Are You Spending Too Much on Holiday Gifting?

By Chanel Dror

It’s the question I ask myself each time I punch in that 16-digit credit card number to place an online order, and frankly, it’s a major point of stress for me this time of year. I’ve been thinking a lot about why the holidays — the most wonderful time of the year — make so many of us feel crazier than ever, and I can’t help but wonder if all that shopping might be to blame. I know, the social events and the traveling are a big part of it too, but I can’t help but feel especially discomforted by all that spending, spending, spending.

Jenn, on the other hand, relishes holiday gift-giving. She plans ahead, gets creative, and even designs and prints her own tags… let’s just say, being a gift recipient in Jenn’s circle is always a treat. That said, I wondered if our different approaches to the holidays might stem from our different backgrounds: I grew up as the middle child of three, in a Jewish household that celebrated Hanukkah, whereas Jenn was raised Christian and is an only child. She and I decided to hash it out over chat a few days ago, and share the conversation with you all here. Read below to see what we each have to say on the issue, and please don’t hesitate to chime in… What do you think? Does the holiday season just feel like another bill in your inbox, or is it something you actually look forward to?

gorgeous classic gift wrapping!

Chanel: So, I wonder if our families approach the holidays in the same way. And if that’s influenced how we budget (or don’t) when buying gifts.

Jenn Rose: I typically purchase one or two gifts for each member of my family. Is it the same for you?

C: Well, I can’t speak for every Jew who observes Hanukkah. But my family never observed the “8 nights of gifts” rule. My siblings and I each usually received one (maybe two) big presents, then had a few smaller gifts — probably equatable to stocking stuffers. I did know others who literally received a present every single night of Hanukkah… at the time I envied them, but now that just seems so unnecessary!

JR: Sounds like our experiences are actually pretty similar.

C: I think one of the big differences might lie in the gifts we/I bought people outside of our families. I remember classmates showering teachers with Christmas presents, and friends buying gifts for friends, etc. I personally never felt the urgency to buy something for every person in my life in that way.

JR: Ah. Yes. The teacher gifts! Always a good Christian gesture around report card time.

C: I totally get it now… a poinsettia goes a long way!

JR: Hahaha. So back to the topic at hand: do you budget during the holidays? I have a feeling you’re going to say yes.

C: Well, I actually don’t… at least not enough. I usually set a budget for each recipient, but then tend to totally blow it when I find just the right thing at a higher price point.

JR: Okay, that was my next question. (Is it an overall spending budget or budgets for individual recipients.) I don’t budget AT ALL. It’s actually pretty scary.

C: But I know you’ve been planning your holiday presents for months and shopping in advance… so that might make it more easy to take on the expenses, versus blowing your entire paycheck between Dec 1 – Dec 15th!

J: Yes, that’s true. I do like to take care of it before December. This is how it typically goes: I keep Pinterest boards with gift ideas for different recipients all year long. Then, one cold lonely night each November I conduct a marathon shopping spree by the flickering light of my computer screen. I go until my wrist hurts from clicking and I feel physically ill in general from the spending.

fun gift wrapping idea

C: So that brings me to my next question: How many people do you feel a responsibility to buy presents for? I could keep adding to the list forever, but at what point is the it not worth it? After all, half the things people gift this time of year just for the sake of “giving a gift” is junk!

JR: In total agreement. My list of recipients has really expanded in the last few years with babies and boyfriends and extended family. I try and give the types of things I like to receive: mostly perishable goods. I like giving homemade snacks and good bottles of affordable wine.

C: Well, you’re an exceptionally good gift giver… I know from experience!

JR: Blushing. But thank you! I seriously think I probably spend more on some of my wrapping supplies than I do the actual gifts. Presentation is everything. I just love a good velvet ribbon. Is that wrong?

C: Not wrong. Very right.

JR: You’re enabling me. And I like it.

C: I always feel so much pressure to give gifts — good gifts — but I think that in the end I’m only stressing myself out. If I turned the tables and asked myself “Would I care if this person gave ME a gift?”  in most cases the answer is almost always “Nah.”

Here’s a random question: What do you enjoy more, giving gifts, or receiving them?

JR: Definitely giving. Receiving can be kind of stressful for me sometimes, because I’m a terrible mix of sentimental and particular. What do I do with this dreadful sweater my mom gave me? I can’t wear it. But I can’t throw it away.

C: Agree. And I kind of hate the idea of asking for something specific from somebody. I know it’s practical, but I want my gifts to be a thoughtful surprise!

JR: Totally. It’s like George Carlin said, “Registering is the white people version of looting.”

C: Truer words have never been spoken.

JR: Michael asked me what I wanted from Santa this year and I said, “Nothing too practical.” His fear to that response was palpable. Hahaha.

C: The world is watching you, Michael. Poor thing.

JR: Guess he’s returning those yoga blocks…

C: No! I’ll take them!

JR: Lol. But really, I love the giving part.

C: I think you see it as an opportunity to be creative, whereas I just see stress and dollar signs.

JR: Don’t get me wrong, I definitely don’t like the spending. But I’m getting better every year, I think. It’s easy to find great gifts if money is no object. Definitely a lot more work (in terms of the search) when you’re working with a limited budget. That’s where those Pinterest boards come in handy. If I see a great gift at a wonderful price at any time of the year, I pin it and can come back to it in November.

gifts on gifts on gifts

C: I feel like I learn a lot each year, too. This year hasn’t been too bad! And if I’d started earlier it would have been even easier.

JR: Right. Do you ever feel like you’re buying people stuff they don’t even want just for protocol?

C: Yes.

JR: Ugh. That’s the WORST feeling. Such a waste.

C: I sometimes get so put off by how much this season revolves around that kind of mentality — giving gifts for no other reason than to say you gave so-and-so a gift.
Next year I want all my friends and family to give me the gift of not having to buy them gifts. Can you imagine? If we all just didn’t go CRAZY this time of year?

JR: Right. I think it’s really evident this year, especially with everything going on with the world… it’s hard not to look at a tree with tons of packages underneath it and question the whole system. I mean, do we really NEED this stuff?

C: Next year I’m vowing to get creative and be less wasteful. That kind of thing just takes more planning and more time — who can squeeze in making a terrarium when you have three holiday parties in one week?

JR: Totally. And for those of us with full-time jobs, it’s just plain unrealistic at a certain point.

C: …unless you start in Mid-October… which is Halloween costume crafting time!

JR: Hahaha. Right!

C: So let’s take a minute to recap: What have we resolved here?

JR: Well, I think the main takeaways are:

  1. Perishable gifts (wine, food, homemade cookies) are a great solution for budgeting and not giving junk
  2. Presentation is everything. If you dress up an everyday object with some ritual and a velvet ribbon, it’s pretty darn special.
  3. The earlier you start, the less money you’ll probably spend when it comes to shopping.

C: Word. Now can we please print that out and project it on the office wall next November 1st?

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