Holiday Gifting

David Etheriedge, Etheriedge & Associates, PC

I made a store run a few days ago to grab some supplies for the office. Upon walking through the door, I was bombarded with sights and sounds of Christmas. Yes, the commercial Holiday Season is here and in high gear. Twinkling lights, bright colors, comforting scents and festive music inspire warm and nostalgic feelings in many of us, but we should all beware the pressure to join the mindless buying frenzy marketers hope to draw us all into this time of year.  I am not advocating anyone adopt a Scrooge mentality, quite the opposite actually. 

Rather than taking the marketing bait, rather than simply buying something (the latest and greatest game system, phone, computer, tool, designer clothing, bling, etc.) to buy something because it is expected, anticipated or just advertised, pause and think – Is this something the person really needs or wants? Is this something (along with all of the other things) I can afford? What am I communicating with this gift (about myself, the intended recipient and our relationship), and is it what I want to communicate? 

Of course, not every situation warrants such a contemplative attitude – the “for the heck of it” stocking stuffer, or the office party gift, for instance. But, I am still an advocate of establishing a general plan for the season, and being mindful with my gifting.

As an estate planning attorney, a husband of 31 years, father of 6, a recently christened grandfather, and someone who has done some things right and many things wrong over the years, I encourage you to consider the following holiday gifting ideas this season:

What is your Gifting Budget?

Young or old, living paycheck to paycheck or flush with funds to spare, everyone should establish a reasonable budget for holiday gifting (as well as for the rest of the year).

Buying beyond your means (especially if you are just buying “stuff”) will not be a blessing to anyone in the long run.  The momentary joy and excitement will quickly fade, and you will be left to deal with the anxiety and stress of the debt you incurred.  At the same time, gifting beyond your means can establish an unhealthy cycle of recurring holiday stress as you attempt to meet the future inflated expectations of recipients in the hope of preventing their disappointment.  

Even if you have significant wealth, consider the perspective and outlook of your recipients – especially if they are your children, grandchildren, etc. For instance, is it really in my child’s best interests to receive the latest Apple product when they already have last year’s model/version that still works fine? What about leaving some “wants” on the table, so they can learn the value of money, time and life? 

Some people just love to give, and that is wonderful.  But, does every gift you give necessarily need to be a store-bought item? Depending on the recipient, something you create (ex., a personal craft, homemade cookies, a pie from your grandmother’s recipe stash, etc.) or the gift of a specific time or skill commitment (ex., free babysitting so your friend can go on a date with her husband, or an afternoon devoted to helping clean or organize a friend’s garage or closet) could be more meaningful and appreciated. 

Just pause…and consider…before jumping in. 

Values

Deep down, gift-giving is all about relationships and values.  Gifts are generally intended as “tokens” of love and affection, a small way of communicating that we value those closest to us and our relationships with them.  Our primary focus should never be the “token.” Do not get lost in the forrest for the trees.  The person, the relationship, and the shared love and affection are the things that really count.  

We should not lose track of this, regardless of whether we are on the giving end or the receiving end.

Throwing gifts at an unhealthy relationship does nothing good in the long run. Investing personal energy into developing and maintaining a healthy relationship will help reduce the significance of the gifts themselves to the mere tokens and embellishments they should be.  

For children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc., a gift that encourages growth in your relationship, or perhaps one that incentivizes skill or character building, may be worth pondering.  Ideas might include: a proposed mutual excursion or adventure (ex., a camping or fishing trip, a train ride, a local photography workshop together, etc.); a small gift of stock in a company that produces one of the recipient’s favorite products; a proposed funding match on dollars to be earned in a small entrepreneurial endeavor; or, a “wanted item” in return for commitment to join you in a charitable service event.

Speaking of charity, we have found great value in both, incorporating charitable giving into our holiday plans and involving the whole family in the process. By way of example, we love the ministries, Samaritan’s Purse and Hope Unlimited. One year when our children were younger, rather than simply making a year-end donation, my wife and I introduced the kids to these organizations and what they do. Then, we gave them (five at the time) each $20 at Thanksgiving and challenged them to brainstorm together on ways they could multiply the funds into a larger sum to give to the two nonprofit organizations before the end of the year. A day or two later, they excitedly announced they were pooling the funds to purchase ingredients for making homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies they planned to sell. They printed information on both charities to share with any interested cookie buyers; they contacted friends and a few friendly area businesses, explaining what they were doing and received a number of pre-orders; they made, sold and personally delivered several batches of pre-ordered cookies; received and fulfilled additional pre-orders from friends of satisfied customers; then, made other batches they sold door-to-door in our neighborhood. When all was said and done, they more than quadrupled the initial funds and enthusiastically forwarded all proceeds to the two organizations. It was a great experience on all levels.

Do not miss the opportunity to contribute something (time, money, etc.) this season to, or for the benefit of, a worthy cause or charitable organization. If you can also manage to inspire a sense of compassion and generosity in those that look up to you while you are at it, all the better!

Experience vs. Stuff

This is one of my personal favorites! A number of years ago, when our youngest was 10, my wife and I were trying to compile a Christmas gift list.  We were really struggling to find anything our kids actually needed, or “reasonably” wanted (I am sure someone wanted a shiny new car or the like…).  I realize this was a “first-world” problem, but I know many of our friends and clients have experienced this situation. So, we decided to stop buying and giving anymore “stuff” for Christmas.  Instead, we decided to give a family experience, something that will build memories and encourage deeper and richer inter-family relationships.

Do not get me wrong, we still decorate and have a wonderful time of celebrating the Christmas holidays.  Rather than investing significant funds into gift-giving, however, we give each of our kids a stocking at Christmas which includes a few unique, unusual or just “fun” items (I enjoy searching for these throughout the year), and everyone purchases a single gift item with a predetermined approximate value to be used in a family game of “white elephant” (lots of fun).  Thereafter, my wife and I reveal the experience we are giving to the family (usually something we will all do together at some point during the year).

The first year was an adjustment, but our children have told us over and over how thankful they are for the transition and how much they love “the way we do Christmas.”

While it may not be the right choice for everyone, I encourage you to consider the idea, or the incorporation of some “family experience” element into your holiday celebration.

I hope you and your family enjoy a wonderful and blessed holiday season!

David Etheriedge, Etheriedge & Associates, PC