One Boxing Day I stumbled across a message exchange between some (well-to-do) members of our youth group. They had listed the gifts they’d received, totted up their monetary value and added a few editorial notes to the list. It went something like this:
Microsoft Xbox £225 (yes!)
Pizza Express vouchers £25 (bet they got it free)
Vue vouchers £12
2 Zara shirts £60 (I chose them)
Ski jacket £200
Rugby boots £30 (shouldn’t that be part of school uniform?)
Total £657 so far (Grandparents coming for dinner tonight!)
Not too bad, £120 better than last year.
Apart from the cynical responses to the various gifts—which are enough to deflate anyone’s festive balloon—it neatly sums up our uneasy relationship with Christmas gift giving. Has it become a competitive sport? Do we feel the need to exceed previous targets in an effort not to feel mean? The expectation is that Christmas is a time for splashing out but how much should we spend?
Each year, my wife and I debate how much we’re going to spend. We always set a limit, then we inevitably go over it and spend January and February recovering. Our discussions are often not just about the amount but the relative value: is this more than we spent last year? Is this more than the value of the present they gave us last year? Are we giving them equal amounts? If we get a bargain does it count as much?
None of these questions are helpful. They focus on the money rather than the good will. So what advice can we offer? Actually, the amount is not important, it’s the thought you put it into it and the reason you buy it (or make it) that matters.
Here are nine hints:
- If in doubt, spend less. If times are hard, agree a token amount.
- In January make a list of people to whom you will give presents next Christmas, allocate a maximum amount for each person/family and then develop the habit of thinking about potential presents every time you end up in a store or shopping on line.
- Listen carefully and make a note. When someone expresses an interest in something (Chinese art, gardening, perfume, a book) jot it down for later reference.
- If you have a creative skill, use it to give presents. My sister-in-law once gave each family group a set of family photographs in a frame. My brother designs and prints his own Christmas cards. Write a poem, record a song, paint a picture, grow a plant, bake a cake.
- Presents don’t have to be sensible or functional – mainly they should give pleasure and joy. Things that look good, taste good or sound good often work well!
- Holidays are a good point at which to buy presents. You have time to browse, get new ideas and stock up.
- Don’t get drawn into the 3 for 2 offers or ‘ideal Christmas Gift’ displays – you’ll end up buying something that the shops want you to buy—not what suits the person—and possibly spending more in the long-run.
- Work with the rest of the family to buy a more valuable joint present for one person.
- Save up your Nectar or Clubcard points all year long and spend them on Christmas food.
One way to get perspective and stay cheerful is to link your spending to your giving. Here are 5 tips:
- For every pound spent on food and drink put 10p, or 50p, or some other amount on one side and then give it to a charity that feeds the hungry, or buy similar items for the local foodbank.
- For every pound you spend on a gift for someone, spend an equal amount on a gift for the poor (such as the Samaritan’s Purse shoebox appeal).
- Why not try a Reverse Advent (http://eatnorth.com/eat-north/julie-van-rosendaals-reverse-advent-calendar#.VlosHt0N0q4.facebook). Instead of opening a little door and taking out a chocolate you open a bigger door and put in something yummy to give away.
- Look at your budget and allocate the same amount to buying presents for Christmas as you give to your church or favourite charity in one month. So, if you are giving £250pm to your church plus £100pm to a charity, allocate £350 to Christmas presents (or make up your own equation).
- Think you got it about right last year? If so, stick to that budget. If not, was it too high or too low? Take your lead from what you spent in 2015.
Most importantly it should be fun. The Bible says, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Let’s give cheerfully this Christmas.
What are your ideas and tips?