Resisting the holiday spending trap

Every year, I fail to really account for the cost of Christmas. “A few hundred dollars,” I think, for gifts, and then by the first few days of December I've bought several pounds of butter, and lots of my favorite seasonal chocolate, and the big size of maple syrup because I'll be baking and pancake-making a lot this winter. And suddenly I've already spent a few hundred dollars, and not a gift among them.

And because my children are children, having grown up in a big extended family of good Christians who are totally O.K. with Santa, (and let me reiterate: a big family, with traditions including fat, stuffed stockings and gift-giving to aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents, going to public school and occasionally coming across those toy ads in the circulars from department stores like the local Fred Meyer… ) well, they expect something. Like, a big something. They want their Christmas-morning minds blown.

I've done this to myself.

This year as in years past I have, utterly without thinking or planning, built up the anticipation against my financial best interests and my professed desire for less consumerism. “Well, maybe you might ask for that for Christmas,” I'll tell my five-year-old when he asks for a toy in September, while we're shopping for a new lunch bag. “Why don't you look at this LEGO catalog and tell me what you want for Christmas,” I'll tell my oldest when he's claiming boredom in October. “Christmas is coming and I want to save my money for that,” I'll tell my middle child when he asks for yet another iTunes game around Thanksgiving.

And then the whole frenzy of Thanksgiving comes. I'm not much of a Black Friday shopper — ok, I have not seen the inside of a mall on Black Friday for as long as I can remember — but I do get caught up in the early holiday Pinterest-ing and the Instagram-ing and the Facebook-ing and the tweeting that starts about that time. Some of my knitting friends begin their annual holiday rush to knit gifts for everyone they know. My photographer friends are putting the final touches on calendars and coasters and everything else you can make with photos. There is a flurry of crafting and craft-desiring like none that will occur again until Valentine's Day.

I get caught up.

And then come the Christmas tree photos.

Let me stop here and say that I am an enormous fan of Christmas trees. I love the smell of a Douglas fir and I love the look of lights glimmering on a tree and I never want to turn them off for weeks and weeks. But to get a medium-sized tree even here in the middle of this Christmas tree land (I think my uncle even grows them on his farm 20 miles away) is $40, plus the inevitable hot chocolate and sugar cookie that must be purchased during the ritual getting-of-the-tree. Usually, I agonize over the cost and then find it in my budget somehow and commence Christmas thrill.

But this year I feel done. I bike around Portland looking at the lots full of trees, trees everywhere, trees in wagons and bicycles and on Subarus and Volvos and I think how ridiculous it is. (I may get over this soon.) All this growing and fertilizing and trucking trees around, all this buying and decorating and lighting and watering, all this sawing and taking down and composting — for what? Over a billion dollars spent just on trees every year!

One day one of my friends (a person I know in real life, even) said on Twitter that her tradition was to get a different angel ornament every year for her tree. I'm quite certain that my friend, who has excellent taste and is not known for excess, had no idea that her little statement would send me into a tailspin of guilt and frustration. But I didn't have any such tradition and I'd not even bought a baby's first Christmas ornament for each of my boys and I thought, “maybe I should start a new tradition like that!” and at almost the same time thought, “I don't wanna!”

I don't wanna

I waited a respectable amount of time. And I tweeted something about not having energy for the holiday spirit, about getting myself into a tizzy about what I hadn't done (no wreath-making party, what?) and then realizing I just wanted to write. Several people from a variety of internet circles chimed in, agreeing, commiserating. And then I kept seeing more and more expressions of exhaustion. One friend in the Midwest said she'd given over the reins of the holiday spirit to her husband. She felt conflicted about “raising little consumers.” Another friend was writing a post for a major food web site on the topic — enough with the cookies already!

I realized I was done spending money on Christmas just to take pictures of my family following a cultural tradition that brought up so many feelings of guilt, insufficiency, and financial stress. I could do this my way, right? Right!

Now, how to convert the kids?

