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.

Shop Your Values 2017

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on December 7th, 2017.

It’s that time of the year again. The time of year when your to do list seems to triple in size, your evenings are filled with parties and gatherings, and you eat way too much delicious food and sneak that extra mug of eggnog. Yes, the holiday season is in full swing, which means once again I’m on the hunt for the perfect gift for the special people in my life. Not just the perfect gift for them, but the perfect gift from me. I’ve long since advocated for shopping your values and using your purchasing power as a tool for social change, and every year around the holidays I get to put this into practice even more than usual. I love giving gifts and presents to those I hold most dear, but I also love that these gifts can be more than just beautiful necklaces, scarves, cufflinks and handbags. I make a concerted effort to purchase handmade products made by incredible female artisans around the world, and these purchases in turn support their businesses and economic empowerment. I love that in giving these gifts, the recipients become a part of my passion for advancing women and girls.

Every year Women Moving Millions releases a Shop Your Values guide in time for the holiday season, and earlier this week the 2017 version was unveiled. It’s filled with incredible organizations who are supporting women artisans around the globe and offering for sale a wide variety of products, and this guide will allow you to complete all of your holiday shopping from the comfort of your own home. No need to take your life in your hands by venturing into a mall this close to Christmas. Below is a sampling of the featured online shops, but there are dozens more listed in the guide. To view the full list, please click HERE.

GEMS By The Foot – Made with genuine gemstones, Gems by the Foot lets you customize your order by wire choice, stone selection, and length. Jewelry can be worn as necklaces or bracelets and are ideal to layer, collect, and gift. 10% of net profits from your purchase benefits refugee women and their families through the International Rescue Committee Dallas. Co-founded by Women Moving Millions (WMM) member Elizabeth Carlock Phillips.

Unleashed – Unleashed is a pending 501(c)(3) non-profit media organization that focuses on helping female craft artisans globally. They connect award-winning producers and directors with artisan collectives to create compelling visual stories and open access to market. Through its content series, Unleashed promotes artisan craftwork and creates business opportunities for those women who do not have the voice or platform on their own. Co-founded by WMM member Kara Ross, pictured to the left.

 

NOMI Network – An organization creating economic opportunities for women at risk and survivors of human trafficking by equipping them with skills to produce goods for the global market place. Nomi Network provides entrepreneurship, leadership and technical skills to women to improve the design and quality of the products they produce. They sell a variety of products including a tote bag that says, “Buy her bag and not her body.” We partnered with NOMI to produce our conference totes for Utah Wonder Women and they were beautiful. Photo is of the three CoFounders Diana Mao, Alissa Ayako Williams and Supei Liu.

Same Sky – A trade-not aid- jewelry initiative that employs and empowers HIV-positive women in Africa as artisans. Trained as artisans, SAME SKY women earn 15 to 20 times the average Sub Saharan wage by hand crocheting beautiful glass bead jewelry. Sold online and in stores like Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, these beautiful pieces are stylish and support a fantastic cause! I am proud to be one of their Ambassadors. Photo with Founder and WMM member Francine Lefrak.

Finally, if you can’t find what you’re looking for in any of the shops listed in our guide, I encourage you to head over to The Little Market to continue your search there. Operating as a nonprofit charitable organization, The Little Market is an online fair trade shop founded by Lauren Conrad and Hannah Skvarla where customers can purchase beautiful products handmade by artisans around the world. The Little Market also provides design insights, helping sales partners to showcase their traditional skills and cultural techniques to a broader audience. The Little Market practices fair trade principles, and every purchase from The Little Market generates meaningful income for the artisans and their families. With such a wide range of products for sale, you’ll be able to find that perfect gift for everyone on your list this year without a doubt.

If you know of an organization that should be included in next year’s guide please let me know in the comments below. In the meantime, I’m wishing you and your loved ones a very merry holiday season!

The Most Underused Tool For Social Change?

SHOPPING! No seriously, I mean it. Or put a different way, our daily purchasing power. In the United States alone our GDP is around $17 trillion, and somewhere between 65% and 72% of that is consumer spending. When it comes to discretionary spending focused on wants versus needs, the role of the holiday season is particularly huge. For 2015 it was estimated that retail sales reached $630 billion USD, and if that number holds true for 2016, that’s a lot of spending power that can be used for good.

