A Holiday Gift Giving Playbook

A cartoon of a woman reaching a hand up as she is buried in a mountain of presents and objects.
Original cartoon by Liza Donnelly

As published as part of the SheMoney newsletter on LinkedIn.

‘Tis the Season… to shop. According to a recent estimate, Americans will spend around $860 billion this holiday season. This article also notes that compared to last year, Americans overall have more money to spend on themselves and on others. However, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Because the fact of the matter is that most of us are over-consumers, meaning we buy and own more than we need. And during the holiday season, we likely buy presents for others who are also over-consumers, and who also don’t need more stuff. All of which is incredibly damaging to our environment as well as our bank accounts. That being said, if we stop over buying things, our economy will grind to a halt, good businesses will go under, and people will financially suffer. Our economy relies on over-consumption to grow.

So the question becomes this: How do I, you, all of us, reconcile the fact that in order to save our planet, we need to buy less, and yet if we don’t continue to buy stuff, particularly from women+ and other marginalized communities, our economy will tank and businesses owned by women+ will suffer? Furthermore, every dollar that we spend on more stuff is a dollar that is not saved, not invested, and cannot be used to buy us the most precious thing of all – financial freedom. Of course, the goal is not to be a Grinch, either towards ourselves or towards others. Instead, the answer is more conscious consumerism. So this holiday season, I decided to create a shopping and gift-giving playbook to help guide myself, and you if you are interested, with this process. But first, a confession.

I’m a “shopper”. This is the label that some of my family and friends have given me. Of course, being a “shopper” could just literally mean a person who is shopping. But in my case, it means a person who LOVES to shop. As my mom likes to say, “Jacki has never gone into a store that she hasn’t liked.” This may not be exactly true, but it is somewhat true. And therefore, because of this, I decided to do what I have never done, and I looked up the definition of a shopping addict. It is quite an expansive definition, and while I don’t fit neatly into it, I messily do. As I said. I’m a shopper.

Over the years, I have justified my overconsumption with the fact that I can afford it. I also compare myself to some of my friends and think to myself, “I spend less than they do, so I’m good.” Talk about a slippery slope. I also tell myself that buying things, especially from women+ founders and business owners, is a good thing. And it is. But I can support women+ businesses and still have an overconsumption problem. By acknowledging this to myself, and to you, I am bringing more self-awareness to my behaviors and invite you to do the same. Bottom line, as a society, we need to consume less, consume more responsibly, and if we all come together in this, we can truly have a big impact.

Conscious consumerism — sometimes called ethical consumerism or conscientious consumerism — is shopping in ways one believes makes a positive social, environmental, or economic impact.

This is a massively, and I mean massively significant concept to embrace, especially in a culture where we use the phrase “change the world” way too much. This behavior, when adopted at critical mass, truly will change our communities, not to mention the world more generally. Back in 2012, I gave a TEDxWomen talk in which I declared that our spending dollars are the most underused tool for social change. And I stand by that declaration nearly a decade later. In the US, women control up to 85% of consumer purchasing decisions, and therefore any mass change in our spending habits will be instantaneously felt. This is why buycotts are perhaps the most powerful tool in a financial activist’s playbook.

So this holiday season, of course it’s wonderful to give presents to your loved ones, but my invitation is to do so more intentionally. I am trying to do it more intentionally. Take a little extra time to think about what you are buying, and maybe even do a little homework before making your purchases. To help with this, I decided to create a 2021 holiday shopping playbook, although I should say that this is still a work in progress. I welcome YOUR ideas and feedback once you’ve had a read through.

1) Make a list of the people to whom you want to give gifts, and create both a per person and overall spending budget. Review it, perhaps edit it down, and then review it again. Really know what you are spending this year and can afford to spend. And don’t forget about charitable gifting as well. Did you have an especially prosperous year? If so, great, be generous!

2) Think about what would be a meaningful gift for each person. I have often fallen into the trap of buying things that I like for a person, rather than taking the time to think about what the recipient would really like. Because if the recipient doesn’t need it, like it, or want it, the purchase is truly a waste. If the goal of gift giving is an expression of love and generosity, take a minute to make it so.

3) People often say that our most valuable resource is time, so think about giving a togetherness gift. Does your friend love movies, hikes, foot massages, or going to a new restaurant? If so, make the gift time together doing what they like and you treat! And because it is so easy to not make it happen, make sure you take the time to schedule it.

A photo of two jars of homemade jam sitting on a table in front of a sign that says Merry ChristmasNo alt text provided for this image

3) Homemade gifts are awesome. Yes to a plate of homemade cookies, but also, get creative. This year, I plan on making a big pot of soup, Russian borscht, that is a family recipe, and gifting it along with some fresh bread and the recipe. I also made jam and canned peaches with fruit from our family orchard this past summer, and it will also go into baskets with some cheese and crackers. (check out @hoffmanorchards on instagram) Personally, I love giving and receiving food gifts, especially when they are packaged with love.

A photo of homemade crafts and food items, packaged in plastic and sitting in a line on a table.No alt text provided for this image

4) Shop local holiday markets. This past weekend I went to one here in Park City, and I loaded up on homemade bath balms, chocolate covered pretzels, and other locally made goodies. Not only do you meet the maker, but you also keep your money in your community and support local entrepreneurs and artisans.

5) Give photos in a frame that captures a memory from the year. In a world where most photos are viewed digitally, taking the time to print a photo and frame it is both thoughtful and awesome.

A photo of three books sitting on a table.No alt text provided for this image

6) Give books. For me, I have been digging reading poetry this past year so I have handpicked some poetry books that are aligned to my friends interests and life events.

7) Give cash gifts. I have often felt strange giving cash gifts thinking it may be perceived as not thoughtful or intentional. If you really don’t know what to give someone, and/or you know that they may really appreciate pure financial support, cash with a thoughtful note may be perfect.

8) Buy from women+ owned and operated businesses (this is, after all, SheMoney). You can do this for local businesses or online, or even brands that you find at big box retailers. And if you need some suggestions of where to start, check out The Verticale, which just partnered with The Helm and brings forth women-owned and sustainable offerings. You can also check out the Holiday Gift Guide by the Athena Center for Leadership at Barnard College which I just received in my inbox. I am also going to take a moment to shamelessly champion two companies that are owned by friends of mine; Zenzee by Sharon Backurz and Michael Stars by Suzanne Lerner. They both produce gorgeous women’s clothing. (photo of me with Sharon)

A photo of author Jacki Zehner in front of a photo of Sharon Backurz.No alt text provided for this image

8) And finally, what about all the big producers and retailers? Thankfully, there are many resources available to help you make smart decisions about which ones to support and which ones to avoid. One of the tools I use is GenderFair, which ranks a company’s commitment to gender equality. You can download the app, or sign-up to be sent a shopping guide of the best companies in lots of different consumer categories by clicking here and scrolling to the bottom.

One final note. I just finished reading The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness by Morgan Housel. In it, Housel talks about having goals around money, and how his primary goal is independence. He says that, “independence at any income level is driven by your savings rate”, and the big message of the book is to save more. The key to saving more? Not wasting money. So this holiday season, know that it’s possible to be intentional, generous, and loving in your gift-giving, while also spending less and saving more.

As mentioned above, this guide is a work in progress. I would love to hear ideas you have about holiday gift giving. If you have favorite companies and platforms, share those too!

Happy holidays! Wishing each and every one of you health and happiness.

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