santa-with-credit-cardYes, it’s that time of year again. The big build up to Christmas. Well, actually, it started back in September as far as the shops were concerned when an early hint of festive decorations, themed wrapping and seasonal cards started sneaking onto the shelves along with the suggestive ads offering to help you spread the cost of the festive season over the next twelve months.

Now that we’re well and truly into the yuletide season, we are being bombarded from every angle by the marketing efforts, invitations and ads that invite us to spend, spend, spend to ensure that this Christmas is the best ever.

Those that know me understand that I’m not a particularly enthusiastic Christmas-embracing person. My parents never were and I guess that has rubbed off onto me. You won’t find a skirret of tinsel or any glass baubles decorating my tree mainly because I don’t have one. I can’t remember the last time I received a personalised Christmas card which may be a result of never having sent one. It’s not due to any religious beliefs or that I’m some sort of conscientious objector. Christmas just didn’t run big in our family once my brother and I got older and we discovered that maybe, just maybe, it’s all a big myth.

As I reluctantly head to the shopping malls I see shoppers loading up their carts in Big W, K-Mart, The Warehouse et al (insert names of your own local mega retailers here), with stacks of mostly pointless, plasticy junk toys and gifts to meet either their self-imposed quota of presents for family and friends, or to meet their obligation to respond with a suitable gift for the ones received from others.

This shopping extravaganza starts, as I’ve previously mentioned, around September/October reaching its grand, frenzied finale on the 24th December with a what I describe as ‘desperation shopping’. Where the malls are full of desperate, aimlessly wandering souls looking for that last minute gift for cousin Bob who you’d completely forgotten was coming over for Christmas lunch tomorrow.

“Oh what fun it is to ride to the mall pre-Christmas day, hey….”

But to all of you out there crying “Bah humbug Mr Scrooge Get FIRE’d”, I am not here to try and influence you in any way to give up your family gatherings, hearty lunch, Christmas cracker pulling, and wearing of silly paper hats. However, I feel, as one who encourages frugal living, reduced consumerism and eliminating wasteful spending, that we should discuss the other Christmas tradition practised by so many. The loading up of credit cards to the max in the pursuit of needless gift buying.

“You haven’t given me a gift. You’ve given me an obligation”

Apparently, tradition has it that when someone presents you with a gift at Christmas, there is an implied, yet possibly unwanted, reciprocity of receiving that gift. An almost unspoken obligation that if you present me with a gift delightfully swathed in Santa and reindeer wrapping paper, that I am now bound to respond with some token that is either equivalent or exceeding in worth.

Moreover, are we obliged to keep said gift, not because it offers utility or add fulfilment to ours lives, but simply because it has been given to us by someone else?

Can I just say….. “STOP!!”. Surely this isn’t what Christmas is all about.

I’ve got no issue with traditional, responsible, and meaningful gift giving per se. It’s just the shameful waste that occurs at this time of year. Not only the waste of money, but think of the amount of crap that ends up in landfill immediately following Christmas day. The wrappings, the packaging, the crappy, poorly made junk that didn’t last 2 days. Just look at the queue of cars and trailers outside the local tip on 27th December. You can bet your boots that they haven’t just had the overwhelming urge to load up with a year’s worth of garden rubbish and dump it today, have they.

“Christmas time is all about the kids”, right?

If you ask my opinion about Christmas I’ll tell you. I’m telling you right here aren’t I? But how many times do I hear that old chestnut, “it’s all about the kids”?

So what are we teaching our children by giving them nearly everything they ask for (and in some cases, everything), and swamping them with gifts on a day that has pretty well lost it’s true meaning, to be replaced with the idea that Christmas Day is in fact, Present Day?

I grow weary from the rampant commercialism and the messages that parents are sending their kids. Kids who have been spoiled feel entitled and it may actually compromise their childhoods by spending time acquiring as they learn from their parents. As kids become comfortable with living material, consumerist lives, they’ll become material, consumerist adults and the cycle of ‘earn more, spend more, borrow more’ starts all over again.

And what happens to many of these new gifts? Did we really want them? Did we truly need them? Probably not. So now they add to the clutter that clogs our homes.

Or do we take the risk of offending the giver by slinging them onto Gumtree or TradeMe to rid them from our lives? (Here’s a top tip. Need something new and don’t want to pay full price? Wait until a couple of days after Christmas and check out the ‘Unwanted Gifts’ category on trading sites like the ones I’ve mentioned. They’ll be chock full of you-know-what at bargain prices)

These are just my slightly judgemental thoughts on how I believe many of us have been hijacked by the incursion of rampant commercialism overtaking what use to be a time of getting together with family and friends, maybe eating and drinking a little too much, reflecting on the year past, and enjoying the time off work.

I’m not going to give you a foolproof 10-point plan on how to save Christmas and your wallet from the hyper-consumeristic, buy-fest that it has become. There are plenty of other websites that will tell you how to do this, and at the end of the day, it’s all about choice. If you are reading this, it’s probably because you are interested in reaching your financial freedom goals faster and being able to retire early or at least not being tied to your job any longer than you need to. Rampant gift buying will set your FI goal back further and further every year and it’s not necessary. But if you need convincing, check out this excellent article from Zen Habits, “The Case Against Buying Christmas Presents”.

