Christmas is a time of year when everyone feels pressured to overspend and overstretch themselves to buy gifts for others. Adverts and media bombard us with the idea that we’re not worthy unless we buy mountains of expensive gifts. It can be particularly difficult for families where mum and dad feel like they’re expected to shower their little ones with presents not only from themselves but Santa also.
The result is that Christmas becomes a stressful occasion instead of the joyous one; it's meant to be with some people experiencing financial hardship well into the new year. Some individuals find themselves in serious debt after shelling out for the Christmas they felt they had to deliver.
The bottom line is that most shops and businesses make their money during the Christmas period, so it's in their best interest to get you to part with your cash. But do we need all those generic gift sets, plastic toys, and novelty items?
The answer is most likely no. If there's one thing the world doesn't need, it's more stuff. Our houses are brimming with stuff, and modern living has meant that we already have what we need in addition to an attic or garage filled with stuff that's surplus to our requirements.
Despite what the adverts say, Christmas should be a time of cherishing our relationships and spending time with our loved ones, not drowning in a pile of gifts that will soon be forgotten or left to on a shelf to collect dust.
Children, in particular, become easily overwhelmed by too many gifts and find themselves with more toys than they could ever possibly play with - let alone value.
But, how do we begin to reduce the amount we give and spend while making the gifts we do give worthwhile?
Four gift rule
One way to reduce the amount of gift-giving that is gaining momentum is the four gift rule:
● Something needed
● Something wanted
● Something to wear
● Something to read
Each member of the family gets something they need - a new bag to replace a broken one, for example. Something they want - like a new game or toy, something to wear - new jeans to replace worn ones or a new scarf for the cold weather and finally, something to read - a good book or Kindle voucher.
This way, gifts end up being worthwhile but manageable from a budget perspective, and no one becomes overwhelmed with gifts.
Experiences instead of gifts
Another way to reduce the amount we buy is to invest in providing experiences rather than gifts. A family day out to a theme park or the zoo will be appreciated far more than the latest plastic toy that will be long forgotten in a month or two.
Theatre tickets, lessons for sports, cooking, arts, and crafts, cinema vouchers, spa days provide a thoughtful gift without adding to the burden of yet more "stuff" and can often be the same price or cheaper than a physical gift.
Spend your money in the right places
Don't feed the corporate monster. Instead, go to local or small, independent businesses for your gift-buying needs. Small companies are often more ethical, sustainable, and don't ship their goods in from China. By supporting independent businesses, you'll help them thrive as well as receiving quality; handmade, unique products made to last.
Give to charity
Christmas is meant to be a time of giving, but that doesn't have to be limited to gifts. Think beyond your own family and see how you could make a difference this year. It's an excellent opportunity to instill charitable giving into your kids and help them learn that Christmas isn't just about getting presents.
● Have purge of your stuff before Christmas. Get the kids to gather up toys they no longer play with and take a trip to the local charity shop to give them away
● Sign up for some volunteering at homeless shelters or other causes that require extra hands over the Christmas period
● Go through your warm clothes and shoes and give away anything you don’t need or use to charities that support the homeless
● Donate Christmas goodies and treats to foodbanks
Talk to the family about gift giving
People with large families can often end up spending a fortune just to make sure everyone gets a present. Or, because there are so many people to buy for, each person ends up receiving a cheap gift they neither need or want.
Instead of this pointless buying exercise, talk to the family about how to reduce the amount given, and spent each year. For example, you could decide to:
● Agree only to buy gifts for the children
● Arrange a secret Santa, so each person only has to buy one gift
● Restrict gift buying to immediate family members only
● Instead of gifts, have a big family get-together or party where everyone contributes to food
A word on Santa
Children adore the idea of Santa leaving them a stocking of goodies, so while it's great to keep this exciting tradition alive, it's also important not to go overboard.
For kids, it’s the thrill of waking up to the surprise that matters, not the gifts themselves. A few nice edible treats and a couple of books or smalls toys is all you need for their stockings.
Make this Christmas the first where you don't feel stressed about what you give and what you spend. By reducing the number of gifts we give and only giving something worthwhile, you can step off the consumerist hamster wheel and spend less time worrying and more time with loved ones.