Holiday stress remedy: Spend less
I am aware that it is not yet Thanksgiving, and also aware that despite that, it is practically Christmas.
I know this because there are two stations on my car radio playing Christmas music nonstop, and because there is green and red candy on the shelves of the supermarkets. I have been informed by people who frequent malls and other retail establishments that the holidays are in full swing there too.
In my work email, I keep getting messages warning me that it’s practically too late to get a handle on my holiday shopping. Also that for my convenience, stores will be open practically ’round the clock from now through the post-Christmas sales.
They should be emailing someone else. I don’t think I’ll be doing much extra shopping.
Like most Americans, most of the people in my family already have too much stuff. This year two of my nieces took charge and decided that holiday gift giving would be on a raffle basis — each person pulling another’s name out of a hat to give presents to. It’s a system that makes sense in a family with more cousins than I can easily count.
“You all know that I love tradition as much as the next girl,” niece No. 1 said, “but as we get older it makes sense to make some changes.”
My own little nuclear family tends toward homemade presents and spending time rather than money on each other. We like taking time together to bake, draw and make or build things. My son likes to create a comedy DVD for his cousins, and my creative daughter seems to be able to make anything she sets her mind to.
That one likes shopping too, unlike her mother. I get nervous and overwhelmed just walking into a store. And I am as allergic to conspicuous waste as I am to conspicuous consumption.
I am distressed by the post-holiday trash piles, the towers of only-once-used wrapping paper, plastic clamshell containers, boxes, packing noodles, paper plates. The Environmental Protection Agency says our trash increases by 25 percent around the holidays.
Did anyone really need all the stuff that came wrapped in what ended up in that trash pile?
Maybe they did. My son can come up with a long list of things he desperately needs and wants. Then there’s my sister, who claims that if I give her a jar of homemade pear butter she will be overjoyed.
I hope so. My friend and I are making pear everything, all from the pears we shook off her beautiful pear tree. We devised the plan a few months ago: working together to make pear butter, pear chutney, pear jam, pear sauce.
“We can make our own labels while we’re canning,” I told her, “and then we’ll be done with Christmas shopping.”
I’m fairly certain that we will both end up giving more than just pears this holiday season, and that all my sisters will end up with more than a jar of preserves.
But it is worth considering how much we will spend — in time, in gas, in money, in a false sense of obligation — on presents this year. And whether the stress and the trash are worth it.
Polling by The American Research Group indicates that Americans each plan to spend an average of $800 on gifts this holiday season. That’s down a little from last year ($850), but up significantly from 2010 and 2011 (around $650 both years.) Forbes magazine reports that Americans spend a total of $450 billion in the month of December.
That’s a lot of money. I know there are those who, unlike me, truly enjoy shopping, budget wisely and go about the holidays with a happy sense of purpose. At least I hope so.
But there are also those who end the season with debt and headaches, stuff they don’t want and far too much trash. Maybe those people might need to consciously turn down the buying.
An artist with the London-based design firm Pentagram created a poster similar to the “make quick cash at home” signs you see posted around. Alex Johns’ design says you can make fast money with little effort — and no experience necessary. “Big results. Guaranteed savings. No hidden costs. A genuine solution to a serious problem. One easy trick — buy less.”
In these tough economic times, it’s a wise thought. And you might end up with more time to enjoy the holidays.
Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.
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