Lifestyle

Saturday 23 August 2014

Jingle bells on a budget: our €150 shopping expedition

Graham Clifford keeps things simple at Christmas preferring to spend on experiences

Father Thriftmas: Graham Clifford and wife Cathy Christmas shopping in Pinnochio, Cork.

Red-faced shoppers struggle along Cork's Grand Parade weighed down with plastic bags bulging with bulky toys.

Gift-spending has gone into overdrive as the big day draws ever-closer and parents splash out money -- that so many can can ill-afford -- on the latest talking doll, kid's tablet computer or robotic puppy.

A survey by Deloitte found that in 2013 an average of €484.81 will be spent on gifts in each Irish household and, in homes with little ones, over half of spending will be allocated to children.

In most European nations, parents will bestow three to five gifts per child but in Ireland the number of presents usually comes to six.

According to the survey, 'games' account for 35pc of the gifts bought for the under 12s while books (34pc) and dolls and cuddly toys (29pc) were the next most popular toy-types.

Each year my wife, Catherine, and I put together a small Christmas budget for toys for our three young children and this year we've decided to spend no more than €50 per child (that will cover gifts from us and a bearded benefactor).

Are we mean, kill-joy parents who feel play-time is an unnecessary distraction for our trio of Molly (7), Aoife (5) and Aodhan (2)?

On the contrary -- we believe that their playtime can be more imaginative and innovative if they are not being side-tracked by so many attention-demanding toys.

In the 1990s, two German researchers, Elke Schubert and Rainer Strick, conducted an experiment called the Toy-Free Nursery.

They removed all toys from a nursery in Munich for three months and found that after a short period, children readjusted to their surroundings and their play became more social and creative -- food for thought.

We also found, to our cost, that single-purpose toys often capture the attention of the child for a short space of time before being discarded to the bottom of the toy-box.

Indeed a leading psychologist has just claimed that children do not need a huge collection of toys and warned parents of the danger of giving them too many pricey presents at Christmas.

Oliver James, author of the parenting book Love Bombing, believes that when most children receive their first toy, such as a teddy bear, it goes everywhere with them. After that, everything else is just a "socially generated want". The theory could well hold water. Our eldest daughter Molly still adores 'Woof Woof', an unspectacular soft puppy she was given before her first birthday. Subsequent toys have come and gone but 'Woof Woof' stubbornly remains.

We're fortunate in that the children aren't at all demanding when it comes to toys. The girls wrote their Christmas letters to Santa last March but they can't recall what they asked for!

They will be showered with toys from their adoring grand-parents and cousins, so we're keeping costs of presents down this year.

It means we can spend more on all the things which make Christmas so magical -- trips to Santa's grotto, decorations and festive snacks.

We strike gold in the first shop we visit. Our debut purchase -- a ladybird kite --is a bargain at €12.95. Our basket is quickly stuffed several with stocking fillers including a toy tractor (€4.95), two colouring books (€5 each), a submarine for the bath (€7.50) and a 'design your own ballerina' set for €7.95.

In another toyshop, we pick up our most expensive purchase -- the Cork edition of the ever- popular Monopoly board game for Molly at €29.95.

With the shopping bags quickly filling, we add a hurlóg and sliotar for Aodhan -- our budding Cork hurler. At €19.95 it's a gift with double benefit as it's made by Galway-based company Kite Sport Ltd.

Closer to home, we spend the last of our budget in our local book shop. Spoilt for choice we end up leaving with Milly the River Fairy (€7.95) for Aoife and Tiddler, the popular children's story by Julia Donaldson, which sets us back €8.95.

A quick tot-up of our day's purchases reveal we've spent a combined €135 on our three kids so to hit an even €150m we pick up a few last smaller gifts including a toy spider to frighten the children's auntie!

As the years progress, we know demands for presents from our children will grow and the presents requested may well be more costly.

But rather than becoming immersed in manic consumerism, we hope we can temper the expectations of our little ones so disappointment on Christmas morning can be averted.

Also, we prioritise those gifts which encourage imaginative play and family-participation.

Throughout the course of the year, we take our kids on more little trips away than most and over a 12-month period spend as much, if not more, on them than most parents. But experiences will always take preference over toys in our house.

It may not be every family's approach -- but it certainly works for us.

Now all we have to do is make sure with hide our hoard of gifts until the 25th.

Irish Independent

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