Obama’s last Christmas card

Barack-Obama-family
Image: White House

The first you know it’s getting close is when you receive the first Christmas card. Like many of you, though, we’ve been receiving fewer cards each year as friends and family switch to email and social media.

But it was so nice of Barack, Michelle and the girls to remember us! #dontleave

We are organising a ‘Secret Santa’ gift-giving ritual. This means if there are 10 people coming for Christmas dinner; each person buys one gift to an agreed value. The Secret Santa organiser assigns shopping tasks – “You can buy a gift for Auntie Val. I heard her grumbling last week that her pruning shears have had it.”

So rather than 10 people each spending about $599 (the average Christmas gift spend, according to a Commonwealth Bank survey), you each spend $50 and there’s a good chance the person receiving the Secret Santa gift will get something they actually want/need.

An international survey by ING Bank conducted in October found that 82% of Europeans received one or more gifts in 2015. One in seven (15%) were given something they didn’t appreciate, didn’t like or couldn’t use. The proportions were only slightly different in the US and Australia. Of the 15% who admitted to receiving unwanted presents, more than half kept them anyway. Others gave them to someone else (25%), sold them (14%) or tried to return them to the store (11%).

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has estimated that $798 million of the $8.8 billion spent on Christmas loot goes on unwanted gifts.

There are three basic options if you want to rein in your Christmas gift spending. The family could agree to (a) not buy gifts at all (b) organise Secret Santa or (c) donate money to organisations like World Vision or Oxfam; the latter uses the money to buy practical items for poor African villages. The gift recipient receives a certificate, which says something like, Congratulations (name), you have bought a goat for a village in Sudan. The certificate goes on to explain what a goat can mean for a poor African village. You can pin the certificate to your office noticeboard and feel virtuous for a whole year. (Or as Little Brother says, you could go to a country that doesn’t celebrate Christmas and give the whole circus a swerve.)

Some children get $200 cash and more!

The Australian and Securities Commission (ASIC) website Moneysmart, which aims to educate consumers, compiled an Infographic (see fact sheet link which shows how much money Australians spend on Christmas gifts. The average spent on gifts ranges from $401 (South Australia) to $548 (NSW). Sixty percent used savings when they went shopping, 20% used a credit card, 10% borrowed money from family and friends or used a bonus/tax refund and 10% used lay-by. Of those who used a credit card to pay for Christmas, 80% paid it off within three months.

Nine out of 10 children received some cash as Christmas presents with 20% receiving between $100 and $200 and 22% more than $200! Boys spent the cash on console games (45%), computer games (24%), and other games (22%), put the cash toward saving for a big item (31%) or banked it (43%). Girls spend the cash on clothes (40%), music (22%) and going out (20%), though 29% put the money towards saving for a big item and 45% put the cash in the bank.

Australians will spend all-up around $48.1 billion in the six weeks leading up to Christmas, with this weekend and December 23 and 24 identified as the bonanza shopping days. This massive spend includes $19 billion on food (we all have to eat) and $2.8 billion on on-line shopping. The Retailers Association of Australia and Roy Morgan Research say Victoria will show the biggest increase in spending ($11.6 billion, up 4.6% year on year followed by Queensland ($9.5 billion, up 4.2%).

And if you’re wondering on Christmas Day how Little Johnny could afford to give Dad the boxed set of Game of Thrones, ARA’s research shows that shoplifting will cost retailers $1.4 billion over the six-week period.

Of course buying gifts is only one part of it – then you have to buy wrapping paper and either wrap presents or pay a professional to do it for you. Australian Ethical and Clean up Australia provide some tips for people who feel bad about the 50,000 trees that get pulped every year to make your Christmas gifts look appropriately festive.

Australians use more than 8,000 tonnes of wrapping paper each year and, as Clean Up Australia chairman Ian Kiernan points out, foil sheets are hard to recycle. His suggestions for a sustainable Christmas include:

  • Rather than buying someone a physical gift like a CD, consider buying them a service, like a singing lesson;
  • Buy yourself a real Christmas tree – they smell fresh, last well, and are biodegradable through your green waste (they can also be planted out);
  • Cut back on gift wrapping, resize large cards to make gift tags, get creative with newspaper or magazines for wrapping presents and recycle the wrapping that you can’t use anymore.

“It’s not over till it’s over and you throw away the tree” (LWIII)

There is an unhappy trend to brand someone trying to moderate spending at Christmas as a Scrooge or a Grinch. The inference is we are spoiling the festive season by questioning excessive consumption.

And then there are Christmas cards, which come in ever-diminishing numbers, despite assurances that the market is doing better than ever.

The Greeting Cards Association of Australia says Australians spend $500 million on greetings cards and ours is the world’s third largest market per capita.

In the US, Christmas cards represent about 25% of the $6.5 billion greeting card market, where sales are steady, although profits are declining. Marketing expert Brandon Gaille expects global sales to keep declining as multiple issues confront the industry, including rising postal rates and competition from DIY cards and low-cost e-cards.

The Obama family sent out their last Christmas card this week, which created a sentimental outpouring around the hashtag #dontleave.

The cards are sent only to friends, supporters, White House staff and the media (which explains the hurriedly scanned copies on Twitter, Facebook and just about any traditional media outlet you can name).

The White House can afford to send out at least one million* cards featuring the Obama family’s last hoorah. Since 1960 the incumbent President’s political party has paid for this indulgence.

Back home, listeners told 720 ABC Perth the cost of postage is the overwhelming reason people are resorting to emails, texts and social media messages. I can vouch for this, having spent $70 at Australia Post sending a few calendars overseas and buying a dozen Christmas cards and stamps for friends who don’t do email.

Even though you get a 35c discount when buying card-only stamps, the high cost of postage is pushing more people to compose annual “e-letters” (complete with happy snaps).

But as one ABC Perth listener lamented, “You can’t really put an email on the mantlepiece, can you?”

*Ronald Reagan set the one million White House Christmas card benchmark in 1983 but was upstaged in 2009 by George W Bush Jnr (1.5 million).

 

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