Happy Thriftmas: Tips on spending less money and more time with people you love

It's a goal of many during the holidays: spend less money and more time with the people important to you. Local experts weigh in on how to achieve both.

A good gift 'can be meaningful but not be costly,' says spending less workshop leader Stephanie Clarke

More people may be turning to thrift stores this holiday season to find the perfect gift for people on their lists. Marketing professor Sarah Wilner says whether new or used, a gift should tell the person you're giving it to that you understand them and you've been thinking about them. (Marc Baby/CBC)

It's a common refrain during the holidays: This year, you plan to spend less.

Come January, though, people may realize they spent more than they planned. PwC Canada's holiday outlook for this year found Canadians are expected to spend 1.9 per cent more this year compared to 2018, for an average of $1,593 each.

Stephanie Clarke hears the concerns of people who don't want to ruin the start of a new year with a big bill. She's an artist and works at the Guelph Tool Library, and also runs an eight-week workshop called Living Better on Less.

"I think people are realizing that being able to turn down commercialism over the holidays is a really empowering thing," she said. "And you still find that you have that love and satisfaction that you feel from sharing over the holidays without having the same environmental or monetary impact."

One way to save money is to make your own gifts. Clarke says while you don't have to give to everyone in your life, if you want to bake some cookies for your dog walker or make an ornament for a teacher, that's a great way to show your appreciation to them.

"You still can have that sentiment to give to somebody but it doesn't necessarily have to be, 'I went to a store and purchased this packaged thing that traveled halfway across the world.' It can be more about just like a little piece of affection to that person that can be meaningful but not be costly," she said.

Buying from a thrift store

Clarke has also seen a move for people to buy previously owned items, like something from a thrift store.

For the past couple of years, she and her friends get together each year for "thriftmas." They set a $10 limit and the items have to be used, then they do a gift swap. Last year, she received a second-hand bongo drum, which resulted in some pretty great memories with her friends.

"We have a blast doing this," she said.

The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), which owns thrift stores locally in Elmira, Kitchener and New Hamburg, is also suggesting people look for "thrifted treasures" for their holiday gifts.

John Head, the executive director of MCC, says people may not think of a thrift store as a potential holiday shopping destination.

"We strive to make sure that what we make available in our shops are very high quality items, gently used, so they wouldn't appear like it's a hand-me-down or it's something that was a giveaway type thing," he said.

The benefit of shopping at an MCC thrift store, Head noted, is that the purchase also benefits the relief efforts the organization does overseas. As well, given that they're a charity, there's no sales tax charged on the items, which means it's less expensive.

Meaning behind the gift

Some people may be hesitant to give a used gift out of fear the person receiving it won't appreciate a second-hand item, but Sarah Wilner says it can be done. Wilner is an associate professor of marketing at Wilfrid Laurier University's Lazaridis School of Business and Economics and is also chair of brand communications.

"There's definitely pressure to find the perfect gift. Whether or not it has to be new is a different thing," she said.

She said older generations, people 50 and older, may want something new, but younger generations like Gen Z or millennials, they're more interested in the idea of regifting or giving and getting recycled or vintage items.

Wilner says ultimately, whether new or second-hand, a gift is sending a message to the person receiving it.

"It should say, I know you, I see you, I understand you and I know the kinds of things that you care about and I'm going to help you get to those things," she said. "Whether that's a brand or a hobby, it's communicating: I've been thinking of you."

Sarah Wilner is an associate professor in marketing and the chair in brand communications at the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Swap decorations, cards to save cash

Clarke has other suggestions on how to save money or used second-hand items over the holidays.

For people wanting to freshen up their decor, she suggests hosting a holiday swap party - everyone can bring ornaments or decorations they don't like or don't use and exchange it for something they might want to use.

The same goes for cards. Clarke notes sometimes people have 10 cards left over from a pack at the end of the holidays, so swap cards with friends at a get together. The same could also be done with wrapping paper.

You can also make gift boxes with old cards, she says, noting there are patterns easily found online.

This way, Clarke says, you're not just reusing items that might otherwise be thrown out, you're also getting to spend time with the people in your life who matter and who you don't always get to see during the holidays.

In her Living Better on Less class, Clarke says the conversation always came back to participants saying they wanted to spend more time with people. That could include a chat at a coffee shop, going ice skating or even planning a winter hike.

"It's something that we'll remember for years and it's just like this really simple little afternoon family get together trudging through the snow in the woods," Clarke said. "It's just a good little block of time to spend together."

Stephanie Clarke leads a Living Better on Less workshop in Guelph and joined CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's Sounds of the Season kickoff show on Dec. 6 to talk about ways to save money during the holidays. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)


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