The commercialisation of Christmas, as well as of other holidays like Easter and Halloween, has been a much debated issue long before the markets crashed in 2008. The fear of spoiling children in particular was the subject of many a newspaper feature, even during times of relative economic ease. With Britain still gripped by the credit crunch, has the time come to admit that collectively, as a nation, we’re spending too much?
For many, that answer would be ‘yes’. Just before Christmas 2011, the Telegraph sensationally reported that cash withdrawals from ATM machines had increased by 7% on the previous year, adding up to a staggering £7.6 billion. Despite tips to curb overspending being readily available to consumers, it seems that many people are ignoring economic reality and overspending anyway.
This is certainly the feeling expressed by credit card expert Odysseas Papadimitriou, who told TIME magazine of his concern that a refusal to cut back on Christmas spending during the recession is due to false optimism: many people believe that once the recession subsides they will easily be able to set their finances straight. This, he argues, is misleading and inaccurate.
However, on the flip side, consumer spending does undoubtedly provide a boost for the ailing economy. Papadimitriou argues that there is usually a gap between income and expenditure during a recession as income drops, and that this gap is nothing to worry about, as it’s part of normal economic fluctuation. If we don’t spend with abandon at Christmas, we’re unlikely to do so at any other time of the year, and spending liberally pumps money back into the economy – which will in turn help to boost jobs and incomes. So, the most important message here seems to be: not to shy away from spending completely, but just to think properly about what you personally can afford to spend.
To counteract this problem of festive overspending, the BBC has drawn up a very useful list of tips for a recession-friendly Christmas, drawing on advice from Rachael Cray of the Citizens Advice Bureau. Cray advises readers to set a budget to stick to, and not to forget about the household bills in the midst of all that Christmas shopping. She also suggests getting creative and making presents of your own, such as beading your own jewellery, knitting your own woollens and putting together your own festive hampers.
With a bit of planning and foresight, this may seem ideal – but of course, for those who lead busy lifestyles (or who simply aren’t inclined to crafts) this might seem slightly impractical. With that in mind, other options, such as buying gifts from charity shops, or shopping online for bargain presents and Christmas decorations may be the answer for those with little time and a stretched budget.
Do you spend too much money on Christmas presents, decorations or food or have you come up with some clever budgeting ideas? I’d love to hear from you!
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