How families are reining in festive spending this Christmas

Soaring inflation globally and expensive flight tickets are forcing people to tighten their gift budgets

Most families are trying to enjoy the Christmas period without going overboard with gift budgets for their family. Unsplash
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Soaring inflation and interest rates have put a different complexion on finances for many around the globe this Christmas, prompting festive spending scrutiny and budgets to be squeezed.

Put rising UAE property rents and higher air fares into the mix and December 2022 is a season to be jolly … but also watchful of expenses.

That has been the case for Jocelyn Lewisham, a Dubai-based professional artist with 13 years in the city alongside dentist husband Mark.

They have a daughter, 29, who has “left the nest” and another aged 21 at university in their native New Zealand.

“I usually have a set budget for Christmas that I allow per person,” Ms Lewisham says.

“It does have a little to do with income that year [and] during difficult years, I cut it back. I keep it very even between the kids — one now has a partner so I keep that in mind, too.”

Additionally, she and her husband have this time factored in plane tickets as they head to their home country for the festive break, including internal flights for themselves and one daughter to criss-cross the country at peak times for family visits.

“As we are travelling for our first Christmas home with parents in 13.5 years, we have cut the budget as that comes with many additional costs … extra airfares, accommodation, car hire, et cetera,” says Ms Lewisham, who lives in Meydan, Dubai.

“Since the pandemic, we have definitely been more cautious with our gift budget.

“We didn’t get to see our youngest daughter for over two years, so have been travelling back home a lot making up for lost time. Travelling is expensive, so it has been more of a juggle this past year or so.”

While Christmas is the “biggest celebration” in Ffion Tomlinson’s household, she and her husband, a catering company manager, set a budget of Dh1,000 each for gifts to each other this year.

But not for their children: Oliver, aged nine, Toby, six, and Lola, three.

“We would normally buy the children one big gift, like a bike and then stocking fillers such as Lego,” says the nursery teacher.

“We have never set a spending level but we try to be wise and not spend excessively, and only within our means.”

Ms Tomlinson, who moved from the UK 12 years ago as cabin crew with Etihad Airways, also has a business, Ffiffi’s Cards, that sells handmade cards at markets and to shops.

“When I started, it gave me extra cash to be able to buy birthday gifts and especially over the Christmas season,” she says.

“With every passing year, I feel my list of gifts to give gets bigger; our own family, my side and my husband’s side of the family, teachers, work colleagues …”

Originally from Wales, Ms Tomlinson, 32, has opted to spend the holiday at home in Mira, Dubai, rather than the UK, “primarily because of flight costs”.

“We haven’t gone home for Christmas since 2018 with the regulations of flying during the pandemic and the logistics of car hire, flights and who to stay with … it has been easier and cheaper to stay in the UAE. We have been fortunate to have family come out to us over Christmas.”

Listing festive-related spending statistics earlier this year, US personal finance website Capital Counselor said parents had planned to spend an average of $276 on Christmas gifts per child in 2021.

The website revealed that 10 per cent of Europeans go into debt shopping for the season while 41 per cent of Americans are willing to take on debt for gift purchases, although 21 per cent aimed to spend less last year.

The US expects to spend about $6.1 billion on Christmas trees this year, while Forbes predicts US holiday gift outlays will decrease by $30 billion as 58 per cent of consumers reduce non-food spending during the holidays.

Abu Dhabi mother-of-two Claire Hills, a UAE resident for 11 years, says her gift budgets are dependent on what is on the wish list.

“But I would say we would spend no more than Dh1,500 per person … maybe less,” she says.

Former cabin crew and now full-time mum to Xander, aged six, and Lara, four, Ms Hills enhances the family budget with Jewellery Box By Claire, producing a range of handcrafted sterling silver jewellery.

“Having my own business really helps over the Christmas period,” Ms Hills, originally from London, says.

“It is the busiest time of year, I attend as many markets as I possibly can, it fits around my family and means we do not need to budget throughout the year as such for Christmas as income from the markets covers Christmas.”

While her eldest hopes to get a Nintendo Switch this year and her youngest wants “anything that is pink and sparkly”, Ms Hills, 35, says the family has always enjoyed the Christmas period “without going overboard … which, as we all know, can very easily happen”.

“We are lucky, post-pandemic, our income has stayed the same, and our budget and spending hasn’t changed at all this year, and hasn’t really since we’ve had children.”

She and husband Stephen, who works for a UAE airline, also opted to remain in the UAE during Christmas 2022, opting for staycations in Ras Al Khaimah in the days leading up to Christmas Day.

“When we normally go back for Christmas, we always end up rushing around the country trying to see everyone.

“This can be a stressful juggle, especially with two children in tow, [and] lots of people in the UK are feeling the pinch this year with the rising costs of living, so a lot of the festivities we would have usually taken part in with friends and families have been scaled back.”

“December is always such a fun blur for me trying to balance it all, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she says.

While Ms Hills’s children are young, Ms Lewisham acknowledges that gift budgets tend to adjust upwards as they mature and have different gift aspirations.

“As our kids have gotten older, the budget has got bigger,” she says.

“They need more in terms of bigger ticket items and Christmas is a good opportunity to help them out … treats they might not get for themselves; these things seem more expensive than the toys they would get as small children.”

For years, the “commercialisation of Christmas” has become a topic of debate for many people, both from a pressure to spend perspective and its impact on the essence of the festive season.

December is always such a fun blur for me trying to balance it all, but I wouldn’t have it any other way
Claire Hills, Abu Dhabi resident

Among the latter is Ms Tomlinson, whose two boys have a clear out before Christmas and donate unwanted toys, books and clothes to charitable causes.

“I feel we seem to have lost the meaning of Christmas and almost believe that by going to buy more things offline and attending a mega sale, we are winning,” says Ms Tomlinson.

“As I look back at my own childhood, I can never remember all the gifts I received.

“I remember the feeling of Christmas, eating all the good food, making Christmas crafts, the anticipation of Father Christmas and the feeling of family … I don’t think anyone can put a price on that.”

Updated: December 22, 2022, 5:00 AM