This article was published on 25 November 2008. Some information may be out of date.

Christmas giving that makes you happier too

Struggling retailers aren’t going to like this, but how about we make 2008 the year we stop spending ridiculous amounts on Christmas presents we don’t need — and often don’t even like?

Even the gifts we do appreciate probably make us happier only briefly. The pleasure from owning something new fades in just a few weeks or months.

And we need to balance it against the stress for a giver who spends more than he or she can afford. If we asked a child to choose between an expensive toy and a grumpy parent or a cheaper toy and a happy parent, we can probably guess which one most would choose.

What to do about it, without killing the joy of Christmas giving?

If everyone usually gives to everyone else in your family, how about allocating one giver to each person? Perhaps the oldest could give to the second oldest, who gives to the third oldest and so on, and finally the youngest gives to the oldest. And on Christmas day, when you are all together, you could draw names from a hat for next year. You might want to suggest a price range for the gifts.

Another idea is to give a present, on behalf of your relative or friend, to someone in much greater need, via a charity. The following offer programmes like this:

You choose a gift from their catalogue — they range from chickens or seeds for a few dollars to more than $1,000 for clean water systems and the like — and the charity sends you an acknowledgement to give to your recipient.

Or you could let the recipient choose their own gift within a price range. If the choice is made on Christmas Day, I’m sure the charity won’t mind getting the money after Christmas. This would increase the recipient’s involvement, and quite possibly their joy.

In an intriguing article in the UK Independent earlier this year, researchers found, “regardless of how much income each person made, those who spent money on others reported greater happiness, while those who spent more on themselves did not.”

There’s a bonus, too. Money you spend on these gifts is eligible for the charitable donations tax credit, which no longer has a maximum amount. For every $100 you spend, you’ll get a $33.33 back from the government. Nice.

I should note that last year, after I published a similar list, a couple of people wrote to ask if these charities do actually deliver the goods.

The answer, sometimes, is only sort of. Oxfam’s catalogue, for example, says “some flexibility is built in. Your donation will go towards funding programmes that include your gift and to other needs in that community project.” That’s good enough for me.

But what if there was outright fraud? I doubt if it would go unnoticed for long. Disillusioned workers would surely blow the whistle.

Declining to give because the money might not go where it is supposed to go can be a great excuse for comfortable New Zealanders. Drop the meanness, and grab some of that “greater happiness”.

No paywalls or ads — just generous people like you. All Kiwis deserve accurate, unbiased financial guidance. So let’s keep it free. Can you help? Every bit makes a difference.

Mary Holm is a freelance journalist, a director of Financial Services Complaints Ltd (FSCL), a seminar presenter and a bestselling author on personal finance. From 2011 to 2019 she was a founding director of the Financial Markets Authority. Her opinions are personal, and do not reflect the position of any organisation in which she holds office. Mary’s advice is of a general nature, and she is not responsible for any loss that any reader may suffer from following it.