Have yourself a…present-free Christmas?


It might be the season of loving and giving, but a few days after Christmas it turns into the season of giving it all away. As a nation, we spend nearly £3bn on unwanted gifts every year. From re-gifting to recycling, deciding what to do with this mountain of redundant presents can be even more stressful than Christmas shopping was in the first place. But what would a gift-free Christmas look like, and what are the reasons to consider it? 

Every year, we throw away 66 million bin bags of stuff in preparation for Christmas and then fill our houses with 81 million unwanted gifts.

Yes, giving gifts is synonymous with this time of year, but we’re not suggesting you cut out giving altogether – just find a new way of doing it. Christmas can still feel special without a pile of presents under the tree. Not to mention the added benefits of reducing the amount of flammable material in your house and not needing to recalculate your contents insurance over the festive period. 

A 2016 survey by Azimo discovered the average UK consumer spends just over £350 on Christmas gifts  - 14% of these are unwanted and 28% of us have tried to return things we weren’t very excited about. It seems we’re literally throwing our money away. The financial benefits speak for themselves. Could a present-free Christmas be the way forward?

The stress of present-buying 

Often, gift-giving isn’t about embracing the season of goodwill, a key reason we buy them is just because we simply feel we should. For example, knowing someone’s getting you something worth £20 means you might feel obliged to do the same and you don’t want to spend any less on them in case you come across as tight. And on the flip side, according to Psychology Today, you’re in danger of embarrassing the other person if you spend more than them on the gift, which isn’t really in the festive spirit.  

So if you’re looking for a reason to cut out gifting, here’s one – the act of Christmas shopping is extremely stressful. In fact, according to a study by eBay, hitting the shops in an attempt to find the perfect gift can be as stressful as running a marathon, with your heart rate increasing by as much as 33%.  

Impact on the environment   

If you still need persuading, think about the environment. According to research by Ziffit, every year we throw away 66 million bin bags of stuff in preparation for Christmas and then fill our houses with 81 million unwanted gifts. One in 10 ends up in landfill.

And it doesn’t stop with presents. Annually, the UK throws out 300,000 tonnes of cardboard packaging and a staggering 227,000 miles of wrapping paper- the equivalent of it wrapping round the equator nine times, or nearly reaching the moon.  

Make an event of your Christmas celebrations 

A gift-free Christmas doesn’t mean not celebrating, it just means making the most of the day in a different way.  

Consider putting the money towards an experience instead, like a lavish dinner at home; Christmas Day lunch at a local restaurant; a special day out for all the family; or if everyone clubs together, you may even be able to have a break away somewhere.  

When you work out the total cost of your average Christmas, you might even find you end up saving money. Plus, you’ll be creating lasting memories that never get relegated to landfill.   

Make the world a better place

But perhaps Christmas isn’t Christmas without something to unwrap? Then how about giving presents that make the world a better place?  

Donating to charity is becoming increasingly popular. Giving a goat helps fund agriculture projects in the developing world. Depending on your chosen organisation, the money might be spent on an actual goat, used for different types of livestock, or for a wider social purpose – depending on what’s most needed at the time. Either way, you’re making a tangible difference to the lives of those less fortunate. 

From helping keep families safe from mosquito-borne diseases to building hygienic toilets in the third world, there are many options to give a gift and do good at the same time. Alternatively, if you want to do something a little closer to home, how about giving a young homeless person a safe place to sleep this Christmas? 

For a comprehensive list of national and international charities, check out the guide on MoneySavingExpert.com.

How to survive a gift-free Christmas

Spread the word: The most important thing is to let people know this is what you’re doing otherwise you’ll find yourself inundated with unwanted presents, or worse, seeing your loved ones’ faces when they discover there’s nothing with their name on under the tree.  

Make plans: Decide what you’re doing on the day so everyone still has something to look forward to. Unwrapping presents takes time, so what will you do instead? Ask your family and friends to contribute ideas. Remember, this is still a celebration. Planning enjoyable experiences will make the day fly by, and you may not even notice the absence of presents. 

When it comes to a gift-free Christmas, careful and considered planning can lead to a more enjoyable day overall –  less stress, more lasting memories, a healthier planet and fewer awkward moments when you open something truly terrible and don’t know what to say. Plus, as an added bonus, you might even find yourself in a better financial position to begin the New Year. 

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