Last year I spent my first Christmas in the US and I was overwhelmed with this season and with the amount of presents that everybody was getting. I admit that I went a little overboard too buying presents for the people I love. This season I have decided to do everything differently. The bad and unstable economy makes you think more about how much you can spend without considerable damage to your budget and what you really want to buy.
I love giving people presents and I am sure that all of you love it too (if it weren’t true then we would not spend thousands of dollars every year during Christmas time.) I also find that shopping must be balanced as any other part of your life otherwise you will start using shopping as a way to satisfy the emotional emptiness in your life. You will also get addicted to buying stuff and you will spend too much money on things that nobody needs as well as eventually get yourself in debt. This is a pretty gloomy picture that should not darken the bright holiday season.
Giving presents is not only about buying, it is about giving part of yourself to the person you care about. I think that a lot of people forget about it and they use “stuff” as the only way to show their affection and love. Just the other day I saw on one of the jewelry commercials, “You know how you feel about her. Do not miss your chance and show her the true value of your feelings – with this diamond pendant, earrings, ring whatever…” Is it really the price of our feelings? Does love cost $1000 that you will spend on that jewelry? Are your kids worth only a brand new toy that they’ve seen on TV? Is the price of a true friend that iPod or another “neat little thing” that you’ve seen at the store?
Finding great gifts for people you love can be stressful if year after year you are looking at the same things – STUFF. If you are pressed financially in the times of our modern economy then it is a great time to change your holiday buying habit and to try something new. I do not encourage you to give up Christmas shopping completely (I would not be able to do this personally ) but I encourage you to be reasonable this year and not to give in to all those marketing scams that flourish during this part of the year.
Before you buy something as a present ask yourself a question “Where will this thing be a year from now?” If this thing will be used then go ahead and get it. If you anticipate that it will be sitting in a junk room or it will end up at a yard sale then skip it. Do not waste your money and that person’s peace of mind when they are trying to come up with a legitimate excuse as to why they are not using your “super duper” vase (or anything else) because they do not want to offend you.
Give experience. Memories, emotions and impressions stay with us much longer and keep us happier than any material present. Movie tickets, state park passes, concert tickets, costume parties and many more ideas can be a real surprise for the people you care about. The best thing is that you can give one “experience” present to your entire family or to all your friends and you will save a ton of money on conventional presents while giving much more.
Give adventure. This is close to the experience present but here I want to emphasize that you have to give something new or really exciting. How about a camping trip with your kids? Sky-diving or horseback riding? Hmm, maybe hot air balloon ride or an unexpected vacation to the beach? Depending on how much money you can spend you can choose the best adventure for you (for somebody a trip to a sushi bar can be an adventure too).
Give your time. Do you have friends or relatives with kids? Offer them a free night of baby-sitting (Oh, I wish this gift soooo bad!!!). Pledge to your wife to do the dishes for a year. Offer your significant other a free week-end every month for the rest of the year when they can do whatever they want with or without you. Help your neighbor or relative with the truck that needs some fixing or devote a few of your hours to any big projects that they have (from planting a garden to helping with a move.)
Give a gift of health. A gym membership is a little bit trite but buying a share at the local farm can be a great idea. Most farmers all over the United States sell shares (membership, subscription) to the public. As a share owner you will receive a box of seasonal produce (some farmers include dairy, meat and eggs) every week throughout a farming season. Got to the CSA website (Community Supported Agriculture) to find farmers in your area (I am not familiar with similar organizations in other countries but if you have any information please feel free to share it in the comments below)
Give presents only to people you care about. Sometimes we give presents to people we do not really like or do not care about – like that colleague at work that you’ve talked to only a few times this year. Or maybe one of your aunts who you have not seen for years but who is coming to the family gathering this year (and bringing her horrible sweaters as presents.) We give presents to these people because we want to be polite and we do not want to offend anybody. If you still think that you need to get at least something for this person then buy something cheap (no matter how much money you spend whatever you give probably will never be used). Gifts must come from your heart and if the person you are giving the gift to is not in your heart then why bother with them?
