If there is one thing Christmas is famous for, it’s gifts. But the little parcels of joy hiding under the Christmas tree can cause more stress than they do children’s shrieks of happiness for far too many of us.
And if recent figures are anything to go by, far more of us will be feeling the pinch this season than we have for a very long time.
Earlier this year our spiking household debt levels inspired not only headline stories, but feature articles as well, examining what, exactly, was going on.
It wasn’t just that more of us were getting into more debt to clamber onto the property ladder. It’s that more of us were willing to chuck a bit more on the mortgage so we could have a nice car as well, or a holiday, or some other consumer good.
After a few years of caution following the Great Financial crisis, we were back in business this year, spending 162 per cent of our disposable income.
In other words, we are all spending a lot more than we can afford to, and if that hasn’t already started to cause stress and stretched your dollars, then adding Christmas to the mix probably will.
But here’s the thing; it really doesn’t have to. In fact, scaling Christmas back to the bare essentials can make it more special, not less.
After all, most of the pressure we feel to fund exorbitant gifts for our children and families is just that, pressure. It’s not actually necessary.
In fact, it’s perfectly okay – healthy even – to downsize our children’s or our families expectations if they are putting too much pressure on the budget. Especially where that downsizing puts the focus on others.
This year, for instance, you could join those who talk to their kids about the people struggling in our world, and ask them what they think they could do to help out.
Could they make Christmas special for someone else by donating something to a local charity? Or perhaps your family could pool its money and buy an essential for someone suffering overseas? Maybe a neighbour or friend next door could simply do with a visit so you can spread some Christmas cheer? In fact, why not limit gifts to what your kids can make or bake, for your own family and for others on the street who might get a smile out of it?
And on Christmas day when the gift pile looks humble and the kids complain, remind them that they aren’t getting everything they want because this year they are helping others to get what they really need.
And here’s the thing: You’ll be giving your kids some of the most important gifts in the world that way. You’ll be teaching them to think of the difference between what they want and what they really need. You’ll be teaching them about the discipline it takes to sacrifice our wants when we can’t really afford them. You’ll be teaching them the skills they need to keep their own budgets healthy in life so the stress that comes with stretching too far is not something they ever have to feel.
Most of all, you’ll be teaching them to think of others, of how they can help those less fortunate around them. In other words, you’ll be teaching your children to give, and to serve, and to contribute just by doing something a little different – all while you keep Christmas budget-friendly and stress-free.
That sounds like a pretty good gift to me.
This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz