If someone doesn’t understand you don’t have the cash to buy them a gift, they don’t deserve one
Have you got your Christmas gifts yet? It seems to be the only thing that people want to talk about at the moment, from the panic buying of cyber Monday to Mary Berry’s IOU notes, because she is too busy to shop for presents.
I’m not giving any gifts this year. Not because I don’t have time – I can’t afford to. You may accuse me of being miserly, a Grinch or Scrooge, but I can assure you that I’m not. I love Christmas traditions, especially watching the Queen’s speech and eating huge Victorian-style puddings with my family. I just don’t like spending money that I don’t have.
My mum didn’t believe me when I told her I wasn’t doing Christmas this year. She seemed completely unaware that just five minutes previously I’d told her that my boyfriend is thousands of pounds in debt on his credit card. As far as I’m concerned, until he’s paid that off, we’re not in a position to be throwing money at 3-for-2 gift sets in Boots. And we’re not alone in cutting back this year – ONS figures show that households in the UK have been restraining their Christmas spendingsince 2008.
Are you one of those people who has casually accepted that you’re going to have to sink deeper into debt this Christmas? Just who are you getting yourself into debt for? Your partner? Your sister? The person who sits opposite you at work whom you secretly detest? If someone doesn’t understand you can’t afford to buy them a gift, then they don’t deserve one. What kind of person would want you to get yourself into debt just to buy them something? Not your loved ones, surely.
My mum bought me a Moschino scarf for Christmas a few years ago. It was vile. I’m quite a straightforward person so I told her, politely, that I wouldn’t have put it on the snowman in the back yard let alone wear it myself. Her response? She was thrilled because she had “overspent”. The scarf had cost her £100, so she took it back and kept the money. I bet she’s not the only one who overspends at this time of year.
I don’t wish to shame people who are in debt and I absolutely disagree with the idea that poor people are poor because they make bad decisions. That’s unfair and excuses the greedy rich, who clearly make some very bad decisions too. It is true, though, that otherwise sensible people seem to throw their judgment out of the window at Christmas, presumably to make space for all of those packages arriving from Amazon. Of course it’s enormous fun watching kids rip open mountains of presents to get to the thing they really want – but wouldn’t we all be better off paying our electricity bills first?
The recession of recent years has seen some of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society paying for the profligacy of the rich and powerful. Bankers are still having fun gambling other people’s money. It is unlikely George Osborne will be going without presents this year, and you’re more likely to see David Cameron warming up on some foreign jaunt than wearing an extra jumper.
So who exactly is paying? People with council houses and spare bedrooms. People with disabilities who have been deemed fit for work by Atos. People who are cold and terrified of turning on a heater in case they can’t afford their next bill. There are millions of people like this in Britain and it isn’t miserly to suggest that they, and everyone else, could benefit from a little break from the constant pressure to purchase.
So here I am, a lone angel of prudence and thriftiness, urging you to keep your purses shut. If you’ve got money in the bank and would really like to spend it on someone you care about, good for you. For everyone else, can I offer a kindly piece of advice? Consider it a present from me. If you can’t afford to buy gifts this year, don’t, or make like Mary Berry and give an IOU until you have enough cash. And don’t feel guilty about it either.