Too Broke to Buy Christmas Presents

Christmas 1930 by dok1 on FlickrUnfortunately, I suspect many gift-givers may feel this way around this time of year. What was once a mad rush between Thanksgiving and Christmas has spread into a “rush” of pre-Black Friday sales during the entire month of November.

I suspect one day the entire second half of the year will be devoted to Christmas shopping, which is a sad commentary, on many levels, about our addiction to consuming and present buying.

Now that Scrooge has said his piece, let’s address specifically the issue of how to handle Christmas presents when you are not in a financial situation to buy anything for loved ones.

Setting Realistic Expectations

First, we must establish that we are all adults, and adults should, in my opinion, have very minimal expectations of receiving gifts from extended family members. Expectations should decline further given this is still a tough economy, and most people are more interested in saving their money than spending it.

Further still, a good many people are recovering from a layoff, or are still unemployed, so any reasonable person would expect that family not to buy gifts for other family members, and instead try to have a modest Christmas for their children, etc.

Having said all of that, I recognize that gift giving, and a lack of the ability participate, is the cause of much holiday anxiety. I can certainly understand that where children are concerned.

Gifts as an Expression of Love, Not a Holiday Obligation

As a parent, I want my children to enjoy a nice Christmas, and I want them to have a couple nice gifts from Mom and Dad (in addition to anything delivered by Santa). But sometimes you just have to be realistic.

If it comes down to paying the power bill or buying Christmas gifts for cousins, coworkers and friends, we’re paying for lights and heat. If it comes down to making a mortgage payment or buying electronics and toys for the kids, well, it would be silly not to pay the mortgage.

Seems so reasonable in writing, doesn’t it? But it is something people all over will struggle with this Christmas because reason doesn’t often play a big role in spending decisions, particularly around the holidays. And marketers know it. They prey on our emotional  ties to holiday gift giving and have convinced a good many of us that to forgo the purchase of presents is to show a lack of love for someone you care about. Baloney!

Too many people equate love with a tree towering over a stack of paper-wrapped presents. Too many people stack those presents higher and higher in an effort to make up for some lack of emotion they failed to show loved ones all year around.

An absent mom or dad often buys lavish gifts to make up for not being there for baseball games, piano recitals and open house at the new school. Successful kids often send expensive gifts to mom and dad to make up for never calling or stopping by to visit.

The reason I selected the photo above to accompany this post was not because the people depicted appear broke (although it was taken circa 1930, and I suspect they didn’t have a lot of money), but because the grandmother and great-grandfather show a lot of love their grandchildren through the simple act of sitting in the floor and playing with them on Christmas morning.

The photographer even comments that the dump truck he and his brother received were enjoyed for many years to come, probably because they came from someone who loved them so – not because they were especially expensive toys with flashing lights and computerized voices, etc.

Gifts aren’t all bad. After all, a nice gift can be an expression of love, if it is thoughtful and from the heart, not just because it is expensive.

I challenge everyone this year to go into Christmas shopping with a new attitude. Don’t feel an obligation to buy for everyone on your Christmas list. Feel an obligation to find a thoughtful, inexpensive way to mark the holiday season by telling someone you love and appreciate them.

Think about that person as more than just a name on your shopping list. What motivates them? What are they passionate about? What have they expressed an interest in over the last year? A “gift” for them could come in a tiny box, or be a big experience, and neither have to cost a lot of money.

It may take just a little planning or creativity on your part, but if done right, it will be more memorable than anything you find in a store.

Please share your Christmas shopping strategy with us in the comments below, and also look for more discussion on the subject of Christmas shopping at our Facebook page and Twitter feed.

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