Who shall we share the special days with? Who do we give presents to – and what should the gifts be? How will we keep our budget under control?
Simple steps can make the holiday season go more smoothly. And the good news is that many don’t cost anything.
Do-it-yourself – or DIY – can add a magic touch to Christmas, New Year and other holidays. Perhaps make a cake for the occasion, create handmade cards and decorations or sew a gift for a loved one. As our 12 tips of the festive season slideshow explains, DIY has the added bonus of the “IKEA effect”, or our tendency to value what we have made ourselves more highly. We cover budgeting, the idea of a cash-only diet and using goals and a calendar to cut procrastination. Planning ahead for a joyous time.
Make a promise
The gift of giving does not necessarily have to come with a hefty price tag. Substitute money for time in the form of an IOU. Research shows that donating time to a community group can also be particularly rewarding – for the givers of time as well as the receivers.2
Sharing is caring
Researchers from Columbia University and Harvard Business School show that spending money on others rather than yourself increases happiness. All the more reason to give charity Christmas gifts, such as buying a camel or pineapple plant for someone in need on behalf of the receiver.3
Eye on the plastic
During the festive period intense present purchases get under way, however, to stop your spending from getting out of control, try paying with cash not card. Research shows that a cash only diet reduces the time lag between payment and consumption and makes you more aware of what you’re spending.4
While doing festive shopping watch out for so-called drip pricing. These are optional or compulsory extras (such as delivery charges) which can make it difficult to compare the true cost of items.5
The do-it-yourself way of making gifts can be particularly satisfying. The so-called IKEA effect explained by author and behavioural economist Dan Ariely tells how we value things we make ourselves more – and the recipient of the creations might as well.6
Shopping can bring joys - but keeping it in check with a basic budget can save unwanted surprises. Plan in advance, examine income, avoid going into debt for the festive season to avoid financial headaches in the New Year.7
Keeping up appearances
Wrapping presents may boost the recipient’s joy, research conducted back in the 1990s suggests. It may be that unwrapping increases suspense and is associated with pleasure, making a gift covered in colourful paper even more special.8
Family and friends
It’s not the holiday season without loved ones so it’s good to know that time with family and friends has a positive effect on wellbeing. Academic Nattavudh Powdthavee estimated that, for the average English person, seeing friends or family on most days rather than once or twice a week increases happiness by the same amount as a pay rise of £15,000 (€18,500) a year.9
Do something new
Many happiness economists report that people prefer to receive gift “experiences” – such as concert tickets – rather than a new computer or other physical item. One example is the research paper Does consumption buy happiness? from the United States, which says part of the joy of experiences is – again – spending time with others.10
Stick to the plan
Keep calm in the run up to the festive season with tips to cut procrastination. Set goals and put deadline dates in the diary. It makes plans more concrete so you’re less likely to wriggle out of them.11
Research shows that people often prefer to get a gift they ask for rather than a surprise. But does that take away some of the magic? An idea is for recipients make a list of several possible gifts – then the givers chooses from the list. Not such a surprise but at least nothing will go to waste.12
Don’t keep up with the Joneses
During the holiday season families may try to signal success with bigger and better parties and gifts. Don’t fall into the trap. Author Robert Frank argues against it in his book The Darwin Economy - writing that one way to halt the signalling “arms race” is by setting spending limits.