Christmas needs or wants?

Our columnist Peg Hanafin discussing Christmas and all that goes with it in Ireland.

Christmas needs or wants?

This year is likely to be a bumper Christmas, with Retail Ireland expecting core retail sales for December to reach €4.05 billion, an increase of 3.5 per cent on last year’s figure.

They also say that personal spending on core retail goods in December will be €2,580 per household, about €700 more than in any other month of the year.

Even during the bust, Christmas spending in Ireland held up with Christmas spending in Ireland the highest in Europe, with France coming second. One survey from the Irish League of Credit Unions published in recent weeks suggests that Irish consumers will splash out an average of €763 on Christmas. This figure is per person rather than per household. Eighty per cent of those polled in that survey said we spend too much over the festive season. So if people are aware that spending gets out of hand at Christmas, why does it continue?

Overspending at Christmas can easily happen during this season of generosity and giving, but the payback time will come in January, and then reality will set in and we wonder what got us into all this unnecessary debt and worry.

For those on low incomes, many borrow money to tide them over this extravagant period, leaving it hard to pay back debts when the New Year arrives. We must all ask ourselves is this essential, or are there other ways of celebrating the festive season and the birth of Christ? In all the panic buying and the hustle and bustle that follows, we often find that things that cost nothing and mean the most, are lost. Instead of spending time thinking about and buying gifts, would it not be time better spent calling and sitting down and having a chat and keeping friendships alive? Except for young children who still want Santa to call, spending time is the most valuable gift of all to give. For the vast majority, they have their needs met with ample food and heat, so sharing time and stories are far more beneficial to their wellbeing.

Owing money, that will be difficult to repay, only cause anxiety and frustration at what should be a joyful time. The root cause is often the pressure of spending too much money on Christmas – gifts, food and drinks, parties and nights out. January is often a miserable month as people struggle to pay for overspending at Christmas. Think practical, think realistic. Instead of asking – ‘What do you want for Christmas?’ – work out how much you can afford to spend and then ask ‘What’s the best possible Christmas we can have on our budget?’

Recognise that our children may put us under pressure for the next new gadget – but the best gift we can give them is our time, attention, love, security and peace in the home. Keeping a record of your spending and sticking to your budget is one way of not owing money, as most of us are likely to underestimate our spending.

Plan your Christmas menu in advance. The amount of food wasted over the Christmas period is unacceptable when so many are hungry and homeless. Don’t leave the Christmas shopping until Christmas Eve!

Work out how much you really want to eat and drink, and don’t buy more than you need that will end up being thrown away. The shops will reopen again a couple of days after Christmas, some the very next day. So what is all the stocking up about?

Stop giving unnecessary presents especially if you must go in debt to pay for them. What about a family gift that can be used like fuel, or buy the ham or turkey to save expense on someone else. Only buy what you have the cash to pay for, and leave the credit card at home when you go shopping.

Even though we have more people in employment and there is more money in circulation, Christmas is a time when we feed our wants over our needs. This causes much upset to many and as research shows often leads to domestic violence on a large scale.

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year – the scent of Christmas trees in the air, decorations, lighting up towns and cities and many loved ones returning home. Instead of the over- consuming of alcohol and other drugs, why not enjoy a winter’s walk or catch up with family or friends by calling and spending time with them.

Always aim to use time constructively and prioritise wisely in the run up to Christmas, that way Christmas will be more relaxed and happy.

• Make a list of what needs to be done and tick off once completed.

• Assign tasks to family members and write down what tasks to be done on Christmas eve and Christmas day. These small things help to be organised.

But to look at the reality for many people who dread Christmas and all the furore that goes with it, lets us look at some startling statistics and ponder on their lives in the midst of so much extravagance. Social Justice Ireland has found the following figures in the midst of all the excesses of Christmas:

18% of adults living in poverty are employed – which it called ‘the working poor’

The top 10% of households receives 24% of Ireland’s total disposable income, while the bottom 10% of households only receives 3%

Almost one in five children live in households with incomes below the poverty line. Most weekly social assistance rates paid to single people are €30 below the poverty line.

More than 57% of those in poverty are not connected to the labour market; they are people who are retired, students, people in caring roles or people who are ill or people with a disability.

Sean Healy, of Social Justice, Ireland told TheJournal.ie that almost one in five of those who are living in poverty are people with jobs and 57% of our citizens fall into the poverty trap. So, in these time when people are more prone to giving, remembering these figures may allow a fairer distribution of charity to those who are poor and under the radar.

We all recognise the need for helping those who are considered poor and disadvantaged, but the above statistics should broaden our minds as to the many that live on the minimalist amount of money and are never thought about at this time. Many are proud and will never ask for help, even though they may live on small pensions and appear to well able to manage. Some are not and should be sought out.

At this time of year, as we celebrate the birth of Christ, this should be the foremost cause for celebration. Of the 84% who stated they were Catholics in the last Census, it behoves them to remember what Christmas is all about.

Peg Hanafin, MSc.

Author of Getting More out of life and

Thoughts for your Journey