The holiday season is coming back around faster than ever, and I find gift giving a particularly interesting phenomenon. Gifts are a funny thing, and the holidays are a time of year that is both inspiring, and one that tends to leave a foul taste in my mouth. This isn’t a fruitcake joke – the consumerism mentality and heavy advertising leaves much to be desired when I look at the true “spirit” of the holidays. Conscious or not, the consume mindset plays a big part in the way I end up spending for the holidays.
Putting all the connotations of “consumerism” aside for a moment, I want to touch on why and how I justify opening up my wallet and spending money on people that I care about during the holidays. In a simple sentence: I like buying gifts for people, but I don’t like receiving gifts. This particular blog entry touches on the personal finance approach towards gift giving.
Gifts, to me, to a certain extent – are a financial investment (with non-financial returns). A poignant financial cliché is the statement: “Money can’t buy happiness.” While in a wishy washy sense, this is true; this doesn’t imply that money isn’t useful in achieving happiness. My investment strategy during the holidays is a little bit of the opposite of this overused mantra.
Investing to me is the act of putting in an initial sum of value, and betting that the returns when you “cash out” on the initial investment is larger than the original sum. Gift giving – to me, is a similar idea. I have no problem “investing” X amount of dollars in the people I care about, assuming I get that value plus interest in return. This is a bit of a silly comparison, since returns on friendship are difficult to valuate, but this is a (the?) portion of my personal finances that I’m OK not tracking down to the cent.
This leads to an oddity in my “investment strategy” during the holidays. I tend to buy things for people who aren’t necessarily (on an absolute scale) my closest friends, but perhaps people I’ve taken a particular interest in, or friends which I see exceptional potential in. This is why (generally speaking) each year, I’ll get a gift for someone that probably wouldn’t have expected one from me. I think this pseudo-spontaneous gift giving is probably the most “fun” aspect of the holiday season for me. If you’re reading this, and you happen to receive one of these unexpected gifts – don’t feel guilty. Read the caveat from Part I of II. With that said, though, I generally limit my gift “budget” to a relatively select number of people. However, I actually find a sense of dissatisfaction with the people in my life which I’m more or less “obligated” to get gifts for. This is one of the “foul tastes” I described above. I get an added boost of enthusiasm when I’m able to find a thoughtful, or inspired gift for someone, but when I’m not in the mood or inspired to shop for someone, I find this more dampening to the holiday spirit than anything else. I’m not going to dwell too much on this point, though – It’s the negative portion of the consumerism mentality where we should be focusing on compassion and charity instead.