Why you need to watch out for guilt buying this Christmas

Christmas is a time of giving… which is a polite way of saying it’s often fairly financially ruinous.

It might seem like that won’t be the case this year. After all, perhaps you won’t be travelling around the country (meaning lower petrol and transport costs), the big Christmas meal may be a bit more subdued, and you won’t have to bother with multiple office secret Santa gifts.

But having a very Covid Christmas poses its own money-related risk that you need to stay aware of: guilt buying.

Guilt buying is the act of spending too much money on people’s gifts out of obligation, whether that’s due to the pressure to one-up last year’s gifts, to appear more generous than someone else, or because you feel bad for someone.

As you’d expect, this is very common among parents buying presents for their children, and one expert reckons you’ll be even more prone to doing it thanks to this general terribleness of 2020.

‘This year, with the pandemic and lockdown going on, parents might feel obligated to one-up their present-giving habits by adding more than usual to the cart for their children,’ says Dr Martina Paglia, psychologist & founder of The International Psychology Clinic.

‘Guilt buying during Christmas can be defined as the pressure you feel to buy or spend more on your kids because of the Christmas Spirit.

‘Children have been cooped up during lockdown and they haven’t been able to go out for months. You may feel that your kids have been through a lot during the pandemic and it has been particularly hard for them. You may also feel that you haven’t done enough for them.

‘So you try to compensate by buying and spending more money on presents to make up for it.’

That sounds like a perfectly lovely thing to do, right? After all, this Christmas might not be as, well, Christmassy as previous years.

Doesn’t it make sense to make up for the lack in other areas – the fact the children haven’t been able to see their extended family and friends, that they didn’t get a Christmas party at school, that they didn’t get to enjoy their summer holidays – with loads and loads of super exciting presents?

The issue is that this isn’t a real remedy to the disappointment this particular Christmas might bring – and it could land you in financial stress after the festive season is done.

Plus, an abundance of gifts really doesn’t magic away all the stress of the pandemic. It might not even make children particularly happy, if what they really want is some emotional reassurance, quality time with their family, or some proper support for their mental wellbeing.

‘Guilt is among one of the top reasons parents make unnecessary purchases,’ says Martina. ‘Parents might think that they are buying more out of love for their children so that their kids can feel better, but often they are only doing it to satiate their guilty feelings.

‘Around a quarter of the UK is left financially troubled because of the pressure of festive giving. Unfortunately, one in four British people feel pressured to spend more than they can afford. This results in regret later on and can even get a person into debt which can last months even after the Christmas season is over.

‘Parents might think that they are helping their children be happier, but instead, they are buying under pressure and overspending to ease that feeling of anxiety.

‘It is important to be highly aware of your spending so you don’t waste your money and slide into debt later on.

‘ Once you are aware of why you want to spend more, it will be easier for you to avoid any mistakes, make the right decisions, and buy only appropriate things. Being mindful of this guilt can help you save money and avoid any unwanted friction down the road.’

Simply acknowledging that you might be guilt buying can be a huge factor in not making a costly mistake, but there’s more you can do to ensure your emotional spending doesn’t screw you over.

First off, tune in to what your children actually want. Perhaps they’ll make a list for Father Christmas, and you can ask them to list the thing they most want at the top. Or just ask them: their answer might not be piles of toys, but something far more modest.

Work out what will actually bring your child some joy on Christmas day, and what you can do to take care of their emotional needs – other than throwing money at the problem.

Then, make sure you establish a clear budget – and stick to it.

Martina advises: ‘Stick to a limited budget and create a gift list before you go shopping.

‘If you cannot afford gifts, understand that it is completely fine to tone down a bit and buy something inexpensive instead of putting yourself at financial risk.

‘Remember, it is the sentiment that matters, not the expensiveness of the gift.

‘Being aware of this can help you stay on track with your spending and avoid falling in the trap of guilt buying.’

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