I can almost hear the groans echoing throughout the internet as everybody reads this. At the time of this posting, there is only thirty-four days remaining until Christmas. That means making lists, watching newspaper ads, and scouring the internet for any deal that will save precious dollars.
Everybody goes about their holiday shopping differently (feel free to post your own particular habits in the comments section) and my family has tried almost all of them. I’ve shopped extremely early, months and months ahead of time, but that left me with premature consumerization. Then there were the years where the bulk of the shopping happened during last-minute runs to Walmart, and I'd like to apologize to all of you who received presents from me during that time. I’m sure they’re still collecting dust in the back of a closet somewhere, or been used multiple times as dirty Santa gifts. I've even gone Christmas commando and subjected myself to Black Friday a couple times. Let me just say this about that experience . . . it is not for the feint of heart. Hell hath no fury like a woman shopper, at four in the morning, who's just watched the last cabbage patch doll pulled off the shelf!
Thank goodness the process of shopping has changed dramatically over the years. I’ve gone from running around the state in search of that one item that nobody seems to have in stock, to buying 75-85% of the presents on-line and having them delivered to our front door…gift-wrapped.
But no matter the personal toll, to me it's all worth it because I love Christmas! Just ask my wife. I’m the largest kid in our family during this time of year. I love giving presents and I’m not ashamed to admit I get excited receiving them as well. I guess my parents are partially to blame for my yuletide enthusiasm, having spoiled us kids year after year. They did so regardless of the family’s financial standing, or the state of the economy. Inside our bubble we kids were oblivious to those problems, always awakening to mountains of presents under the tree.
My wife is the pragmatic one in our family when it comes to money matters. It took awhile, and I still have to go to regular meetings and be faithful to the 12-step program, but she finally made me take a hard look at my Xmas addiction. The burden of debt the holidays put us under when I was in charge of the present buying was crippling. Now we’ve adopted a budget for our holiday spending which includes swearing off credit cards and the evils of other same as cash incentives. We decide on a number we think we can afford and work backwards from there.
When it comes to buying presents, the equation for working within a budget isn’t as simple as you’d might think. It’s definitely not as straight-forward as this:
$$ ÷ #people = $ per person
There are all sorts of other factors influencing the formula. For instance, factor #1 = relationship. Your children always receive the largest slice of the pie. It’s a golden rule that cannot be fooled with. Parents, bothers & sisters, nephews & nieces, and co-workers are left with the scraps. Then there’s factor #2 = age. The younger the recipient is, the higher the gift quotient. Christmas is for kids, after all. Then there’s what happens when you combine factors 1 & 2, what about grown kids? That’s when sub-factors come into play such as distance, both physically and emotionally? Does a child who stops by and calls frequently deserve a more substantial gift than one who you rarely see or hear from? And then there’s factor #3 = the reciprocation factor. How much do you spend on the relative whose presents to you look like re-gifts from a dirty Santa party?
Think that's complicated? We're just getting started. Now that you've broken down how much $$ you can spend on who, there are the other sub-factors to consider as you plan how Christmas morning will play out. Will the children be opening up an equal number of presents? This can be a real challenge for families who have both tiny tots and older kids whose gift lists are loaded with items where a single choice could consume their entire $$ alotment. What about the size of the presents? You have to acquire at least a couple gifts with enough bulk to fill out the space beneath the tree. I won’t even try to address households touched by divorce.
Were a scientist to interpret all of these decisions, it would probably resemble something like this.
Oh. . . I left out the most important element of all. It’s the one component of the whole equation that’s a wildcard multiplier, impacting each and every part.
Does the gift recipient believe in Santa Claus?
After all, everybody knows that people who believe in Santa receive way more presents than those who don’t.