There will be plenty of time to dissect today’s Budget next week. So let us consider an even more pressing budget – and for a much happier cause: our annual Christmas celebration.
Whatever your financial circumstances, Christmas in Ireland is still a mainly social occasion that is shared with family, friends and community and it can still be a pleasurable holiday, even with a limited budget.
For those families that have set aside some income or savings for the holiday presents, food and entertainment, the expectation is for an average spend of just under €1,000, with Ireland second only to Luxembourg in the spending stakes. Of the approximately €1 billion national Christmas outlay here, as much as €420 million will be spent on-line this year according to Visa Ireland.
Our on-line shopping is up sharply (from c€257 million last year) for a number of reasons: on-line activity is growing anyway; it is convenient and a good way to stick to lists and budgets; delivery costs are falling (and are free in many cases) and consumer rights and security keeps improving.
For all of that, Christmas gifts bought by Irish people over the internet don’t always go to Irish retailers and many people are not aware of the Irish shops that sell and deliver their goods on-line. This is an issue that Irish retailers need to address if they are to compete with the global players like Amazon and eBay.
YOU NEED A PLAN
Since every cent has to count this year, try to avoid the most common Christmas shopping mistakes by having a proper plan. My top money and high street shopping tips for this December include:
Set a spending limit. Make a list of all the people that you want to gift.
Big families should do a Kris Kringle with a reasonable spending limit
If your budget is very tight, consider limiting purchased gifts to young children only.
Choose one form of money only – cash or credit card or debit card, not all three. Ideally, only spend what is in your Christmas spending account (which you can open separately and at no cost at your bank or local Post Office, for example.)
Prepare your high street shopping campaign: go early to avoid the crowds; park or shop as close to car parks or public transportation. Wear light, comfortable clothing. Don’t bring partners or children unless they are willing load bearers. Stop every two hours for a food break.
Consider a gift ‘theme’. It means you don’t wander aimlessly looking for inspiration. Ask if your local store will deliver. Check out if your local department store, bookshop, electronics shop has an on-line service.
‘Buy Irish’ at local and national craft fairs.
Give yourself plenty of time to shop or order via the internet. Don’t rush or you’ll spend more than you intend. Be aware of delivery order deadlines.
‘Theme’ gifts, recycling and home-made Christmas presents are the ideal way to spread holiday cheer far wider than your cash budget may permit, and I have yet to meet anyone (with an open heart…) who doesn’t appreciate the thought, effort and time that often goes into such presents.
Here are some of my tried and tested, low cost and/or recycled and home-made gift suggestions:
Food gifts. Either make your own home made jam, bread, mince pies, cakes, sweet biscuits or sweets, sauces or buy them homemade at Christmas fairs and bake sales (freeze until ready.) Wrap them in clear plastic with pretty labels and ribbons.
Small boxes of luxury Irish chocolates/sweets are a modestly priced but wonderful gift: Aine Handmade Chocolates, Lir and Lily O’Brien all offer on-line shopping; my all time favourite, Cocoa Atelier do not, but should. Lily O’Brien has a Christmas box for sale that allows you to slip a photo into the cover to personalise your gift.
Candles and soaps, small picture frames, books, dvd’s and cds, are all popular ‘themed’ gifts if you personalise them and choose them based on your recipients tastes and interests, not yours.
Consider living gifts – house or garden plants, flowers and seeds/seedlings are a wonderful gift for everyone and you can buy new or recycle from your own garden.
Recycle. Many people and families are cash poor this year, but the last few decades have all been about accumulating a lot of ‘stuff’. Consider giving away books (hardbacks are usually in better condition than paperbacks), stacks of dvds (chickflicks for teenaged girls and their mums; comedies for young family; action movies for young fellows and dads; histories/documentaries for the serious minded). Share your music the same way.
Give ‘Time’ gifts (this is a great, low cost Kris Kringle idea.) A beautiful card that includes a precious gift of your time is always welcome: young families would love to receive babysitting time; older people, an outing or regular visits. Offer to give your gift recipient a baking, cooking, photography or sports lesson or a few hours of help in planting bulbs or weeding, interior decoration or a monthly manicure (or massage) if you know how.
Finally, a charitable gift in your family’s name is much appreciated by local and overseas charities and is a way to teach your children about the real message of Christmas. Send a cheque or give on-line.