by Gary Foreman "Cratchit, take your Christmas grab bag and be gone. Out, I tell you, or you'll be seeking new employment!" That scene wasn't included in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" but I can easily picture crotchety old Scrooge taking Bob Cratchit to task for attempting to include him in an office holiday gift exchange. Scrooge certainly is the symbol of someone who doesn't like Christmas.
But, if you think about it, many of us harbor Scrooge-like feelings today. We really don't want to participate in yet one more gift exchange. We're out of both time and money.
The sad fact is that for many of us, Christmas shopping has become largely an obligation. We buy presents because it's expected. Take a look at your list. How many gifts are you buying because you really want to bless the person receiving it? And how many fall into the "I gotta" category?
Part of the problem for all of us is that most of the people that we buy for already enjoy material wealth. They truly "don't need anything". In fact, your present creates a problem for them.
Yes, I know that some think only a real Scrooge would take people off of their gift list. But, I'd disagree. Many of the gifts that you will give this season will actually hurt the person you give them to.
Here's how. They really don't need whatever you bought. It's just one more item to take up closet, cabinet or attic space. You've put them one step closer to needing a bigger house (with a bigger mortgage payment). You'll consume their time and money without adding any enjoyment to their lives.
And, you'll diminish your own life, too. Whether you consider this time of year to be an important part of your faith or just a time of goodwill, rushing from store to store will take your mind from the real meaning of the season. You will be focused on things. Not on the relationships that are important to your life. So I'd argue that it's really in the spirit of the season to reduce the number of people on your gift list.
In fact, you'd be doing friends a favor by not exchanging gifts. You'd both save the time spent buying and wrapping the gift. If you truly value that person, it's much better to get together for lunch or dinner and catch up on what's happening in your lives.
OK, in some cases it's not practical to drop people from your list. So how can you make the best of gift shopping?
Before you go shopping, consider why you're buying each present. Decide which people on your list are really important. You have a limited amount of time and money. Spend them on the people who are truly important in your life.
Everyone else should be handled without a big fuss. It's not that we don't like the people in our office gift exchange. It's just that six months from now they won't remember what you bought them.
An office party is a great place for a gag gift. Thrift stores can provide an assortment of items that can be used for funny gifts. Stuffed animals, clothing, coffee mugs and toys are fertile ground for the imagination. Is the recipient a stickler for time? An old alarm clock could be good. One where the hands have been removed is even better.
Many of us have far away relatives and friends. Unless you're particularly close, you might as well admit that you really don't know what they already have or what they need. So no matter what you get there's a good chance that it will need to be returned. Rather than combing the malls hoping that the perfect item will jump into your arms, why not consider a gift certificate from a national chain of stores. Or, better still, agree to a dollar amount that you will each spend on your own family. Do your buying after Christmas and send the 'giver' a photo of the gift that 'they bought'.
For local friends and relatives, think about where your lives intersect. That's the place to begin looking for a present. If you find that your lives have drifted apart, it's better to spend time catching up instead of shopping.
Then there's those very special people on your list. Your spouse, children and others who you truly want to make happy with a gift. Remember that it's not how much you spend. While it's nice to find a thoughtful gift for that special someone, what they really want is you. The people that are most important in your life want your time and attention. They want your happiness. Don't disappoint them by picking something that's expensive but impersonal.
Finally, please understand that this isn't meant to imply that you shouldn't give to those who need help. Not everyone in our world is blessed with the abundance that so many of us have. And the less fortunate can use your gift. If you can afford to, please participate in Angel Tree, the Salvation Army kettles or other programs to help those who struggle. If you're really in the holiday spirit you'll feel much better giving that new sweater to a poor child rather than your Aunt Edna.
Nor is this meant to imply that you should ignore the holidays. This is a wonderful time of year. My hope is that you'd make the most of your resources and bring happiness to the people who matter in your life.
Here's to a wonderful holiday for everyone. Hopefully your holiday will be filled with joy and wonder.
Gary Foreman has worked as a Certified Financial Planner and currently edits The Dollar Stretcher website The Dollar Stretcher
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