According to recent statistics from the American Psychological Association, money is the leading cause of stress in America, beating out work, family, and health stress by nearly 20%. What this means is that stress related to financial issues could have a significant impact on America's overall health and well-being (APA, 2015).
This financial stress has a tendency to magnify around holidays, when there is an unspoken pressure to give the “perfect” gift. Whether it is a gift to our children, parents, or close friends, many of us have felt the pressure to give gifts we can’t afford, especially to those who seem to “have it all.”
I recently read a study that revealed that people who are physically sick are more likely to purchase a gift for their family than go see a doctor. The pressure to adhere to the burgeoning culture of American consumerism is strong, and many feel that it’s more important to “fit in” by giving gifts they can’t afford than to show up empty handed.
Even more so is the financial pressure that victims of sex trafficking feel, as their relationship with money has been broken. When they were in the life, money was equated with human worth. They got paid to literally share a deep part of their worth. It takes years for them to restore a healthy relationship with money. Many of the women at Amirah can barely afford the basic necessities of life because they are just now beginning their journey of independence.
But I think that there are many of us that can relate to this stress right along with the women of Amirah. So this holiday season, I want to share some simple truths about gift giving that hopefully will set you free from the pressure to give gifts you simply cannot afford.
“My presence is your present.”
This is a phrase I have used multiple times, initially with much hesitation. The last two weddings I was invited to were both an expensive plane ride away. Not to mention the cost of hotel and the bridesmaids dresses, and you know, food and stuff. Needless to say, it was much beyond my starving student budget, and I almost didn’t go, because I realized I couldn’t afford the travel along with the present. But much to my surprise, my friends were so grateful for my actual presence, that they didn’t care much for the present I didn’t give. This got me thinking about this tradition in our culture that causes, according to the previous statistics, actually the highest amount of stress in our lives.
So here’s my two cents:
Don’t have money to spend on a present? That’s okay! Whether it’s a family Christmas party or a best friend’s birthday celebration, chances are they just want to celebrate the occasion with you and the rest of their loved ones. Presents are fun, but they are NOT everything. If you don’t have the funds (like most of us) to buy the perfect present, don’t let it stop you from going to your gathering.
A personally written card is always classy. You can buy one for $.99 and put your own personal touch on it. If they say anything about showing up “empty handed,” then you can consider whether or not you want materialistic people like that to dictate the rules of your life. They may be related to you, but that doesn’t mean that you have to adopt their beliefs as gospel. They may love expensive gifts, and that’s okay. But love, respect, and acceptance should never be contingent upon the price of your gift. You deserve love and respect because you are made in the image of God, not because you gave the best gift. And just realize that perhaps they are still on their journey of restoring a healthy relationship with money. Give grace. It’s more costly than gold, or a Michael Kors watch.
An inexpensive, thoughtful present is almost always better than an expensive, thoughtless one. So, get creative. If you don’t have an ounce of creativity in your bones, ask for help. Pinterest has a great DIY cheap and easy gift board. It can give you some great ideas and tutorials for how to create simple, inexpensive, and thoughtfully delightful gifts. A picture capturing a beautiful memory in a $5 frame can be oh so lovely. Or, if you can’t afford the frame, just put the picture in a personally written card. I promise, they will cherish it. And if they don’t, then you don’t really want to spend your last $50 on someone like that anyway, right?
Really, your loved ones just want to know they are important enough for you to think of them. It’s about the presence of people who care, not the present.