There is no question, Americans like to spend money during the Holidays. We spend money on food, on gifts, on events, even clothes and parties. The problem is staying within a budget. Today’s holiday landscape is filled with discounts, occasions, and above all, spur-of-the-moment opportunities that would challenge even the most disciplined spender.
According to the American Research Group, Inc’s most recent Holiday Shopping survey, as a country, each household plans on spending over $900 on gift giving, a 5% increase over previous years. This figure has been steadily increasing over the past decade. A recent survey found that a typical child owns over 230 toys but routinely plays with about a dozen “favorites.”
Given these factors, gift giving can be either wasteful, stressful, or both, contrary to the essence of the holiday spirit. Here are a few simple ideas to make gift giving more enjoyable and memorable.
Seek experiences instead of things Grabbing a toy or a desired piece of clothing is easy, it wraps quickly, and everybody is happy…right? Maybe. Behind the purchasing of things can be a world of pitfalls, including sizes, colors, and the dreaded specter of returns. Many default to gift cards to solve all of these problems but those may awaken other issues. Buying a gift card for a child commits the parents to a store trip they may not have time for, or the risk that the card will not actually be used. According to Marketwatch.com, gift cards totaling over a billion dollars go unused each year.
That isn’t to say gift cards are ineffective, particularly when coupled with an experience. Giving a movie or restaurant gift card to parents might be problematic. Pair that gift card with the offer to sit with the grandkids for the evening while they use it and you have doubled the value. The reverse works as well. Take the grandkids to a matinee movie and leave the parents alone for the afternoon. Local places like the Maumee Indoor Theater, The Paramount in Fremont, or when the weather warms up, the Sundance Drive-In, are all great, affordable options.
Anything that involves doing something with a loved one will be much more impactful than a gift card to an online shopping service. The key to creating gift experiences is to make it convenient for the person who is receiving the gift. Meeting them for lunch near their place of work for a quick bite can brighten an otherwise mundane day…for both parties. The cost of the meal cannot compare with priceless time spent together.
Practical can be personal
When trying to stay in a budget it is easy to think that small lacks significance. This is not the case. For a teenager, college student, or even a young adult, filling their car with gas will go a long way to making their life easier. The same can be said for bringing a family dinner. Post holiday winters can be hectic and difficult for young families. Bringing a simple, kid friendly meal, is an inexpensive way to break up the post-holiday grind, spending time with your family, while not spend a lot of money. The same holds true for any friend.
More importantly, don’t forget that practical gifts can be both the most appreciated and cost effective. Have a friend who is always complaining about how dirty their car looks? Buy a couple of car washes. Not a detail, not a full-blown membership to a car cleaning club, just a couple of washes to brighten up their day (and their car). Better yet, borrow their keys and run their car through the wash yourself.
The bottom line is you know your friends and family. With a little thought, you know what they desire but, for some reason, never get around to getting or doing. Delivering that small yet useful gift in the middle of the holiday madness is practical, personal, and most of all, thoughtful.
Financial planners talk about staying within a budget for the holidays. The reason they talk about it is because most people don’t do it. To avoid the holiday sticker shock set a budget and stick to it. Recognize that there will never be a way to meet all expectations or media driven imagination. Likewise, there is no way complete to all the purchases on every gift list.
Time is a gift that is unique and irreplaceable. Thoughtful gifts that involve our time and our presence go further, cost less, and build the very thing we are trying to engender: memories.