“Christmas is the season when you buy this year's gifts with next year's money.” – Author Unknown
Any happy illusions I had about the Holiday season still being a distant, snow-covered dream were shattered when I made the mistake of wandering into the mall this past weekend. I think every single one of my senses was assaulted simultaneously by an avalanche of Christmas inspired décor and creative marketing. (An avalanche that made me feel instantly guilty that high-end electronics and expensive jewelry didn’t feature anywhere on my list of things to buy the people I love!) I do my best to avoid malls, especially on weekends, but the huge number of cars in the parking lot suggests that I’m in the minority. So, how do you keep your holiday spending under control and resist the temptation to add just one more thing to the large pile of gifts already stacked at the back of your closet? Here are some suggestions on how to spend less this holiday season:
Make a List. Check it Twice.
There’s a lot to be said for planning and forethought at this time of year. Taking the time to make a list means that you’re less likely to be drawn to making impulse purchases and more likely to find something for your favourite Uncle George that a) he’ll actually like and b) fits within your budget. Once you’ve made your list, check it over to see if you actually need to buy gifts for every single person on the list. Often times we buy for the same people every year out of habit. If there are people on your list who you know wouldn’t be offended (and might even be a bit relieved) if you didn’t buy them a gift, perhaps this year is the year to just send a card or to make plans to hang out instead.
Set a Limit. Buy Within It.
It’s important to remember that the holiday season is a very profitable one for retailers. This is especially true when it comes to impulse purchases. Placing “deals” and “special offers” at the entrance, at the end of aisles and in store windows makes it much more likely that consumers will pick them up. Placing holiday “essentials” such as gift wrap, cards and chocolates near the back of the store means that the customer has to walk past endless tempting displays on the way to and from the item they actually came in to buy. Try going shopping with a definite budget in mind and sticking to it. If you can manage to get through your holiday shopping without using credit cards then leave them at home so you’re not tempted to overspend because of an amazing deal that’s just too good to pass up.
Online shopping has three key advantages. Firstly you can shop anytime you like without leaving your home. Secondly, you can go straight to the item you actually want without having to sift through every other product the retailer has to offer. Thirdly, you can often get free shipping which is especially useful if the person you’re buying for lives far enough away that you’ll have to mail their gift. I have family overseas and I love the fact that I can purchase things from a UK retailer and have them shipped for free. It saves me a fortune in postage! I also love the fact that I can find unique and unusual gifts online that I might not be able to find at major retail stores and, often, I'm supporting independent businesses by buying them.
The Magic of Gift Certificates.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m not a big gift person. I love to buy them but I’m not especially excited about receiving them. Gift cards are the one exception. I love gift cards because they give me an excuse to treat myself to things that I might not necessarily splurge on. Nowadays you can get gift certificates for so much more than just retail stores which can make them creative rather than boring gifts. I’ve given gift certificates for beginner flying lessons, hotel stays, family photo sessions and even studio time for an aspiring musician. They were all really well received. Gift certificates can also be a great way to give with your time instead of your dollars – offering to cook dinner for a friend or to babysit so that they can enjoy a night out are often more appreciated than the kind of gift you can buy in a store.
Pay it Forward
When I was married, my in-laws and I would take a trip to the mall and, instead of buying gifts for each other, we would each choose a child from the “tree of angels” that was set up by a local radio station to help local kids in need and buy a gift for them instead. It was nice to know that, rather than adding to the pile of gifts under our own tree, we were making sure a local child had at least one gift under theirs. Lots of charities offer ways to help others during the holiday season and it can be a great way for friends, siblings and co-workers to share the spirit of the season and benefit others.
No matter what your faith or cultural traditions, the holiday season is traditionally a time of giving. While our favourite retailers would have us believe that this means spending vast amounts on expensive items, the reality is that you can show how much you care about someone in a multitude of ways and not all of them have to involve spending money or spending hours in crowded stores trying to find just the right thing. If you love the malls then I am the last person to suggest you should stay away but, if you’re looking to simplify your gift giving this year, then it might be worth considering some alternative ways to show you care.
If you have any suggestions for great gifts that you’ve given or received then I’d love to hear them!