So I’m sure that, if you want to take on board, that having a more frugal festive season doesn’t necessarily mean eating tinned ham or turkey roll on Christmas day, it also doesn’t mean that you have to spend your year’s hard-earned savings on pointless and unnecessary gifts. Make a point of telling your family and friends that you don’t want presents and that you won’t be providing any this year. They’ll soon get the idea when their present isn’t reciprocated. Hopefully, you’ll be starting a new family tradition that doesn’t involved a huge pre-Christmas spend up and maybe you, your family and the world will be better off for it.

Sooooo, I’m ready for the flack I may receive from all of you Christmas lovers out there. Am I wrong? Am I right? Maybe a bit of in-between? I’d love to hear your comments, especially if you want to share your frugal-Christmas suggestions.

8 thoughts on ““Tis The Season To Spend Money, tra la la la laaaaaa…””

  1. I don’t think it’s bad to be anti-consumerist (and to be anti-consumerist doesn’t mean you’re anti-Christmas!). I am a psychotic Christmas lover, which is probably because my parents just raised me that way. However, I’ve realized as an adult that the best Christmases were the ones where we decided not to get each other gifts. It was all about the family and spending time together drinking hot chocolate, and it was so lovely.

    I’ve since welcomed a happy medium between consumerism and a no-present Christmas. I buy presents for a total of ten people, which is a reasonable number. I’ve DIY’ed as many gifts as possible to save money, in addition to buying presents as needed. I saved our credit card rewards all year to the tune of $300, so hopefully Christmas will have a zero budget impact for us.

    I do feel concerned about the commercialism that is Christmas. I was a pretty spoiled kid and got everything I could ever dream of–but I did turn out to be a financially responsible adult. I think it just depends on the person. I’m not sure what our approach will be once we have kids, but I would like to incorporate a charity component to Christmas. I think I’ll ask our kids to donate one toy for every toy they get; maybe we’ll adopt Christmas Angels; or even volunteer at a food bank later that day. There are a lot of ways to enjoy gift giving while mitigating any potential harm for over-saturation.

    1. I love the way you work Mrs Picky. Home-gifts, especially if they are edible or drinkable rate much higher with me than extra clutter. Like I said, I’m not here to rain on anyone’s traditional Christmas celebrations. I’d just like to see more people really take stock of how much they’re spending over this period and for what reason. As you say, if that happy medium can be reached I think we’ll all be better off for it. How did you manage to go from spoiled kid to frugal adult? Being spoilt often sets a pattern for the life ahead. Thanks for dropping in and your detailed comments.

  2. Christmas is no I doubt huge for the retailers, and there is no doubt a ton of waste. We’ve always celebrated Christmas as a family but we certainly weren’t spoiled with gifts and as parents now we are making a concerted effort to not spoil our kids either. We are focused on sensible gift giving for everyone… No need for the extra wasteful spending!

    1. And that’s what Christmas should be about GS, getting together with family and friends as it doesn’t happen as often as it use to now that we lead such busy lives. And in your case, living some distance from family must make it all the more special when you catch up. Throw wasteful spending to the sideline and enjoy each others company. Nice one GS.

  3. At the end of the day it’s all about choice – that phrase there is money. I think many of us really want to make different choices but perhaps we are afraid of offending someone. Or shaking up the status quo. You won’t be finding us in any malls. We ordered 2 gifts on Amazon for a total of $50 for our family grab bag. We’ll give $25 gift cards to our cousin’s two children (which I’m not big on because it teaches them nothing and their parents are horrible with money – but I cede to Mr. Groovy on this one).

    1. Hi there Mrs Groovy. Your comment about offending people is an interesting one. I really believe that this is one of the key drivers that lead many to spend far too much money at Christmas. It comes back to that perceived obligation to reciprocate with a gift when given one yourself. I’m well past the implied guilt and worrying about possibly offending anyone as I make it quite clear of my position on unsolicited gifts. If more of us starting saying ‘no’, it may start to break the gift reciprocation cycle.

      I’d like to see parents opening investment accounts for their children so that gift givers can choose to deposit some funds into something that’s going to give greater long term benefit than pressies which aren’t really needed. Not as exciting as unwrapping a present for sure, but far more beneficial in the long run don’t you think.

  4. Fair points Martin. We do buy presents but we don’t spend a lot – most of them are extremely useful (things we/other people ‘need’). We are actually giving Barefoot Investor’s new money book to someone as a present – that’s a present worth giving I reckon 🙂

    Ultimately I enjoy Christmas for the family, food and time off. It’s not about the presents for me.

    Tristan

    1. It’s more the over-the-top present buying or buying gifts to reciprocate for something someone else got you that is neither wanted or needed that I’d like to see stop. Buying a useful or thoughtful gift for someone can be given at any time in my opinion. I’m more against the mass spend-fest that’s perpetuated by the retail world at this time of year. I think that giving The Barefoot Investor fits into the useful and thoughtful category.

      Here’s wishing you and Jasmine a first-class Christmas and new year and here’s hoping for a visit from the stork in the coming months (I must find out why storks are associated with bringing babies. Never understood that one).

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