‘Tis the Season for an Autopsy of Last Year’s Holiday

With the retailers already selling bones, severed limbs, and other Halloween paraphernalia, it's only a matter of (short) time until it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. I know, summer's not even technically over yet; why talk about the winter? But if you're like many people — such as my mom, who asked me yesterday what's on my kids' wish lists this year — you might already be looking for bargains with the aim of breaking the holiday spending into more manageable, monthly chunks. It may not be the most jolly thought in September, but the season of giving, receiving, and eating — it's the most consumption-ful time of the year! — is not as far away as we might wish.

But before you loosen your wallet and your belt, pause to fill your head with dancing visions of what you gave during last year's holidays. Do the recipients still value your gifts? Do they still use them? Are you still paying for them…with interest?

Brokamp stockings hung by the chimney with care
The Brokamp family mantel, Christmas 2011.

When it comes to your extended family and friends, this may be difficult to answer, though the next time you're in their houses, you can see if your past presents are in a utilitarian location or a dust-gathering location. Or maybe the next time they have a yard sale, look for presents of yore being sold for a 10th of what you paid for them.

This always occurs to me during our annual summer yard sale, for which each member of the household goes through their closets and puts a price tag on anything no longer wanted. To me, it's always a little sad, since some of the items my kids choose to sell had sat, just six months earlier, all wrapped and expectant under the Christmas tree. Our driveway becomes the Island of Misfit Toys, but instead of Rudolph and Hermey coming to the rescue, it's someone offering to pay a quarter instead of the 50 cents on the price tag.

Do Your Gifts Keep on Giving?
If you've procreated, and your creations still live with you, it's pretty easy to evaluate the current appreciation for what Santa or Hanukkah or Grandma brought them in December. In fact, on a long Labor Day drive, I asked my kids if they remember what they got for Christmas last year. They each could remember just two or three things out of the 20 or so gifts they received, including stocking stuffers and presents from relatives. (Non sequitirs: In the middle of this conversation, and after an hour in the car, my 7-year-old began singing the old Batman theme song, but she changed the words to “Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na, my butt hurts!” Later, she referred to the Bible as “the Jesus dictionary.”)

Here's the real kicker: The first answer that came out of my 10-year-old daughter Noelle was “I'm not really sure.” In other words, the girl named after Christmas couldn't remember what she got for Christmas.

This has much to tell us about how the holidays are about more than the presents. But as much as we sorta believe that, our credit card statements tell a different story.

Giving Is Consuming, Too
It's not just about the getting; it's also about the giving, and I'm not talking about the spirit of the season. Most of us are programmed to consume, and the holidays give us an excuse to do it but rationalize the purchases because they're for our family; after all, it's tradition. There's a ritual and excitement about the shopping for, and buying of, presents. I have to admit that I enjoy going to the mall — with all the decorations and music and seasonally flavored coffees — during the holidays.

The conundrum for my wife and me is this: We often are wrong about which gifts the kids will value most. We think it'll be the big dollhouse, but it's the small sewing kit. We envision our son playing with the new Star Wars thingamajig, but it sits in a box while he plays with a bunch of magnets. This has led us to justify a shotgun approach to gift-giving: Buy a lot of stuff, and hope a few hit the mark. Or maybe this is just an excuse to get more seasonally flavored coffee at the mall.

I'm not sure I know the answer to the transient value of holiday gifts. But here's a hint as to what Mrs. Claus and I will tell the elves what to make this Christmas: We also asked our kids to choose their favorite gifts of all time, and they said things like Legos, art supplies, Bucky Balls, a trampoline, a gymnastics mat — in other words, things that involve building, creating, and exercise. (They also continue to wear the pajamas they receive each Christmas Eve, a Brokamp family tradition.) As my son, Lukas, put it: “The best presents provide multiple options — not the same thing twice.” Too much of what we've bought breaks easily (think remote-controlled toys), is repetitive (e.g., anything that involves a track), or just another version of something the kids already have (how many stuffed animals does a kid need?).

In the coming months, I'm sure there will be plenty of articles on GRS about how to trim your holiday spending while you trim the tree, such as making gifts (as I do for friends and family in the form of a CD of holiday songs — feel free to suggest cool, quirky, lesser-known carols for inclusion in this year's edition). Although we just entered September, it's not a bad idea to give a little thought to what you'll buy or make in November and December. You can start looking for deals now so you can get the best price and spread out your purchases. Maybe even check out the sites like eBay, Craigslist, and others that sell pre-loved items. Maybe you'll get the perfect gift, for a 10th of what someone else paid.

Update to a previous article: Loyal readers will remember that I had to shave off six percentage points of body fat this summer or owe $200 to my office's Chief Wellness Fool. Yesterday was the official day of reckoning. The verdict: I lost 6.8 percentage points, and dropped 20 pounds; I'm down 40 pounds from my peak weight. I know you were just dying to know.
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Lance @ Money Life and More
Lance @ Money Life and More
8 years ago

Congrats on the weight loss! That is awesome 🙂

Christmas is always an interesting time of year from the spending side. We’ve pretty much limited ourselves to one gift for each of our family members and try to limit it to $20-$40 dollars each. It has cut down on our spending significantly as we’re in our 20’s.

