Is your attitude to Christmas presents changing?

Merry Christmas everyone, even though I’m a little bit late! I’ve been enjoying the festive season too much and haven’t stayed on top of my posting schedule. Anyway, I thought I’d bring you a fresh post today that I have just written in light of my Christmas experiences this year, and it’s about how my attitude to Christmas presents has changed in more recent years…

Ebenezer Scrooge: Some personal finance bloggers almost come across as having a "Bah Humbug" attitude to Christmas presents, but I'm a long way from Dickens' iconic character.

Ebenezer Scrooge: Some personal finance bloggers almost come across as having a “Bah Humbug” attitude to Christmas presents, but I’m a long way from Dickens’ iconic character.

A large proportion of bloggers in the FI/RE community have almost a “no Christmas presents” attitude altogether, but I like to think that my current attitude is a little bit different. That’s not to say that it won’t get to a “no Christmas presents” attitude at some point in the future, but for now it has certainly evolved to something quite different to what it was five years ago…

My previous theory

If I went back say five years, I wasn’t dissimilar to any other typical hyper-consumer, with my attitude to Christmas presents being “the more the better”. When I had this attitude it wasn’t uncommon for us to spend anywhere between $1,500 and $2,000 on Christmas presents (and this didn’t include kids), and we didn’t even set a budget for it.

As part of this approach, we would judge the level of gift giving on the amount of money spent as well, so you didn’t really know whether you had bought the right amount of presents until you had spent enough money. It’s odd that “enough presents” was measured by how much you had spent in dollar terms, rather than how much thought had gone into it, or the amount of satisfaction you thought the recipient might get from the gift.

In addition to this approach to buying gifts, we also did nothing to discourage the volume of gifts purchased, and when we received an inappropriate/unwanted/entirely pointless gift we just grinned and thought nothing more of it. Another thing to put on the shelf, and as accumulators of “stuff” (like the typical hyper-consumer) it almost made you feel good to receive more crap that you could then store in your excessive amount of storage space.

Eventually however I entered a transition where this approach started to change. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, and it wasn’t about the amount of money spent, but I eventually became frustrated in giving gifts to people that they didn’t want and wouldn’t use, and even more frustrated in receiving gifts that I would then just have to store or give away when they weren’t paying attention. It all seemed just so wasteful.

My current theory

This brings me to my current theory, which is one where I’m very happy to purchase gifts for people, and receive gifts in return, but I’ll do my best to make sure that they’re gifts that I actually want and that the recipients want as well.

Often this means that I have to tell them what I want, and I would even ask them what they wanted in return, and while this seemed to take some of the “magic” out of Christmas initially, it has reached a point where it actually brings more satisfaction for all parties as the amount of waste (through unwanted gifts) is greatly reduced. Less wasted presents, means more money saved, and less hassle from having to get rid of unwanted gifts (e.g. by returning them to the store of purchase, selling on eBay, taking them to the charity shop, or just plain throwing them into the rubbish bin). This theory seems to work fairly well for most people, but not everyone…

Some family members are hard to handle in this area

Unfortunately this approach isn’t as practical for some people in the family, with my mother being the perfect example. Mum takes great pleasure in shopping (she goes to the shops practically every day, she just can’t help herself), and while she puts a lot of thought into her gifts they usually end up being wildly off the mark. If I don’t tell her exactly what I want (and often she doesn’t want to be told what to buy), then I need to mentally prepare myself for a gift that will be more of a burden than anything.

A "valet": I previously thought that these were the people who parked your car at a hotel, or a personal manservant in old-time England, but no, valets are also timber pieces of furniture that can handle one tiny piece of your wardrobe. I'm not sure what you're supposed to do with the rest of your wardrobe.

A “valet”: I previously thought that these were the people who parked your car at a hotel, or a personal manservant in old-time England, but no, valets are also timber pieces of furniture that can handle one tiny piece of your wardrobe. I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do with the rest of your wardrobe though!

A good example is a couple of years back when my mother purchased me a “valet”, which is a fancy sort of clothes hanger that they obviously used back in the day. Never mind that this day was probably when rich people had servants to dress them as well, and that the invention of the wardrobe has meant that such valets are entirely pointless now.

I tried to feign enthusiasm for the valet (“Thanks Mum, I can hang one of my suits on this”), but try as I might I couldn’t stop myself from thinking that it was just a ridiculous piece of furniture. I didn’t have room for it in my house, and I didn’t want to have room for it, plus I hang all of my suits in our walk in wardrobe that also has plenty of storage space for my cufflinks, ties, belts and any other paraphernalia that I need for work.

