Call me Scrooge but things have gone a little too far when it comes to Christmas gifts. We’re giving presents that won’t be used and obligating others to do the same. It’s time to sign a ‘No Unnecessary Presents Pact’.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to rant about banning gifts from parents or grandparents. My target is the ever-growing range of people we feel obligated to buy for – teachers, colleagues and more.
Christmas has become a retail festival and while my argument isn’t religious, I suspect the church too gets hot under the dog collar about the over-commerciality. Still, my focus is the financial impact of Christmas (or Chanukah or Eid) at a time when many are struggling.
I’ve campaigned on this for a while, and it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to share my thoughts here on Which? Conversation.
Stop creating unfair obligations on others
I get the ‘joy of giving’ but we need to think about the impact on recipients too. Generosity could hurt, not help. By giving to someone (or their children), you create an obligation on them to do the same, whether they can afford it or not.
During a recent TV talk on this subject, a crew member confided: ‘I’m so glad you’re talking about this; I’m skint and dreading anyone giving me gifts as I can’t afford to buy back, but feel terrible if I don’t.’
In these financial climes, sometimes the best gift is to release somebody from this obligation.
Our finances are mis-prioritised
Anthropologists tell us gift giving was originally a form of ‘social banking’. In other words, when you’re young and marrying, older people would give to you to help you get started. When older, you’d do the same for younger generations.
But Christmas gift giving is a zero-sum game: people exchange gifts of similar value at the same time. Imagine David gives a £20 scarf to Nick; in return, Nick gives £20 cufflinks. The net result is that Nick has spent £20 to get the scarf.
Yet if Nick is skint, would he really have chosen to spend his hard-earned £20 on a scarf? Perhaps he’d have bought food for his children, paid bills or replaced worn-out shoes.
We give never-used gifts
From naff socks from Aunty Joan to talking novelty breasts from workmates, unwanted and unused gifts are sent all the time. Many sit panicking with a ‘to-buy-for’ list muttering ‘must get something, must get anything’ yet why spend just for the sake of it? It’s not helpful for our finances or landfills.
There’s a stigma to the suggestion of not giving, and it’s a difficult topic to broach.
That’s just the start of this Moneyfesto. Think about how Christmas educates children to be retail snobs. At five they often care more about the wrapping and joy than the actual gift. By 15 they’re competing on brands and gift-giving inflation sets in.
This isn’t militancy; it’s pragmatism. By taking a puritan approach, I hope to soften the entrenched habit of obligated gift-giving. People could spend time not cash, donate to charity, agree ‘No Unnecessary Present Pacts’ with colleagues or friends, cap spending or do a Secret Santa – all steps in the right direction.
Martin Lewis, journalist, broadcaster and consumer campaigner is the creator of MoneySavingExpert.com, the UK’s biggest money website, with almost 10 million monthly unique users and Citizens Advice Consumer Champion.