Michelle
Michelle
8 years ago

I like this approach. When you have a set limit for how much you’re going to spend, you think about it much more carefully. Also, there were a few times when I was growing up that I told my parents that I wanted one specific (albeit a bit bigger) thing, but would be happy having that one item. I actually still have those few items and still appreciate them 15-20 years later. In my case, it really paid off to have fewer but more thoughtful gifts. These days if there isn’t anything I really want, I tell my family to… Read more »

fantasma
fantasma
8 years ago

My favorite writer here! Congrats on all that weight!

imelda
imelda
8 years ago
Reply to  fantasma

I have to agree – Robert is pretty much the only writer still turning out articles I find interesting!

Also, Robert, your daughter is hysterical. And congrats on the weight loss!

TB at BlueCollarWorkman
TB at BlueCollarWorkman
8 years ago

I love giving gifts is the problem. My wife and I love giving gifts to the whole family, even though the cost is crazy! Since we love giving gifts so much, it’s hard to think of a good solution.

“I want an alien for Christmas” — lesser-known carol for this years CD

Sandi_k
Sandi_k
8 years ago

*Love* Fountains of Wayne! 🙂

Sam
Sam
8 years ago

I enjoy giving gifts and do so with regularity but not at Christmas. My gift giving is generally limited to coming across the perfect gift for someone in my travels and buying and sending it right then. I gave my best friend her birthday/christmas/etc. gift in Feb. when I saw her and not August (her birthday) or Christmas. Our overall Christmas plan has not changed much in the past 5 years. We don’t buy gifts for the adults in our family (with the exception of my husband’s Mother who requires a gift to keep the peace) as we have an… Read more »

Jessica
Jessica
8 years ago

Wow, just wow. 20+ gifts?! It’s no wonder they can’t remember what they received. If I had received 20+ gifts for Christmas, I wouldn’t be able to remember what they were, either. Last year, I received two gifts. My husband got me a gingerbread house cookie cutter kit and my parents gave my family a 1/4 beef raised by my uncle. Those were my gifts. My kids each received 4 gifts plus candy in their stockings. We stick to this for giving to our kids: Something they want Something they need Something to play with Something to read Then I… Read more »

Jane
Jane
8 years ago
Reply to  Jessica

We probably give our 4 and 2 year olds 10-15 gifts each Christmas. None of the gifts are very extravagant. Last year, we gave them each a set of nice wooden blocks. The rest of the gifts were jammies and small toys like Hot Wheels ($1) and puzzles. Small kids just love the act of OPENING presents. I don’t see a problem with giving them a bounty of paper to rip. If one if bothered by the environmental effects of so much paper, use newspaper. I’m sure this is different with older children. In that case, they might prefer one… Read more »

Jessica
Jessica
8 years ago
Reply to  Jane

I grew up in a working poor home and my parents would give me tons of gifts at Christmas yet I wouldn’t have shoes or a winter coat that fit (lived in MI) because there “wasn’t money for it”. It would take 2+ hours for me to open all the gifts. They did the same for my severely handicapped sister. My kids are ages 5 and 2 and I’m expecting a baby around the holidays. My oldest will be getting a bigger bike to replace her little one, and I’m quite sure she’ll be happy to tell everyone at school… Read more »

barb
barb
8 years ago
Reply to  Jessica

I totally love how you are raising your kids.
I loathe the emotional enslavement Crapmas brings in our families. And yes I am aware everyone does not share my opinion! Tuff.

Eileen
Eileen
8 years ago
Reply to  Jessica

Curious as to how admitting the gifts from Santa Claus are actually from you is part of not teaching “consumerism”? You said they get the same gifts.

I’m probably missing something, but kids learn about Santa (or lack of him) pretty young. What’s the difference if they’ve known all along?

I’m not pro-Santa (well I am, but understand that other people aren’t), but just curious as to how “consumerism” is connected to him.

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago
Reply to  Jessica

last year was the first (of 7) i ever got my kid a present. The extended family are of the “more is more” persuasion. And the only reason I got it was because he’d asked for something that was too cheap for Grandma to buy – a $15 remote control car was way beneath her image of Christmas, but he really wanted it.

He had a birthday 2 months ago and the thing he liked best was the fancy flower candle the restaurant put in front of him when they found out it was his birthday.