Make a gift yourself. Self-made gifts are wonderful in my opinion because they give a part of you to the person you love. These are not dull things that anyone can buy at the store; these are real one-of-a-kind treasures. I have found a wonderful article that has 34 do-it-yourself Christmas gift ideas. If you cannot come up with something after reading it then you are in trouble. Another idea that I have used a few years ago is creating a year-round good wishes picture frame setting. Open your text editor and start typing your wishes for the year (May your year be bright as a sunshine, warm as a fur coat, exciting, thrilling, filled with fascinating impressions …) You need a lot of creativity and maybe the help of a dictionary to complete this project because you need to fill the entire 8.5 x 11 page with your wishes. Once you are done start changing fonts in order to give this page an artistic look. Print it, put it in a nice inexpensive picture frame and Voila! your gift is ready (I am sorry I do not have any pictures to come with this description.)
Give an heirloom to your kids or your spouse. I remember when I turned 16 my mom gave me her favorite ring as a present. I was so happy and I still have it and treasure it. If you have anything special that you would like to give to a person you love then you can do it this Christmas.
Make a donation in the name of a person. Show your kids how to be thankful and generous by giving a donation in their name. You can pick charities that help people or the ones that help nature and wild life. Last year my husband made a donation to Seaturtle.org and we “adopted” one of their sea-turtles. You can track your sea-turtle as it is migrating from one place to another through a transmitter that is attached to its back (it is absolutely harmless and is used only to learn more about the behavior of these creatures).
Give education. Let’s say your partner is a blogger and you know that there is an amazing blogging seminar or workshop coming up soon. Sign him/her up for this workshop and you have a great gift (it can be tax-deductible too so you will save some money.) You can sign them up for some interesting course at the community college, pay for scuba-diving certification or any other education that is interesting to them.
Give away your presents. Every year we get tons of things that we do not need (vases, candles, pieces of art that do not fit the interior of the house etc). Give them away to your co-workers or to that aunt who is bringing horrible sweaters. Just make sure to keep track of who those presents were from
Give away some of your things that you have not used. When you go shopping a lot of times you get free stuff that you do not need. Stores are filled with the advertisements BUY ONE GET ONE FREE, BUY THIS AND GET A FREE GIFT OF… Use these things to make small presents for your friends or your colleagues. When I buy brand-name make-up and cosmetics I always get a lot of free products to try (lip-sticks, perfumes, eye-shadows, eye-pencils, mascara, make-up bags). This year I am going to organize some of those products in nice presents for some of my friends who cannot afford such expensive facial products.
Be smart when buying. My husband, many years ago, worked in retail and told me about a few marketing scams that go on this time of the year.
When the store advertises something extremely cheap then usually they have only very few products for that price. The companies want to get you in the store and when you realize that all the cheap stuff is gone you will think “Oh, I am here anyway. I’ll buy something else.” The rest of the merchandise can be priced higher than usual and you will still buy it.
In clothes stores the front rows always have the most expensive things. The deeper you go inside of the store the cheaper everything will be. This time of the year clothes move from the front to the back every 3-7 days so if you pay full price for the sweater today then in a week you will pay 20% less. Just keep it in mind when buying.
Read fine prints for the merchandise that is on sale. When you see a rack with coats, sweaters and pants that says 19.99 then this price is probably true only for the worst looking pair of pants that you can see on that rack (the sign will say it in really fine print). 80% of people who realize that the merchandise they have picked is not on sale will still buy it because they do not want to look like fools or they have already got used to the idea of having this thing. Ask shopping assistants for help and do not let these big companies fool you into spending your money.
Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness that you are able to give.
Giving is one of the ways to reach life balance and giving presents can be your way of finding your inner balance. Do not limit yourself to the ordinary gifts that leave your pockets and your soul empty. Use all your senses to come up with creative ideas that can cost you a little money or can be absolutely free. Think about the happiness that you are going to give to the person you love and about the happiness that you will receive in return. This is the best measurement of the true value of the present (not the money that you will spend on it).