December 19, 2013

Hacking the Holidays: Spend Half on Chrismukkah & Make it Twice as Meaningful. ~ Brad Hines

Holiday gifting takes a major whack at our wallet and often leaves both giver and receiver unfulfilled.

Gifting, in general, is terribly inefficient. Despite the face value of the gifts we bear to people, folks will mentally discount the gift relative to what we spent—from already owning it, to simply not liking it like we thought they were going to.

Here are some steps to spending less and making the holiday more meaningful for both you and the receiver:

1) Have a list, a budget and broaden the context of Christmas throughout the year.

Retailers deliberately create a holiday shopping frenzy by releasing products this time of year. By having holiday shopping in mind ahead of time, and armed with a plan to stick to, we can avoid being sucked into buying more unneeded stuff due to impulse shopping and self-gifting. Why not get a gift in July when an item may be cheaper and put it away until December? This is the case with school supplies in October and certainly holiday decorations after the holidays end–stuff is steeply discounted as retailers aim to get it out of the store.

If you see something you like and want, remember that that isn’t really what holiday shopping is for; make a note and add it to your own list. Besides, too much self gifting is what my dad calls refers to as “Narcissistmas.” Why buy ourselves something we can just ask for anyway?

2) Turn the law of diminishing marginal utility on its head.

Economists recognize a natural law of consumption: we enjoy things less as we get more of the same. (Think about how people enjoy their seventh slice of pizza compared to the first as an example.) So we can get more psychological bang-for the-buck each holiday, by spreading gifts out.

For example, if we are Catholic, or even not otherwise celebrating something else denominational, consider to adopt the 12 days of Christmas as a concept, or budget for several small gifts vs. one big one. The point is, figure out ways to spread gifts out.

3) Conversely, as a giver, we all should understand how the law of diminishing returns acts: the more that is given to people in the same time frame, then the harder it is for them the receiver to process and truly appreciate each gift.

Setting the expectations is an overlooked approach to not just savings, but for serving as a reminder of what the holidays are supposed to be about. Don’t be afraid to set a number of gifts as a limit for each member of the family. Explain why.

4) Take everyone to do some volunteer work in the next few weeks, like at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. Being with family, engaged in that type of charity is meaningful and a powerful reminder that “stuff” is not that important.

Not only is stuff not important, if you are on a tight budget, do know that it is okay to tell friends and relatives alike. Asking friends and family not to give gifts because you are not able to give in return is totally acceptable, and it is never something we should be embarrassed about.

Some Online Shopping Hacks

 Consider joining Amazon Prime for a free 30-day trial the month of December and then cancelling it before the 30 days. An absurdly large database of “Prime eligible” items all with free shipping can then be searched from. This worked wonders for me, and I had all my holiday shopping done last week!

Armed with free shipping, doing our shopping online, we save on gas, time, hassle, and even the risk of a car accident.

Searching for gifts on Amazon is great fantastic because of the power of keyword associations. Even though I may not know what I am looking for per se, it helps me find cool stuff. I like to put in a term related to something I know my family member likes. A quick scroll through the results often shows something we hadn’t even thought of our knew existed. Try it.

For every item found on Amazon, before you buy, go ahead and do a search for the same item in Google Shopping. If the item is still cheapest in Amazon, we know we’re good.

Also be sure to go ahead and search for “free shipping” on Google for online shipping from other merchants.

2) Looking for discounts.

There is pretty much zero excuse when online shopping to not comparison shop; it involves driving nowhere and typing in pajamas if wanted. Anything I am on the brink of purchasing online, or even in-store, I go ahead and Google “item, coupon” for it (i.e. “Michael Graves Tea Kettle Coupon). For an extra 15 seconds of work in a Google search, there is often a 15 percent-20 percent discount.

Find those very codes automatically by using Honey, a browser extension for Chrome and Firefox that can automatically add coupon codes from all around web, at the time of checkout.

3) Homemade gifts.

They tend to be cheaper, and more meaningful to the recipient. A quick Google search for “DIY gifts” yields no end of stuff to make at home. This year I made these snowman ornaments from toilet paper rolls. They took five minutes each to make, so I just kept going and made a bunch.

4) Use Zazzle or Cafepress.

If we are simply not that crafty, I recommend merchandising websites Zazzle or Cafepress. Using digital photos, anyone can  personalize hundreds of different gifts all the way from a tree ornament to a t-shirt, to a throw pillow and everything in between.

5) Finishing touches show we care too.

To wrap gifts in your very own printed giftwrap, I recommend Spoonflower.com. It is a nice personal touch during the holiday to find out that the giver made the wrapping paper, too. Making custom name tags is also an essentially free touch.

Charity giving, as a gift itself

1. Let a gift recipient make a donation of their own desire. More so than with material goods,  charity to someone else, as a gift, can give folks the gift of feeling good by knowing that they helped someone out.

Using Kiva, we can literally send people a gift of a micro-finance loan. People can go to Kiva.org and choose from thousands of people around the world, domestic or abroad, male or female, who need money, choose the reason for the gift, and make a loan to help them out.

I also like Oxfam (America Unwrapped program), which gives our recipient the choice of either an actual loan to a struggling entrepreneur,  or donating  things like livestock, books, food, respectively.

These, often tax-deductible, gifts are great because they get to the heart of what the holidays were originally supposed to be about.

The beauty is that our gift receiver is receiving the gift of giving themselves, as they can bestow it (the money, or item) to anyone they like. Few don’t feel good after doing it.

2. An old fashioned Yankee Swap or Secret Santa are perfect for groups of people like co-workers, friends, or distant relatives for whom it would be too much time and money to buy a gift for every  person as a group. Google the generic term “White elephant gift exchange” for all kinds of variations.

3. The gift of service. Take photography for someone. Polish shoes. Organize someones closet. Bake a batch of homemade cookies. Fix something at someone’s house that’s been broken for a long time. The gift of service not only saves money, but it gets to the point of what they needed, and shows that we care.

4. Gift card arbitrage is when we take advantage of gift card marketplace websites like GiftCards.com, JunkCard.com, GiftCardRescue.com etc. Basically, many people receive gift cards they don’t want and sell them for pennies on the dollar. If we have shopped around, and we are certain that a particular store is where we want to shop, go to one of these sites and search for gift cards for sale. We might find a $100 gift card that is for sale for $70-80.

There is an obvious influx of cards for sale on the gift card sites after the holidays and this is a great time to check for giftcards to our frequently-shopped-at-stores, for as much as 30 percent off sometimes. (And, if we receive a gift card we don’t like, we can convert it to cash or another gift card at any of those sites for often up to 90 percent of the face value).

Creating rich traditions can act as supplemental padding to an otherwise unfulfilling, exclusively gift based holiday.

It could be baking something together, a certain game we like to play, a song we sing, or buying a $10 book (an actual paper one!) and reading it to children on on a special night like Christmas Eve or the first night of Chaunakka.

Traditions happen naturally when we do something new one year that was so fun that we want to adopt it for the next, but it takes trying something new to get there.

My brother and I used to have one Christmas morning where we’d build with the LEGO® sets we had just got that morning. As adults it might become something else…okay maybe still LEGOS.

When people have these annual events to look forward to, they think less of material gifts which often end up burdening them in the end as stuff—again, it’s that diminishing marginal utility law.

Want 15 free additional reads weekly, just our best?

Get our weekly newsletter.

Assistnat Editor: Miciah Bennett/Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: Flickr

Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Brad Hines