Bella
Bella
8 years ago
Reply to  Jane

This comment ticks me off, to me – there is a teacher here who just missed the mark. I get that you want to get the kids to write about something they enjoy – but really, there is NO garuantee every kid in the class got a xmas present – and if they did – the assignment should have been – pick one. An assignment that simply asks kids to rattle off how consumerist their parent’s (or grandparents are) is really short sighted. I still remember the day we were asked to write about our favorite TV show and which… Read more »

Josetann
Josetann
8 years ago
Reply to  Bella

I thought EVERYONE knew what the Cosby show was! 🙂 But yes, sometimes even the most well-meaning teachers can be a bit clueless about issues like this. There was a Mother’s Day stall at my son’s school, letter went home explaining about it (basically reminding us to send money with our kids that day). I took our son to school and explained that we talked to him about it, gave him the choice to buy something or make something for his mom, and he chose to make something. But I guess they felt sorry for him and gave him something… Read more »

Jane
Jane
8 years ago
Reply to  Bella

When you started the story about Mother’s Day, my first thought was of my nephews who for years didn’t have a mother. Early on I think the teachers were aware their mother had died, but now I imagine they might not know. Imagine a child making a craft for a mother that was gone? It’s hard, because I think teachers are just trying to find supposed universals like Christmas and family in order to relate to the children. In my case, the Christmas gifts thing wasn’t a formal assignment but just an informal conversation before or after class. I don’t… Read more »

Robert Brokamp
Robert Brokamp
8 years ago
Reply to  Jessica

Just to clarify on the “20 gifts” thing: I’m talking about everything they get, from parents, three sets of grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends, and from one another. While I wonder whether Mrs. Claus and I go overboard during the holidays, we definitely don’t make the elves build THAT many toys.

alex
alex
8 years ago
Reply to  Jessica

My mother likes to tell the story of how when I was very young, I received 24 presents for Christmas from doting relatives. After I was done opening them all, I sat in the middle of all that loot and promptly burst into tears. Too much stuff was overwhelming.

Tina in NJ
Tina in NJ
8 years ago

Kathy Mattea’s Christmas album, Good News, is my favorite. Very Country. I think I’ll get some bluegrass this year. We give nieces and nephews gifts. The adults of our generation are taken care of with a charitable donation.

my honest answer
my honest answer
8 years ago

September certainly brings it into focus with me, but I think about Christmas gifts all year long. Whenever I see something I think someone might like, I get it there and then (bonus if I can buy it at a discount). That said, I am very budget conscious about gift giving. I really try to give people thoughtful things that they want and will enjoy, but sometimes I don’t get it right. Since that is always a real possibility, I prefer to err on the side of giving more inexpensive things. Unfortunately there are people that buy for me who… Read more »

Barb
Barb
8 years ago

I love giving as well, and give by choice to thirteen adult family members, five nieces and nephews (two babies, the rest college students-dont ask), my two adult kids, a quilting group, a women’s group and an angel child. I do that on much less than 500 dollars which Ill blog about later. Although I hate to see decorations in the stores, I do shop year around using coupons and discounts. I also make some things (this year, Ice cream sauce and toppings in baskets) Im gonna say here that no child needs twenty gifts. You may want to try… Read more »

Katrina
Katrina
8 years ago
Reply to  Barb

In my family we are HUGE advocates for sharing gift lists. We actually use Amazon’s wish list feature and just share that with one another. I think it’s great because I end up feeling like I actually get the other person something I know they want instead of spending the same amount on something they may or may not like and/or even use. As you mentioned, some may think it’s tacky, but I think it’s a life saver. I will *always* appreciate the intent behind the gifts that I receive because that’s what is truly meaningful, but I feel bad… Read more »

Andrea
Andrea
8 years ago
Reply to  Barb

No need to “ask”, and you shouldn’t assume people will think the age gap is weird. I was born two weeks before my sister’s eighteenth birthday. I have cousins ranging in age from 23 to 49. There is nothing weird or unreasonable about a wide age gap between nieces and nephews and there’s no reason you should have to feel defensive or “don’t ask”-y about it.

Blake
Blake
8 years ago

I’ve always liked what Dave Ramsey says, “Christmas comes the same time every year!” It’s not a surprise that Christmas comes and neither should it be for our wallets. We do two things that really helps: 1. We auto draft a set amount each month (starting in January) for our Christmas account. This is then our budget for Christmas shopping. For example, $50/mo equates to a $600 Christmas budget by December. There is no fear of credit card debt taking this approach and it helps me, the saver in the family, to feel comfortable spending a rather large amount on… Read more »

Mal
Mal
8 years ago
Reply to  Blake

We put a designated amount of our tax return to our Christmas fund. That way, the money’s there early in the year AND it’s earning interest (only a little, but pennies are money!)

One side of my family started drawing names out of a hat. It’s nice for our budgets, but I get down when I see a gift perfect for my sister-in-law, but I have someone else’s name to buy for.

