Amid pressure to overspend on holidays, consumers embrace the gift of minimalism

Posted at 1:00 PM, Nov 25, 2018

Five years ago, Heather Vreeland, a 38-year old business co-owner, wife and mother in St. Augustine, Florida, decided enough was enough. No more Christmas gifts. No more birthday gifts, either. Her husband and business partner, Andrew, also 38, embraced the decision, and now with the exception of their young son and their employees (whom they gift cash), the couple does not buy presents for their family, and they ask to not receive any gifts in return.

“The decision was enforced three years ago on Christmas Eve when I was wrapping up a ton of gifts for my son and put on the documentary, ‘Minimalism: [A Documentary About The Important Things]’,” Vreeland told NBC News. “It was so ironic. There I am with all these gifts for my two-year old son that he doesn’t need. I would never want to take the allure of the holidays or gifts from him, but does he really need [all these] presents? No.”

Vreeland’s friends and family are on board with the choice, and thanks to the money they’re all saving over the holidays, they now spend on experiences, including a family trip to Disney World.

“I feel completely liberated by this,” said Vreeland, who imagines she won’t be making any buys over Black Friday weekend, and will instead spend time relaxing on the beach.

Vreeland is among a burgeoning sector of consumers tuning out the blasting noise of retailers touting rock-bottom prices and other tempting incentives to spend.

According to a newBankrate report, 13 percent of U.S adults are boycotting holiday spending.

“It’s interesting to see that so many people aren’t participating in gift-buying,” noted Adrian Garcia, data analyst at Bankrate. “I see it as a realization that people need fewer things, especially as they get older, and that it’s more important to spend time together, or donate to a charity.”

Research from OpenX, an independent ad exchange, found a more considerable portion of shoppers snubbing “gimmick sales days” around the holidays that are designed to pressure people into spending.

“After surveying more than 2,000 U.S. consumers, shoppers are getting fed up with days like Black Friday,” said Dallas Lawrence, chief brand and communications officer at OpenX. “Six in 10 consumers plan to forgo shopping on Black Friday this year, as most find the day overwhelming and not the best source for holiday deals.”

Despite some consumer resistance, splurging is still very much the law of the land, with shoppers forecast to shell out an average of $1,000 this holiday season — over four percent more than they spent last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

According to Bankrate’s survey, 45 percent of shoppers will spend beyond their comfort zone, even if it means getting into debt, which points back to how intensively (and cleverly) retailers are marketing their goods.

“Holiday marketing essentially uses emotional and psychological strategies to increase the purchase size,” said Donna Lubrano, professor of marketing at Northeastern University. “This stems from the time-honored vision of home and hearth, sharing, giving, and of gifts as an expression of love. The larger the gift, the larger the love.”

Heather E. Schwartz, a 48 year-old writer, wife and mother in upstate New York, is on a plan to pay off her holiday-fed debts in five years. This means no more impulse buys or caving in to the guilty feeling that she needs to “match what others spent.”

“I have a strict budget of $500 for 12 people this year,” she told NBC News. “I used to write down on paper that I would spend only that, but I would never stick to it. Last year I spent more like $750, and [the excess] went on credit cards. I used to buy extra gifts for my two kids thinking that four presents each wasn’t enough to open, but now instead of just buying more stuff they don’t want, I’ll add candy or food — stuff they can be excited to open but that won’t go to waste.”

Unfortunately, and despite our best intentions, a lot of gifts do end up being something of a waste.

The second-hand clothing company thredUP compiled a list of the most purged holiday gifts, noting that the company gets 250,000 new items after the holiday season ends.

“Every January, thredUP receives a surge of never-worn, new-with-tags items,” said a spokesperson for the company. “Presumably, many of these are holiday gifts that consumers didn’t want or need. That’s bad news for gift givers and recipients, but great news for second-hand shoppers.”