6 frugality experts give advice on dealing with holiday gifts

stockings by the fireplace
CC BY 2.0 Jim

No one likes the rampant spending that goes along with gift-giving traditions, but all have different ideas for how to cope.

Pulling back from the rampant consumerism of the holiday season is a recurring theme among many financial bloggers and writers. It’s not a new concept – some of these people have been doing it for years – but it’s becoming more mainstream now. Learn how others are paring down their possessions, speaking to their families about alternative ways to celebrate, and really trying to prioritize what matters.

1. Just a stocking

Cait Flanders, a Canadian financial blogger, described her family’s decision in 2014 to forego gifts under the tree and, instead, receive a stocking filled with items that cost no more than $100. The stocking contents would be requested in advance, and would “fulfill a need or serve a purpose.” So, for example, Cait herself asked for only a new pair of TOMS and a bottle of nude nail polish. She wrote:

“Could we have asked for more? Of course. But do we actually need anything more? No. No, no, no. A thousand times, no. Sure, there won’t be many surprises tomorrow morning, but again… that’s not what Christmas is about.”

2. Focus on thoughtful giving

In an article last year, Robin Shliakau wrote that she and her husband always used to fight about “the stuff” in the house. They adopted a minimalist lifestyle in 2012 to combat this problem, which meant educating their families about their new way of celebrating – with minimal stuff. She urges people to give thoughtful gifts that give back to the community:

“Many organizations have catalogs or campaigns for this time of year in which you can give those in impoverished areas some of the most basic of necessities. Also, look in your area for soup kitchens, shelters, or refugee centers to help those in your own city. You can also give time. Start by spending quality time together as family and then volunteer at one of your local organizations.”

3. True minimalist

Others, such as Maureen McGuinness, have opted for gift-free holidays, which is challenging for family members to accept. She wrote a post for The Financial Diet last week, explaining how she has gotten rid of 50 percent of her belongings, which makes Christmas gifts completely redundant. She has asked her family for nothing, and accepts that she’ll be the only person sitting around the tree on December 25th with nothing to open. She doesn’t seem worried:

“My sister pointed out that I’d be sitting with the rest of the family as they opened their gifts, so I will feel left out. In a way, she is right. But I have a different perspective. I’m there with my family. I’m there sharing their experience of opening their gifts. I’m there listening to them give thanks to one another. I am very much a part of the experience, and I don’t see gifts as essential.”

4. How about an experience?

Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists had to fight to convince his mom that he didn’t want or need any gifts. She was offended when he said he would donate anything she gave him that didn’t add value to his life, but has since come around to the idea. It is hard to break age-old traditions, particularly those shared by family members. The Minimalists advocate for three gifts: experiences, love, and time. They also encourage you to ‘give’ your holidays to others.

“A few months ago, Ryan gave his birthday to charity and raised enough money to build a well in Cambodia. Instead of accepting material birthday gifts, he was able to gift clean water to more than 250 people who didn’t previously have access to it. Perhaps you can do the same this Christmas: instead of requesting gifts, you can ask people to donate to your favorite charity in your name.”

Other ways for better giving include looking for fair trade, buying handcrafted items, supporting church fairs and local markets, focusing on children (including teens, who often get neglected in toy drives), purchasing food or other consumables, adopting a pet (if this is something the recipient has been wanting to do).

5. Give flexible, useful gifts

There’s a wonderful article by Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar on how to buy smart gifts for a frugal person. He emphasizes the importance of reliable and sturdy items, as well as taking the time to research someone’s interests and habits.

“Frugal people always appreciate well-made stuff that will last for a long time and that they’ll actually use regularly. Long-lasting stuff that will be used regularly is always going to earn a genuine smile and thanks.”

He has followed it up with another article this year on flexible gift-giving, which is informative.

6. Get making to save money

Last year the bloggers at Our Next Life shared that their family finally agreed to skip gifts for adults and give only homemade or secondhand items to kids. Their motivation is mostly financial, as they’re scrupulous and meticulous with money and dislike the lack of control over spending that results at Christmas. It makes a lot of sense.

“In all other areas of our finances, we each have final say, while at the holidays, it’s a whole family negotiation about what everyone prefers, loaded with the additional pressure of tradition. We know it’s a tough tightrope walk for those who aspire to give (and receive) less.”

Do you feel inspired to change your own approach to the holidays? Has your family implemented any changes in recent years to address the growing problems of over-consumption, rampant spending, and mounting debt?

Tags: Conspicuous Consumption | Consumerism | Finances | Holidays | Minimalism | Shopping

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