This is a stressful and ridiculous time of year. I’ve started turning off notifications for things, stopped checking my alternate email (the one where I keep all the newsletters and promo emails), and am avoiding regular television, magazines, and malls like the plague. It’s still a few weeks away from Black Friday/Cyber Monday/Giving Tuesday, and already companies are holding sales and sending coupons and donation reminders.
It’s just nuts.
If I could ask for anything for Christmas it would be to stop asking me what I want for Christmas.
Sure, I take part in holiday gift-giving, which makes me a bit of a hypocrite. There are still Secret Santa parties and a deserving husband I spend money on. But when I read that Canadian adults plan to spend on average $766 and American adults plan to spend on average $830 (2015 numbers), I want to throw up because most of the stuff they’ll spend their money on is crap that no one really needs.
How much of your holiday spending ends up on your credit card, and how long does it take for you to pay that credit card off?
More importantly, are you buying things for people because you truly want to spend your hard-earned dollars on things your gift receivers don’t need, or are you caught up in the holiday frenzy and potential guilt you’ll feel if you show up to Christmas with a bag full of nothing?
I don’t know about you, but my apartment is full of stuff. Literally, there are no extra counter tops, shelves, or hangers left. I get anxious during Christmas, because I don’t know where I’ll put things I receive. It makes me sick to think I even own this much stuff to begin with, knowing there are so many people in the world whose basic needs aren’t even met.
Of course, a lot of things that clutter my home have sentimental value, like the melted crayon “painting” my nieces made, the piles of books I’ve read and loved, the records we listen to when we’re not too lazy to change them on the record player every 10 minutes. Even though I love these things, I know there is no more room for more of them. Get a bigger home? (just kidding).
Lately, I’ve been asking a lot of people what their level of financial literacy was as a child. There are kids who receive piles of Christmas gifts, but will never be able to afford college without a student loan. There are kids who scream for chocolate while Mom resignedly adds a Twix to her grocery cart. That kid doesn’t have a piggy bank or know that if he did a few chores, he could earn the money for his own chocolate bar.
What about saving and investing, going to university, traveling the world, starting a small business, or supporting a social cause? Things that really give back.
I know…saving for the long run and being responsible with money is super boring. We live for instant gratification and the rush you get when you rip the paper from a gift to find something shiny and new, followed by the gratitude you feel towards the gift-giver, and the buzz you have from your Christmas-morning-mimosa. It’s an ultra-rewarding experience psychologically, so it’s no surprise we look forward to it. It’s like crack or skydiving.
What about a Christmas morning where instead of circling the tree like a vulture, you learned Grandma’s recipe for homemade bread, took the kids sledding with other families (and some spiked cocoa), or played cards and board games. Is it so hard for us to be together without the day’s biggest event involving garbage bags full of packaging?
And if someone needs something, why wait until Christmas to give it to them? Does it really need the ceremony?
If you feel pressure to buy gifts you don’t want or can’t afford to buy, then don’t do it. You don’t have to spend your money this way. There is no rule saying that God will smite you if you don’t buy Joey a watch. He has a phone if he really needs to tell the time.
It’s not worth it if you feel resentful or depressed because now you can’t afford a summer holiday or that class you’ve been eyeing, or groceries.
That guilt? It’s not from your family. It’s been embedded in your mind by marketers and companies who make a hefty living off of your emotional shopping. They spend a lot of their own money and hire experts that know exactly what buttons to push to make you line up outside the Apple store the night before a big sale.
Don’t even get me started on inflated sales. Time recently published an article on this you should read if you think you get good deals this time of year.
Your family will be fine without gifts. You’ll be fine without gifts. You’ve survived this long without the things on your Christmas list. People love homemade cookies as much as they love a new set of glassware.
Christmas has become an excuse for impulse buying. And people are master rationalizers. You can always make up an excuse for buying a gift, like “Mom would look great in this colour” or “Ellen bought me such a nice birthday gift, she deserves to get something even better from me.”
If you love giving (and kudos to you if you do it out of love, not compulsion), then here are some holiday suggestions from a mom with too much stuff. Instead of stressing each other out with all the stuff, let’s talk about how we can make life easier for each other.
And if you really love Christmas shopping, but you can’t afford it this year, save for next year instead of relying on your credit card. Divide the amount you’d like to spend by 10 and start saving that much each month starting in January. Your family and friends will still be there to receive your gifts next year.
Christmas doesn’t have to be stressful. The whole point is that you get paid days off to spend time with people you love (unless you’re like me and paid days off are a thing of the past). Do something amazing, whatever that means to you. Turn on your adblockers, fast forward commercials, do whatever you have to do to get yourself out of the Christmas consumerism craziness. On Christmas day, show up for someone and instead of thrusting an overly decorated box into their arms give them a hug like you mean it. Make phone calls. Be a mindful human.