The holidays are here — time for the festive joys of decorating and eating and shopping! And since this is a season of great excess — also time for the exhaustion of excessive decorating, eating and shopping. I am going to make a point this season to limit my shopping exhaustion.
At some point, around the time my kids turned 2 or 3, I started to feel this need to make sure there was a huge pile of gifts under the tree for my children to wade through on Christmas morning. Somehow in my head, I started to associate an increasingly large pile of gifts with my children’s happiness. I started to think the more stuff they got, even if it’s stuff they didn’t ask for and certainly didn’t need, the happier they would be. I don’t think that was ever a conscious thought, and it seems silly now that I say it out loud, but I was certainly pressuring myself to get more, more, more — budgets be damned! When my kids were 4 and 5, between all the gifts they’d get at home and then from grandmas and then from other relatives, they’d actually get bored with opening and whine to go do other stuff. “No! Open all those gifts! Don’t you know there is happiness wrapped up there?!”
I know I’m not alone in the chaos of gift-giving. I have one friend who insists on getting each of her children the same number of gifts so no one is left giftless while others are still opening. She spends the days right before Christmas trying to think of a couple things to get at least one kid so her numbers are even. Another friend exchanges gifts with everyone in her large extended family, needing a planner just to keep track of all the names she has to buy for. I have many friends who end up spending way more than they planned to, and others who admit to buying things they aren’t even sure their kids will love just to have a lot of gifts under the tree.
It seems like madness, and yet we’re all educated, otherwise reasonable people who do actually know how to budget. So I’ve decided this year to work towards de-stressing the gift-giving. There are a lot of ways to do this: Some folks give one expensive gift that the child really wants, and then just a couple of smaller gifts. Some forgo gifts altogether and instead spend money on an experience — a trip to Disney or ski lessons. Large families come up with their own strategies: drawing names or playing a gift-exchange game so each person is responsible for only one gift.
For more on this topic, check out our story about the holiday spending frenzy on page 40. If you have gift-giving ideas, please share them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Regardless of your gift-giving prowess, I hope your holidays are safe and peaceful and I wish you a happy and fulfilling New Year. I expect 2020 will bring great things.