Telegraph personal finance columnist Martin Lewis says, “With Christmas just five weeks away, there's still time to pull back and agree on NO PRESENTS THIS YEAR.”
The piece is part rant, part well-reasoned personal finance lesson. For one thing, he says the circle of those we give to is ever-widening to include kids, relatives, friends and teachers, and the cost per present seems to grow with it.
He suggests Christmas gift-giving is devoid of the “social banking” aspect of gift-giving at, say, weddings - in which gifts from older married couples effectively “pay back” younger couples just starting out with a “net flow” of money and gifts.
Instead, holiday gift-giving usually comes with an obligation to give back he says.
“Of course, gifting can warm the cockles, but it can also, in some cases (shh, whisper it), be just a little selfish if you can't de- link giving from receiving.
“Social convention says give a gift to someone, or their children, and you usually create an obligation on the recipient to buy back, whether they can afford it or not. If that obligation is something they will struggle to fulfil, you actually let them down.”
And at Christmas, most of us take a “zero-sum” approach, swapping presents of the same value. This “mis-prioritises people's finances,” Lewis says.
It’s fine for the wealthy, but for others, he argues paying to receive someone else’s choice of object may skew priorities and lead a person to miss out on buying something they or their family really need.
But don’t worry, he’s not saying the kidlets have to go without - not like those no-gift birthday-party folks - but Lewis does suggest toning down the shopping for kids, too.
“Yet it's still worth examining whether the size of your present pile has an unnecessary impact on your own and others' finances.
“Young children often want what they want – whether it costs £2 or £200. Yet if their favourite Christmas toy is just a couple of quid, many parents feel guilty buying that alone. They search for something else to hit their own ''spending cash proves I love them' meter – often even when in dire financial straits.”
Lewis admits that some with find his tips for de-gifting the season unromantic, even Scrooge-like.
“However, this isn't about stopping festive fun, it's a challenge to pressured, blithe and habitual gift-giving,” he writes.