The Do-Not-Stuff List

If you celebrate Christmas, one of the many traditions your family may observe is the hanging, stuffing, and frantic un-stuffing of Christmas stockings. And no matter who supplies the goods – Santa, mom and dad, or everybody else – chances are good that on Christmas morning your stocking is a (metaphorical) mixed bag.

That’s because stocking stuffers are their own special industry. Any quick trip to the nearest department store will reveal aisles, end-caps, and register displays tempting you with cheap baubles perfect for slipping into the toe of an overlarge sock. They’re cute or funny or quirky, and they’re always so, so cheap. Why not buy enough for the whole family?

Why not? Because in the cold light of Christmas afternoon, when all the ripped-up wrapping paper has been cleared away and you’re crouched like a sleepy, yuletide dragon over a mound of shiny new things, you’ll feebly sort through your stocking stash and ask yourself, “What am I going to do with this?”

One of the joys of giving is the pleasure of knowing you’ve given something of personal value. So, if you’re in charge of stuffing some stockings this year fight the temptation to load up on trinkets and knick-knacks to get the desired volume and heft. The trouble is you’ll end up wasting a not insubstantial amount of money on things that will be cast aside or simply forgotten.

With that in mind, and in effort to help you pick out last minute stocking stuffers that won’t be stuffing a landfill before Valentine’s Day arrives, here are five simple stocking stuffer rules of thumb:

  1. Just because you can eat it, doesn’t mean you will. Just this past Thanksgiving, I was given a fist-sized “turkey” made of caramel and other assorted sugary goods. I admired the craftsmanship. It was cute and theoretically edible, but it was also not really edible at all, because it was somewhat disgusting. There are a lot of special “seasonal” treats – giant Gummi reindeer, candy canes made with hot sauce, Christmas ham flavored soda – and it’s not that you shouldn’t buy these, but more that you should consider whether or not that treat is really going to be consumed. Because it’s not like you can really regift ham soda.
  2. Is this just a tinier version of something you already have? Consumer goods – for whatever reason – seem to now come in multiple sizes, beginning with regular (or classic) and then swinging wildly from the mega/grande class of super-sizes back down to the micro/fun-sized variations. And the tiny versions (by nature of their tininess) are pretty cute. But in a lot of cases, it’s just the same product, only smaller, and more expensive by volume. Which isn’t to say that you can’t or shouldn’t toss it in a stocking, but more to suggest that you take a moment to consider that you may be paying more to give less.
  3. If this wasn’t Christmas-themed would anyone want it? A completely unusable pen with a smiling Santa at one end. Anti-bacterial hand sanitizer that smells like gingerbread. Post-It notes in the shape of a Christmas tree. Try not to be taken in by the Christmas-i-ness of an item. Just because Santa’s face is on it, doesn’t mean he thinks it’s worth buying.
  4. Remember whose stocking this is. Probably the most important question you can ask yourself is simply, “Will they like this?” It’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of purchasing, but sometimes we accidentally transpose our own values and tastes onto the recipient. Just remember whose stocking you're dealing with and don’t let your personal preferences mislead you.
  5. Love isn’t measured by weight. Lastly, just take a moment and consider why you’re going through all this. It’s because you care about people and want them to feel cared about, right? (Or maybe it’s something different for you. That’s cool, too.) Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of judging your giving by weight or volume. A stocking filled to the brim with random trifles isn’t a better stocking by the nature of its fullness. It’s just a sock with a lot of stuff in it. You can give more and spend less simply by putting genuine thought into every gift you give.

To wrap it all up (see what I did there?), whatever you give and however you give it is always “right” when it comes from a honest, loving place. You don’t have to break the bank or burst the seams. Just be thoughtful.

Jesse Campbell photo.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, with over ten years of experience creating valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

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