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Presents: Past And Future

Just as well we have one or two of them because there never seem to be too many shopping days to Christmas. By this time the cards are almost maxed out. But, we tell ourselves, it is Christmas after all. The kids always have presents, lots of them. They’ll be disappointed if they get less than last year. It’s beside the point we had more spare cash then. Well, we didn’t, but the credit cards weren’t as bad as now. Another problem is their ages. Growing up as they are, they’ve surpassed being happy with a few brightly-coloured toys. They are into video games, iPads, designer clothes, in fact all those things that cost big bucks. It is almost impossible to give them what we know they wish for and not end up in the poor house. We may start out trying to be frugal, setting a limit on spending; then, half-way through the shopping we compare what’s in our trolley to the overloaded ones around and gloom sets in. What kind of a Christmas is it going to be if this is all they get? So we’ll take the next ten years to pay it off, so what? Unable to help ourselves, we go on a binge that far exceeds the original plan. The check-out total is a killer, but we manage to ignore it. By the time the truth eventually hits home, Christmas has come and gone and we are wondering how we can possibly survive next month, never mind a whole year.

Needless to say, we will have to, and one way to avoid financial ruin would be to cut back on future spending, especially with regard to the buying of presents. Of course, it would be better if everyone involved came to the party. If friends and family members who give and receive presents would agree to either set a limit for each individual; maybe even just buy for the children who are 14 and under. Surely the other kids will understand, after the initial shock, anyway? It might even teach them about values. As for what to buy, an awful lot more thought would have to go into it when the sky is no longer the limit. The selection of a gift would need to be more about suitability than money: maybe something unusual, quirky, unique, old even. When the person we are buying for already has everything, shopping at one of the big superstores isn’t the smart option because everyone has seen what’s on offer in the junk mail, including prices. There are, however, plenty of second-hand shops, craft fairs and weekend markets. Antique dealers quite often have a jumble section of bric-a-brac and collectables where interesting pieces can be picked up quite cheaply. Then there’s eBay and the like.

By making suggestions such as these, it could seem that I’ve gone over the top; but when you think about it, not only is it financial commonsense, it can also be a lot of fun for all concerned. Considering how competitive big spending has become, everyone trying to go one better, that tradition could still be upheld, but in reverse, maybe to the extreme. Who can buy the cheapest present in town? What about the least suitable, something absolutely useless to the person receiving it? For the past few years, an old school friend and I have been trying to send each other the worst, cheapest, the most pathetic Christmas card we can find. So far, he’s winning, having sent me back the one I sent him last year. I don’t know how I’m going to top that, but I’ll give it a good try.

Most of us have a talent or two – art, woodwork, model-making, leather-craft, sewing, knitting. Making a special present for someone is far more personal and meaningful than simply buying one. Sure it takes time and effort, not to mention the thought that goes into it. Don’t fancy that? Perhaps you could come up with something else, if you were prepared to give it some thought. That’s what this is all about – thought - knowing a person, or getting to know them and their little idiosyncrasies, finding out what might please or delight them without having to spend a fortune. If two people opted to give each other simple, inexpensive gifts, over the years they may end up with a collection of what others might regard as junk, but they will almost certainly remember every item as important, both to them and the one who gave it. How often have you looked at a present you received years ago and couldn’t remember who you got it from? But the jumper that your Gran knitted from recycled wool, you remember that; and even though the elbows have worn through, there’s no way you’d throw it out. That thought did count; and it still does.

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