't quite right the receipt can come in handy. Price match guarantees in places like Currys PC World where you can get a lot of gifts in one place are a godsend!’


On the perfect gift for stattos…  

TechTalk: What’s the perfect gift for someone who loves numbers? We’d have a guess at a fitness tracker.

Rachel: ‘All of my friends are in competitive leagues with each other on that front actually! I quite like my cycling, so cycle computers let me do the same thing while I'm pedalling rather than stepping. 

‘I work away from home a lot as well so a connected home device (say a smart thermostat that learns your routines and programs itself) that will allow me to save energy while I'm away is top of my list this year.’


Still struggling for inspiration? Get it right with our top Christmas gifts.