Jill Kerby: How about adding some sociable gifts to this year’s Christmas list?

This is my 20th annual Christmas column.

It’s usually about tips for keeping to your spending budget; knowing your consumer rights about in-store and on-line gift returns and even a few last minute handy, last minute stocking stuffers: Lotto tickets, downloaded store vouchers, airline, sports and entertainment tickets – and even lovely annual proof coin sets from the Central Bank for that coin collector in the family.

This newspaper’s archive probably has a few of those columns tucked away.

But this year is different. Everyone in my circle of friends is saying that they doing their best to order and buy on-line Irish-made goods and services. “It will be more modest Christmas this year” say my generation of pals, mostly…ahem, because we are of a certain age and state of health. No matter how much we’d like to, the fear of infection is real and our families – my only child is (happily) marooned in Australia – are often scattered around the country and the rest of the world.

Interestingly, younger friends and family are also telling me that they will be spending less, a view confirmed in a survey conducted by the price comparison website www.bonkers.ie and Red C. They discovered that four out of 10 people will spend less this Christmas (about 56% of respondents also said that Christmas would not be as enjoyable.)

Clearly, many will have to spend less on presents because they simply don’t have the money or the same access to credit; others, though still working may not be entirely confident about their job security.

There’s another reason why spending will probably be down: the consumer phenomena of shopping-as-a pastime has broken, a welcome silver lining in the great coronavirus cloud.

Most people who have kept their jobs and are working remotely have recorded a boost to their financial bottom lines. Bank deposits are least €10 billion higher than in March, says the Central Bank and there has been a further reduction in personal debt.

The prudent penny has finally dropped. For all of our homeless problems and income inequality, and even with the hopefully temporary surge in unemployment, Ireland is a wealthy country: we are the 1%. And the majority of Irish working people and their families have their essential needs met and more than enough ‘stuff’.

The great pandemic of 2020 and its spending lockdowns has unwittingly facilitated hundreds of thousands of people to chip away at stubborn credit card balances, student debt and to meet their monthly car loans and mortgages more easily. Some casual and part-time workers and students who received the flat €350 pandemic unemployment payment were, at least for a few months, able to build little nest eggs.

The retail sector has been hard hit by forced closures but many have also finally set up websites and on-line shops. We need to support them this Christmas if we hope to see their high street stores reopened in 2021’.

Santa is still coming for the little ones. Many families and work colleagues will still be pulling a Kris Kindle name out of a hat and putting presents under the tree, but surveys are also highlighting that what we’ve really missed are our social lives, and the events and experiences that bring us together, like going to a pub, having a special meal with friends in a restaurant, going to concerts, the theatre, sports events …and travelling.

So how about adding these no queue presents – spend only what you can afford - to your Christmas list?

- Irish hotel and restaurant vouchers; tickets or vouchers for concerts, cinema and theatre and other events.

- Airline gift vouchers: The two big Irish-based airlines, Aer Lingus and Ryanair both acknowledge now that the Covid-19 virus will still be with us in 2021 and automatically let you change or cancel your flight without restriction or penalty.

- Virtual tours: For those who don’t want to wait to travel or for a sociable experience, check out both Irish and foreign destination travel, art, history, food and cookery ‘virtual’ tours via Zoom. I’ve been taking a series of art and history Zoom tours here in Ireland and Italy with professional, highly experienced, specialist guides at a cost of between €20-€30 for a 90 minute lecture.

- On-line courses: my husband has done an Alliance French course with his old, pre-Covid classmates. A girlfriend joined a weekly yoga class; another has learned how to make slipcovers. I still have the last part of a three part baking ‘masterclass’ course to take. It is interactive – we’re all in our kitchens following the instructor long enough to get a loaf of bread or a pie into the oven. I’ve made some new friends.

This Christmas, support your local retailer and artisan but let’s lift our spirits with a real, solid plan for a social occasion as soon as we can. It really is the thought that counts this time.

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