Emily @ evolvingPF
Emily @ evolvingPF
8 years ago

I’m such a Scrooge. On my Love Language assessment, I scored a 0 in gifts. It just doesn’t do anything for me – giving or receiving. Probably about 1 in every spontaneous 20 gifts I receive is actually useful and the rest are just a waste of money. (Like, seriously, you gave me candy? If you know me at all you know I don’t eat sweets.) I put a LOT of thought and effort into gifts I give because I want them to have slightly better odds than 1 in 20, but I probably just cut it to 1 in… Read more »

Julie
Julie
8 years ago

I can totally relate to this post. I would much rather not receive a gift than to receive something that is totally not me. I think gift giving is much too overrated in general. I stress out at Christmas because if I am going to buy a gift, I want it to be a gift that the recepient will enjoy, and sometimes finding the right gift is very difficult. It is easier for the person who just buys something they themselves like, figuring if they like it, than everyone else will too. (such as a music CD) But this approach… Read more »

Juli
Juli
8 years ago

My family all live in Wisconsin, and I’m the lone rebel who moved south, so I’m never sure if I will be able to be with them around Christmas or not. I have a bunch of nieces and nephews to buy for, so I have started buying them each one combined birthday/Christmas gift, and giving it to them all at the same time whenever we get up to visit during the summer. They get tons of stuff for Christmas, but no one gives presents in July, right? Works out well that they get something fun in the middle of the… Read more »

LauraElle
LauraElle
8 years ago

Congratulations on your weight loss, Fool! Regarding Christmas, the adults draw names and there’s a $50 limit. I love that because I only end up having to think of a total of three gifts (my husband, the other adult and my son). My problem is that my son’s birthday is two weeks before Christmas. He’s fortunate enough to have very generous and far-flung grandparents, aunts and uncles. So December is a Bonanza of Presents around here. Gifts start coming in the mail starting the first week of December and don’t stop until the first week of January. I would rather… Read more »

elena
elena
8 years ago
Reply to  LauraElle

Right on, Laurelle. Not mention you get to see the reaction to the gifts. My family doesn’t usually get together for Christmas anymore because of the distance and weather.Our get togethers are a priority in the summer too. I like doing things for my sister’s children(8,10,12), but was frustrated that I got zero response from the family when I sent packages,cash, cards for birthdays and holidays. I found a different solution this year. This summer I did special one on one day long outings tailored to their interests.I did a lot of research, gave them options, and we had a… Read more »

April
April
8 years ago

I find it too easy to go overboard so every year Santa get’s a theme for our son. When he was a little over a year old it was music. He received a toy piano, maracas, and a wave drum (he’ll be five this month and still plays with the piano and drum). The next year we did art and he received play-doh, an easel, markers & crayons (all of which he still has and plays with). The third year was things that go and he received a play-mat that has a town with roads on it and a couple… Read more »

Marie
Marie
8 years ago

I love Robert’s articles and this was a very timely one for me because I have already started shopping around for Christmas presents. I have been trying to save each month for Christmas gifts and I am determined to cut down on my total expenditures this year. It is hard because my family has certain expectations of gifts but hopefully we can start shifting to a more reasonable norm.

Amy
Amy
8 years ago

Oy, is it that time already? I love gift giving, but this year summer has been a beating for me, and I just haven’t been able to dredge up the energy to get excited about the planning and purchasing of gifts. I have gotten as far as starting to look at my budget and figure out how much I can send to certain non-profit organizations before the year is out….but up till this article, it hadn’t occured to me to start to the same for family and friend holiday gift giving. Back to the budget drawing board I go. On… Read more »

Sheryl
Sheryl
8 years ago

My husband and I tend to have a lower Christmas giving budget than we’d like, so it’s extra important for us that our recipients actually like the gifts we give them. A lot of thought goes into what we’re going to get each person and we try and make it something we know they’ll use value.

This is fairly easy to do for the adults on our list. Our niece, however? Very hit and miss whether what we give her will be something she uses long term or not. I think that’s just the nature of children.

Jean
Jean
8 years ago

Hmph. No cat pics.

Jen from Boston
Jen from Boston
8 years ago
Reply to  Jean

I had the same reaction – Where are the kitty photos???? 😉

Malcom
Malcom
8 years ago

I give my nieces and nephews savings bonds for their college education. They don’t like me right now, especially the teenagers, but I know in the future they will thank me. I have done this since they were born.

christina
christina
8 years ago
Reply to  Malcom

Malcom – What a great gift!! I’m 23 years old and last month I reviewed all my savings bonds that I received from family and friends over the years and was shocked at how much they were worth. I called the people who gave them to me to thank them (again!). I didn’t use mine for college as they still had some time to accrue interest (and I had scholarships) but I will be super grateful to use them for a downpayment on a house. I hope your family appreciates them as much as I do!!

Malcom
Malcom
8 years ago
Reply to  christina

I am glad to hear you appreciate them now that you are older. I think a down payment on a house is GREAT!!! I would love too my nieces and nephews use it for a down payment if they don’t use if for college.

Sam
Sam
8 years ago
Reply to  Malcom

Really, they don’t like it? I’ve been gifting my niece and nephew with contributions to their 529 plan since they were little kids. I did send them a little gift when they were little and I do send them a little cash now that they are big, but most of my gift goes right into that 529 plan.

My nephew has just gone off to college, he hasn’t started to draw down the 529 plan money, but he is very thankful and always has been that its there.

