Reminder - Gift giving is not a competition

As much as you may be tempted to deny it, the holidays are just around the corner. That means lights, tinsel, and spending. Lots and lots of spending.

According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans estimate they’ll spend approximately $781 this year on holiday gift giving. That’s up significantly from the $616 Americans planned to spend in 2008, during the financial collapse.

The economy, of course, plays a huge role in how much we spend on gift giving. Separate from economic concerns, however, there are social and psychological factors at play. We can’t help but think about how much we’re spending in relation to whole lot of other factors. Unintentionally, we wind up in spending competitions that don’t need to happen, don’t improve the holiday experience, and really end up costing us more than we should be spending. Here’s a quick guide to those competitions and how you can avoid them.

Competing with: yourself

What you did last year shouldn’t be a factor in what you do this year, but it often is. We look at what we gave and feel compelled to at least give that much, whether we really ought to or not. Because gift giving is tied to such strong emotions, like love, belonging, and status, it can feel almost wrong to scale back on our giving.

But the spirit of giving has nothing to do with bookkeeping. The important part really is the thought (unless your child is Dudley Dursley, in which case you have larger problems). We only feel bad about the idea of spending less because we tell ourselves that it’s bad. We imagine that people will be disappointed or upset.

Avoid getting into a competition with yourself. Don’t let negative thoughts push you into spending money you don’t have. Ask yourself how you would feel if someone you cared about had to spend less money on gifts for you this year. Would you be upset? I bet you wouldn’t. And neither will they.

Competing with: recipients

When you give gifts during the holidays, you often get gifts back. It’s nice. Gifts come in, gifts go out. The problem arises when you start looking at what each family member, friend, or spouse is spending and suddenly feel compelled to match or exceed that amount. If your brother gets you an especially expensive gift, you’re likely going to want to give an expensive gift in return. Or, if the gifts are already purchased, you may feel bad – like your gift wasn’t good enough.

When gift giving is genuine, though, the money is never the issue. Have you ever bought something for someone that you were sure they would love – it was the perfect gift – but instead of being happy, they were angry that you spent too much? It’s the worst! You’re goal wasn’t to set some unreachable spending bar. You were giving someone you care about something you thought they would like. Keep that in mind when you’re shopping. It’s not a competition. As long as you both care, your gifts will be appreciated.

Competing with: the world at large

For businesses, the holidays are all about trying to extract as much money from your wallets as humanly possible. There’s a lot of money spent trying to convince you to spend a lot of money.

Try your best to tune it out. It isn’t easy. Just remember that truly positive memories don’t come with a price tag. Anyone can have a great holiday season on a budget. If the spirit is right, the season will be, too.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, focused on creating and delivering valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

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