The holidays are approaching, and with them comes the inevitable Gift Giving Financial Crisis, where your heart and wallet become enemies, and your desire to be the flossiest person on Christmas morning sabotages your desire to be solvent. But it doesn’t have to be this way! There are some simple rules you can follow that will keep you out of crippling debt while allowing you to give the special, impressive presents you so long to give.
1. Remember that your gifts are not a reflection of how successful you are. Everyone looks back fondly on that one loaded uncle who was emotionally distant but would show up at Christmas with shiny new iPods for all of the cousins, but your job is not to be that uncle. One’s 20s are a vulnerable time for “needing to express earning a decent salary via extravagant gifts,” but just paying for your own trip home is already a huge thing, and everything after that is not a competition for who can seem most like they have their shit together via giving everyone Kindle Fires.
2. Make a list, and stick to it. Just as list-making is the best way to avoid frivolous purchases at the grocery store, setting out on one’s holiday shopping with a clear picture of what you need in mind is crucial. Decide on the overall budget, break it down from there, and stick to that budget. If you want to be really strict on yourself, take out that amount of cash and leave your cards at home that day, so you are forced to only buy the things you set out to get. And you’ll find that when you actually take the time to find the best thing for someone in a certain budget, it’s often a lot better than just being like “Whatever reminds me most of my mom at any price point.”
3. Some people are gonna get cookies, and that’s just gonna have to be good enough. One of the key parts of breaking down your gift-giving budget is deciding who falls into the “not an actual present” category, and is going to receive a nice, be-ribboned bag full of home-baked cookies. And by the way, this is not a shitty gift — you actually took the time to make them yourself, and everyone loves cookies — but it is drastically less expensive. You can make a dozen people a really nice little cookie bag for ten-ish bucks, and you get to show that you love them while also showing that you care about your financial health. And you can’t feel shitty about that.
4. “One for you, one for me” is a great way to go bankrupt. Often, the temptation while holiday shopping is to start buying a bunch of shit for yourself, because things are on sale and you are suddenly in all of the stores you never go into. But a) the sales will be better after Christmas, and b) you never know what you’re going to receive for the holidays, so it’s better to wait until you have gotten your gifts to decide that you must absolutely buy a new pair of velvet loafers. Chances are, whatever you are about to impulse buy while getting your sister a scarf from Madewell, you don’t need it.
5. If you are on a really tight budget, be honest with your family. If you need to say to your family, “Look, I have a lot of student loans and buying the round-trip ticket home was a lot for me. I’m going to be making you some beautiful homemade cards, but I can’t offer any gifts this year,” there is no shame in that. First of all, your family is excited to have you under any circumstances, and do not want you putting yourself out financially for the privilege of them opening a pair of cashmere socks. Second, caring enough to be honest with people and letting them know that, even though times are hard, coming to see them is a priority you won’t miss, is a pretty significant sign of maturity. Only a true adult has the guts to admit that they have to have a pretty Spartan holiday, and that the travel itself is the investment this year. And that adult is way more together and impressive than the adult who shows up at Christmas tossing everyone Ralph Lauren fair isle sweaters like a WASPy Robin Hood.
Image: Ella Ceron
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