Michelle Teheux: ‘Tis the season to blow all your money
If you haven’t started your Christmas shopping yet, you better get out there and buy, buy, buy! The country’s economy is depending on you! Oh, and hey, merry Christmas.
Have you noticed how all the holiday news stories this year seem to be about how Christmas shopping is affecting the economy? It’s just assumed that one of the big reasons for Christmas is to pull our country’s fiscal sleigh out of the snowbank where it’s been stuck for a while.
This leads to us buying items people don’t need just because it’s Christmas and we feel we have to buy people something — anything. My dad has not actually needed any gifts for a couple of decades. Anything he wants or needs he has already bought for himself. He typically asks for gift cards to his favorite restaurants, which seems only half a step removed from putting cash in a card. But it’s what we usually do.
My children are done growing and aren’t desperately awaiting new jeans to replace the back-to-school jeans they’ve already outgrown. They are still wearing the jeans they got for Christmas last year.
Nor do they want or need toys. What they need, actually, is money for tuition. My daughter needs a car — but Santa is not going to be able to park one under our tree. So money being spent on gifts means money diverted from the things my family actually needs, none of which are easily gift-wrapped.
Back in the day, things were different. My kids needed clothing and wanted lots of toys. For years, I was thrilled to receive things like a new blender or toaster or towels. But I pretty much have what I need now. Last year I was fortunate to have my old slow-cooker bite the dust just before Christmas. Eureka! An ideal gift to ask for! But I’m unlikely to be that lucky again this year.
It isn’t that my family doesn’t need anything at all. We just don’t need many gifty sorts of things.
If I had a really rich uncle asking me for my Christmas list, it would include things like new brakes for my car and a new roof for my house. As far as something in the $50-range, well, I’m stumped.
I think it’s time for a radical change to how we celebrate Christmas, at least for those of us without small children to buy for.
We could instead emphasize family togetherness, complete with a big meal. Of course, this is what we used to do for Thanksgiving, before that day instead became an occasion dedicated to shopping.
We could give gifts of charity in our loved ones’ names, such as donating a cow or a flock of chickens to an impoverished family in a developing country, or a cash donation to a charity that’s meaningful to the recipient.
We could give homemade goodies, even though if there’s one thing most of us need less than more stuff, it’s more high-calorie stuff.
Would this hurt the economy? Well, not so much. If we really need a toaster, we’re probably going to buy ourselves a toaster, possibly in July instead of December, but who cares? And the money we end up not spending on unneeded stuff we’ll likely instead spend on things that don’t wrap well, like new tile for the downstairs bathroom or a summer vacation.
I’m not recommending Scrooge-dom. I am recommending that we stop buying things just because we feel like we need to buy something. Weak economy or no weak economy, it makes little sense to blow money on just anything that seems halfway appropriate.
If you’re asking your friends for gift ideas and they’re scratching their heads, why not suggest that in lieu of exchanging gifts you all go out for a nice meal together or see a play? And not necessarily during the holidays. Set a date for March if you feel like it.
I’m not quite sure how my children are going to feel about this concept, but as for me, I’ll trade the fun of unwrapping a lot of gifts for the peace that comes with fewer desperate shopping trips.
Michelle Teheux may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.