Spending and Giving in the Holiday Season: It's More Than the "Thought" That Counts

How many times have you reflected upon a holiday gift received and said, "Oh well, it's the thought that counts"? And how often has that gift landed in the back of a closet, then later to the storage locker or basement, only to be discarded -- or worse re-gifted -- years later? My point here is that if we choose to spend -- our time and/or dollars -- to give during this Season, consider the entire equation.

By rights, this ought to be one of the most frugal holiday spend seasons on record, whether because our income has declined or we're not sure it will remain stable -- let alone increase -- any time soon. (Interestingly, I recently read that holiday spending as a percentage of per-capita income was highest in the early 20th Century, but I digress.) Given this uncertainty, it's a perfect time to examine why and in what ways we choose to give gifts.

The media is full of advice on how to shop this year. Jason recently sent me a link from a consumer blog site unworthy of mention that suggested shopping in the Lost & Found of your local department store (perhaps this was his way of reminding me to be thrifty this year!) But all joking aside, perhaps a silver lining of our current economic malaise is that we are motivated to re-evaluate this whole process in terms of total cost and value.

First off, eliminate those on your shopping list to whom you give gifts purely out of a sense of obligation. What's the point? If you feel that way about them, they probably feel the same about you. One of the pitfalls of obligatory giving is that the gift you choose is uninspired and ends up in the back of the closet on the same day, not only wasting good money -- no matter how little -- but you've engaged in a process that is disingenuous at best.

For those on your list whom you truly care for, consider not only spending cash -- and please forget about credit -- but time. Giving of ourselves -- our time, if you will -- is the most precious commodity we possess. One of the most astounding aspects of modern culture (read: developed world economy) is that most all of us have what we need in the way of material goods, despite uncertain economic times. Consider making something for those special people on your list. Even if you're not a hobbyist or crafts person there are many meaningful and inexpensive ways to show you care:

  • Write a message on a blank card expressing what a relative or friend has meant to you this past year.
  • Include, if you wish, an invitation to jointly dine together (out, or of your own making) or attend an event that you know they'll enjoy.
  • Bake cookies. Even if you use a mix, there's nothing more special than home-baked cookies and other delights.
  • For children on your list, make a date to shop with them in the very near future. They may not be thrilled with this idea at first, but an afternoon outing at their favorite store will be far more special than opening yet one more package on gift day.

Please add to this list in the comment section below and remember that the "thought" only counts if some real thought has gone into it.

William Busch

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