Giving and receiving gifts during the holiday season is such an integral part of our culture that the idea of not exchanging holiday gifts might seem unthinkable — especially if you worry about being perceived as a holiday-hating figure like the Grinch or Ebenezer Scrooge. But the truth is that gift-giving can be a massive source of financial stress: According to SunTrust Bank’s annual holiday survey of 2,500 Americans, 49 percent of people are feeling pressure to spend more than they can afford this season.
"The holidays are a particularly financially stressful time because we’re spending more money in general," David Bakke, personal finance expert at Money Crashers, tells Bustle. "There’s gift-giving, entertainment, travel, and a whole host of other expenses that need to be accounted for. And unless you have more money in the bank than you know what to do with, paying for all of that can cause a rise in stress."
Despite its reputation as the most wonderful time of the year, the holiday season does have one major downside: all the added expenses that come along with it. From booking a pricey plane ticket to your hometown, to shouldering the financial burden of hosting a holiday party, to getting gifts for all your loved ones — before you know it, things can really add up in the weeks leading up to the holidays. Needless to say, the holiday season can be a huge strain for anyone who’s on a budget, and the would-be-joyful notion of giving gifts can instead become a source of anxiety.
According to a new survey of over 2,000 Americans by Decluttr.com, the average millennial will spend a whopping $518 on gifting this holiday season — and the majority (56 percent) are likely to overspend on gifts this year. But who says you *have* to exchange gifts in order to show your loved ones you care?
The Pressure To Give Gifts
There’s no denying that giving gifts can be a fulfilling, rewarding experience, and being able to present someone with a thoughtful gift that you just know they’ll love can be a serious point of pride. But as pleasant and heartwarming as that feeling can be, it’s not worth breaking the bank over — and you should never feel obligated to purchase gifts just because you feel like you should (or worse, must) do it.
Especially within the context of a relationship, gifts can feel symbolic of how much you love and appreciate your partner… but gifting isn’t the only way to show you care. It’s smart to talk to your partner about your gifting expectations instead of simply assuming they want or need a fancy gift. "We often see gifts as a reflection of our gratitude, or of the significance of the person," Kristen Thomas, relationship, dating, and sex coach, tells Bustle. "This is a slippery slope, because our expectations may not match theirs."
When everyone around you is waving their holiday shopping lists in your face, it can make you feel pressured to spend similar amounts on your own friends and fam, lest they feel unloved or unappreciated. The truth? You don’t have to go on a spending spree just to show your loved ones you care. Danielle, a 31-year-old mother of one, tells Bustle that she and her husband made the decision to abstain from traditional gifting this holiday season, instead opting for a more personal, low-budget alternative.
"[Since having our first child] it’s been such a busy time, and the last thing we want to put energy toward is identifying the ‘perfect’ gift for 25 people (we counted)," Danielle says. "Being new parents really changes your perspective on what’s important, and we are so enamored with our new life that we don’t even care to receive gifts ourselves."
Instead of fretting over picking out individual gifts for everyone, Danielle said she and her husband plan to send out a simple framed family photo, and email their friends and family in advance to give them a heads up — a cost effective but nonetheless thoughtful gesture.
"You don’t have to spend a lot of money to show someone you care about them; in fact, sometimes the gift of your time can be the best present," Kimberly Palmer, personal finance expert at NerdWallet, tells Bustle.
Why You Should Never Feel Guilty About Not Gifting
If you’re accustomed to giving gifts to important people in your life, the thought of suddenly pressing pause on exchanging gifts might seem rude. And if your financial situation is inhibiting your holiday spending, you might feel guilty about not being able to afford to give gifts to those who matter.
"I have almost been conditioned to see gift-giving as the polite thing to do," Danielle says. "But now I tune out the cultural and societal pressures to give to family and friends for the holidays. It’s not rude, especially if I don’t expect anything in return."
Because there are so many other ways you can show your gratitude during the holidays, there’s no shame in choosing not to give gifts — and it certainly doesn’t make you a bad friend. As long as you communicate about your gift-giving plans in advance, there’s no excuse for someone to guilt or shame you for your inability to gift.
"If someone makes you feel guilty about not getting them a gift, chances are their priorities are out of whack — and you might want to consider how deserving of a gift (or your friendship) they really are. "If we have friends or family members who put up a fuss about not getting something from us, it will speak volumes about the values and reciprocity in that relationship," Danielle says.
You should never be made to feel guilty (by yourself or anyone else) for making smart financial decisions. When considering whether or not you want to give gift, remember that you’re the only one in charge of your financial future, and there’s no reason to be ashamed or feel guilty if you figure out that gifting isn’t in the budget for you this year. Besides, if someone is a true friend, they’ll be more concerned with making sure your financial future is secure than the lack of gift, anyway.
"The pressure people feel to spend more than they can afford can really put a damper on an otherwise festive season, but there are ways to avoid spending more than you want to," Palmer says. "Talk with family members and friends ahead of time about your preferences… They may also be facing budgeting constraints of their own and will be relieved when you bring it up."
How To Talk To Others About Gift-Giving Expectations
Even if you know that not buying gifts this (or any) year is the right decision for you and your wallet, that doesn’t guarantee you won’t still feel a twinge of guilt when you imagine breaking the no-present news to your loved ones. So how can you discuss your gift-giving expectations in a way that’s honest and upfront, but still casual and matter-of-fact?
You don’t have to divulge the nitty gritty details of your bank account in order to get your point across. If you’re tongue-tied, practice saying something along the lines of, ‘I’m trying to make smart financial decisions this holiday season, so I’ve decided against giving physical gifts this year. Instead, I’ll be [volunteering at your favorite charity, writing gratitude notes, baking cookies, etc.].’ It’s a simple way to let others know that, while money might be tight, you’d still like to show your gratitude and love in another, more meaningful way.
"Remember that others are often in a similar boat when it comes to gift giving," Lauren Korshak, LMFT, tells Bustle. "They may feel more external pressure to give than they feel internal motivation or financial motivation. Ask friends and family if they’d like to engage in [a] Secret Santa activity, or perhaps put a date on the calendar to celebrate over a meal rather than exchanging gifts."
Spending money isn’t the only worthwhile approach to gift-giving, especially when you consider that money is such a source of stress for so many of us at this time of year. But until you start the conversation, you won’t know exactly what your friends and family expect where gifts are concerned.
One of the most genuine gifts you can give someone is honesty, and this is one case where a little transparency about your finances can go a long way. Don’t let society pressure you into over-spending just to show your love; there are a million unique ways to make someone feel cherished during the holidays. As long as you communicate your gifting expectations in advance, there’s no reason you won’t be able to show your friends and family how loved and appreciated they are this holiday season — without breaking the bank.
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