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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

To Shop - Or Not To Shop?

Yesterday, I got an email from an old friend. We've stayed close through 28 years of friendship, even though she and her family now live on the West Coast in sunny San Jose. The subject of her message was "Christmas," and I expected it would contain their travel plans for visiting back home in Illinois over the holidays.

Instead, it was the kind of message I think many of us are pondering: "I was wondering if we could not exchange Christmas gifts this year." On one hand, it surprised me. I've always admired her and her husband for their successful professional careers and beautiful home. If they are worried about On the other hand, it came as a relief! I'm paying off a big school loan and with the price of gas and groceries, my earnings just don't go as far as they once did. My credit cards are already bulging with debt, so not having to charge a few more Christmas gifts seems wiser than gold, frankincense or myrrh.

Not everyone feels this way. The newspapers are full of stories predicting the demise of many familiar retailers if people don't get out and shop 'til they drop. In the latest edition of Town & Country magazine, a writer bemoans the trend of replacing gift-giving with charitable donations. In her mind, it takes all the fun out of the holidays. Now, that trend is different from not exchanging gifts at all, but I think both ideas stem from the same issue: What is the wisest way to celebrate Christmas, or, any other special occasion (because I know not everyone celebrates Christmas)? If I'm worried about the economy, my mortgage, my retirement savings, is it okay to say "No gifts," at least for a year or two? If I don't feel like I can make a dramatic show of gift-giving or I'm fed up with excessive spending, is it okay to say, "I'll make a donation in your name this year?"

PlainTalk will feature, in the weeks to come, various ways in which you can get more out of your holiday gift-giving: suggestions for local organizations that need your donations; places where you can buy relatively inexpensive, "fair trade" gifts, so you can give and give more; "green" and charitable suggestions for holiday cards, wrappings, and other necessities; and, opinions, my own and yours, on the ins and outs of gift-giving.

At the top of this page, to your right, you'll see a poll - let us know what your plans are for Christmas shopping this year. You can also let us know if you have no Christmas plans! Want to add your Comments on this topic? Type them in below - you can list your name, or even post anonymously.
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  1. I voted No- and I'm worried, but it's not really about money; it's about what is appropriate. Just last night my husband and I discussed this and agreed that we will purchase gifts for family members, although we'll not be as extravagant as in past years. And, instead of giving each other gifts we will purchase a disaster aid tent through Rotary. We will also talk with our grandchildren about our giving gifts to Heifer International in their name so that boys and girls in very poor countries will receive a goat or a flock of chickens. This isn't to heap a load of guilt on these lovely young children, but rather to introduce the pleasure of giving.

  2. I don't have many gifts to buy, so yes, I have shopped for Christmas gifts this year. Books and/or gift cards are what I usually give and I knit scarves or hats for family. (Remember my obsession vs. hobby blog?) Anyway, I try to keep it small and put some thought into it. I also shop early and avoid the crowds. Although if the media keeps up with the gloom and doom reporting there may not be any crowds to avoid!

  3. I am foregoing Christmas travel this year (always the most expensive part), and asking my family not to send me Christmas presents, because I feel guilty about noting going to see them. This year I've got a boy in college, and some credit card debt of my own, and well, I feel broke. But because I also feel hopeful (the election), I want to do something charitable this year too. I look forward to seeing your ideas for sharing the wealth.

  4. I am buying Christmas gifts this year, although I am spending a bit less on each person than in years past. I am concerned about what the new year will bring economically, but I also welcome the change in our consumer spending habits. As a parent, it has been a difficult task to explain to my children that they cannot have everything they want, especially when in their eyes many other children seem to get just that. I think this is a great opportunity to re-evaluate what we really "need" and appreciate all the wonderful things in life that come without a price tag.

  5. My Christmas shopping is pretty easy. I give treats to my cousins and I get treats back. The financial meltdown and the depressing economic forecast concerns my family, but like the weather, you can’t let it get you down. Shopping prudently is an all-year objective. Christmas is no reason to splurge. Actually I like getting an early start to the holidays by celebrating St. Nicholas Day (December 6th), then just leisurely taking in the rest of the season without the hassle. If you’re going to give to charities, please remember the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal, the US Humane Society, The Buddy Foundation, the Tree House Animal Foundation, Alley Cats, etc.

    ~ Toozer K

    PS. I’d really like my own library card for Christmas (or St. Nicholas Day).

  6. My husband and I have for years now given gifts only to the children in our families. I'd like to say only kids under eighteen, but there are a few college students to whom we give small gifts. However, these gifts are not usually things one can buy at large retailers. We have bought used books at independent used bookstores (nothing over six dollars and it supports local, independent business), made bookmarks from found paper items (tissue boxes are great for that), sewn small purses, boxer shorts and pajamas from remnant cloth, and mixed jars of homemade hot cocoa mix, just to mention a few recent gifts. You'd be surprised how excited these kids are to see what unusual gift we've given them this year. Ours are usually the first they want to open.

    We do buy toys for our now six-year-old son, and one gift for each other, but, again, we try to find something unusual and not too expensive.

  7. We are feeling the pinch of the economy as well. We'll do more homemade gifts - bake more and definately more sales. But - we have to remember it is the thought that truly counts! The time spent with those that we love. We tend to want to spend as much as we love and can't always do that. Every gift makes an impact on the person that is receiving it because they are truly loved!


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