Why do we spend so much at Christmas?
Ahh Christmas, the happiest time of the year. For some of us, anyway. Sadly, there are 75,00 children across the UK who will be homeless this year, whilst Crisis, the homeless charity, reported a 22% rise in the number of people seeking shelter last Christmas (1) and expects to see similar figures this year. With all this homelessness and poverty going on around us, sometimes the consumer-driven Christmas we've come to know and love just doesn't seem as bright and shiny.
Ever find yourself wondering why you are spending hundreds of pounds on gifts when you can't really afford to do so? Of course, if you've had a lottery win or landed a high-paying new job, then by all means splash out, but did you know that more people get into debt at Christmas than at any other time of the year (2)? Figures show that one in three people will get into debt paying for Christmas presents. So why do we spend so much money at Christmas, shouldn't it be about friends, family and having a good time together rather than splashing out money on the latest gadgets?
Keeping up with the Joneses
We're all aware of that social phenomena, 'keeping up with the Joneses', where we feel like we have to be better than those around us. It's human nature to be competitive – we want the fastest car, most attractive partner and biggest house. At Christmas time, there's more of this kind of competition than at any other time of year (barring Valentines Day, when women across the country can't wait to show off their gifts and cards on Facebook). Businesses are to blame for this wave of consumerism sweeping the nation – adverts on TV for Black Friday, discount deals on the latest e-readers, tablets and televisions, billboards advertising the next toy craze or the newest games release. Christmas has become more about what you get than what you give.
The road to unhappiness
Being so focused on what you're receiving for Christmas is not a good thing – in fact, it will only make you unhappy in the long term. Whilst receiving a great gift gives you a temporary happiness boost, the novelty will soon wear off and you may experience a 'crash' in your mood. The only real ways to boost your mood and your happiness are with diet, exercise and lifestyle changes – like quitting your job that makes you unhappy and seeking a more fulfilling career. That's why this constant obsession with bigger and better presents at Christmas time isn't doing anyone any favours.
Are we getting sadder?
Did you know that the number of people in the UK suffering from depression rose by half a million over the last three years? A difficult economy has meant many people are still suffering the effects of losing their jobs, or are in financial crisis after taking out credit they couldn't really afford. Yet for big businesses, it's as if none of this ever happened. The Christmas adverts encourage us all to buy more, promising us that if we have the biggest turkey and the most lavish Christmas Day spread, we'll be as happy and successful as the people in the adverts.
So why do we spend?
Don't get us wrong, here at Expertain HQ we love Christmas much as the next person. We might even be wearing our furry reindeer antlers as we write this post (ok, you caught us). But we wondered, why DO we spend so much at Christmas, and why do so many people feel they need to get into debt to be able to spoil the ones they love? Most of the people we spoke to, our friends and families, said they would be happy with a small, well thought-out gift that showed we had taken time to choose it personally. No need to spend hundreds on a flat screen TV or games console. Yet the urge to impress and always do better than everyone else seems to be built in, and the more we are surrounded by advertising on TV, social media and online, the worse this seems to get!
Break the mould
In case you're wondering how you can impress your partner with a great gift and get the whole family amazing presents without breaking the bank, we've got a few simple tips for you!
- Buy everyone ONE thing. It can be big, or small, but stick to one present per person. This also means you're likely to take a more focused approach to your shopping and put thought into finding the perfect gift
- Stick to a budget. Set yourself a budget for each person and if you fall in love with a gift that's twice or three times the budget, be strict and put it back. You don't have to spend a fortune to find a gift they'll love (unless you really can afford it!)
- Put some thought into your gifts. If they love jewellery, don't just pick up a pair of earrings from a high street jewellers. Order them a bespoke necklace or head for a craft fair and buy something unique. Or order something online for delivery before Christmas to make sure you're choosing something unusual and special.
- Buddy-up with family to buy gifts for each other. If you want to buy a larger item like a games console or a TV for a family member, get everyone to chip in so it's more affordable. Or give them a voucher to pay for part of the cost, so they can put it towards the one they want in the January sales – brilliant!
- If you have a creative streak, why not make gifts? From home-made biscuits, cakes and chutney to knitted hats and scarves or even jewellery, you can put your skills to good use and make something really unique they're sure to love.
- Buy them an experience rather than a present. A voucher for afternoon tea for two, the chance to bungee jump, or a weekend away at a romantic hotel. This is a gift that doesn't have to cost the earth, but it will mean far more to them in a year's time than jewellery or clothes – it will give them special memories!
It's important to remember that Christmas may come only once a year, but it does come EVERY year, so there's no point overspending and getting yourself into debt you'll only have to pay back come January. January is already grey and depressing enough – we want you to be spending your money on gym membership and healthy, nutritious food, not credit card bills! Christmas should be about spending time with the people who mean the most to you, and celebrating together; it doesn't matter how much money you spend.
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