So what did I do with the valet? I put it into the shed for a few months, and then when I was sure that Mum had forgotten about it I listed it on eBay. Research showed that it had a retail price of $99, and from memory I managed to sell it for $43. A woman had bought it who was probably about my mother’s age I’m guessing, and she sent her daughter around to pick it up as she lived in a different city. When her daughter (who was probably only a few years younger than me) saw it she made a face that said “what the hell is that thing for?”, and I wondered whether her mother had a way of buying inappropriate things just like mine!

After the drama of the valet I tried to tell my father that we didn’t want any more presents at all (I figure that I’d rather receive no presents than to have Mum waste money on inappropriate clutter), but he was immediately offended. He countered with “you know that your mother enjoys buying you gifts”, which was then pretty hard to argue with. I know that she likes giving gifts, as it ties in perfectly with her love of spending money and going to the shops to buy things! I therefore shouldn’t have been surprised that what I got this year was also ridiculous – two strange shelves/coat racks that seem to serve the same purpose but don’t match, are made of different wood, and are completely inappropriate in size. At least this year Dad had a quiet word to me and said that he thought that they were pointless gifts and he tried to talk her out of them, but he obviously didn’t win!

The future of gifts in our family

I’m sure that our gift giving/receiving will continue to evolve over time, but I hope to incorporate some basics to make it less painful/wasteful/expensive for everyone, including:

  1. Implement a “Secret Santa”/”Kris Kringle” system so that in a group (say me and my siblings) you only have to buy for one of them rather than all of them, up to a maximum limit.
  2. If you know who has to buy for you, think of something that you want that’s in the price range, and tell them. If it needs to be purchased online (as a lot of my things are) then help that person buy it online if they aren’t very good at that sort of thing (that would be my mother).
  3. Don’t buy for nieces and nephews, as they already get enough toys from their parents and grandparents.
  4. Don’t buy cheap junk or poor quality items, as they will just end up thrown in the bin or given away when they start to break down, and people don’t like getting poor quality gifts. It doesn’t mean that you need to spend a fortune, just pick a gift where its price range (from poor quality to good quality) is within the price range that you think is within your budget.
  5. Talk to your spouse about what you both want. If this seems unromantic, then maybe buy each other a known gift, and then buy each other one or two smaller unknown gifts that you are fairly confident that they will like. That way there’s still some surprises on the day.
  6. Set a budget for how much you will spend.

We do all of the above things now in our family, and with the exception of my mother the gift-giving seems to go quite well. Admittedly we need to do a bit more work on the budget for gifts, but this is a challenge because in some ways we are forced into spending at a certain level based on what other family members spend. I’m sure that this will be better-controlled over time as well though, as everyone is growing up and is starting families so Christmas can be an expensive time that makes them watch their hip-pockets a bit more. Only time will tell though!

So what about you? Has your attitude towards Christmas presents changed over time? If yes (or no) then we’d love to hear from you.

IA.

4 thoughts on “Is your attitude to Christmas presents changing?

  1. I guess I’m a little bit of a Scrooge. I just think it’s a waste to spend money on gifts people will never use or use once and then toss in their basement. I buy gifts for my direct family and their significant others which I put thought into. This year my girlfriend and I booked a one week vacation together instead of buying physical gifts, which I thought was awesome and a tradition I plan to keep going forward.

    • Yeah, people probably think that I’m a Scrooge too, but the whole waste thing really gets to me actually. I just see how much crap we throw out after Christmas and it all seems so pointless.

      The vacation idea with your girlfriend seems like a good one actually – just as long as the vacation doesn’t cost you a fortune every year!

  2. Since I was about 12 my family did the Secret Santa where we would create a Top5 Christmas list, place it into a hat and draw out another family member’s name. Each person would then spend $30-$50 on one or two of the items on that list. Needless to say we didn’t have a lot of ‘bad’ gifts being given.
    These days Mrs DN and I prefer to either pay for the Christmas food, or contribute in other ways financially such as renting the cabin where the family gathered for an early Christmas this year. We only had one rule for our family members: no gifts that can’t be eaten, drunk, or otherwise consumed (such as candles) before next Christmas.
    It was great, none of those awkward “wow, thanks so much for this fish platter which I have almost no use for and is too big for me to fit in any of my cupboards” moments.

    • Yeah, we do the Secret Santa thing as well, but we aren’t as disciplined in giving people ideas of things that we actually want. I’ll put that on the improvement list for next year.

      I really like the idea of gifts that you “consume” rather than store – it would ensure that you aren’t continually accumulating more stuff in your life, not to mention reducing landfill!

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