The holiday season is synonymous with delicious treats, twinkly lights and warm, fuzzy feelings. It’s the season associated with giving and being with loved ones, and it tends to bring out the best in people. However, there can be a downside to the season as well: debt.
Eight in 10 Canadians planning to spend over the holidays believe the holidays are too focused on spending money, according to a recent survey* by Manulife Bank. With half of Canadians experiencing debt year-round, it’s no surprise that we feel the holidays cause more financial stress than any other time of year. While it can be tempting to shower family and friends with lavish gifts, it’s time to put down the $200 Lego set and the ‘must-have’ tech gadget and consider some different options.
If you were challenged to spend a grand total of $100 on gifts this year, how would you do it? Outside of pulling a Grinch, two ideas come to mind: experiential and homemade gifts.
Most of the people on your list would probably prefer quality time over something that they could save up for and purchase themselves. While gifting experiences, such as concert tickets or a weekend getaway, can be costly, you can cut down on the dollar amount by opting for something more low-key. All it really takes is your time and a nice handwritten letter explaining your gift. Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling:
1. Babysit for friends or family members so they can have time to themselves.
2. Gift a coupon for a pottery studio. Just be clear on budget, as some of those ceramic items are expensive.
3. Plan a night of ice skating, yoga or ping pong at a local recreation centre or free outdoor space.
4. Check out a community calendar for upcoming events and attractions. At this time of year, there are often free outdoor concerts or walks among twinkly lights. Offer to pick up the cocoa tab and bring along some blankets to keep warm.
5. Dedicate an entire tech-free block of time to your closest friends. Whether it’s a walk through the park or a night in, you can’t go wrong.
6. Offer some helping hands on a project, such as painting the house, shovelling snow or household chores.
7. Buy a second-hand puzzle from the local thrift store and book off a night to watch movies and puzzle together.
There’s also a growing number of people opting out of the one-gift-per-person tradition. Some people decide to pool their money to sponsor a family hamper or personal cause, while others go for baking or book swaps. Each of these options provides an opportunity to spend time with loved ones, which is a great gift in itself.
There are so many options for crafty gifts, even for those who aren’t artistically inclined. Start by simply writing down what friends and family love to do in their spare time and go from there. Here are some ideas:
1. Print photos from a memorable trip or event and frame them. Bonus points for including memorabilia such as ticket stubs and handwritten notes.
2. Create a recipe book or set of cards with favourite recipes. Include insider tips and cater to the recipient’s taste to give it that extra something special.
3. Make a DIY relaxation kit with homemade face masks, sugar scrubs and candles. Keep costs down by purchasing materials on sale and in bulk.
4. For those with sewing chops, consider a custom sock monkey, mittens or scarf.
5. Create a playlist on Spotify or YouTube of songs that tell a story (for example, “The Story of Us”).
6. Have some people write down one reason they love or admire the recipient on a chalkboard and videotape them holding it and smiling. String the videos together and set it to some music for a meaningful gift.
The weight of debt on Canadians isn’t just negatively affecting our finances — it’s also impacting our mental health. In fact, four in 10 Canadians are feeling the stress of the season.
Consider sitting down with your family and drawing up a realistic budget for the season. Talking to an independent advisor about creating a debt strategy can also help take off some of the stress of the season. It might not be the most festive way to kick off the holidays but knowing that you’re entering this time of year with a financial plan is worth the time it took to draw it up. Once the adult business is out of the way, let the gifting begin!
*The Manulife Bank of Canada poll surveyed 2,003 Canadians in all provinces between ages 20 and 69 with household income of more than $40,000. The survey was conducted online by Ipsos between August 31 and September 5, 2018. National results were weighted by gender, age, region and education.