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Shopping for the Holidays

Wish I could wrap like this

Isn't that picture beautiful? Doesn't it remind you of warm nights inside with family and friends drinking hot beverages, eating comfort food and generally being merry?

It probably also reminds you that the holidays are coming up so you have to start shopping for gifts. No matter what holiday you celebrate, this is the season of giving for many of us. And for most of us, giving means giving material things rather than more valuable things like your love and time. I'm here to give you some food for thought when it comes to purchasing those material things. I'm sure some of you love giving gifts, and for others, (like me) gift-giving can be stressful. No matter your stance, this blog should be able to help you accomplish your gift-giving without breaking your bank.

I want to tackle the big-picture thinking before getting down to the practical. Take a minute and really think about why you are giving gifts. (Really! Stop reading for one whole minute.) Is it because it brings you joy? Does getting the perfect thing for someone light you up inside? Are you doing it out of obligation? Do you feel compelled to compete for best (i.e. most expensive) gift? If your reason for giving gifts is the former two, then by all means, continue to give! If it is the latter two, you should probably reassess. Gifts should come out of the generosity of your heart not because someone will be mad or disappointed if you don't get them anything. The bests gifts I've ever given or received were ones that stemmed from love rather than obligation.

Now that we've dealt with the big-picture, emotional state for gift-giving (which is potentially more important than what I'm about to say), let's get into the practical:

Determining your list: Now that you've determined where your gift-giving stems from, use that to help determine whom you are giving gifts to. If anyone is on your list due to obligation - BE BOLD - and take them off the list. You should only be giving gifts to people you genuinely want to give gifts to. I'm not going to give you a number of how many people should be on your list - that should be guided by how you feel; however, if your list gets so long that it starts to cause you stress, it's probably too long.

Planning ahead: Now that you've got your list, determine how much you will spend on each person. That could be split evenly, i.e. $20 a person, by what you already have in mind for that person, or by level of closeness to you. However you decide to do it, the important thing is to have this in your budget. The holidays are the same time every year. They do not qualify as an emergency or as a surprise. Therefore, they should be added into how you budget. I celebrate Christmas, and like to buy most of my gifts (by the way, my list is like 5-7 people long each year) in November. Typically I'll shop online on or around Black Friday so I can get deals and also get money back (Rakuten). If you're really on it, another good day to shop for gifts is Amazon Prime day. If you are adverse to buying things on Black Friday, still try and find deals or buy at least half of your gifts in early Fall, like October or November. Usually prices haven't been hiked up to reflect holiday shopping and you have the added benefit of not dealing with the rush at the malls in December.

Be creative: If you have a large family, like me, or a large friend group and want everyone to feel included in the giving season do something like a gift swap or Secret Santa/Snowflake etc. Every year my high school friends and I get together and exchange mugs. We each buy a mug, wrap it, and then people can swap out the mugs they want. Exchanges like this work well because there is usually a money limit (which really means you have to get creative), you only have to buy one gift, and it's fun to see people haggle over the different options when all the gifts are revealed.

Another thing is to think about your strengths or talents. Are there things your friends and family always ask you for? Are you a good baker, knitter, painter etc.? Those all make good gifts! Imagine giving everyone a fresh-baked loaf of bread. Delicious! Don't overlook DIYs as potential gift-giving options. Remember how I mentioned the value of love and time? It could be that you give someone the gift of spending the whole day with you, or making a three-course meal for them at your house. You know the people that would appeal to. I assure you, these created gifts or time spent will last longer in memory than the new iPhone or sweater ever will.

Consider your financial journey: This last tip is extremely important and calls on you to be real and honest with yourself and bold with those you love. If you are just starting out on your financial journey and are focused on paying off your debt, or significantly further along on your journey but are saving up for something big (house, college tuition etc.), take a step back and decide if giving gifts is the best thing for you to do this year. Not give gifts you say?! YES! I said it. When I first started on my financial fitness journey, I decided I wasn't going to give any gifts that year for Christmas. I told my friends and family that I had a goal, and at that moment, reducing my debt was higher on my priority list. Guess what? No one balked at my announcement. I wasn't disowned. No one chewed my head off. They respected my wishes and encouraged me to keep at it. Now, I am not going to tell you that will be the reaction you receive, but ultimately you need to decide what's going to make you feel better at the end of the day: jeopardizing your financial goals, or being honest with yourself and those you love.

That year, I wrote heartfelt letters to everyone on my list with stationary I already had at my house. To this day, people still talk about those letters. I was able to continue making progress toward my financial goals, and give something infinitely more precious than something material: words of love.

Like anything else along this fitness journey, you can celebrate the holidays and still progress in achieving your goals. You just may need to think a little differently in order to do so.

Happy shopping!

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Nov 03, 2019

The letter story always chokes me up. Love these tips and they are such a good reminder that your budget should reflect your christmas expenses. Digging yourself out of the hole in the new year is too stressful and not good for the financial journey.

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