Christmas is coming up on us fast, and if you haven't started saving for it yet, you should. Americans and Canadians alike are spending ridiculous amounts of money on Christmas gifts every year, and it seems like the frenzy is starting earlier and earlier every year.
Although spending on Christmas presents isn't as crazy high as it was in the early 2000's before the economic slow down, the average American still spent $646 on presents in 2011. $646?! That's a month of extra debt payments! It seems that even though wallets are getting thinner every year, the pile under that tree keeps getting bigger, and it needs to stop.
Now, I'm not going to go all Scrooge on you and act like Christmas is just another example of frivolous spending and we should all do the morally superior thing and just spend time together, and that should be enough.
I get it, giving and receiving presents is fun. But does it have to be so much? A couple of presents would make me more than happy, and only having to spend money on a couple of presents, would make me even happier.
My extended family has made a bit of a note on the excessiveness of our Christmas gift giving over the last few years and we've collectively taken some steps to reduce that burden. We still give gifts, and we still make it a priority to spend time together, but with a little creativity, we've managed to make our Christmas a little less about the presents, and a little easier on the budget. Here are some of the changes we made:
I have several sisters and instead of buying each of them a small gift of limited meaning and value, we trade names and are able to put more time into a nice gift for one person. There was a little resistance to the idea initially, but it's really caught on as a great way to reduce the number of presents we have to buy while still being able to give a nice gift. We used to draw names out of a hat, but we're so scattered across the country at this point that we've resorted to an electronic secret santa picker.
I think every household has a version of how to play Yankee Swap, but this is how we play it: Everyone brings a gift, they all go into a pile. We are then all distributed an even number of playing cards (the whole deck divided evenly). There is a card picker who will pull cards from a separate deck. If your card is pulled, you can either take a gift from the pile, or steal an already opened gift from someone else. Once your cards are gone, you're out of turns.
There's a bit of an art to making this type of game fun. If your group of people has a history of getting into fist fights over a game of monopoly, then this type of present swap might not be for you. To make sure the game is all in good fun, the criteria for the present is: It must be worth around $10, and must be something you already had in your house – it's a great game for regifting and it keeps the value of the presents low enough that the focus is more on the fun and less on the material worth. If someone introduces an iPod into the mix, be prepared for the gloves to come off.
Some people might think that gift cards are tacky, but I personally love them. I don't think they're impersonal at all. In fact, I think they're the most useful thing you could get a person (provided it's to a store they actually shop at). I love useful gifts, I love receiving gifts that are not only thoughtful, but is something I'll actually use! If I'm really worried about being perceived as impersonal, I'll include a personal note about how the gift card is meant to go towards the value of a more expensive item, so that the gift receiver can get something he or she really wanted but couldn't quite afford.
More Fun, Less Stuff
Being the minimalist that I am, I'm always happy when less stuff makes it's way into my home. When it comes to gift giving, as much as I like gifts, I'd rather have fewer gifts that have had some real thought put into them, than a bunch of stuff that I don't need and am never going to use.
How about you? Do you feel like Christmas is overly commercialized?
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