Just because December is here and consumer spending is supposedly up this shopping season over last, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time for you to get out there and start throwing your cash around. Of course this is probably what the federal government wants you to do in order to help bring the economy out from the depths of its current despair, but your own personal financial situation should not be dictated by the whims and wants of others.
We are often made to feel obligated to spend, and guilty if we don’t, by the economic powers that be and the advertising of retailers. Just the other day, I saw a statistic that said the average holiday shopper spends in excess of $600 for gift-giving purposes. Considering that many people don’t even have a $500 emergency fund, I find this statistic sad, but nevertheless, probably true.
While these numbers are a strong statement about the goodwill and thoughtfulness of the American consumer during the holiday season, it also serves as a stark reminder of the unwise spending habits that have landed many people in poor financial situations over the last several years. It also tends to make me wonder if these same people who are spending so much on holiday gifts are also the ones that have so much money to spend upon frivolity due to not putting it toward their mortgages, credit card bills, or other bills upon which they defaulting, leaving the rest of us to haul their portion of the load. Thoughtfulness is a funny thing — it isn’t always about how much money you spend or upon whom you spend it — but rather about taking the time to consider how your spending affects others.
If you think you’re the only one who feels that holiday spending has gotten a bit out of control, you’re not alone. There are still plenty of gifts out there that can be given and appreciated without the spending of tons of money. Here are a few ways to keep spending to a minimum, yet still give gifts that have meaning and true thoughtfulness behind them.
Giving Your Time
You might be surprised to find that your time can be just as valuable as any gift to those you really care about and who really care about you. Many of us get so caught up in our work that we tend to neglect those closest to us; not purposefully of course, but it happens. Therefore, sometimes just taking some time to relax and spend it with those close to you during the holidays can be a present in itself. Whether it’s cooking together, taking walks together, sharing a drink, playing a couple of card games or watching sports on television, a few spare moments spent with friends and family can be better than any gift you might receive.
Personally, I know that my mother would rather have her son and grandson with her for the holidays more than any material gift that I could come up with. This doesn’t mean you should become conceded and feel that gracing people with your presence should satisfy everyone just by you setting foot in the door, however; in many instances, it might just be the pleasure of your company that’s gift enough for true friends and loved ones, and if it’s not, well, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate why these people want you around.
Time and Effort as a Gift
Your time can act as a great gift in another way as well. If you are able-bodied and reasonably good at fixing things, making home repairs or creating artwork, you may have a gift that you could give to people that they would pay good money for otherwise. Being able to put in a new tile floor, clean carpets, build cabinets, weave rugs, make ceramic bowls, paint artworks, and similar talents could make for gifts that people might have paid hundreds of dollars for otherwise.
Again, in this category, my mother makes for the perfect example. She is a wonderfully creative person, and time and again I’ve told her I’d rather have one of her paintings for Christmas, but she insists on buying me things each year. And while I appreciate the thought, and often the gifts as well (though she tends to go a bit overboard occasionally), I’d actually be happier with one meaningful artwork that she created just for me.
Memories are Made Through Moments
Some gifts help to bring the memories flowing back, but many presents are meaningless and often have little thought behind them. Think back over the years and ask yourself what gifts meant the most to you? Was it the CD or DVD that someone gave you or the gift your son or daughter made for you when they were five-years-old, or maybe that family heirloom passed down to you from a grandmother or grandfather?
And often, such gifts aren’t even particularly useful, but they are meaningful because they carry with them the memories that were made with them or around them, or simply bring back thoughts of the person who gave you the gift and the time you shared with him or her.
So this holiday season, rather than giving things that will be useful but not meaningful, consider making memories instead. Consider a special family dinner at a favorite restaurant as the beginning of a family holiday tradition, a trip with the kids or grandkids to a fun indoor play place or museum, or a similar shared experience gift that is fun but that also builds memories that can last for a lifetime rather than giving a gift that will just be tossed into a closet when it is no longer wanted or useful.
The author is not a licensed financial professional. The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal or financial advice. For financial advice, readers should consult a licensed financial advisor. Any action taken by the reader due to the information provided in this article is solely at the reader’s discretion.