I bought my oldest son's big present for him around the first of December: a bike trailer, a very heavily-used one from a friend. I'd been meaning to get this for him anyway, because pulling his little brother around behind him is a big thrill. (For all of us!) And his pride and gratitude was a big inspiration for me. I came up with a several-pronged strategy that I hope will turn the holidays lower-key without making them feel cheated:

  1. Give the kids the power. Instead of handing down traditions from on high, I'm going to let them direct me as to which traditions they want to follow. “We could go Christmas shopping for each other at Fred Meyer with this money. Or go to the thrift store. Or go out to Little Big Burger. Or save it for gear for our next family camping trip.”
  2. Make the kids do the work. We're going to go get a tree and Everett gets to pull it back in his trailer. I have an idea this is going to keep the tree pretty small — and cheap. (And if it doesn't, I'm sure the bragging rights will be well worth the extra money.) I'll let him do the setting up and decorating, too. This will hopefully keep me from that insane desire to buy new ornaments (so I too can start one of those traditions! Or go with an all-blue theme this year! Or…) and give them the chance to make ornaments if they like.
  3. Give gifts that are collaborative creative projects. We're making calendars out of my photos and the kids' art to give to grandparents and cousins. And my big gift to the boys will be wool traveling cloaks straight out of Harry Potter (also practical; they'll be very warm while riding bikes). I'll let them pick the fabric and help me design them, letting me engage all my creative energies with a minimum of time spent shopping.
  4. Only bake together. Those December issues of food magazines are like cocaine for me. (And I don't need new ones; I have over a decade's worth of Gourmet and Saveur and Martha Stewart Living.) I have three separate cookie cookbooks and I barely eat sugar any more! I will declare baking days and only make cookies if they're helping the whole way along. And, sorry, no new cookie cutters!
  5. Cleaning before buying. Want a tree? We have to clean the living room first. Asking for new toys for Christmas? I'd better see room for said toys in your bedroom. It's kind of working! I'll take “kind of” right now.
  6. Everything used. I'm not buying any new toys this year. You know what they say about cars, that they lose value when you drive them off the lot? Same with toys. Open the package, zap, 50% of the value (if not more). But my kids don't give a darn, as long as most of the parts are there. I'll go thrift-store shopping for LEGOs and buy a couple of new-to-them Wii games at the CD and game exchange, and some used books at Powell's.

The hardest part of all for me is to hold myself back from the desire to look like everyone else does (but with my own creative twist!). The holidays can be such a way to express the highest version of your cultural self. But really, my cultural self is a writer and a mother. I'll try to remember that, and to resist the urge to see what everyone else is doing on Instagram, and think, “Oh, I can do that too!”

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Marsha
Marsha
7 years ago

“resist the urge to see what everyone else is doing on Instagram”

What you’re seeing on Instagram–or websites, or magazines, etc–is just what people want you to see. It doesn’t tell the whole story. It shows the beautiful tree, but it doesn’t show the overdue bills and calls from creditors. It shows the gorgeous wreath, but not the stressed-out mom snapping at the children. It shows the piles of tasty cookies, but not the 20-lb weight gain or the results of the latest blood glucose test.

The best gift you can give your children at Christmas is a happy mom.

Clara
Clara
7 years ago
Reply to  Marsha

agreed! I have a friend who makes me crazy with doubt about my life because she makes these perfect holidays, perfect parties, etc. But she also calls me OFTEN complaining of how she is so broke and about her overdraft charges, etc. I just can’t commiserate. I will keep my life simple and on budget, thanks!

AMW
AMW
7 years ago

Holiday traditions are only good if you enjoy them…don’t do stuff you don’t enjoy. And it is ok to start new ones. Try something new and if the family wants to do it again, once you repeat it, it becomes a tradition. And it is ok to divide the work. For us, the grandparents have the time and money to do the gingerbread house tradition (and the 18-21 year old “kids” still love it). The kids put on their own Christmas show for the grandparents as their gift. One aunt does the meal, one aunt does the cookies, one uncle… Read more »

Sara
Sara
7 years ago

I’ve tried to explain this concept to my mother several times. We live in a small house (not a lot of room!) but my mother insists on loading my two young children up with presents every year. So much so that the other gifts are over shadowed and Christmas morning turns into a mess of crying and feeling overwhelmed (my kids are 6 and 4). It’s stresses my husband and I out as well. We get the kids one big present and a couple of small gifts, some handmade. I’m not sure how to get the point across to my… Read more »

Rose
Rose
7 years ago
Reply to  Sara

My mother broke the Christmas extravaganza down to a more manageable size by dividing the presents into thirds. St. Nicholas would deliver a few on Dec. 6, Santa would deliver some on December 25, and the three kings would deliver a few on January 6. It wouldn’t help with the small house problem, but it would help with the overwhelmed and crying kids problem. It also made Christmas into an entire season with moderate expectations, rather than a single day with huge expectations.

mary w
mary w
7 years ago
Reply to  Sara

Can you talk her into a 529, saving bond or savings account instead? Or even buying experiences (zoo membership or circus tickets) instead?

Anne
Anne
7 years ago
Reply to  Sara

I have to say, gently, that this sounds less like a holiday issue and more like your mother does not respect boundaries. She obviously isn’t hearing you.

If it were me I would say “you can give each child ____ presents, if you come with more they will go into the closet/garage/whatever, but will not be given for Christmas.”

Sometimes you have to be really “loud” to stop certain people in their tracks.

Diana L
Diana L
7 years ago
Reply to  Sara

To offer a perspective from the other side (I over-gift to my nephews every Christmas); I give assuming that the parents have some sort of policy in place as to how many the boys are allowed to actually keep and assume the others are donated. I very much enjoy shopping for them throughout the entire year (and I discuss what sort of gift I’m getting with mom beforehand; it’s always educational and I refuse to buy things that take batteries and make noise), but I certainly don’t expect them to keep everything. Even if they tried to keep everything, kids’… Read more »

Sheryl
Sheryl
7 years ago

Every year my family has a long, drawn out battle waiting for “Christmas lists” from everyone, because that’s part of my mom’s tradition. Neither my brother nor I really have big Christmas wants (we end up asking for things like a sewing basket or swimming goggles) and my mom likes to spend big on us for Christmas. I wish we could talk her down to something smaller but it’s a fight we can’t seem to win.

Tru
Tru
7 years ago
Reply to  Sheryl

I wish I knew the answer to this one. My husband and I also battled with various family members this season. We don’t *need* anything and don’t necessarily want anything either. Spending time with family and friends is gift enough! But the extended family wants to give, give, give and all but harass us until we come up with something for them to get us. I’d rather they saved the money, gave it to charity or spent it on the little ones (if they need to buy) instead of blowing it on bunch of 30-somethings who have too many toys… Read more »

SAHMama
SAHMama
7 years ago
Reply to  Sheryl

Do what my DH and I have started- ask for consumables. My parents are also big Christmas spenders even though they have a small income. I have an uncle that raises organic grassfed beef, so I just ask my parents to buy us as much beef as they have room for in their budget. It’s a win-win-win. Win for my uncle. Win for me because it lowers my grocery bill and the meat is amazing. Win for my parents because they feel “big” purchasing us a 1/4 cow. If a side o’beef isn’t an option for you, then ask for… Read more »

Jen from Boston
Jen from Boston
7 years ago
Reply to  SAHMama

“Win for my parents because they feel “big” purchasing us a 1/4 cow.”

🙂

My mom would purchase a “cow” or “llama” or “flock of chickens” for my nieces when they were younger – she’d make a donation to Heifer International and gift that to them. They seemed to take it well, and after a while they started making the same gifts to the adults. Now that their teens they don’t do that – they was iTunes cards, etc. But it was a nice way to give without smothering, and teach them to give back.

Ashley
Ashley
7 years ago
Reply to  SAHMama

Great comment, SAHMama! I have also asked for consumable items for Christmas this year. We can never have too many bottles of wine! My husband and I are mid-twenty y/o with good jobs and don’t need more gifts. If we want/need something, we just buy it (if it’s in our budget and save up for it).

I wish we had an uncle that raises cows or any other animal!

I really enjoyed this well written article with detailed examples. I will definitely be incorporating a few examples and “new” traditions.

Sara
Sara
7 years ago

That might work! Thx Rose. She was super sneaky this year, she pulled my kids aside when I wasn’t looking and had them tell her what they wanted. Didn’t ask me what we had gotten them already or what anyone else had planned. I know she means well and I love her, but she’s driving me nuts

CincyCat
CincyCat
7 years ago

My mother used to do a different “theme” tree(OK, let’s be honest, “theme house”) every year, baked cookies for all extended family members, wrote a newsy Christmas letter, and generally had at least one full-blown, holiday emergency melt-down every single year. No thanks. We’ve had the same gorgeous decorations on our fake, pre-lit tree every year, and the most stress I’ll put myself through is where to put the little figurines that go with my Christmas village set. Outdoor lights are my favorite thing, so that’s where I’ll actually put in a full day’s work. (I only get 1 new… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah
7 years ago

Three years ago my husband lost his job before the holidays. That Christmas I dug up an overgrown rosemary bush, brought it inside in a big pot and we decorated it for the holiday. With five little kids at home, I was really pulling in the budget, and in fact, my slightly obsessive spreadsheets detailing all of our expenses kept us…okay, even three years later when this family of seven lives on my income of one… The kids talk about the year we only decorated the rosemary bush for Christmas, sometimes laughing and sometimes slightly envious that others have or… Read more »

partgypsy
partgypsy
7 years ago

Most of those things not a problem (my kids WANT to put all the ornaments up, they WANT to help me with the baking (even if I’d rather do it by myself). As far as the Christmas cards I used photos from pictures taken during the year and it’s more descriptive of our year than a formal picture. So, from now on, no formal picture taking for Christmas (no one wants to do it, and I’m tired of fighting about it). I was thinking of moving to an artificial tree instead of getting a live one, but the kids put… Read more »

Lea
Lea
7 years ago

I think you’re looking too much at the stress and the bad side. I love Christmas, but yes it can get expensive. I just put money aside every pay check for it and have a nice chunk to spend during the holidays. The gifts I keep pretty well in budget, although I definately spend more on food with holiday parties, desserts etc… As much as I love a real tree, a fake one can solve your money problems. I was thinking about getting a real one this year until my brother told me he has a fake one I can… Read more »

michelle
michelle
7 years ago

I love how people assume that for every nice tree, cookie, house there is a miserable person behing it doing it only for show. Believe me, some people do it because they enjoy, pace themselves and have tons of fun! And it does NOT cost a lot. People here are so quick to equate (having nice things = debt, deep down miserable people and thrifty = virtuous, perfect souls). It is not all or nothing people, jeez!!

Mark
Mark
7 years ago

I need new lights and ornaments but I’m waiting until after the holiday to take advantage of large discounts. I’m hoping to score big on new lights for the house. If you are going to buy an expensive tree, consider buying from BoyScout Troop around town, they use the money to go on camping trips and buy supplies…much better to invest in your community this way.

Jen from Boston
Jen from Boston
7 years ago

Wow – Keeping Up With the Joneses: Christmas Edition! I never thought about that, probably because my family just did their own thing, thank goodness! But, of course, there was still stress, mostly around baking. When I was very small we had three types of Christmas cookies, cream puffs, and red & green popcorn balls. Then the popcorn balls lost the food coloring. Next, the popcorn balls disappeared. A few years later, so did the Russian tea cookies that no one really liked that much (very dry). Then, at some point, cheesecake squares were introduced. So now the dessert line… Read more »

Jen from Boston
Jen from Boston
7 years ago

Oh, and another stress reducer was we had a fake tree. I know tradionalists will be HORRIFIED!!! And, there is a large upfront cost to buying one, but once you’ve got a decent fake tree, no more going out to buy the tree and hauling it home. Instead, about two weeks before Christmas we’d spend a Saturday putting up the tree. My brother and I would decorate it (after Dad had put on the lights and garland) while Mom put up the other decorations around the house, like candles in the windows. Now Mom has a smaller, pre-lit tree, so… Read more »

Viola
Viola
7 years ago

I LOVE my fake tree for so many reasons! We bought it cheaply after the holiday season about seven years ago, and it has many, many more years left. The smell of real Christmas trees indoors (though lovely) gives me a killer headache – so now I don’t have to worry about it. And it’s so easy to put up that I don’t procrastinate! It goes up sooner and we enjoy it longer. Also, with dogs and a baby in the home, we don’t have to worry about the needles. Have a real tree, if you’d like, Traditionalists, but don’t… Read more »

Carla
Carla
7 years ago
Reply to  Viola

I think fake trees is a great idea! I live in an apartment(no additional storage) so its a no go for me, but I can see how owning one takes the pressure off having to pick a new one out each year, hauling it home, disposing it, etc.

Jen from Boston
Jen from Boston
7 years ago

A few years ago I donated my fake tree to the church fair because I hadn’t put it up in years. When I dropped off the tree I saw that I wasn’t the only one! So, if you’re looking for an inexpensive fake tree try checking out church yard sales before Christmas. And, if you’re willing to risk a treeless Christmas, you can wait until they go on clearance at those Christmas stores right before the holiday. That’s how I originally got my tree.

Joanna @ Our Freaking Budget
Joanna @ Our Freaking Budget
7 years ago

As soon as Christmas traditions become an obligation or a chore, the point of doing them is completely lost. OR, as you alluded to, when they are done simply so a picture-perfect moment can be posted on Instagram, the point is REALLY lost. I think it’s awesome that you’re taking a step back and enjoying the season for yourself and your family — not as a show for others. That’s the way Christmas should be.

babysteps
babysteps
7 years ago

Ah, Christmas! I try to focus on time with friends and family. Sometimes this focus is easier to maintain than others! It can be easier to adjust gift expectations is in spring or summer in my experience – we’ve dialed it down on my spouse’s side of the family but it’s a slow process (we already dialed down on my side – family history of clutter/hoarding, enough said). I admit to “borrowing” Christmas decoration wonderlands and leaving the at-home decorations simpler. I go look at other people’s Christmas lights and stroll through decorated business districts and enjoy (and help with)… Read more »

Renee
Renee
7 years ago
Reply to  babysteps

A couple of weeks ago I had to wait an hour for a doctor’s apppointment as she was running behind. I went for a walk outside her office. Next door, was a Christmas tree lot. Something drew me in… perhaps it was the music playing. Night had fallen. I wandered around the lot, listening to the Christmas music playing, enjoying seeing families pick out a tree, and smelling the gorgeous pine smells. Then I noticed there were a LOT of branches lying on the ground here and there. I asked a staff member if they minded if I picked some… Read more »

Peach
Peach
7 years ago
Reply to  Renee

Lovely!

Lisa
Lisa
7 years ago

My favourite tradition that my husband and I have is that one evening before Christmas, we watch Home Alone, eat cheese pizza, and wrap presents. Super fun and relaxed, and totally takes away all the stress of finding time to wrap.

Kingston
Kingston
7 years ago
Reply to  Lisa

A pizza-and-present-wrapping evening is a great idea that I will suggest to my family. We had a very Christmas-enthusiastic aunt and uncle visit for a long weekend early in December, so we harnessed their energy and cut and decorated our tree with them (in truth, we let my aunt do most of it while the other adults drank wine and reminisced). Total stress elimination! My mother and I have in recent years started baking homemade croissants together for Christmas morning breakfast. Not sure where that idea came from, but we enjoy it because it’s non-traditional but special, something we don’t… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 years ago

I wanted to write an article for tomorrow about “resisting the Holidays”. Not reducing the expectations or resisting the spending, but just saying “thanks, but no thanks.” For the 7% of the American population that doesn’t celebrate Christmas (it’s a tiny minority, I know.)

Then I thought such an article might get me lynched, and I didn’t write it. I might still get lynched for other reasons though!

But yeah, I can’t wait until December 26. 😀

KSR
KSR
7 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

NERDO! Resist your inner-GRINCH, grasshopper. Soon, you will have little Nerdo’s to lead you.

Kingston
Kingston
7 years ago
Reply to  KSR

LIttle Nerdos? Did I miss something?

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 years ago
Reply to  KSR

No little Nerdos yet! Oh, the economy….

I’m not the Grinch! I am the United Federation of Planets, and Christmas is The Borg!

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Haaa haaa haaa– thanks!

I’m cool with the solstice btw– the fact that sunlight hours begin to increase from that day forward is huge for me.

Carla
Carla
7 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I know what you mean, Nerdo – sort of. I never celebrated growing up for religious reasons (though I sooooo wanted to) and now that I’m well into my adulthood I have mixed feelings. I love the idea of a Chistmas celebration, but its awkward since I didn’t actually grow up with it. A large part of me will be more than happy when January 2nd rolls around.

