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A Festive Financial Reflection



The amount is not important

I once glimpsed a social media posting between some schoolboys comparing their Santa Claus haul. Each item was assessed not by considering the giver of the gift but by its value in sterling. Depressing. Nevertheless, although we find ourselves in unwilling agreement with the saying, “it’s the thought that counts” we too are often seduced into the nonsense that “the more I love you the more I’m going to spend on you”. Such baloney seems to trump the wiser counsel that “the amount is not important”.

As we approach Christmas when many celebrate the birth of Jesus, it’s worth noting that the Bible recounts a story where the poor old woman drops two copper coins into the offering box whilst the wealthy around her pour in handfuls of treasure. And yet Jesus observes that she gave more than they. Why? It would seem that he is saying that the amount is not what is important, something else is.

“Why is this a financial planning issue?” I hear you ask. I think it affects two things at Christmas: the way we budget and the way we share.

  1. The way we budget

Some of us love to shop, some of us love to give gifts, some of us have significant wherewithal with which to do both, others have less. For many there is a danger that we keep spending, keep giving gifts, until we have satisfied some sort of internal giving gauge which tells us when we have satisfied our obligations.

An alternative is to adopt a two-step process: first, if the amount is not important decide on what is important and make that your personal shopping guide; second, decide on a reasonable financial budget for spending on Christmas gifts – both overall and per person – and keep to it.

  1. The way we share

This is more about financial planning philosophy than about the mechanics. It’s one to grapple with and then to teach those under your influence, particularly children and grandchildren. Here’s the question: if the amount is not important, does everyone have to have the same?

My wife and I have this discussion every year. What happens is that if one child is given a specific, asked-for, planned, Christmas present we have to concoct a package of gifts to the other, carefully calculating to ensure that the value adds up to the same amount. It gets even more finicky when there are nephews, nieces, grandchildren, godchildren, close friends and their children!

In our case, our children are better at negotiating this dilemma than we are: one has always had less money than the other and he presents us with his own creations – of art or food. Different financial value but equal present value.

The amount is not important, something else is.

David Flowers


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