Martin Lewis: Why sometimes the best Christmas present is giving nothing at all
Before giving gifts this holiday season, first ask yourself honestly if they're going to be a help or a hindrance for the people receiving them. That's the message from MoneySavingExpert.com founder Martin Lewis in the special Christmas preparation episode of the latest series of ITV's The Martin Lewis Money Show Live.
Update: 21 November 2023: It's now become an annual tradition for MoneySavingExpert.com founder Martin Lewis to brave the subject of banning unnecessary Christmas presents on ITV's The Martin Lewis Money Show Live. To watch Martin's 2023 Christmas plea, see his Is it time to ban unnecessary Christmas presents? blog post.
Watch Martin's full explanation below. Plus, read his original 'Is it time to ban unnecessary Christmas gifts?' blog for more detail, and see our 45 Christmas MoneySaving tips for ways to slash costs over the festive period.
The clip above has been taken from The Martin Lewis Money Show Live Special on Tuesday 15 November 2022, with the permission of ITV Studios. All rights reserved. Watch the full episode on the ITV Hub.
Here's a full transcript of Martin's Christmas presents warning
Martin (2022): "The film he [the viewer] was talking about is actually one that has become a tradition on this, the Christmas preparation special. And I want to show you, again, as we now do every year, the film that inspired that. I did this back in Liverpool in 2018. And I don't think I could do it better now."
Clip of 2018 Martin: "Christmas has become a retail festival, and it shouldn't be. Christmas should be joyous, but causes some people unhappiness, debt, and worry. Now, many people feel obliged to buy gifts for others that they know they won't use, with money they don't have, and cause themselves stress they don't need.
We have disconnected from why we give gifts
"And I think part of the reason for this is that we have disconnected from why we give gifts. Now, gift-giving originally, anthropologically, was actually a form of social banking.
"Take a wedding. You'd go to a wedding, and older people, richer people in the community, would give gifts to younger people to help them start out, and as those people aged, they'd then pass it back to the new younger people. You can see how it works.
We do tit-for-tat giving – which means people end up with tat
"But with Christmas, it's a zero-sum game. I give to you. You feel obligated to give back to me at a similar value. Now, to fulfil that obligation, we do tit-for-tat giving, which means people end up with tat.
"Now, some people say to me, hold on, what about the gift of giving? But I have to be honest and say, that can actually be selfish, and here's why. It can mis-prioritise people's finances and create a financial burden. I've got it here. If I give a gift to you, there you go, what do you feel you need to do? I'll take your scarf, thank you. There we go. Lovely, you give it back to me.
"Now, let’s say I spent £20 on that, and I’m affluent and I thought I was being generous to you, I've effectively forced you to spend £20 on that scarf, and you might have chosen that your children need more new shoes instead. So, I've mis-prioritised your finances by giving you a gift.
Let's work together to ban unnecessary Christmas presents
"What I think, it is time for us to get off this gift-giving treadmill. I think sometimes the best gift is releasing others from the obligation of having to give to you. Let’s work together to ban unnecessary Christmas presents. Not for your spouse, not for smiling children under the tree, but that ever-expanding list of friends and cousins and teachers that we feel forced to buy.
"Do right now, if you're watching, use me as your excuse. Agree to make a 'prenupp', a pre-Christmas no-unnecessary-present pact. Or at least do a secret Santa and cap it at a fiver or tenner, or even better, say: you know what? I'm not going to give gifts to that extended list, I'm going to give to charity instead – less pressure. Less pressure, less cost, less debt, and I hope more joy. And the reaction here shows you might feel embarrassed to raise it, but most people feel the same way." [Clip of 2018 Martin ends.]
Before giving, ask yourself: is my gift a help or a hindrance?
Martin (2022): "You know, watching that back, I don't think it has ever felt more pertinent and personal than it has this year, amidst a cost of living crisis when many people are struggling. And so I think what I would ask that we all try and do is when you are thinking about somebody, giving somebody a gift this year, ask yourself truly: is my gift a help or a hindrance? And if it's a help, give it with joy and give it with love. And if it's a hindrance... stop."