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The Santa Clause Equation

Let the countdown begin.

I can almost hear the groans ringing out across the internet as you read this.  At the time of this posting there is only forty-five more days remaining until Christmas, and for our family that means making lists, watching for newspaper ads, and scouring the internet for any deal that will save us precious dollars.

Everybody goes about their holiday shopping differently and you should feel free to post your own particualr habits in the comments section.  Honestly, our family has tried many different approaches. I’ve done the shopping extremely early in the year thing, but that left me feeling as if I'd suffered premature consumerization.  Then there were the years where last-minute runs to Walmart was common, and I'd like to apologize to all of you who still have presents collecting dust in the back of a closet from those Christmas's.  I've even thrown caution to the wind and subjected myself to the phenomenon called Black Friday a couple times.  Let me just say this about that experience . . . it is not for the feint of heart . . . and hell hath no fury like a woman shopper who's been butted in front of.

Thankfully the process of shopping has changed dramatically over the years.  I’ve gone from running around the state in search of that one SKU that nobody seems to have in stock, to buying 85-90% of the presents on-line and having them delivered to our front door, sometimes even gift-wrapped.

But it's all worth it because I adore Christmas! Just ask my wife, the largest kid in our family isn’t one of our children when it comes to this time of year. I love giving presents and I’m not ashamed to admit I get excited when I receive them as well. I guess my parents are partially to blame for my Yule tide 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 were oblivious to those problems, always awakening to mountains of presents under the tree to tear into.

My wife is the pragmatic one in our family when it comes to money matters. It took awhile, and I’m still have to go to meetings and be faithful to the 12-step program, but she finally made me take a hard look at my addiction and see the burden of debt the holidays put us under when I was in charge of the present buying. Now we’ve adopted a budget for our holiday spending. That 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 formula 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 equation. 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 present quotient. Christmas is for kids, after all. But if we’re talking about grown kids, is it right to consider such things as distance, both physically and emotionally? Does a child who stops by and calls frequently deserve a bigger 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 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 $$ you can spend on who, there are the sub-factors to consider as you plan how Christmas morning will play out.  Will the children be opening up an equal number of presents?  This can be a real challenge for families who have both tiny tots and older kids whose gift lists are loaded with items where a single choice could consume their entire $$ 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 can go on and on.

Eventually the equation I mentioned previously resembles something more like this.

Oh. . . I left out the most important element of all. It’s the one component of the whole equation that impacts every other part.

Does the intended recipient believe in Santa Clause?

After all, everybody knows that people who believe in Santa receive more presents than those who don’t.




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