Malcom
Malcom
8 years ago
Reply to  Sam

My nieces and nephews are looking for more “materialistic” gifts that most of the the other family members give them.

partgypsy
partgypsy
8 years ago

I always spend too much at Christmas, and feel the kids get too many gifts. Have tried different things but nothing has stuck yet.

CincyCat
CincyCat
8 years ago
Reply to  partgypsy

They’re only kids once, and Christmas is only once a year. I say go for it, if you can afford it. I don’t subscribe to the theory that spoiling kids one day a year will lead to a lifetime of rampant consumerism.

It’s those who buy them whatever they want, whenever they want, that have bigger fish to fry than Christmas…

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago
Reply to  CincyCat

there’s a limit to how much a kid can enjoy in one day, though. And I’d really rather, once we’ve packed up and driven across two states in near-blizzard conditions, that mine enjoy the people we went to visit, rather than wanting to go be alone with his new toys (or worse, spending the week wishing he could play with his new toys that can’t be opened because they contain choking hazards and there’s a million babies and toddlers around.)

Micah
Micah
8 years ago

We only give to our kids, parents and siblings. The adults get one useful gift less than $20 with a bunch of homemade stuff. Kids get 4 presents: a want, a need, a wear, a read. This has worked out great, the kids last year got backpacks (still used daily), hats and mittens, books (still loved) and each got a big truck. The baby got one with a handle that has balls in the back that pop as he rolls it and the big boy got one that has a handle and rhe back opens up to store stuff. They… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago

It’s early September.

I refuse to think about Christmas. I don’t care right now about holiday presents, or holiday parties, or holiday weight gain, or saving money over the holidays, or who to send cards to, or holly, or mistletoe, or eggnog, or sleigh rides, or the Rockefeller Center tree, or pet portraits with Santa, or ANY OF IT!!!

There. Rant over. Enjoy the post-Labor Day glow.

Bella
Bella
8 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

hmmm, eggnog…

lmoot
lmoot
8 years ago

I only give gifts if I happen to find something I think they’d like. In my family and group of friends sometimes we give to certain indiduals, sometimes not.

It’s no big deal with the adults because we are “over” it. My niece and nephews however always get a gift and some candy from me.

Kids LOVE opening presents and when it comes to Christmas at a young age quantity trumps quality, so I usualy fill a stocking with lots of little things to play with, especially things that foster creativity.

Ely
Ely
8 years ago

I HATE CHRISTMAS. There, I said it. The whole scrambling for gifts no one will remember in three months drives me batty. The heaps of junk my parents insist on piling on us. The enforced togetherness, when I really just want to be left alone. It sucks. That said, I observed last year that one of the things contributing to my stress level at Christmas is money. Utility bills are at their highest; travel and parties and gifts all require chunks of change. This year, in an effort to mitigate some of those bad feelings, I created a ‘Holiday Madness’… Read more »

Eileen
Eileen
8 years ago
Reply to  Ely

I don’t hate Christmas (yet anyway), but I do relate to many of your comments! I can recall being young (maybe young teenager?) when I first caught wind of “holiday stress”. They talked about it in on TV (maybe Donohue?) or had it on magazine covers. I can recall thinking that was completely outrageous! How could anyone feel stress over the best time of year (2 week break + presents + food). Alas, you grow up, you don’t get 2 weeks off (and now I work somewhere that has 1 day off — Xmas day, and we are only allowed… Read more »

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago
Reply to  Ely

ME TOO.

If it were voluntary I wouldn’t hate it. But the obligatory takes up all my free time and I don’t get to do any of the holiday things I actually want to do.

I hate buying presents for people who don’t need or appreciate them, and getting presents I don’t want or need. And I HATE traveling in the winter. Save the presents for the kids, visit family when the weather’s good, and let all the adults off the hook.

Ely
Ely
8 years ago
Reply to  Rosa

Exactly.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Ely

Why not target your savings to fly to Aruba or something? Or anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere for that matter.

Josetann
Josetann
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

We’re doing Christmas Down Under this year. Hopefully it’ll help with the holiday weight gain (lots of food + summer activities = ?).

Ely
Ely
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Still involves holiday travel. Not gonna do it.

I’m happy to go to Grandma’s in February. Just not any time between Dec 20 and Jan 5. 🙂

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago

The in-laws overdo it so much that Santa just stuffs stockings. (And hide away some of the excess bounty for a later date or the birthday party gift closet. They seriously go overboard.) That makes the gift giving for the kids easy for us.

Bella
Bella
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

This is where we are at – I get comments from my friends – what are you getting the kiddo this year? And I’m a little sad that I don’t get to shop for fun stuff – but then I remember – I don’t have time to shop anyway! Double bonus!

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago
Reply to  Bella

I am too busy shopping for the in-laws and their families, the ones who equate the size of the gift pile with how much you love them.

I should have skipped this post, it’s making me depressed in advance.