It’s often the case that in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, and oftentimes the rush to find a gift, any gift, it can be easy to forget that every time you spend a dollar, that exchange is an exchange of power. Financial power. Companies understand this well, and they spend billions of dollars every year trying to convince you to give them your purchasing power. When I give talks about how to use all the financial resources you have in alignment with your vision and values, purchasing power is where the most lightbulbs go off. We are trained to think of our charitable dollars as what we do for good, but that is so limited. Total philanthropic giving annually in the US is around $360 billion, and as per above, that number is only half of the spending during the holiday season alone. Of course, we should all give more to charitable causes, and the argument here is not to shop more, but to shop with much greater intention of what your dollars are supporting. I see it as a huge untapped capacity for good!

Trillions of dollars will be spent this year in support of varying sets of values; the values of the company from whom you buy that product, explicitly or implicitly. The trend is for more companies to be explicit about their values, or otherwise put, what they stand for. And this is a good thing in my view! The advertising industry is based on the assumption that we want to emotionally connect with a brand, and often see what we drive, where we eat, what we wear as an expression of our identity. This should of course come as no surprise. But studies are also showing that most consumers, and in particular moms and millennials, are more likely to buy products that have, for example, a percentage of profits that go to charities, or are environmentally friendly. This is not only a good thing, but a very, very, very good thing, as charitable dollars alone will never, ever be sufficient to solve the problems that need to be solved.

So if, in fact, our collective dollars can make or break a company, brand, or consumer item, isn’t that an incredible amount of potentially unused power we have to do good? And what if we all committed to more fully using this power as a way of supporting our core values? What if we used our spending dollars to hold companies accountable, and as a means of enacting social change? This is what shopping your values means, and the possibilities are endless.

For me personally, shopping my values, especially around the holiday season, means buying gifts from organizations that have a very direct, positive impact on the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in the world. When facing a mile long Christmas gift list, this may seem like a daunting challenge to throw into the mix, but in reality, it’s actually very easy to purchase great gifts, while at the same time knowing you are directly supporting families in places that lack robust economic opportunities.

When looking for gifts, look no further than Rising InternationalIndego Africa, the Akola ProjectMade by SurvivorsMercado GlobalProsperity Candle, the Nomi NetworkSokoSame Sky, or Shopping for a Change. Each one of these organizations sells incredible handcrafted gifts such as jewellery, clothing, baskets, crafts, tote bags, and silks, all of which have been made by women in impoverished areas all around the world. Many of these organizations also offer the skills training needed for these women to turn their handmade items into artisan businesses, which in turn helps to lift their families out of poverty. My organization, Women Moving Millions, put all of this information together in a guide that you can download here. Best of all, you can do all of your shopping online without having to brave the horror of a mall around the holidays.

That being said, if you do want to head to the mall this Christmas, I can help you there as well. If you read my bio, or blog, you know that my passion is gender equality, so if you want to turn your shopping in to an act of supporting gender equality in the workspace, check out the Buy Up Index. Large companies of all types are rated on their employee policies, women’s leadership, corporate citizenship, and marketing, and these ratings are combined to create a grade the company receives on gender equality. Brands and companies that have so far earned an “A” grade include Amazon, Coach, Johnson & Johnson, Nike, Gap, and L’Oreal, and in the future, these “A” brands will be invited to offer users of the app exclusive offers, discounts, and products. So if you want your dollars to have impact, simply pull up the app, compare two brands’ scores, and reward the company that has more inclusive policies with your spending dollars. You can also sign up online for Buy Up’s exclusive shopping list that lets you shop for equality everyday, and then tweet out your online purchases to #shopyourvalues and #BuyUpIndex. It’s that easy.

Obviously shopping your values will mean a lot of different things for different people, as everyone has different values and causes that they want to support. This holiday season, I hope you all take a moment to decide what it is that you want to support in this world, and then use your purchasing power to advance that mission. I will be using my dollars to make a difference in the lives of women and girls across this great country and the world at large, and I invite you all to join me.

Please feel free to share your values and how that aligns with your favorite company or product. Happy Holidays!