Short arms long pockets
Short arms long pockets
7 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Thank you for saying this – I too can’t wait until the 26th. I have no religious connection to the holiday (though I grew up in a nominally Christian household and observed the holiday traditions when my kids were growing up). I’m too busy with work, a major volunteer project, and prepping the house for sale to want to spend time on it this year. Add to that that the kids are now adults and our families are overseas and there is no longer the pressure to make an effort for the sake of other people. Yet I still feel… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 years ago

Please have no guilt! Sounds like a wonderful way to spend the day! I wish we could spend it the same way, and we would if we could, but unfortunately we are pressured to go see my wife’s parents– we like them and all, and we see them often, but we dread the occasion. I hope next year we have enough money to fly to Indonesia– it’s in the Southern Hemisphere and it’s a Muslim country. Sounds like the perfect destination for the season. Google “Java beaches” and you’ll see what I mean. And yeah, no article.. the draft never… Read more »

Jen from Boston
Jen from Boston
7 years ago

I think your plan for Christmas sounds wonderful!! And is really what Christmas should be – quality time with loved ones 🙂

SAHMama
SAHMama
7 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

My husband is right there with ya.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 years ago
Reply to  SAHMama

I have to wear headphones whenever I go into a store this time of year. The atrocious music gives me metaphysical hives.

thehappiestfamily
thehappiestfamily
7 years ago

I’ve had the same artificial tree since I bought it 20+ years ago in college, on sale for $17.50 (which was a big chunk for a broke college student). It still looks fine, especially once the lights are strung :). Frankly, I’m kind of horrified by the amount of time, stress, and money that people put into live trees. My children are still fairly young. This year I told them back in August that we were having a homemade Christmas. Hands down, it has been the BEST Christmas season yet. I’ve never seen my kids get so into planning each… Read more »

Lea
Lea
7 years ago

I agree generally with the ‘if you don’t enjoy something don’t do it’. If you don’t like wrapping, skip it and use bags or target sacks like my brother does. If you don’t enjoy doing a live tree, use a fake one or a tiny one or don’t do one at all. I didn’t do a tree for years. Last year I kind of missed it and bought a tiny one and this year my brother gave me a free fake one and it looks great with mesh (which is a really cheap way to fill out a tree), lights… Read more »

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
7 years ago

We have a fake pre-lit tree, which I have since learned are TERRIBLE for the environment. I would love a real tree!

Jen from Boston
Jen from Boston
7 years ago
Reply to  Honey Smith

Really? Why? And are they worse than chopping down a tree? Although a smart Christmas tree farmer will make sure his or her crop is sustainable for the long-term future of the business.

LeRainDrop
LeRainDrop
7 years ago
Reply to  Honey Smith

Honey, I’m not so sure that’s true, unless the fake tree gets tossed/replaced too frequently. http://www.christmastreeassociation.org/Article%20Pages/environmental-carbon-footprint-study-on-christmas-trees

Mom of five
Mom of five
7 years ago
Reply to  Honey Smith

I’ve heard the same thing about fake trees, but I never know if stuff like that is put out by Christmas tree farmers. 😉 One of our traditions is cutting down our tree so we’re not going artificial without a fight, but I thought you could still get a $20 real tree from Home Depot?

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago
Reply to  Honey Smith

I’ve heard the same thing about fake trees – but as other posters have said, it’s not like we’re throwing them out every year. Real trees were impossible for my family because of bad allergies but my parents’ first artificial tree lasted them 20+ years and they donated it when they decided to replace it. I have since learned the only truly environmentally-friendly thing to do is buy an organic/pesticide-free potted tree from a grower who uses sustainable farming practices — and then plant it in your backyard after the season is over. Is that even possible for most of… Read more »

Eileen
Eileen
7 years ago

However one chooses to celebrate & acknowledge the holidays, I think the key is to think way ahead. Get out a notebook or a calendar to think about what you *can* do and what you *want* to do. Note all your special days (baking, shared meals, activities, parties) and see if it’s even doable without introducing stress. In my line of work, the end of December and most of January is our busiest time of year (I don’t work in retail, but for a large company where Year End activities are enormous). Last year we were treated to a self-inflicted… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
7 years ago

Every year in November the New York Times runs an article titled (more or less) “Alternatives to the Same Old Thanksgiving Turkey”. Every year. Like clockwork.