AMW
AMW
8 years ago

The holidays and gift giving are all about expectations.In every family this is different. I love giving but for me it is substance over quanity. We set the tone for our children in the beginning. One large item (the budget is determined by our current financial situation but usually $20-$50), a book, and their stockings. Amazingly my children- now in highschool and college- like the stockings the most. To them it shows how much mom has been paying attention to thier likes and dislikes over the year They have never felt deprived because they did not have a larger quanity… Read more »

Kaytee
Kaytee
8 years ago

I loathe the holiday season, it’s made my DH very happy. To me it just means endless amounts of exhausting travel to places we’d rather avoid. Our families celebrate them however and we either need to show up or send a death certificate. Especially now that we have a baby – never mind that the babe hates car travel… Although, now that there is a baby, people are keen to purchase things for her. It drives me crazy. Our apartment is <700 sf! This year, I think we'll suggest a family membership to somewhere in lieu of any corporeal gifts.… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Kaytee

My sibling and in-law are in the same boat. We were all relieved to hear they set up an education savings fund for the new baby! I love that I can make a meaningful contribution to the little guy’s future rather than buying more stuff. When he gets a big older, I plan to add a book to the gift to help the family build a library.

WWII Kid
WWII Kid
8 years ago

Since I was a teenager, I have yet to receive a Christmas gift that I truly want or can actually use. First, I am certain I am the victim of re-gifting. And I say “victim” not because I am against re-gifting. Somehow, receiving used cosmetics, size XXL clothes (I am an S), dusty knick-knacks (I live in one large room) and stuffed toys (again, I live in one room) have clued me in. People who I live with, work with or am in frequent contact with cannot be so clueless on purpose, or can they? I put money away in… Read more »

Stacy
Stacy
8 years ago

I like the “want, need, wear, read” idea for kids. We have one daughter, and our budget for her is $100. My brother with soon-to-be 7 kids gets a family gift, like a game and a gift card for pizza, for a family game night. Parents get pictures, and maybe a gift card for groceries. My friends get some homemade gifts, like peach jam or cashew brittle, and maybe a scone mix from King Arthur Flour. My husband and I exchange a couple of gifts, and I usually get from him a couple of books and lotion from a company… Read more »

Mom of five
Mom of five
8 years ago

I typically start shopping for Christmas right around now. A normal Christmas for our older kids is one or two big things (like a new guitar and amp or an IPhone) and then five or six smaller, somewhat jokier gifts, like Perry the Platypus PJ’s. Except for a small gift (under $10 cousins’ Pollyanna), the gifts we buy our kids are the only ones they’ll get. The younger kids get some stuff we know they’ll like (e.g. Legos, Lincoln Logs, Pillowpet, etc.) plus crappy little things from Five Below. But far and away our biggest spending comes on the “family… Read more »

Carol
Carol
8 years ago

I love the Batman theme song and Jesus dictionary comment!

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago

Well done on the weight-loss challenge. 🙂

My family wasn’t very sporty, so we didn’t have much in the way of activity gear, but I would definitely agree with arts/crafts supplies and building toys as the most enjoyed and most memorable gifts over the years.

Plus, of course, books. Although I started buying my own books mighty early.

CincyCat
CincyCat
8 years ago

We just started saving into a special “Christmas/Gift” fund this year. Based on the balance to-date, it looks like our budget will be in the neighborhood of $300-500. As far as gifts go… Santa brings our kiddos ONE item off of their “wish list,” and the rest are puzzles, games, etc. from mom & dad. (Santa’s gift has obviously been wrapped by elves, too, with gold/silver/sparkly wrapping paper. :)) The kids also buy ONE special gift for each other (usually $10-20 budget). In any case, gifts are not placed under our tree until Christmas Eve – not even any gifts… Read more »

Adam P
Adam P
8 years ago

You’re a very good writer, I have to say. Impressed! I try to give experiences rather than gifts when possible. My richer older relatives (parents/grandparents) I try to give photo-collages of pictures they had long forgotten were had. Usually they cry when they get them and proudly display the frames. I’ll surprise my partner with trips or planned dates for xmas. If I’m buying for my nephews/nieces or 4 year old brother, I’ll take them shopping with me and let them pick it out so the gift is associated with me. I automatically assume about an extra $1500 in December… Read more »

PennySaved
PennySaved
8 years ago

This is the year I am finally going to stop the gift giving between me and my three adult brothers and two sister-in-laws. It is too stressful trying to figure out what they want and having to send detailed lists of what I would like. We all have enough money that we just buy what we need/want for ourselves when we need it. Last year, one sister-in-law just opted out at the last minute without consulting with anyone. I have already talked to sister-in-law #2 and she agrees with me that it will be less stressful for everyone if we… Read more »

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago
Reply to  PennySaved

have you talked to them about it?

I tried (and my s-i-l was on my team) but there was just no chance of it ever changing.

