It's time to ditch Christmas presents

By Staff Writer
Christmas is upon us and with it comes the inevitable Boney M jingles and in-your-face promotions to encourage you to spend, spend and spend some more. But I have a different tactic to suggest to you all – ditch the whole exchange of useless Christmas presents this year and save your money. Before you start throwing tinsel at me and calling me the Christmas Grinch – please hear me out!
 
How many of you have agreed to do Christmas presents this year capped at a certain amount (say R50 or R100 or something similarly low)? I know of several people who have created such a pact in a bid to reduce the festive season spending. But, while there are good intentions behind this strategy (i.e. a bid to save) it's still a waste of time and money.
 
Here's why: It's a zero sum game. If Annie spends R60 on a tie for Sipho and Sipho spends R60 on socks for Annie the result is that Annie has spent R60 on socks and Sipho has spent R60 on a tie. You basically pay to receive someone else's choice of gift. This is fine if Annie and Sipho have just been awarded a tender to build extensions on Nkandla, i.e. they are loaded and can afford it. But if you consider most people's finances in and around Christmas in South Africa you'll find that most are cash poor and present rich.
 
Christmas enthusiasts and the like are now shouting out loud at their screens saying that this is not what Christmas is about. But what will you lot say to those who are struggling financially? Must they be obligated to buy a gift for 'giving's sake' or to get into the 'spirit of Christmas'?
 
A run through of the stats provided by the National Credit Regulator (NCR) to Justmoney today shows us that 45% of South Africa's credit active consumers are struggling with debt, and the number of consumers with impaired records had increased to 9.95 million. 'Impaired records' means they are in arrears with their debt repayments by three months at least.
 
Nothing will, in my mind, kill the Christmas spirit or 'festive cheer' as much as a mother or father's realisation that they don't have enough money to pay for next year's school fees and won't have enough to last them till January's pay check.
 
Festive season fanatics may still be shaking their heads at me muttering something about the 'joy of giving.' But let's just face bare facts – not many would be pleased about giving without getting something in return. Christmas cheer has long since left the building along with chivalry and professionalism in parliament. It's all commercialised toff and the sooner we realise we're being conned into buying more, as stores look to recoup their losses or make a profit, the better.
 
The festive season creates this social obligation of giving and receiving. We joke that our children are more enamoured about the Christmas gift wrapping than the toy itself. Children don't equate your love to the amount of money you have spent on a gift so why do we feel bad when we don't spend a certain amount on Christmas gifts for our children?
 
Retail stores win every time and it's the consumers, particularly the ones that don't earn a lot and who are heavily indebted, who suffers the most. Think about it – if Annie and Sipho are unable to pay their debts or can't afford school fees would they have prioritised buying socks and a tie above these obligations? Probably not. So why should they have to do so in December just because it's Christmas?
 
I'm not saying cancel Christmas for everyone. It would be too hard not giving a gift to children during the festive season. But giving your distant cousin Mildred some socks in exchange for a dodgy Christmas jersey with sparkling reindeer on it is surely a waste of time and money?
 
This idea that I am mooting is by no means a new concept. English journalist and creator of Moneysavingexpert.com first braved this subject on his website in 2009 and has since got thousands of people to sign into a pre-Christmas NUPP (No Unnecessary Present Pact).
 
This shows that people getting into financial difficulty as a result of overspending during the festive season is a global problem. But why are consumers in a so-called first world economy being advised to refrain from buying frivolous gifts when no such advice appears to be dished out here in South Africa – a country that surely has more people living in poverty than in England?
 
To right this particular wrong Justmoney has embarked on its own campaign to stamp out frivolous gift exchange programs that result in nothing more than empty wallets. We've called it the 'Keep Christmas Affordable Pact' (KCAP) and to take part in it is simple.
 
Click here, fill in your details and the email addresses of friends you want to create a pact with and our KCAP service will send your loved ones a friendly email which basically absolves them (and you) from purchasing a useless gift just for 'giving sake'. If you still think this idea is too radical the tool does enable you to engage in an agreement to cap the gift exchange at a certain amount, say R50, for example.
 
This pact will not only help you to save money but could help your friends out financially too. Remember close to 10 million people are struggling with debt and few like to admit they are in the red. Why not give a real gift this Christmas by not forcing your friends and family to buy you one. Rather enjoy the Christmas spirit than focus all your attention and money on what gift to buy.

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