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Giving or Gifting: How Do You Show You Care?

Sometimes it's easier to “gift” someone than it is to “give” to someone.

It’s the season of giving and some of us might feel pressure or the urge to give more than we can really afford. Unfortunately, some of us fall into the trap of equating the cost of a gift with its intrinsic value. We live in a consumerist culture – even when the Dow Jones average is sinking, we are still surrounded with images of beautiful “things” and continued encouragement to spend, spend, and spend. When we see commercials for gifts of luxury cars with bright red bows tied on them, it totally skews our ideas of what a “good gift” should look like or actually cost.

Now that people use social media to commemorate every (in)significant moment of their lives, each gift given has the potential to be highlighted via Instagram or Facebook as an “epic score” or an “epic fail.” Knowing that your gift may be viewed, and appraised, by thousands – with an appreciative caption or a dismissive comment – can amp up the pressure to “go big” with the spending. No one wants to be the boyfriend who didn’t spend enough on an engagement ring or the woman who didn’t spring for the most elite brand of golf clubs if the recipient is going to post a pic of the gift for followers and family to see.

The length of the buying season doesn’t help us avoid overspending either – we can find the perfect gift in mid-November, but we keep adding and adding and adding to the stockpile up until the holiday of reckoning when we hand over the goods to the recipient. Online shopping and next day delivery also encourage us to keep clicking on the “Buy Now” button online. When the retail cues turn on, whether it’s holiday music, scents, or decorations, we can get stressed thinking about all of the things that we will need to do in order to prepare for the holiday.

If you let yourself forget that Hallmark had it right when their tagline became, “It’s the thought that counts,” you can be swindled into spending a lot more than you can afford in your efforts to prove your affection and devotion.

5 Tips to Keep From Overspending at the Holidays

1. Plan ahead regarding your shopping budget and your recipients.

If you don’t have a budget nailed down early, it’s easy to spend more than you comfortably can. Decide on your budget before buying the first gift. And remember to include internet purchases in addition to retail outlet purchases as you subtract available funds from your planned budget. Just because you were wearing your fuzzy slippers and flannel jammies at your computer doesn’t mean you weren’t shopping.

2. Make your list and check it twice.

Make a list of everyone for whom you want to buy a gift. Even Saint Nicholas makes lists each year before his gift-giving bonanza! Once you’ve got the list of recipients finalized, organize the recipients in groups that reflect the type of gift you plan to give. For instance, you might group together recipients of “homemade goodies,” “restaurant gift cards,” “personalized wine glasses,” “concert/sporting event tickets,” “Santa’s list,” and so on.

3. Firmly set your price limits for each person’s (or family’s) gift.

Work backwards from the most expensive gifts you plan to buy for your most important people to determine how much you can spend on others. If you’re going to invest $500 on electronics for your son, subtract that $500 from the $1500 you plan to spend in total. Color code your recipients, too. Maybe you’ll use Blue for under $10; Red for around $25; Green for “the sky’s the limit.” That way, you know the type of gift you’re searching for and the ceiling on how much you can spend.

When you write down your plans, you’re more likely to stick to them – and if you have your list on your phone and download a spending tracker app, you can cross off names as soon as you’ve purchased the gift and deduct the cost from your “holiday bank.”

4. Don’t give in to the temptation to overspend or go over your budget.

Just because major retail outlets and the internet are open 24/7 doesn’t mean that you have to take advantage of the opportunities they present to offer up your money 24/7, too! Sure, there are a lot of cool things that your kids or significant other would like, but if you’ve already purchased their gifts, let your first instinct on what to get be the one that you stick with. Kids get overwhelmed with too much stuff, don’t contribute to the holiday meltdown that too many choices can create for your kids.

Being creative in your gift giving can allow you to really please the recipient without overspending. The Pinterest craze has created a whole new level of sophistication for “make it yourself” types of gifts. You can personalize low-cost, easy-to-create gifts that show not only how much you value the recipient, but that save a little cash for you, as well.

5. Don’t give in to the desire to “self-gift” the items that you are supposed to be giving to others.

So much advertising now is really geared to adults to purchase gifts for themselves at the holidays, a time when expendable income is already usually pretty tight. Even if the cashmere sweater is the perfect color for you, if it’s not in your budget and you don’t “need” the new thing, just walk away. Remind yourself, if you must, that prices will be slashed once the “after holiday sales” are posted, so don’t give in just because the sign says, “You deserve it!”

There are several ways that people reduce the number of gifts they need to buy – choosing names for gift exchanges in extended families; giving the gift of service to one another – whether this is babysitting, honey-do tasks, preparing dinner for friends at your house, and so on. Create a new tradition that involves shared activities and low-stress/low-cost events that will replace the practice of stressed out gift buying/giving.

You may need to realize that gift giving should be more about the meaning and intentions behind the act of giving, not the financial value of the gift that is being given.

More from Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D.
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