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Spending more on gifts won’t bring more holiday happiness

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. --

It’s not new advice and you’ve likely heard it before, please be wise and responsible when giving gifts this year, and don’t jeopardize your long-term financial foundation in the name of short-term gain by buying stuff that you can’t afford.

Let’s acknowledge that the holidays aren’t about giving and getting gifts anyway. You want to treat your family and significant others well, sure, but out of a spirit of giving and magnanimity, not out of a spirit of consumerism and materialism.

Realize that the amount of money spent on gifts and the happiness they bring are not interlinked. The sooner you can separate the two, the better off you’ll be. More expensive gifts don’t always bring more - or longer-lasting – happiness, and if executed poorly, the negative financial effects of spending haphazardly on gifts can do the exact opposite of your intention.

Here are a few holiday spending tips:

Start planning long before the holidays.

The holidays don’t come by surprise – everybody knows they’re coming, so think long in advance about what gifts would give the best happiness return on investment. Show that you put some thought into the gifts that you want to give, and also you’ll likely spend less.

Create a holiday spending plan.

I prefer to not use the word “budget” because its connotations are so strict and rigid. Instead, know that you have around a certain number of dollars you’re willing to spend per person or for the whole season.

Don’t use a credit card to buy holiday gifts if you carry credit card debt.

Buying with a credit card isn’t inherently bad, and can actually work to your advantage, but only if you pay it off every month. This is why you should start planning early – if you have credit card debt, don’t make the emergency worse by digging the hole deeper.

Make sure you still meet all your regular financial obligations.

Your regular bills will still be there during the holidays, so don’t think that you can spend more on presents by skimping on a bill and catching up later. If you think you might slip up, pay them all ahead of time.

Give stuff that will actually be used.

As a result, if you don’t know what to get somebody, something consumable – especially food – is a good choice. Perhaps make it something fancy that they otherwise wouldn’t get for themselves.