Ho, ho, hold on to your credit cards

The Weal ― OpinionsThe winter holidays—a time for joy, family, warmth, happiness, and crippling debt. Sounds like good ol’ fashioned Christmas cheer, right?

According to the Bank of Montreal’s annual Holiday Spending Outlook, Canadians are planning to spend an average of 15 per cent more this year ($1,610, up from 2011’s $1,397). One in five respondents didn’t plan on budgeting at all, and more than half said they make impulsive purchases. In contrast – according to Statistics Canada, the average Canadian makes $883 a week. So, that’s half a month’s salary for just one day of presents.

It might be worth it if the money was being put to good use – but it doesn’t seem like it. In America alone, a study by Stanford University found that the extra waste from wrapping and thrown out gifts during the winter holidays amounts to one million extra tons of waste per week, or an additional 25 per cent of the country’s trash.

The problem is pretty universal in the first world – 53 per cent of Australians throw away at least one Christmas gift each Christmas season, according to a survey done by eBay.

Someone, somewhere along the line made a holiday that was traditionally about people, into a corporate monster, emptying pockets and dirtying the environment.

If you suspect that your holiday is going to consist of forcing a smile to assuage the guilt when you open a sweater from your grandmother that clearly cost a fortune but only your eight-year-old self could love— there’s a better solution.

‘Alternate giving’ is a great trend on the rise. Instead of giving a gift, you give a donation to a charity or non-profit in the name of whoever is on the receiving end. They can be less expensive (a few dollars goes a long way to someone in need), reduce the pesky shopping spree when you don’t know what to buy for someone, and don’t involve any wasted products or packaging. You can even choose something personal – for an animal lover, why not make a donation to a local no-kill shelter? Plus, you can claim it on your taxes!

If you’re dreading another season of buying boxes of tacky holiday themed treats, and receiving even more that will barely pause in your hands before being tossed or re-gifted, consider asking your friends and family to make a donation on your behalf instead. Perhaps you’ll even inspire others to do the same.

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