Sam
Sam
8 years ago
Reply to  PennySaved

they probably will be relieved. our no adult gifts came over time, started with my brother and his wife, then expanded to my parents, then to my grandparents, then to my sorority sisters and my best friend (although we do a girls christmas white elephant gift party that is limited to $20 gift). At this point, the only adult left on the list is my MIL and I get her a gift to keep the peace. My husband thinks its ridiculous, but I’d rather keep her happy and we don’t travel to see her on the holidays (another complaint) so… Read more »

Cortney
Cortney
8 years ago

I don’t have much to add, but I just wanted to say that I really liked this article. Unlike a lot of the recent articles, I felt like this one was not about just the writer’s personal situation – instead, you were writing about what your readers should do or consider. And your own examples gave it the personal touch needed to make it enjoyable to read.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Cortney

Totally agree! I enjoy reading Donna’s and Robert’s posts for that reason.

Ely
Ely
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

yup. In the absence of JD, Donna and Robert are my favorites. (Donna would probably be my favorite anyway… :D)

cathleen
cathleen
8 years ago

We used to pick names among siblings when we were in our 20s and 30s, now we just buy gifts for the kids in the family (we have none) and make gifts (wine, food, jams, candles, crocheted bankets, etc.) for any adults we want to give to. Last year I collected very nice old fashioned picnic baskets from my loval GW throughout the year (some new from Smith & Hawken Target collection, some antique) and filled them with homemade wine, vinegar, limoncello, jams, beef jerky my husband makes and gave one to each “family”. They were a huge hit. This… Read more »

Laura
Laura
8 years ago

Ayuh, Christmas. I’m lucky – the only presents exchanged are between DH, DS, and me; the various siblings/uncles/aunts/cousins/etc. on both sides are either too remote, too cheap, and/or too dysfunctional to do gift exchanging. Our rule of thumb is either a lot of cheap gifts, some more expensive gifts, or one very expensive gift. This year, we agreed to go for the one very expensive gift and buy a new computer (that we all use) to replace the clunker that freezes up all the time and that clearly has a failing motor. Since DS is still a kid, he’ll probably… Read more »

Waverly
Waverly
8 years ago

I give cash. Ideally, I would like to receive nothing at all, or cash. It never works out that way, sadly. The reason I give cash is this: It. Is. Efficient. That’s it. It’s efficient. Cash will be used in full. It’ll either be saved or spent, but it will be used up, 100%. If I get someone a gift card, they might use all but 75% and lose the rest. That’s a wasted gift. If I get someone an actual physical gift, they might hate it and throw it away. That’s a wasted gift. They might give it to… Read more »

barb
barb
8 years ago
Reply to  Waverly

Stop giving cash……they will stop too!
Been there, done it, works.

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago
Reply to  Waverly

some people just really really like to give gifts, and have strong feelings about what counts. For instance, I like practical things, and put them on the list I’m required to make. One thing I really really wanted sat there unbought on the list for 3 years. Finally, my partner said (it’s his family that does presents, mine only does presents for children) “of course they won’t buy that, they think you put it on there as a joke, nobody would buy that as a gift.” And when I’ve asked for charitable donations people have said to me, “I know… Read more »

Frances
Frances
7 years ago
Reply to  Rosa

My husband’s family is the same way, for 20 years I’ve tried to get them to cut back on gifts but they insist on a huge mound of gifts under the tree. I’ve tried giving them lists of items my child would like, they ignore them. They give awful things I hate, and they get donated to Goodwill. I’ve stopped feeling guilty about it because in the end this is about them not me. They can give whatever they want, and then it’s up to me what I do with the gift.

JED
JED
8 years ago

Loved the article. I used to (and should again, I admit) budget a certain amount of money per month for Christmas and started buying as soon as I could, sometimes even as early as January. I shopped sales all year and picked up items very early in the year for the people for whom I felt certain I knew their tastes, then started asking others for gift ideas by early autumn. I’ve already bought three gifts this year, but my husband and I seriously reduced our obligatory gift list years ago, so I don’t have as many to buy as… Read more »

Jane
Jane
8 years ago
Reply to  JED

I think people who give baked goods for Christmas assume their gifts don’t go to waste or sit in a closet. They may not sit in a closet, but oftentimes, that banana bread loaf doesn’t get eaten and is regretfully tossed a week later. There is just too much food at the holidays. I can never eat it all, and I love sweets.

