Blogs | December 23, 2016

Where is your focus at Christmas?

If you’re doing some last minute shopping for Christmas presents, I have some good and bad news for you.

Let’s start with the bad news. If this year is a repeat of 2015, 10% of people across Europe – and 17% in the UK alone – are likely to go into debt to pay for Christmas. That’s the number of people across 12 countries in the ING International Survey special report – Christmas 2016 who say they had to borrow last year to pay for the festive season.

It's easy to lose perspective when it comes to Christmas shopping. Keep in mind that your presents will usually be appreciated and that may reduce the financial pressure and worry about getting it right

It gets worse..
Even if you spend hours hunting for the ideal gift, just 10 months later 10% won’t even remember what you bought them. If by chance they do remember your present, 15% won’t appreciate at least some of the gifts they received. Another eight percent won’t remember whether they liked, used or otherwise appreciated getting them. This suggests that 23% of Christmas gift giving is essentially wasted.

When we asked people how much they reckon their unwanted gifts cost, their mid-point estimate was €45. That’s not small change. Last year’s ING survey found that the mid-point total Christmas gift budget across Europe was €200. If you apply a bit of maths at this point, it is possible to see that about 2.5% of the spending on Christmas presents is not appreciated.

This is not a huge problem – I also wonder how much is wasted on wrapping paper – but it may help explain why Christmas is not joyous for some. Forty-two percent across Europe (44 percent in the UK) say they feel forced to spend money at Christmas.

And now, the good news
When you buy presents, 97.5% of the time, you will get it right. And if you are among the 10% who got into debt to pay for Christmas 2015, this may give you pause for thought. Seventy percent (76 percent in the UK) agree Christmas is too focused on money. And don’t forget the 10% mentioned earlier who can’t even remember what you gave them. So, whether you battle the crowds or shop online, take heart. There is no need to spend more than you are comfortable with. People’s complaints about Christmas appear largely related to the financial effects of the season – rather than the gifts given.

Where’s your focus?
Nobel laureate and behavioural economist Daniel Kahneman has explained how we can place too much emphasis on immediate events – including things that could be happening right in front of us at the time. “Nothing in life is as important as you think it is, when you are thinking about it,” Kahneman wrote in his bestselling 2011 book Thinking, Fast and Slow. 

This is called the focusing illusion. So when it comes to Christmas shopping, it’s easy to lose perspective and develop a distorted focus on the task at hand – like a kind of tunnel vision. If you keep in mind that your present will usually be appreciated, it may reduce the financial pressure and worry about “getting it right”. 

But – a tip. When out Christmas shopping, it might be best to avoid choices like perfume and clothing: these items tend to be less appreciated by the recipient, as our survey discovered.

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This article is related to the ING International Survey:

Christmas 2016

Christmas 2016

November 28, 2016

Feeling festive at Christmas typically packs a punch to the wallet; across Europe 10% of people even went into debt during the season in 2015. In the 2016 survey, ING asked 13,576 people across Europe, the USA and...


Ian Bright
Ian Bright

Senior economist at ING
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45 blogs

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