This is the GRS December equivalent, for better or worse.

KatK
KatK
7 years ago

We should all strive to find peace within ourselves and within this season. If you are not enjoying something, if it detracts from the introspection and peace of the season, don’t do it. For me, i enjoy finding the small wonders of the season. My theme is always “merry little christmas.” I bake a little extra, but only if i want… We drive and see the lights, go to free local Xmas concerts and downtown events put on by the local shops, and sing Xmas carols. I think a tree is one of the most affordable and lovely traditions. We… Read more »

Edward
Edward
7 years ago

This year, one of my friends proposed to her kids that they could either have the regular bunch of presents or they could swim with the dolphins when they go on vacation next year. The kids chose the dolphins. She was proud of them and I was proud of her–teaching children so early that life experiences are more valuable than more “stuff” is amazing. (Though personally I’m highly against capturing and penning dolphins under any circumstance.)

Mom of five
Mom of five
7 years ago

I love the idea of cleaning before buying! I’m going to steal that one for sure. The baking is expensive. I’ve found one of the best ways to cut down on the cookie expenses is to use very small Christmas tins, which I buy whenever I see them at the dollar store or at Odd Lots – they usually run 2 for a dollar after Christmas. If I bake cookies for 10 to 12 people, I can usually get away with only two batches. I’m fortunate that we don’t really have too many extended family traditions. With my husband’s side,… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago
Reply to  Mom of five

Maybe try delegating? For example, say you’re happy to provide the sandwiches but leave the desserts totally up to your guests.

I’ve sometimes attended gatherings where I’ve wondered why I was asked to bring something when the host is already prepared to feed an army. I prefer it when the host says “we are supplying x and y, who would like to bring z?” Then when I put effort into preparing a dish or dessert, I know I’m making a useful contribution not adding to a sea of food.

Just a thought 😉

Rebecca B
Rebecca B
7 years ago

I set aside money throughout the year so that I can be generous at Christmas time to charities, to my family, to my kids. That said, my Christmas “charity” still gets away from me every year. I think a Pinterest, Instagram, and all around Internet fast would help me to re-set my expectations for what a meaningful holiday should look like. But yeah, that’s probably not going to happen. This year was the first year ever where I’ve felt some jealousy for an adorably decorated Christmas tree. This is insane, and shows I’ve been reading too many shelter blogs and… Read more »

Cindy Brick
Cindy Brick
7 years ago
Reply to  Rebecca B

Your comment about “woodland creatures” just brought a recap of Chevy Chase peering into the tree, and yelling “SQUIRREL!”

Live Christmas trees are, after all, a renewable resource. No one seems to have brought that up. After we use it (and we got ours for $10 this year, after Lowe’s marked their trees down), we burn it in the fireplace. Keeps us warm, and produces wonderful memories, as well.

Tahnya Kristina
Tahnya Kristina
7 years ago

This is a great post. So many people go overboard with their holiday spending but honestly it’s just not worth the debt.

Kelly@Financial-Lessons
7 years ago

Along with number 5, a good idea would be to do a survey of the clothes and toys that aren’t used anymore and to donate them to charity. Not only will this teach your kids the value of giving, it will give you all a good sense of holiday cheer as well as make more room for what they’ll get this Christmas. Especially for younger kids, they wont even know the difference between a new or used toy so why not save money.

drea
drea
7 years ago

My husband and I have never bought a tree for christmas (which means I have never bought a christmas tree). Instead, every year we do something creative: yr. 1 we stuck the brightly colored post-it notes on the wall in the shape of a tree (so awesome) yr. 2 we decorated a bonsai tree that was a birthday gift with tiny handmade decorations as well as putting together a festivus pole yr. 3 we undertook a project to build a full size (as tall as me) tree out of free cardboard. The projects are fun, exciting and give us something… Read more »

TW
TW
7 years ago
Reply to  drea

Love that idea! When my hubby and I were first dating, we decorated two old skis propped on the wall each year in our apartment. To this day, our “christmas skis” are a favorite holiday memory!

