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Why every family should have gift-giving limits

Why every family should have gift-giving limits. Image: Getty
It's wallet-busting season. Every year Santa's evil helpers start their liposuction on your bank balance earlier.

The advertising fliers that are stuffed in my letterbox are full of suggestions of items I could buy my loved ones that cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. A new car, or washing machine for Christmas anyone?

Pffft. What rubbish. Some of the nicest gifts I've received in recent years didn't cost an arm and a leg. One was a Nellie Tier lemon grass hand cream. Another was a hand-me-down top from one of my favourite designers, Verge.

Rethinking gift giving really reduces Christmas stress. Here are my reasons that every family should set spending limits:

We can't afford it
I read all of the feedback on my blogs (so please post below) and I realise that a lot of people who visit MSN's Money section really are struggling to make ends meet. Spending hundreds of dollars on presents that may or may not get used is diverting money from more important uses.

It encourages creativity
Setting a spending limit encourages the giver to be creative and think about what they're buying. A friend once handpainted me a pillowcase. This present was cherished for many years until it finally fell to pieces.

The next generation won't become retail snobs
If only expensive presents are given, children will learn all sorts of bad financial lessons, such as gifts are valued in monetary terms.

It reduces social pressures
Much as I fight against the thoughts, I always worry that friends or family have spent more on me than vice versa. The logic of this is appalling. We may as well not give anything at all and set the money aside to spend on ourselves.

It makes us address our self-esteem issues
Giving is deeply engrained in our psyches. I've been reading about its importance in showing that we care for people. It does, however, get out of hand. I've seen people giving and giving to boost their own self-esteem. That isn't actually doing the receiver, who may be fraught with social obligations, any good whatsoever.

Not everyone has the same money personality as you
The person you are giving to may not view expensive consumer goods in the same way as you do. According to financial planner Liz Koh there are four distinct personalities — entrepreneurs, hoarders, achievers, or thrill-seekers — who all view the folding stuff differently.

Spending limits don't need to be monetary
Last year I requested from members of my family that my children were only given one gift each, rather than showered with them. The last thing I want is my children learning bad monetary habits because of other people's psychological needs. I didn't limit the cost of those gifts, just the number. My mother once commented that my children got more toys at one Christmas than she received in the entire of her childhood. Life has changed. But that was a very poignant comment.

Too many gifts are never used
If we set a limit on spending then at least we're throwing away less on unwanted items.

It's better for the environment
The fewer items we buy and/or dispose of, the more we are looking after our environment. I do have to say that this does counter economic arguments that spending needs to increase to boost the economy. But I won't go there.

If you haven't a clue how to broach this problem with friends and relatives, send a No Unnecessary Present Pact email. The letter spells out that friendship is more important than expensive presents and the pact helps fight back against commercial pressures at Christmas.

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Your say: Have you made any gift giving budget cuts over the years? Share your hits and misses with us below.

User comments
With my sister and I both studying at uni and in different parts of the south island to our parents, last year our family decided to have a 'handmade christmas'. My sister and her husband were the hosts (mainly because they were the halfway distance between the most widespread family) which covered thier giving portion, mum and dad made photo montages of our childhood, and I knitted everyone something. It was far more exciting to see what everyone came up with and the hilarity still continues whenever my dad wears his fluffy 'Atilla the hun' wollen hat.
My family has always done this - in part so that people who don't have much money don't feel inferior for buying cheaper gifts, but mostly because Christmas shouldn't be a stressful, expensive time. It marks the start of summer for many and for us, it is about sharing time with friends and family. If you choose to buy above the limit, that's your choice but the majority of the time, everyone sticks to the cap and you end up getting much more creative, thoughtful gifts as a result. Also, as Nikki says, lists of things people would like are a good way to ensure there's no waste.
What my boyfriends family does, which I've adopted, is everyone makes a list of things they want, and that way, there is still a bit of surprise when you get something, but it's also something you actually wanted, not something "useless". Everyone wins.

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