Personally, I begin to panic every year as the holiday season approaches. It's not because I don't love Christmas. I really do love the holiday season, in general. I just cringe at the thought of all of the money that gets spent unnecessarily, especially mine. And as holiday spending has steadily grown out of control, expectations have come along for the ride. What is now considered to be a reasonable amount of presents is completely different than it was when I was a kid. Nowadays, children are getting showered with big gifts, expensive toys, and things I never would have dreamed of receiving as a child.
My mom once told me that, when she was young, she typically got an orange and some candy in her stocking on Christmas. Seriously. And she was thrilled to get it. She also reminded me that she and her siblings would each get only a few small toys as well. The thing is, this isn't just some story about walking 10 miles to school, uphill, both ways. It is actually the truth. Of course, it happened 60 years ago, and I cannot believe how times have changed. Kids certainly expect a lot more gifts now, and it doesn't take much to figure out why things have changed so dramatically.
Doesn't it seem like the holiday season creeps up on us earlier every single year? It is no longer surprising to see stores decorated for Christmas in early November… way before Thanksgiving! This year, several stores even announced that they would open for Black Friday on Thanksgiving Day, and they made many customers upset in the process.
We are inundated with toy store ads and commercials featuring the tippy tops of Christmas trees hidden by huge piles of gifts. In the meantime, I have also noticed that children's toys have gotten extremely expensive! My 3-year-old recently asked for a Nintendo 3DS for Christmas. After a quick Google search, I determined that it is a nearly $200 gaming system! My brother has also convinced her that she needs an iPad for Christmas. Obviously, that is not going to happen. Still, it's hard to avoid the trappings of a consumerist Christmas when we are constantly confronted with expectations that are sometimes unreasonable and wasteful.
So, where does that leave us? What should families do to keep holiday spending under control? Should we sacrifice our own financial well-being in order to deliver the Christmas that advertisers portray? Or should we stick to our guns and only buy the bare minimum for our children, family, and friends?
Since my children are so young, ages 3 and 1, we have decided to keep expectations fairly low. This year, we spent approximately $100 per child, and we actually got them some nice things that I believe they will enjoy. The additional money we have allocated to spend on them this year is going straight into their college savings 529 accounts. How did we do it? It's fairly simple actually. We're giving them used stuff.
There, I said it. I give my children used toys and clothes for Christmas. Well, not all of their gifts are used. Still, many of the toys and clothes that will be under the tree are second-hand items. Do I feel bad about it? No, absolutely not. In fact, I feel like it makes perfect sense.
This strategy might feel completely tacky to some….but I have to ask you, “What difference does it make?” My kids are so young that they can't possibly know or care. Once the gifts are wrapped and under the tree, they will easily blend in with the others. My children will never suspect a thing. Buying some used toys and clothing has allowed me to stretch my holiday dollars much further. I am also able to buy them nicer gifts than I would be able to if I paid sticker price for every one.
Maybe giving used items isn't in your game plan this Christmas. Still, there are plenty of other ways to stop spending so much money during the holidays. Here are some easy steps that may help you save some of your holiday cash.
Make a holiday gift budget and stick to it. Making a gift budget is an ideal way to keep your spending under control. First, decide who you are buying for. Second, determine what you can afford to spend on them and stick to it. Remember that it is not necessary to buy for every last relative and person you know – and it is unreasonable for them to expect you to do so.
Stop buying for siblings and their spouses. Initially, this didn't go over too well with my family. However, since my siblings and I are all adults, it seemed silly to insist on buying each other gifts. By the time we finally stopped, we were basically just trading gift cards around. It was totally unnecessary, and I was relieved when it finally came to an end.
Make homemade gifts if you can. Choosing not to buy for extended family members, neighbors, and co-workers can save a ton of money if you are able to get away with it. If you feel obligated to give them something, try making them something instead. If you aren't crafty, bake some cookies or holidays treats and wrap them with holiday wrapping paper or bows.
Stop buying for pets. Do pets really need Christmas gifts? No, they don't. If you feel obligated to put something under the tree for your pet, re-gift them something that they already have. I'm giving my dog a bag of dog food for Christmas this year. Trust me, he'll love it.
Don't try to keep up with the Joneses. Everyone has some Joneses in their life. Don't try to emulate their bad Christmas spending decisions. Spend only what is a responsible amount for your family. Remember that the Joneses may or may not be able to afford all of the gifts they bought in the first place.
Obviously, there is so much more to Christmas than rampant consumerism. Maybe lowering Christmas expectations will help us all focus on what is really important during the holiday season – spending time with the people we love.
How are you saving on your Christmas shopping this year? What gift-giving limits do you practice?
Author: Holly Johnson
Holly Johnson is a credit card expert, award-winning writer, and mother of two who is obsessed with frugality, budgeting, and travel. In addition to serving as contributing editor for The Simple Dollar and writing for publications such as Bankrate, U.S. News and World Report Travel, and Travel Pulse, Johnson owns Club Thrifty and is the co-author of Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love.