How many presents should a child be bought at Christmas? What about for those too young to even understand why they are receiving them?
The pressure to bestow children with coveted gadgets and the latest toys on Christmas Day can cost families dearly.
According to a recent YouGov poll of 2,000 adults for the Money Advisory Service, 13 per cent “regularly worry” about money in the run-up to Christmas. More than a third said they were putting Christmas presents on a credit card. A spokesperson for DebtChange said the charity sees a surge in people coming for debt advice in January.
Parents bucking the trend
But some mums and dads are kicking back against the trend to spend, spend, spend at Christmas – and not because finances are tight.
They are concerned about how consumerism could shape the attitudes of their children in years to come.
A growing number are also keen to reduce waste and build a more sustainable Christmas with second-hand gifts, while others are opting for a minimalist gift-giving policy. Julie Thompson Dredge, a PR company director from London, and her partner will not be buying any Christmas presents for their 18-month-old daughter this year.
She said: “Our daughter is 18-months-old and has no comprehension of Christmas yet. Last Christmas, she was six months old and we got her ducks for the bath – that was it.
“We’re getting some hand me downs from a friend with six-year-old and eight-year-old girls. They have a house full of toys they don’t use so they are going to give some to us and my mum is buying her some bits from a charity shop.
“We have another baby on the way and many expensive years ahead of us, so it’s more sensible to consider what our children might need in the future and use the money we save by not buying presents accordingly.
“We put money aside in a junior ISA account so they have a bit of money for when they are older and when they need it for things like computers.
Changing attitudes to pre-loved gifting
Dr Emma Waight, a lecturer in Design Management at the University of Southampton and expert on ethical and sustainable fashion, looked at the consumption practices of mothers buying things for their children as part of her PhD.
Dr Waight says the stigma attached to giving second-hand gifts is because gift-giving is a social process.
“It’s a symbol of a relationship. A second-hand gift could be seen as cheap – ‘you don’t care enough about me to spend money on me’.
“But scouring the charity shops or eBay for second-hand gifts requires just as much personal effort as buying new goods, if not more. That’s why it’s tricky buying second-hand gifts for people outside our close family.”
However, the mothers she spoke to for her research were proud to save money and reduce waste by giving their children second-hand gifts.
“For our own children, it is slightly different. In practical terms, we know that children grow out of things quickly and the ‘hand-me-down’ culture is the most normalised of second-hand economies in the UK.
Often they are proud of their money saving practices – it’s seen as sensible parenting.”
Karen Whybro, who owns a bridal boutique in Essex, and her husband will be giving their young daughter a second-hand toy for Christmas this year. They will not be buying her anything new.
Karen said: “My daughter Nancy is nearly two. Her birthday is really close to Christmas and we dread the stacks and stacks of presents turning up and filling the living room when most of them won’t even be played with. At this age, she is too young to even understand why she is getting toys on this one day.
“Last year, instead of buying her presents I took part in the “Hope Box” charity initiative in Kent where people donate gift boxes to a child from families struggling financially. “I remember going to buy things to put in her shoebox at Sainsbury’s and telling the lady at the checkout what I was doing. It made us both cry.
The thought of a child the same age as Nancy growing up with nothing while she gets so much is hideous.
“I don’t want her to become very materialistic.”
Dr Waight points to the 2012 report ‘Baby and Nursery Equipment’ which found one in five parents had purchased more second-hand baby items since the onset of the recession to save money.
“There are also ethical motivations for consuming second-hand based around the desire for re-use and to ensure objects with life left in them don’t go to waste,” she adds.
“So yes, I think there is a growing trend in giving children pre-loved gifts, especially as they want incresingly expensive things, but don’t forget that hand-me-down culture has always been a thing.
“It’s now just more formalisied as people buy and sell second-hand goods to ‘unknown others’ rather than just pass down to other family or neighbours.”
• This article first featured on our sister site iNews