‘Tis the season to… overspend?

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Before we get going, how pretty are these lights? This is the Tithe Barn at Loseley House – we went there for the Christmas Gift Fair.

In fact, I’ve been to two Christmas fairs this weekend and have witnessed some crazy shopping and spending, hence the title of this post.

As we head towards December, obviously people are thinking about Christmas. Gifts, decorations and food, oh my. It’s the time of year when everything is all about opulence and extravagance and, it seems, overspending.

I’m someone who lives on a relatively tight budget, and that includes gifting. If I’ve not got the money for something, whoever I’m getting the gift for will get a lower-priced alternative. This may make me sound like a Scrooge, but I don’t see why I should spend more money than I’ve got available on someone else. I’m not after recognition or the ‘wow’ factor when I gift – I like to give people things they may not have ever thought of buying themselves, and I love it when someone goes ‘oh! That’s really nice!’ because then I know I’ve bought something they’ll appreciate that’s perhaps a little bit unusual.

This past weekend, like I mentioned above, I went to two Christmas fairs. Both of them were full of relatively high-end stalls – handmade glass, handmade jewellery, the most amazing wine racks carved out of tree trunks (I want one!)… all handmade, and all beautiful. And all quite pricey.

I get the demographic of the area (Surrey is a wealthy county) and that the people who handmake the items need to recoup their costs and charge what they’re worth (I’m a freelancer, I totally understand) but even so, some of the prices made me wince. It is lovely to have a unique, handmade item though, so I can understand a touch of overspend. But just a touch – not to the point where you’ll be getting phone calls from the bank wondering what’s going on.

These days, it really does seem that everyone goes mad with buying stuff the closer it gets to Christmas, and you’d think we were under siege if you venture near a supermarket. I get that people want to make sure their family have gifts, and enough food for everyone who is visiting, but there is a point where it becomes too much and too expensive. Christmas is one day of the year and it is one of the few days of the year (I think Easter Sunday is the only other one) where the shops are all closed. The way I see it (and I’m aware my view is very much in the minority) is that you need enough food to feed your family for Christmas Day, Boxing Day and the day after if you can’t be bothered to walk to the corner shop for some milk and bread. Although lets be honest, we’re all going to be eating leftovers till January, aren’t we?

I think the overspend and the overbuying stems from the fact that Christmas seems to have become a competition – whoever spends the most and makes the most effort for a ‘perfect’ Christmas is going to win the admiration of everyone, apparently. But if you overspend on Christmas, and have a minus sign in front of your bank balance for the next however long, is it really a good Christmas, knowing that you’re going to have debt hanging over you in January?

I sound like a right killjoy, don’t I? Or that I’m lecturing you on how to spend your money. I don’t intend to do that – spend how you like on what you like – but having been in a position where I’ve not had much money, and earning an erratic income now, I’m hyper-aware of everything I spend, and the ridiculous amounts of money people drop on Christmas just astounds me. I’d love to be that free with my money, but I can’t be. And having seen several of my friends really regretting their credit card bills in January, I find myself wondering what causes the overspend in the first place.

Christmas is extremely commercial these days, and there is a Calvin and Hobbes strip where Calvin remarks ‘And what better way to celebrate a religious holiday than with a month of frenzied consumerism?’ He’s right, but then I think most holidays have gone this way. The parents emerging from toy shops with bags full of the latest ‘must have’ toys are a perfect representation of this. Toys that their children ‘must’ have – I assume that the children have pestered their parents into buying Expensive Toy, and their parents have given in, even if they really can’t afford it.

I think we can also blame some of the Christmas magazines on people overspending in the quest for The Best Christmas Ever. At home, we’ve got the Christmas issues of a lot of the food and home magazines, and looking at the articles in there, you can see how people would feel pressured to create The Best Christmas Ever, stress themselves out and spend far too much. The pictures are all of perfectly cooked turkeys and opulently decorated houses – I can see how easy it would be to get sucked in and believe that if you didn’t turn out something as good as that, you were somehow a failure. So with that reasoning, overspending and stressing out is entirely fine, as long as the result is magazine-worthy in the end.

Me, personally, I believe that Christmas is a time to sit back, relax, have fun with family and revel in the fact that it’s okay to drink sherry at 10am. You don’t have to spend a fortune. Spend what you can, but be aware of what you realistically have available. A knock on the door from a debt collection agency in January will quickly chase away any memories of a Merry Christmas.

So spend within your means, people. By all means splurge on a few things, but make sure that making sure your family has a good time is not going to throw you into crippling debt. And enjoy the run up to the big day and the day itself – I know I will. Time to start planning what I’m going to bake this year!

 

 

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