What is the most useless gift you have ever received for Christmas?
For me, it was a tiny hand-held battery powered cappuccino whisk. Whilst, for some this may be the best gift of the year, for me not so much. The person who gave it to me should by now know (considering we have known each other for over 10 years) that I don’t drink cappuccino, or any other beverage that may contain milk worth frothing. So, unless you have some ingenious hack for using a cappuccino whisk in an alternative manner (let me know if you do) it is unfortunately rendered useless.
Having opened the gift, I just kind of sat there looking at it awkwardly wondering how to make ‘that will be handy’ sound sincere. Thankfully I was rescued by my then 11 year old opening (from the same thoughtful giver) a small packet of sweets that turned out to in fact be cat treats. She was quicker off the mark than me, she smiled sweetly and offered a genuine sounding “wow, that’s so nice of you, my nan has a cat” while looking sideways at her sister who was eyeing her yet to be opened gift as though it may explode.
In retrospect, I can only come up with a few possible reasons for such a bizarre selection of gifts;
1. They were odd re-gifts.
2. They left it a little late and simply grabbed whatever was lying around the house and wrapped them without thinking in their haste.
3. They did the best they could with the funds they had available.
4. They…. Nope I am out of reasons now.
Whichever reason happens to be true I honestly wish they had felt that they could forgo giving the gift and free themselves of the obligation, I really wouldn’t have minded in the slightest. Not only was the whole situation a little awkward but it was also made all the more embarrassing for them (and us) when we moved on and it was their turn to open the slightly more meaningful gifts that we had carefully chosen for them.
The thing is, I have a sneaky suspicion that I am in fact to blame for this whole situation. Every year I had bought this person and each member of their family a gift believing it to be a nice thing to do but in hindsight it could actually have been the root of the issue. It is more than likely that my gift giving habits actually left them feeling obligated to reciprocate whether they were able to or not.
The best solution in my case would be to approach my friend and suggest that we don’t buy gifts for each other this year, right? Well sure, but how do I make that suggestion without transporting them back to last year’s awkwardness and making it sound a) patronising as though they clearly can’t afford it or b) like I just don’t want another whisk?
The answer to my Christmas conundrum actually came from The Mental Health Foundation who had launched their ‘Give the gift of time’ campaign. Their printer-ready gift voucher was just what I needed. I sent out a message to all of my friends letting them know that I would like to do Christmas a little differently this year and that if we all opted to give the gift of time to each other instead of gifts then we could have a collective pool of babysitting, driving, dog walking, cleaning, and shopping hours for each of us to draw from as needed when life just gets a little bit crazy. Genius.
Sadly, I am not the only person who has unwittingly obligated someone else to give a gift at Christmas and my gifting friend is not the only one to struggle to fulfil the obligation. This scenario plays out up and down the country over the festive period.
Every year Martin Lewis, founder of the website www.MoneySavingExpert.com appeals to the UK public to do away with unnecessary gifting and according to research conducted by VoucherCodes, we will spend almost £1 billion in the UK alone on unwanted items at Christmas. 71% of the 2,000 people surveyed admitted to receiving a gift they will never use. Unfortunately, 33% of these gifts cannot be returned due to a lack of a receipt and so they will spend the rest of the year languishing in a drawer or a cupboard. A bit like my cappuccino whisk.
I must be honest, before researching this post I was blissfully unaware of the scale of the gift giving problem in the UK. My original intention for this post was simply to share my ‘gift of time’ friend’s scheme with you and encourage you to try it for yourself but having found some staggering festive facts and stat’s there is clearly so much more to say.
Festive facts and stats
- Last year we, the people of the UK that is, spent £446,000 every minute of every day in the month of December on presents alone. This doesn’t account for the festive extras we just have to have: baubles, wrapping paper, food, drink, no this is just on gifts.
- Unsurprisingly, families with children under the age of 18 are by far the biggest spenders, splurging anywhere between £1,000 to £2,700 on gifts each year.
- 57% of us will spend more than we budgeted for or intended to spend this Christmas.
- 10% of households will put the entire cost of Christmas on a credit card. 1 in 4 people will put at least some of their festive purchases on credit cards and 1 in 14 will dip into their overdraft.
- 81.5% of us here in the UK will be forced to use our savings to pay for some or all of the gifts purchased this Christmas.
- In 2017 nearly 100 million single Christmas cards were sold in the UK. Add to that figure an additional 900 billion Christmas cards sold in packs and boxes worth around £230 million, plus millions of cards bought from online shops such as Moonpig.
- As if gifts are not enough, we also have the pressure of the work Christmas party with a national collective of £10 billion estimated to have being spent on partying with co-workers in 2018. The average UK worker will spend £323 on socialising with work colleagues, £150 on the all-important perfect party outfit not to mention the taxi fare.
- Secret Santa, the supposed solution to having to by lots of gifts in fact costs us a combined total of around £147 million each year.
The ‘Give the gift of time’ strategy now seems all the more important and I really hope I have convinced at least a few readers to also take up this approach but in case it is not possible for your unique circumstances I have come up with 5 more ideas for you to ease not only your financial burden this Christmas but also those of others.
1. Secret Santa
If you are partaking in a round of Secret Santa this year, please consider buying from a charitable store such as one of the British Heart Foundation stores. Just think what a difference £147 million could make to a cause if Secret Santa gifts were exclusively bought from charitable stores.
Draw up a budget and stick to it. This goes beyond setting a total Christmas budget, set instead a maximum gift spend per person. Start with kids, spouses and important family members you feel you really must buy for before allocating any remaining budget to other people. If you run out of money to allocate consider giving the gift of time mentioned earlier.
3 Extend Christmas
Stretch out when you are seeing people, if you arrange to see family in the New Year you could take advantage of the Boxing day or January sales when you buy their gifts.
4. Say no to extras
Do you really need Christmas crackers, napkins with reindeers on or tree shaped table confetti? Bring Christmas back to basics and you will be surprised at how much you can save.
5. Hunt down a bargain
Who doesn’t buy from Amazon right? Before you do, try looking the item up on CamelCamelCamel. This site tracks item prices on Amazon so you can see if you are getting a good deal and also suggests items that are at best deal prices.
If you have any top Christmas money saving tips, an idea for how else I can use a cappuccino whisk or if you want to share story about a useless gift of your own, I would love to hear from you. You can reach me on Caree.R@bluearrow.co.uk or jump over to our Facebook page where you can join the community discussions or just say hi!
British Heart Foundation (BHF). Undated. [Internet]
The Greeting Card Association. Latest figures from the GCA Market Report 2018. [Internet]
British Heart Foundation (BHF) Janelle Buterfield. December 2018. [Internet]
British Heart Foundation (BHF) Press Office. December 2013 [Internet]