Bucksprout
Bucksprout
8 years ago

A contribution to any investment; CD, high interest savings account, IRA, etc. is a gift that keeps on giving

Jamie
Jamie
8 years ago

Great article, and it definitely jump-started my thinking about this year’s holiday season. When I was a kid, I was absolutely, ridiculously spoiled rotten at Christmas time with every single thing on my wish list plus several dozen other gifts, some of them small, some huge. Ironically, now that I’m 30 years old I spend all year hand-crafting gifts for my family members, and I’m pretty uninterested in receiving much since I live in a tiny apartment and don’t have much space! Last year I went really big– I made Christmas Eve dinner for the whole family (plus many of… Read more »

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago
Reply to  Jamie

I’m so sorry. For what it’s worth, I really admire your thinking. Lowering your expectations of perfection & gratitude is the best way to have next time be better. Aside from the horrible gift-giving, Christmas with my partner’s family is really lovely. I think that’s mostly because it only lasts for a few hours – one big party, then done. The party is always awesome but it’s literally about 3 hours long. My family’s Christmas is always HIDEOUS because my mom somehow convinces us that what would be perfect is if we all spent, like, 8 days together somewhere, in… Read more »

Jane
Jane
8 years ago
Reply to  Jamie

I think handmade gifts are even harder to get right and have an even higher likelihood of ending up in a closet. I have a hard time throwing away things that were made lovingly by someone, but I think there’s a statute of limitations on those items as well. It’s hard. Most people just don’t want more stuff at all, even if it is handmade. And like I said above, there’s no guarantee edible things won’t get tossed. Every year my husband’s grandma makes this lovely but very sweet poppy seed bread. I mean to eat it, but most of… Read more »

Veronica
Veronica
8 years ago

I love spending time with my family during the holidays. My hubby and I don’t do Christmas shopping because of how ugly people get. For gifts we buy small treats and sweets and give cash or gift cards. We would probably end up spending more if we bought gifts for each person.

DD
DD
8 years ago

When our first was born we bought far too much. Especially when all the relatives were doing likewise. We could have bought him nothing and it would have been plenty. We wised up after the first 2 Christmases and started the want, need, wear, read routine which has worked beautifully. This has meant that the kids really give some serious thought to what they’d like, and I can focus likewise. I’ve already bought 2 of the 4 for each of my kids based on my own observations during the year and am waiting for their lists to choose the final… Read more »

Josetann
Josetann
8 years ago

We virtually stopped gift giving a few years ago. No more store-bought gifts to family, friends, etc. Haven’t even bought the kids any Christmas presents, BUT we still gave them presents. How? We had, of all things, a present closet. So once we cut way, way back…we still had an overabundance of stuff. Instead, we bake goodies and spend lots of time with family over the holidays. We just explained that we’d rather enjoy the holidays by spending time with people than buying stuff at the mall that no one really wanted anyways. Not everyone was on board, but they… Read more »

Debbie
Debbie
8 years ago

I enjoyed the article – I start the shopping early, both for spreading out the cost a little and so I can avoid the stores at the holidays (not a shopping enthusiast.)

If you haven’t used it previously, “Rusty Chevrolet” by Da Yoopers is a fun song.

stellamarina
stellamarina
8 years ago

My elderly mother asked that I no longer give her xmas and birthday gifts but could I please arrange and pay for a magazine subscription that she really wanted. Easy to do and Mum is happy when she gets the magazine in the mail each month. Then when I visit her I can take a small gift like a flowering plant or something. I think the idea of just doing an xmas stocking between couples is good too. …..although I am always happy to see a bit of cash in it for my travel account. :0) I buy books for… Read more »

Karin
Karin
8 years ago

I have been asking people NOT to give me tangible gifts for years. I just hated the amount of unwanted stuff that was coming into the world. If people want to give something, a charitable card (indicating, say, that a goat has been given to a family in a developing country) is a very happy alternative. As for giving gifts, I try to establish what people want, whether it is something tangible, a gift card or a goat. We do still buy gifts for children, but even try to make them environmentally friendly and carefully chosen.

Cherleen @ My Personal Finance Journey
Cherleen @ My Personal Finance Journey
8 years ago

We stick to books, educational DVDs, board games, and shirts as gifts for kids. LAst year, we give adults gift certificates for spa, overnight stay in a local hotel, and dinner for two in a restaurant. This year, we will be creating personalized calendars featuring a member of their family for each month. It can also serve as a gift for the entire family. Since it is difficult to think of gifts for teens, we give them cash or gift cards. Because we have a large family, we set aside $100-$150 each month and start saving for holiday expenses as… Read more »

Jason Clayton | frugal habits
Jason Clayton | frugal habits
8 years ago

Very timely article for me, as I have been thinking about how to get my kids to see that life is about giving, not consuming – as well as being thankful for what you have. To me, how many gifts they receive is not necessarily relevant. It is how they put thought into giving to others. Even though they are young have have no money to their name, they can still “give” to their siblings and cousins. Usually this is by giving something they create, already have, or buy at a local dollar store. 🙂 I’m hoping to encourage this… Read more »

zoomba
zoomba
8 years ago

My parents were also of the mindset that kids preferred quantity over quality. Unfortunately, that’s not how the kids in the family felt. Especially since the folks told us we couldn’t have something because we had to wait until Christmas (and then the toy/clothes/book didn’t even materialize!) I think that is why all the kids in my family started earning their own money at different gigs at an early age. If we wanted something, we had to get it ourselves…… As adults, I and my sibs skip the adult gift giving===except for birthdays===and give the kids gift cards. And we… Read more »

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