Friday, 19 December 2008

It's the cost that counts

When my partner and I were first together we didn't have much money. Imaginative gifts were the order of the day at Xmas and birthdays, and one of the most creative parts of the process was keeping the cost down. For the last few years, while we've both been reasonably well paid and enjoyed a few work-related perks that have kept some other costs down, we have been able to loosen our purse strings a little. Last Xmas I'd just gone on maternity leave, so we figured it was probably out last chances to spoil each other a bit in terms of presents that were a bit pricey. I got him a donkey and a board game, and he got me a massage voucher that's allowed me to go three times this year to get my poor baby-toting muscles pummelled on a heated padded table.

2008 has seen the return of austerity to our modest household. Since March we've been on one income and although it's still well above the average wage we've found it very tight. This year we haven't had to return to the $2 Shop for gifts for our families, as we did the first few years we shared the yuletide, but I did spend a significant amount of time in The Body Shop looking around for the cheapest decent gift pack I could give my niece.*

So I'm quite astonished by the exorbitant presents that are being carpet-advertised at us everywhere the eyes rest for more than ten seconds. Jewellery that costs in excess of $1500 for the ladies, ipods that are $300+ for a teen, massive barbeques that would look more at home in an army mess feeding 600 troops three times a day. There's the heavy gender-stereotyping that gets medown too, and I feel like I'm missing something because I don't really know any people who could afford to buy gifts like this.

Maybe I'm cheap. The most I think I've ever spent on a present for someone was a piece of art that I bought my partner for his 21st. At the time I'd had a bit of financial luck and I was able to put some of that aside to mark that special occasion. It was still under $300.

And this Christmas our presents are well under that. I would have dearly loved to take the Handmade Pledge, but sadly I didn't have time this year to make anything myself and the cost of crafted items here is largely out of my reach these days. I suspect with a bit more effort I could have found handmade gifts that were affordable. Maybe next year.

My observation of the families I watch buy gifts are that when God divided up this labour He gave it mostly to the girlies. The stress of managing the family budget at an expensive time of year and juggling the present expectations of various relatives, not to mention the competing money-sucking experience of a possible trip away, does disproportionately fall on mothers, daughters, wives, girlfriends, and sisters, in my experience.** Factor in the pay gap between the sexes, and the fact that in some households women don't have access to the funds their partner earns, and I think I can fairly say that this is often a more stressful time of year for women than it is for men.

Really I should put this rant in perspective. Our idea of financially tight is that we can still run a car, have broadband internet, feed the cat, take a short holiday, and afford some supermarket baby food. We can afford gifts for each other, for our son, for our families. Maybe not $400 bracelets and $2000 laptops, but thoughtful presents that will be sufficiently socially acceptable that we won't offend and will instead get pleasant smiles from our loved ones as we spend on them that much more precious thing; time.

* $24. They are very crafty. I'm not sure whether they do this all year around now, but they simply didn't have any smaller size stuff that wasn't in a gift pack already. I'm sure you used to be able to get travel sizes of many of their products a decade ago?
** One Christmas I insisted that my partner get his family's presents and I would have nothing to do with it. He got about three beforehand, and the rest on Christmas Eve, when he disappeared for hours and hours and hours, stuck at the shops and getting more frustrated by the second because he hates malls even when they are empty. The best bit was when on Xmas Day people opened the presents he had sweated for, really liked them, and then thanked me, assuming it was all my doing. My inner feminist smiled sweetly.


Anonymous said...

I am by passing presents for the adults in my family this year - even the Oxfam ones I've given for the last few years. I am making a donantion to Family Violnce Prevention and noting this on my Christmas cards. Every one I know has enough "stuff" and I think this is much bettre use of funds

Anonymous said...

I make very affordable presents ;) I am giving my family baking and since neither of us drink we will also regift on the bottle of wine a customer gave my bf. It may seem cheap to some but my family will appreciate it. Most of them all enough enough stuff anyway. Nothing I got them would be truly appreciated. My gran said the whole family is struggling but then my aunt asked if I needed a DVD player so if she can afford that I guess struggling means different things to her.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I don't buy each other gifts; I remember my stepmother telling me that she had to 'train' my father to buy her decent birthday presents etc. When my husband and I were first together I would organise surprises for him until I realised that what he actually, really enjoyed was the pleasure of planning and anticipating a treat together. So now I don't expect surprises from him which makes it much nicer when we occasionally he does pull one off. As for family, I lived overseas for several years and was always travelling to various places which facilitated gift-giving. Now I am settled in NZ and we all have access to the some stores I have gotten quite lazy... (katy)

Anonymous said...

PS I know what you mean about the amount of money that some people will spend on these things. I also feel this every time I walk into a furniture or home appliance store; my husband and I both earn very good salaries and we have no kids but there is no way I feel that we can afford to shell out thousands on a piece of furniture or an appliance. It really makes me wonder who is buying this stuff!

Violet said...

I'm in the enviable - but awkward - position where my partner is extremely generous with gift-giving for myself, our daughter and our extended family. It's lovely to get beautiful, expensive presents, but I don't earn as much (and I'm muchmore sensible with money), so I don't spend as much on him but feel badly about it. He won't change his habits so I just put up with it.