Professor's House

Please Don’t Out Spend Us at Christmas

With Christmas right around the corner, the wheels of worry and holiday frenzy are about to be set into motion. And on top of nearly every one’s list of worries is money. Considering that during Christmas an extra 435 billion dollars is spent in the United States alone – it is obvious that despite economic conditions, people are spending. And all too often, people are spending using money that they don’t even have yet. Around 22% of Americans actually take out personal loans to afford holiday gifts, while around 68% utilize credit cards to fund the ‘necessities’ of this holiday.

For families, this spending is often done in the spirit of competition. On average, parents spend around $400 per child during the holidays on gifts and holiday accessories. But what happens when a family wants or NEEDS to scale back and make the Christmas season more about the spirit of family than the spirit of presents? How do they tell grandparents and other family members who may not be financially strapped, or who may be head over heels for over indulgence during this holiday NOT to outspend mom and dad at Christmas. After all, if parents give their child three small gifts ‘from Santa,” and other family members are buying them I-Pads – how does this make Santa look. Like a cheapskate?

Certainly, it is necessary for children to understand that the amount of love felt is not equal to the amount of money spent on presents during the holiday. But it is and can be difficult for parents trying to scale back when not everyone else in their child’s life is on board with the idea. Is it even polite to say to others, “Please don’t out spend us on Christmas?”

Obviously, this issue likely causes many families to feel strife during the holiday season. When the calls start coming in about what your children want for Christmas, it is difficult enough to give everyone ideas. But when other people want to buy more for YOUR children than you are purchasing, it puts a lot of undue pressure on the parents. And certainly, this pressure is felt sitting around the holiday dinner table. Parents of course, want to be the ones to make their children’s dreams come true. And grandparents, often more financially stable and able – also want to indulge their grandkids during the holidays. The key is creating balance.

It can be hard for parents to make their feelings heard to extended family members when it comes to gift giving. For instance, if you and your sibling both have kids – is it really necessary to buy gifts for everyone, when each of you has plenty of children of your own? What makes this conversation even more difficult is that everybody feels a little bit differently about the situation. Your brother and his wife may WANT to give you and your kid’s gifts, because they can afford it and because it is part of their holiday tradition. But you and your spouse may think that gift exchanging between the adults is a tad ridiculous and you may not have the money to do so. So the conversation becomes about pride and about what Christmas tradition is appropriate.

The easiest way to avoid the overspending at Christmas is simply for every person to pick names out of a hat. If you have a large extended family, and there are multiple grandchildren, nieces, nephews and cousins – the best way to reduce spending is for every person to get just one gift. This ensures that the spirit of gift giving, important to so many is still a part of the season, but reduces the need to feel pressured to give gifts needlessly.

When it comes to your children and what gifts they receive, parents definitely should have a say. If you only want to spend a $100 per child this year because that is all you can afford, you should definitely talk about it with the extended family. When they call you to ask what your child might want or like, go ahead and ask them to not outspend you on Christmas. If they have an ounce of respect for you and your family, they will oblige.

However, be prepared for the fact that many people are so hell bent to spend tons of money on people that they will find your request offensive. And will spend anyways. If this happens, as a parent – you should not feel pressured to keep up with amount of money that they spend. While the 4-wheeler in your front yard may make the gifts you gave your children seem pale in comparison, the truth is that children need to learn these lessons at some point. Love and gifts are not the same thing. It’s easy to impress children with fancy gifts, and children will always be just children. However, it is most important that you do not engage in this form of competitive gift giving that ruins your holiday season and makes it more stressful than it needs to be. Plus, you don’t want to ruin the holiday for your kiddos who will most definitely pick up on your feelings about the gifts.

It would be wonderful if families would embark on pre-game strategies and meetings much like a NFL football team does before a big game during the holidays. It would be equally nice if families would not get involved in the ‘who spends more,’ holiday competition that has really has no place during this special time of year. However, all you can really control is what you and your immediate family do. If you feel good about your decisions, then you need to allow yourself to let go of the rest so you can enjoy your holidays.

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