It's the worst time of year for overspending for the whole nation (UK), and last year Christmas resulted in 10,000 personal insolvencies in the first 3 months of 2007, entirely due to excessive festive spending.
The first thing anyone should do before Christmas, is cut up and throw away all their credit cards. Then tell friends and family that you've decided to avoid conspicuous consumerism for the sake of the environment and that you will not be giving presents this year.
Or, tell them the truth, that you're strapped for cash, and rather than get into debt, you will give them a card and your best wishes. No one will think less of you, in fact they'll probably all be secretly delighted that you've made such a brave and strong decision.
Next thing to do, is to actually decide what you are going to give to those you love. Gifts that cost more in terms of time and effort are usually more appreciated than a generic store bought gift set.
Since this is going to cost your time and effort, make sure it's people you care about, who care about you and keep it relatively short or you'll spend all next year completing your gift pledges.
This is where you put your brain to work, figuring out who would appreciate what and at no monetary cost. For instance, my sister who is single handedly raising my beautiful niece as well as running the local multiplex cinema, a job that has her working 70-80 hours a week, would really appreciate a day's home cleaning as it's her last priority at the end of the day.
My Dad will probably get the same, but really what he needs is a day of house clearing as he hoards like a squirrel gone mad.
Now, a word of caution, there are some people who are seriously materialistic, my brother and sister-in-law are such and no home made gift, or even an offer of babysitting one Friday for every month in 2008 would satisfy their greed. Your gift would be insincerely praised and then ridiculed when you leave their house.
In that case, I would just give a card and say that 'I am actively pursuing a greener lifestyle and not giving present to adults this year'.
If they question your environmental commitment, after all, just last year you may have been the wide screen tv, PS3 poster boy or the girl who spent every dime on botox, just throw a wobbly tantrum and suggest they become aware of the damage we are inflicting on our beautiful planet. This works almost every time, as they won't want to appear ignorant of important political and social issues.
It is difficult to give no cost gifts to children in this day and age, as they are encouraged to become consumers almost from before birth. And kids love the immediacy of unwrapping and playing with something there and then. To give them a card that says you'll take them kite flying in July just isn't going to cut it.
Here then, is where I say spend what you can afford. But think and be clever with your gift choices, if the parents are buying their offspring a bike, you buy the helmet. If they are buying a skateboard, again buy the protective gear. And the best gift to a child? Your Time!
Seriously, all the adults get tired after Christmas dinner and just want to sleep off the food and drink, if you play with the kids and help them get the most of the presents they got from others, they'll remember that more than anything else .