Because Christmas is a time of family and giving, that means it’s a time of decisions.
We need to decide what to give, where to buy, what to choose when we can’t find what we have in mind, and of course, how much to pay.
If we’re organised, we’ve well and truly finished buying gifts, and they’re all wrapped and delivered or under the tree.
But a lot of us have not. According to some surveys, most of us are just not that organised, with half of us leaving at least some Christmas shopping to the last week and even Christmas Eve.
A fast company survey finds that 74% of consumers plan to do some last-minute shopping.
The fact that one study even showed that last-minute gift buyers outspend those who buy earlier says something important about gift-buying and financial stress.
That is, when we are prepared, we spend more carefully, and when we rush, we tend to throw money into gift-buying.
One of the leading pressures on many people’s already-strained financial position is the habit of over-spending on gifts, gifts that don’t necessarily prove our love for others.
Given that many of us will go shopping between now and Christmas, is there any way to avoid putting a significant dent in our finances and accruing debt we struggle to shake off later?
We have published several articles lately on the pressure consumers face at this time of year, including a three-part series: the real cost of gift giving.
We do not wish to discourage giving. Our point is to avoid the financial stress that comes with mindless and impulsive spending.
Financial stress is irrefutably linked to depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders, so it’s not a giant leap to see that the expensive gifts you buy – whether material or experiential ‐ could paradoxically lead you to feel less likely to connect with other people.
We believe it’s helpful to take a few minutes and double back to some key principles before you enter the mayhem of last-minute Christmas shopping.
Here are some guidelines to help you buy gifts people will love and help you avoid impulse spending that causes you unnecessary damage later.
Giving isn’t only about spending a lot of money.
Sounds completely obvious, right? Well, it isn’t, evidently, as the six weeks from mid-November to Boxing Day has consistently become the biggest-spending time of the year.
Overall, Australian households spent an average of A$6,000 each over the Christmas season in 2021, the six-week spending frenzy from mid-November to the end of December.
All retail spending, including food, alcohol, and gifts, amounted to a massive $55 billion spending binge, which made it a record Christmas for retailers.
It’s tempting to get swept up in the spending spree and see low-cost (or no-cost) giving as ‘uncool’ or anachronistic. But consider this: if someone did something incredibly old-fashioned for you, like, for example, bake cookies for you, how do you think you’d feel?
Only the hard-hearted would not feel pretty good about such a gift.
Here are some ways to give without spending more than $20:
- Call someone for a long video chat, tell them you love them and ask how their; year has been, and how they are doing. Listen to them and don’t offer advice;
- Write someone a (hand-written, not printed out) letter or card. If you want; to glam it up, put glitter or smarties in the envelope;
- Give away a favourite book to someone who will appreciate it;
- Offer help to someone using your best skills;
- Cook someone their favourite dish; and
- Bake and deliver homemade cookies, or sweet treats.
- Can you afford your increase your debt?
No really. Can you afford to add to your debt?
Will you have trouble paying it off later?
Will your intended spending push you outside of your budget? Is it eating into your buffer or emergency fund?
This is incredibly important if you are already laden with debt and under severe pressure to meet your existing obligations.
Some people have a little fat savings-wise, and they’re happy to spend a bit more; some don’t. It’s wise to get into reality about money as quickly as possible – and stay there.
If you cannot spend much, that is probably an indisputable fact.
If you must tell someone, you are under financial pressure and can’t afford much of a gift, write them a card or letter telling them what they mean to you and fill it with glitter, or stick lollies in the envelope. Spend time thinking about what to write.
They will not forget the effort you went to, and your openness and vulnerability may even deepen your relationship.
What is your spending limit for the shopping you still must do?
If you don’t have a spending limit, you might want to pause before rushing to the shops. Maybe sit down – literally for 10 minutes – and come up with a reasonable and sensible spending limit.
It’s best to come up with a limit of some kind, especially if you have had past issues with compulsive spending.
Putting limits on spending stop us from making expensive mistakes.
What that limit is needed to be is up to you, but as a guide, you probably don’t need to buy multiple gifts for people.
Bear in mind, too: most loved ones will be happier with one thoughtful gift than three that seem random or maybe as though you were buying to your tastes and not theirs.
If you’re not sure about it, don’t buy it.
You know that little voice that says, ‘I’m not sure about this’ – listen to it.
Does it say, ‘I’m not sure if this is his/her kind of thing, but I like it’ or just ‘this is very expensive’? That’s a sign you are about to buy something on impulse. Take five minutes out before you buy it.
Will they like it? If you can’t answer yes immediately, put it back.
Sometimes the ‘perfect gift’ does appear before us, but it’s rare. Don’t try to force it.
There are more reliable Christmas gifts out there if you apply some simple logic.
- What do they like? What is their taste?
- Have they said they want something?
- How do they spend their free time?
- If you can’t quickly answer these, a voucher or gift card is more thoughtful than a guess.
- Experiences are more memorable than things.
Experiential gifts are more memorable than most stocking fillers, which tend to become old within days of going into use. Or maybe they don’t even get opened at all.
Red Balloon is one of the best-known websites that allows you to book hundreds of experiences, from diving with sharks to a sleepover at the zoo.
Here are some examples of ‘experiential’ gifts:
- Book a group activity with family and friends – from an art class to a virtual reality game;
- A camping trip (without all the luxuries!);
- Book a mini adventure – from sailing to skydiving or even rock climbing;
- Tickets to a live music concert;
- Go dancing with friends;
- Send someone a hand-written letter (no, really); and
- Host a dinner party and base the menu on your loved ones’ favourite ingredients; and
- Vouchers are not boring.
Boring to who anyway? To us, that’s who – because we want to look like we know how to buy the perfect gift. But the truth is those are not easy to buy.
Besides, people that know us well already know if we care. A gift doesn’t prove it.
We feel the pressure to dazzle someone with our insights and ability to delight and shock, but the truth is that it is like throwing a bullseye on a dartboard while blindfolded.
Vouchers are not dull. The reality is people love the excitement of planning how to spend free money, especially if it’s in their favourite store.
The trick with vouchers and gift cards is to buy them for the right store.
If your mother-in-law loves perfume, but you aren’t sure which one, you could buy her a voucher for a chemist or Myer. Don’t buy her a Bunnings gift card!
Don’t overspend on food that gets wasted.
How often is there food leftover that gets thrown away? Seriously, almost always, right?
The actual numbers are staggering. Nine out of ten households discard over 25 per cent of their food during the festive period.
As you shop, try to be mindful of what’s going on in your trolley. Ask yourself:
- Do you need this item? Is it essential?
- Is there anything in your trolley that wasn’t on your list? Why?
- How much of what you are buying is ‘extra’ to try and please people?
- Are you catering to confirmed guests or for people who might show up?
Here are ten last-minute gift ideas:
- A handwritten letter or card with glitter or chocolate inside the envelope.
- An annual subscription – to a magazine, a streaming service, or an audiobook service.
- Home-made date vouchers.
- Vouchers/gift cards.
- An experience, such as a chance to go a rally-driving experience or a day spa.
- Tickets to a fun park.
- Tickets to a luxury or outdoor cinema.
- A luxury journal and quality pen.