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Negotiating the Hazards of Holiday Gift-Giving

Meridian Points

Negotiating Hazards of Holiday Gift-Giving

The holiday season is upon us and in full-tilt. Black Friday and the long Cyber Weekend kicked off the gift-buying frenzy, and now we’re scrambling to put packages under the tree, juggling holiday parties, meeting year-end deadlines, and (I hope) enjoying a little cheer.

For many of us, the December calendar, crowded with requisite holiday gatherings, has one less obligation than in years past as more companies say that they just don’t throw holiday parties anymore.

Last week, the Society for Human Resource Management released its annual survey about office holiday parties. About 30 percent of companies responding said they eliminated their holiday parties following the 2008 recession.

Today, the reason doesn’t seem to be about money. Only 6 percent of managers surveyed had cut back on or eliminated the office party because of financial challenges. Why are more companies than ever ditching their holiday parties? It turns out that people just don’t miss getting together with their colleagues after hours to drink cheap chardonnay and sing Christmas carols. Most people said that they only attended company functions out of obligation.

There’s something fascinating going on here. Companies that cut a budget line-item out of necessity learned that what they had thought to be an investment in workplace morale was nothing more than an expense.

This got me thinking about gift giving to family and loved ones. I have three sons, and my youngest recently asked me for a gift idea for his girlfriend. I advised him to stick with small items that can be hidden in the glove box of his car. I reminded my son never to give a woman clothes unless the item in question had been picked out by the woman (or by the woman’s close friend).

There are two reasons for this policy. First, it is impossible to figure out a woman’s size because the size does not relate to anything. I wear a size 16 shirt, which means that the neck is 16 inches wide. Do not ever buy a woman a size 16 anything. Second, you can never figure out the color. The women in my life see colors that I cannot. My wife will say, “This has too much blue.” I can’t see any color past the basic Crayola 8 pack.

The ability to see the difference between needs and wants is just as difficult. Setting a limit on how much you can spend is an important task before you begin shopping. Loving a person can tempt us to think that we “need” to spend money on things that we can’t afford. A recent survey by Experian found that 41 percent of shoppers feel obligated to spend more than they can afford on holiday gifts, while 60 percent reported that gift-giving puts a strain on their finances.

Can you remember what you got for Christmas last year? Probably not, unless it was a size 16 something in the wrong color. So try to enjoy The Season without breaking your budget!

As always, call or email me with any questions that you have.

This column was featured in the November 1 Knoxville News-Sentinel. You can read it here: Negotiating the Hazards of Holiday Gift-Giving

Meet the Author

Tom Coulter, CPA


Tom is the President and a founder of Meridian Trust. Tom graduated from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in accounting with honors, in 1978. Tom previously worked for the international accounting firm, Deloitte. He later joined the financial medical advising firm, FIS Associates, before founding Meridian Trust in 1997. Tom has worked extensively in retirement planning, taxation, estate and financial planning and investment management. He is a Certified Public Accountant, a member of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), and the Tennessee Society of CPAs (TSCPA).

Tom is also credentialed as a Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) by the AICPA.