Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. I have fond memories of mince pies, decorating the tree and home-made gifts. Every year, my Mum would start in the summer to plan and create our gifts. She could knit, crochet, sew and do just about every other kind of craft. She didn’t have sewing machine, but she had a full set of knitting needles, a collection she took years to build.
Back in those days, yarn was not nearly so spendy as it is today. Making sweaters, mittens and gloves was inexpensive and so, it was one of the only ways she could afford to put gifts under the tree. I remember her sending me off to bed as early as possible to give herself more time to work on creating our Christmas presents by hand.
I am ashamed to say that I was sometimes disappointed that I did not receive the gift I wanted. I remember being devastated that I was the only girl in my class who did not receive a Cabbage Patch Kid one year. When I reflect on this, I am ashamed that I pined for these products so selfishly and felt so empty and worthless when I did not receive them.
All this made Mum terribly anxious. Without fail, she would buy a few small things and put them under the tree, but every year the trendiest gifts got more and more expensive and always seemed to be just out of her financial reach. Whatever the most fashionable gift of the year was, the prices always inched up so that a single mom of the working-poor could never have those gifts within reach. Pride and dignity prevailed at all times of the year and accepting hand-outs from friends or charity groups was out of the question. Sleep deprivation was a small price to pay to ensure there was something under the tree on Christmas morning.
As I look back, I can not remember any of the consumer products that I received as Christmas gifts, but I remember every single handmade gift she made me. The effort and love she put into those gifts are what have left me with warm and special memories. She died at Christmas time and my tolerance for consumerism has waned every year since. What I wouldn’t do for one of her hand-made sweaters today!
Here are seven things I have learned about Christmas gifts:
- The amount of money spent on a gift is not equal or proportionate to the amount of love in the giver’s heart.
- Store-bought gifts take less time than hand-made gifts.
- A gesture of kindness, a hand-written card or sincere forgiveness for something that went wrong in the past, are better gifts than anything money can buy.
- When the giving comes from your heart, it is more likely to be cherished in the long run.
- The best gifts are those that leave us with warm memories.
- Spending time to build, create or prepare a gift is often more valuable than spending cash to buy one.
- Thoughtfulness and intentionality count. Thinking of what the recipient would deeply enjoy takes effort and a deep focus on the person on the receiving end. Think twice before buying gourmet coffee for the person who does not care for caffeinated beverages.
If you are going to buy gifts this year, here’s a way to lead by example when to comes to putting the spirit of Christmas ahead of the spending:
Set a budget
One of the basics of financial literacy is budgeting. Decide how much you can spend on gifts. Then, figure out who you want to buy gifts for. Allocate a maximum amount of money for each person. Remember to factor in taxes and if you are buying online, remember the shipping costs, too. The amount you spend on all of your recipients combined can not exceed your total.
Gail Vaz-Oxlade has an excellent online worksheet to help you plan your holiday spending: http://www.gailvazoxlade.com/resources/holiday_spending_plan.html
Look at where the product is made. If it’s made in your country, or better yet, your province or state, it is more likely that it was made under fair working conditions. Why not support your own local economy?
Support independent businesses and solo-preneurs
Farmers markets, craft fairs and independently owned shops and businesses are just a few of the placed you can find locally-made products.
I was recently told that 70% of all small businesses in Canada are service-based businesses. How about a gift certificate for a house-cleaning or a massage? There are plenty of options for a gift that allows the recipient to feel pampered without adding more to the landfill.
Remember that Christmas is not about how much money you spend on others, but offering letting the love in your heart shine towards those whom you hold dearest to your soul. A gift can come in many forms, but best are those that leave you with warm memories to hold on to long after the gift itself has gone from your life.
For those of us who work in the literacy field and are advocates of literacy, it is up to us to lead by example when it comes to responsible spending during the holidays. So have yourself a financially literate Christmas and focus on sharing laughter and love this holiday season.
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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.