Shop mindfully and feel better about your gift purchases

4 min | 22 November 2021

Janice Warman

It happens every year: the Christmas shopping crisis. Here’s how to calm down, buy well, and maybe even think about ethical gifts.

At some point during the frenzied run-up to Christmas, we can begin to feel sick of it. It’s no longer a holiday, but just another marketing opportunity, and we are the target: bombarded daily with volleys of advertising that combine to make us feel both inadequate and guilty.

It’s at this point that you need to stop, drop your shoulders, and take a deep breath. You don’t have to buy all of the stuff. There are some things that can make this whole stressful period feel less fraught – here's how to do it differently this year.

Remember, you don’t have to show up for the retail hysteria. Instead, make a cup of tea, sit down, and think. What are the things your friends and family enjoy doing? Would they like a gift that they will still be enjoying in six months’ time? Even longer? Could the gift be regifted in the future, potentially making someone else happy? The cost of a present doesn't translate into how much you love someone, but giving something truly thoughtful and personal might do the trick.

Stop worrying whether you will manage it all this year. Don’t ask whether you will succeed in finding that must-have toy for a demanding child, or that tricky gift for a difficult relative. Don’t rush to buy everything online. And aim to end the festive season without going into debt.

Rather think about what each person likes doing. Not having, but doing. Many people prefer experiences over things. My brother-in-law’s favourite Christmas present a couple of years back was tickets to a rugby international. He gave my sister West End tickets. (Happily, these are choices that are coming back into vogue as live events begin again).

Meaningful and lasting ideas

I like to give magazine subscriptions, because they can be continued by the receiver if they enjoy them. I think animal adoptions or sponsorship are good choices for children, whether for endangered wild animals or domestic animals, particularly if your child can’t have a pet at home.

My favourite recent Christmas gifts included a flower subscription: regular deliveries through my letterbox of gorgeous blooms that were bound to brighten up the grey winter days. By the time it ran out, it was July, and my garden was in full flower. Another was a book subscription: I was asked to fill in a questionnaire about what I like to read, then each month, a surprise book arrived – heaven!

Group gifts that will benefit a family are another good idea. One imaginative grandmother told me she had chosen an all-weather table tennis table for her four grandchildren.

International aid charities have catalogues full of beautifully made, ethically produced presents for adults and children, many remarkably similar in price to better-known consumer brands from High Street retailers. Your nearest farmers’ market may offer great ideas for Christmas gifts beyond festive food, including candles, essential oils, pottery, jewellery, cider and locally produced wines.

Are Black Friday sales any good?

The ever-popular Black Friday and Cyber Monday will be on 26 November and 29 November this year. For big-ticket items, like a laptop for your student daughter, they may be worth a look. But beware prices may not be the lowest they could be, and it’s easy to be caught out in the festive flurry and retail rush.

Consumer champion Which? did an investigation (Opens in new window) into Black Friday 2019 sales prices by tracking them for the six months before and after the big day. They found that only three of the 119 products they tracked were at their lowest price on Black Friday, and 98% of them were available for the same price or cheaper in the six months after the event. In fact, 85% of them had been on sale at the same price or cheaper in the six months before Black Friday.

This confirms what many have thought for years: that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are often simply marketing events that aim to heighten the pre-Christmas buying fever, with no guarantee of real savings.

Special retail events aside, there are ways of assessing prices across many retail platforms. Sites like Pricerunner (Opens in new window) and Price Spy (Opens in new window) can help you check the lowest prices available for products.

Above all, though, know that Christmas itself can be more than a consumer event. It can be a happy time of showing love to your friends and family with carefully chosen and thoughtful gifts, and this year, unlike last year, it can also be a time of spending precious time with loved ones.

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