Maybe you’re the type tempted by Fortnum & Mason’s top-of-the-range Christmas hamper containing beluga caviar and 40-year-old port … and all for just £6,000. Or perhaps you’re fed up with the vulgarity of Christmas consumerism and are pegging back your spending this year.
The average family in Britain will spend about £660 this Christmas, according to a survey this week by the financial advisers Hargreaves Lansdown. About a quarter of families stick the bill on their credit cards and try to find a way of paying it off in January.
But many people are trying to row back on festive excess. Some have been enthused by environmental campaigners appalled at the tide of plastic junk generated by Christmas, often wrapped in paper that cannot be recycled.
As the festive season approaches, we spoke to five people about how they approach Christmas presents and seasonal spending.
‘I spend £10,000 on Christmas presents for my family’
Phil Smith, 51, lives in Salisbury with his wife and two children, 22 and 24
There’s no penny-pinching at Christmas for Phil Smith (above), who splashes more than £10,000 on presents for his wife, his daughter, 24, his son, 22, and their dogs.
“I’m not a rich man as such but I always like to spend at Christmas,” says the hair stylist and owner of the haircare brand Smith England. Despite the significant sum, Smith says he is money conscious and saves throughout the year for Christmas. “It’s always in the back of my head. I know how much business I have to do to fund Christmas.”
Not one for a last-minute panic buy, Smith starts his Christmas shopping in the summer. “That’s when I start getting little snippets of what things people are wanting so I start planning and buying then.” What’s on the list this year? “My wife is label-mad and if I buy her Chanel, then I get brownie points. She also likes Valentino and Cartier. She’s not greedy, it’s always me that insists.
Then the kids are similar, they both like nice things, they’re both fashion conscious. My son loves Alexander McQueen while I’ve bought my daughter a Gucci handbag and trainers before. They all get new iPhones each Christmas.”
Despite the amount he spends, Smith insists Christmas isn’t about the expensive gifts. “I love the other nice parts like family time too,” he says. “I take control of Christmas. I decorate the house. I get up and cook breakfast for everyone and then make the lunch. They don’t have to do anything. As the children have got older we spend less and less time together so it’s the one time of the year apart from one holiday a year where we are together. It’s valuable to me and you can’t put a price on that. While it is an extravagant amount of money it’s by no means as much as some others spend.”
‘We don’t buy any Christmas presents’
Céline Kerr, 34, lives in Edinburgh and has four children
Fed up with mass consumerism at Christmas, four years ago Céline Kerr decided to do something that some people might find a tad drastic: she stopped buying Christmas presents. “I remember it was my eldest daughter’s first Christmas and the number of presents under that tree for a one-year-old was absurd,” recalls Kerr, who has a 19-year-old stepson and three daughters aged, five, three and two.
“We couldn’t bear it. She didn’t know what Christmas was, and still doesn’t appreciate it now.” Instead they stopped giving presents. Edinburgh-based Kerr, 34, co-founder of the ili Laptop Stand, says the children still get presents from both sides of the family.
“However, we have asked for a limit of one present per child which is a hard thing for my mum and sister because they get so excited and they love giving, which I can appreciate. It’s just the children don’t need all that stuff.”
The ban on presents has saved the family hundreds of pounds, says Kerr. “We used to dread Christmas financially as it was always such a heavy month.” Kerr says she has also stopped buying gifts for her siblings and vice-versa, and instead spends the money on food and drink.
“We buy good bottles of wine, brandy and whisky from the market and we share the cost between us all. We’re all together for five days and we consume less but very good products. It really is more special.”
‘We make gifts for each other’
Marguerite Spina, 34, lives in Edinburgh
For Marguerite Spina, 34, Christmas now means getting crafty. For the past two years, she and her husband’s family have made each other’s presents. “It started a couple of years ago when money was a bit tight and my husband’s mum said: ‘Let’s do one Secret Santa present that we purchase and then one crafty gift.’ So now we draw names out of a hat around October time.
The rule is you have to make it yourself. It’s a really nice thing to do and you’re not buying for the sake of buying. It’s all quite eco conscious. The beauty of it is that you have to think about what that person has been talking about or mentioned.”
The upshot of the different approach to Christmas presents is that it often involves picking up a new skill or improving existing handcrafting skills.
“My husband learned to use the sewing machine when he made a pillow for his mum. I once knitted a scarf for my father-in-law as he was gardening in the winter.”
So far Spina, a social media marketing manager living in Edinburgh, has received a wine rack from her father-in-law and homemade cosmetics. There’s no limit on the amount spent but Spina says they try to encourage each other to keep it to a minimum. “Sometimes we set a little challenge so this year is to buy via Freecycle and upcycle it.”
‘I buy local – anyone hustling out there is worth supporting’
Sam Espensen, 46, lives in Bristol
Running Bristol Spirit, a bar in Bristol, Sam Espensen, 46, knows only too well how much business is dependent on the support of her community. That’s why since 2015 she has committed to buying presents from local traders for family and friends.
“I became conscious of the impact buying locally has, from an economic point of view and also how much people appreciate something independently made,” says Sam, who also founded her own drinks brand. “They also tend to be at the forefront of new trends, environmentally conscious ways of manufacturing and producing, and you can genuinely see how their businesses make a difference to their own lives and the local people they employ. I’m a producer myself – and when I meet fellow indies and see the huge amount of work, ethics and creativity they offer I really want to support that.”
Espensen spends between £5 and £15 a person on presents such as jewellery, art and home products for family members such as her aunt and cousin, as well as goddaughter and friends. Past Christmas presents she’s bought from local businesses include chutney from GingerBeard’s Preserves in Bristol and a pressed flower frame from Paly Glass. The Bristolian believes supporting local businesses at Christmas makes shopping a lot more fun. “It’s also a lot more mindful as you’re genuinely interacting with who you’re buying from and for – less mad dash round the shops and more checking out markets and local shops.”
Given the economic and political backdrop, she says it’s more important than ever to shop local this Christmas. “There is increasing uncertainty about job security – and anyone hustling out there on their own is worth supporting,” she adds.
‘I’m having a zero-waste Christmas’
Charlotte Watkivs, 26, lives in Birmingham
After Charlotte Watkivs, 26, moved to a zero-waste lifestyle at the start of 2017, she soon realised she had to think differently about gifts. When it came to Christmas, first to change was the wrapping paper. “Previously, I was wrapping presents in cheap, shiny wrapping paper,” says Watkivs, who runs a social enterprise, zerowastelife.co.uk.
“When I used up all the papers I already owned, I switched to brown paper and now I customise it with stamps or paper-cut shapes. I never used to think about where anything I was buying came from before it reached me, or where it would end up after I’d used it.”
Now she abides by “five Rs”: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot. “If what I buy doesn’t fall into one of those zero-waste methods of waste reduction, I won’t buy it. Local and ethical gifts often fit into these categories already and experience gifts are brilliant as they are typically zero waste.”
Past “waste-free” gifts she has bought include preserves and handmade truffles from independent delis in Birmingham for her grandparents. This year she plans to buy a cookery course at a local bakery for her dad. “These gifts really align with my values of supporting the local economy, being low waste or being an experience.”
Watkivs says she now finds buying Christmas presents a lot easier. “I find that it cuts out a lot of the overwhelming choice that can be out there on the high street. I used to think about quantity over quality when it came to presents. I would assume that multiple presents looked more generous, even if these were the tacky kind of present that gets discarded on Boxing Day. It means I buy less, at a higher quality and I also have to really think about what I buy and whether they will get real value from it.”