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While the idea of not giving presents to our loved ones is an uncomfortable one, there are arguments supporting this concept. Martin Lewis, the money saving expert, originally proposed the idea in 2009, just after the financial crisis, and it’s been gaining momentum ever since. Especially in light of the current cost of living crisis.
The first thing that should be noted though, is that the suggestion isn’t to stop giving gifts to children and grandchildren. Nor is the protest on religious grounds. So what reasons are there to cut back on our Christmas spending?
When most people think of the festive season, presents are usually at the top of the list. And while many argue that they prefer giving to receiving gifts, it’s not as simple as that. Societal pressures mean that these exchanges are rarely one sided. We’ve outlined the main reasons to stop giving presents at Christmas below:
Perhaps the main argument for reducing the amount of money you spend on gifts is the fact that it’s mostly ceremonial at this point. Do you even know why you’re giving presents to some people, outside the fact that it’s traditional? Even financially, most gift giving doesn’t make sense. We’re essentially just swapping presents, so there is no net movement of goods or funds.
If people just give gifts of similar value to each other, this is what is referred to as a ‘zero-sum’ game. Say two people bought a £10 Amazon gift voucher for each other – there is absolutely nothing beneficial in this. You might as well just agree not to give each other anything.
Another reason we might want to consider limiting our gift buying is that it puts pressure on others to reciprocate. If you were to give a present to a friend or work colleague, they’d probably feel obligated to give you one in return. And they may not be in a financial position to comfortably afford to do so.
If there was no obligation, people with less disposable income would probably choose to spend the money on more practical things. Perhaps towards food or bills, rather than something unnecessary.
While giving presents to kids isn’t really the issue, it’s worth thinking about the message you’re sending when you do buy them something. We’re implying that happiness can be obtained through materialistic things, not to mention showing that advertisements for the latest products work!
Children, particularly young children, don’t usually care how much you spend on them. If they’ve got a good imagination, they’ll have just as much fun playing with a large cardboard box as they would the latest toy or game. The box has endless possibilities – it could be a house, a train, or a shop. Most toys, on the other hand, only have one function.
If we’re giving others presents just for the sake of it, chances are, lots of these gifts won’t ever get used. Novelty presents in particular are likely to just get passed on to a charity shop before December is over. These gifts are only bought because it’s a gesture, and are not personalised to the recipient.
In these instances, we’re just spending money on unwanted and unused products. This is bad for our wallet as well as the environment, as gifts we consider old tat will invariably end up in a landfill.
Some people like to be thought of as a great gift giver. This probably means that they spend an awful lot of money on each present, competing with others to get the ‘best’ gift for everyone. Present buying shouldn’t be a competition, but society often encourages us to make it so.
School age children also contribute to this concept of getting presents to brag about. These kids tend to compare what they got for Christmas, which puts pressure on parents to keep up with each other. If pretty much all the children in a class are given the latest video game, those who didn’t may feel short changed.
If you’re not buying gifts for others, there are things you can do instead to make them feel appreciated. These things don’t have to cost a lot of money, and are often more personal alternatives. For instance, you could make a promise to spend more time with your relatives. Or perhaps you could make something by hand, such as gingerbread or candles.
The spirit of the festive season should be about wholehearted giving, not handing over meaningless gifts because it’s traditional. Gifts can be a great way to show someone you care about them. But if they’re given out of obligation, they can be more harmful than meaningful.