Ask the Experts: Overbuying at Christmas

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on Dec 6, 2017 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Question: I have always been a giver. This is especially true at Christmas. I tend to overbuy for those I love and over give for those that I probably shouldn’t. What I mean by that is I will often buy gifts for everyone in the office even though it is not expected. I buy far too many gifts for our kids. It is embarrassing but I am still paying on credit cards from gifts I bought last year. I am really trying hard this year to not over give but I feel like I should lay the groundwork for those I have over-given to in the past. How do I best do that without hurting feelings? This will be an especially hard message to give to my kids.

Answer: The best part about this is that you recognize what you are doing and that you want to change. Good for you; that is often the hardest part! Gift giving has been a way you express your affection. Knowing that you need to get it under control doesn’t mean you have to stop, but you will need to modify. Gifts for co-workers, if allowed in your workplace, are usually a handwritten card with meaningful sentiments, a home-baked treat, a delicious jelly, chocolate or the like. More elaborate and expensive gifts can put your co-workers in an uncomfortable situation, especially if they can’t afford or are not inclined to buy for workmates. Remember, because you are creating debt, you cannot afford it either. If you are the only one doing it, you may want to explore why. 

Shopping for the holidays can be a time that pulls at our heartstrings. Retailers know this and make their merchandise talk to us. Some ways to combat this is to leave the store before buying or go to your car and think about your prospective purchases without the influences of the holiday atmosphere. If you do buy, leave the tags on for a while, and evaluate the cost and appropriateness of the gift for each receiver. You can always make a return. You will get better at doing this on the spot, as you make changes.

When it comes to your children, as with all parenting, you are modeling for them how to give and receive gifts, the meaning behind the giving, and also healthy financial management. Talk with them. One of the big gifts parents can give their kids is to teach them how to live within their means. Choose a budget figure of what you can spend on each child. Focus on the one most important gift on their list if it is financially reasonable. Then fill in with smaller, less expensive items which might be fun and challenging. Stay within the budget! If it is a big change from past years, you may want to add a family activity which will help the celebrating move past the gift giving. 

Lastly, if this is not something you feel you can get under control without help, and your spending is causing problems in other areas of your life and relationships, seek the help of a counselor. Sometimes there are reasons we overspend and over-give. A counselor can help you gain the insight you need to make important changes. 

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine, a mental health and substance abuse treatment agency serving adults, adolescents, children and families. For more information or if you or someone you know needs help, call us at 877-888-4304 or visit our website and click on “Referrals.”

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