Peach
Peach
7 years ago

I haven’t read the comments yet, but I applaud you for changing the holiday to fit your reality. It’s a brave wise move. Thanks to you, your kids will probably grow up to see the reality behind all the hype. I mean, Martha Stewart isn’t even “Martha Stewart”! The best childhood memories I have of Christmas was baking cookies with my mother–imperfectly 🙂 And one of the best presents I got was one I didn’t even want. A simple little sewing box. I never even thought about sewing before then. I’m all for setting up my own traditions.

Marcy
Marcy
7 years ago

My grandkids’ mamas do plenty of baking for them, so I don’t need to bake. Besides, if I baked Christmas cookies, I’d have to eat them all! You see, my husband is a diabetic and I’d have to help him prevent spikes in his blood sugar! Also- I have a nearly naked Christmas tree. It stands about two and a half feet tall and has one strand of lights. It took me all of five minutes to put up and it will take five to take down. If my mother-in-law asks me if I have a tree up yet, I… Read more »

Catherine
Catherine
7 years ago

I highly recommend the advice in Unplug the Christmas Machine (http://www.amazon.com/Unplug-Christmas-Machine-Complete-Putting/dp/0688109616/ref=la_B000APEF5Q_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1355774854&sr=1-2). While it may sound a little extreme (“My holiday season already has love and joy, thank you very much!”), it has some great ideas and analyses. In particular, getting your ideas together and communicating them early (like, this January, if you want to change anything for next year), and prioritizing the things you really enjoy.

I’m not recommending it as a purchase to add to your holiday finances, just something to keep an eye out for at the library.

Raymond
Raymond
7 years ago

My best memories from xmas time as a kid was those mornings when you wake up and find these techical gifts under christmqs tree. By that i mean, i would skip all them sweets and socks and wrappings and get down to LEGO. Man, how expensive was it for my parents and how cheap you can buy a bag of Legos today on ebay. As a kid i did not even care if everything was packaged in a box as long as there were plenty of parts to play with. Parents today, I have a question. Do your kids like… Read more »

thethriftyspendthrift
thethriftyspendthrift
7 years ago

I would love to do things differently. But… There is always a but and it’s never as simple as it seems. I agree with the person who said it is not all or nothing—why can’t you love certain aspects or actually love celebrating the holiday? It doesn’t mean you have to love everything that is supposed to come with it. It doesn’t mean what everyone else does is for show. My mom surely doesn’t decorate the entire first floor of her house like a mad woman to impress anyone. As for me, I hate buying gifts. I can’t see changing… Read more »

Tiffany K.
Tiffany K.
7 years ago

Nice to see some money saving tips, especially during the holidays when money definitely gets a little tight.

Many of my friends thrift for their kids clothes. The kids don’t know, theyre hardly used and your own kid will only use them for a little while as well 🙂 Happy holidays! And thanks for the post.

Xmas-less
Xmas-less
7 years ago

You are not going to make a significant dent in your problem with your plan. You have to make a change in the way you think about money and how you have taught your family to think about money and gift giving. You are going to meet opposition all the way and I bet you are going to cave, You’re only half committed yourself. Sorry to be so harsh.

Tony@YODTO
7 years ago

Great post! IT is time that we all stop falling into the trap of spending a ton for ALL of the “Holidays”. I want to teach my kids what real giving and love feels like. Thanks for helping me!

PawPrint53
PawPrint53
7 years ago

Not a comment on the article, but why does everything look so weird on this website? Am I the only one having this issue?

Wm
Wm
7 years ago

I agree with Sarah. Holiday traditions are great, but family traditions can be even more wonderful. Rather than doing it the “known and tested” way all the time, we could interject small innovations of our own that are both cost-effective and fun in a unique way. And I’m sure, the kids in the family will remember it fondly and will take it forward and thus a new holiday tradition is created for generations to come.

Christine
Christine
7 years ago

Ok. It really sounds like we would all be less crazed by the holidays if we could all have open but candid conversation with our loved ones about the holidays and all the associated responsibilities from giving gifts to decorating to baking to who knows what else and the toll meeting the responsibilities is having on us. I would really hope that if I told my family “I love you, but i just do not need more stuff. The stuff is slowly driving me crazy each time I have to clean, pack, move, purge it from my life,” they would… Read more »

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