When did the holidays become so “stuff” driven?

Like, seriously. Why is there so much pressure to buy the perfect gift?


I’m not a fan. Here’s what i’m doing instead.

I could talk about “how we got here” but I don’t have any plans of turning my personal finance blog into the center for religious and secular history of Christmas, so I will let The History Channel do that for me HERE .

However, I do have plans to discuss how it affects our wallets.

Have Yourself a Merry Little CC Payment

The average consumer will spend $967.13 this winter, and will leave the holidays with $1,003 of holiday-related debt (credit cards, mostly).

$967 for Christmas…which is in direct contrast to our average spending for Halloween ($86), Independence Day ($73.42), or even the infamous “consumer holiday” Valentine’s Day ($136.57). In comparison, we spend 86%+ more money for Christmas than we spend for any other holiday. Period.

Why, though? I don’t have the answer, because I’m guilty too.

For example, This past Valentine’s Day, thanks to one of my relatives that works for the federal government, my husband and I scored exclusive and elusive tickets to the National Museum of African American History & Culture (Blacksonian for short, because it’s a ridiculously lengthy name for a Smithsonian museum) in Washington D.C and we made the drive up to celebrate the museum’s first Black History month. We drove up, stayed with our relatives, made a trip to the museum, had dinner, and went home.

Our Valentine’s Day weekend cost about $300. For Independence Day we had a $30 barbecue at my place, and we spent around $40 on Halloween candy. Our Christmas gifts alone for 2017 has already crested $1,000 (and climbing). Yikes, dude.

Adrian Claus is coming to town.

Throughout the year, we avoid getting stuck with holiday credit card debt by saving money into a dedicated savings to be used exclusively on gifts for birthdays, weddings, and the holidays throughout the entire year. For us, this makes buying presents easier since we don’t have to take the cost of a gift out of grocery budget, nor do we have to work overtime to put a gift under a tree.  However, my husband and I have decided that we want to break the cycle of consumerism and have deployed two new tactics and rules to be uniquely selfless with our spending this year.

  1. We agreed to spend no more than $200 on each other.

In the past, we have spent nearly $400 (each) on gifts for one another. You know nothing says “happy holidays” like spending $800 on more junk to clutter our house with. Looking back, there are a few presents that I can distinctly remember buying him and receiving myself… but largely, we don’t remember almost anything that we got last year.

Think about it… do you recall every gift you received? How about every gift you gave?

For 2017, I cut the “wish list” that I gave out to my family/friends down from 30 items to 10, and intentionally capped the prices of the things I asked for. The single-most expensive item is a $299 power washer, and the second most expensive item is under $100 with the lowest cost item being $7. Thankfully, as I grow older and more financially sound, I am realizing that I already have everything I want, and more “stuff” is just is not necessary.

My husband employed the same rule and limited his wish list to just a few items… all of them $50 or below.

  1. We agreed to show gratitude to our closest friends.

For two years, we hosted a monthly boardgame night at our house, and every December we transformed our game night into a holiday party where we exchanged “Dirty Santa” gifts. Everybody would bring a wrapped gift valued at $20 or less, put it on a table, and we would all choose one gift at random to open. That gift was then able to be swapped or stolen by other party guests up to two times before the person left with it got to keep it.images

Secretly? Our Dirty Santa gift exchange is probably my favorite Christmas tradition with my husband. However, last year, we tried something new. Jay and I caught all of our friends off guard by concluding the party with gifts for each of them ranging from gift cards to restaurants, to movie tickets, or presents for their home and children.

I’m not sure if I will ever become a parent and will enjoy watching my spawn’s face light up when they open their presents, but watching everybody open gifts they didn’t expect is one of the highlights of my adulthood.

We are repeating this tradition this year, as well. Our society is one where being self-deprecating and downplaying our care for others is socially acceptable, so combating that social norm with an intentional act of kindness is one thing that makes the holidays special for me.

All I Want For Christmas Is You.

If we can succeed with these goals this year, next year I will try cutting back even further and being even more deliberate with our holiday spending. My ultimate goal is to replace our wish lists for “memories”. Rather than saying that I want the latest iPad, I want my list to read like this:

-Spur of the moment trip to my favorite restaurant.
-Taking a day off work to watch bad movies all day long.
-Try a new type of food.
-Pay my friend’s car payment for the month.

…you get the idea.

Simply Having An Expensive Christmas Time.

Don’t get me wrong, it sounds so easy and noble to do, but it’s been difficult to even adhere to our two goals for 2017.

Ballin’ out of control to buy gifts for my family and husband feels normal…because that’s what everything and everybody around is appears to be doing. I get more emails telling me about “special” holiday sales events in November and December than I receive all year long, and every movie and TV show that acknowledges this time of year runs a plot-line where their characters run from store to store to find that perfect gift, or trying to “outdo” somebody.

It’s everywhere, and it’s hard to get away from.

However, staying focused to not blow my budget on pointless consumer items is absolutely crucial to surviving the holidays. By reminding myself that I can’t put a price tag on my love/respect/adoration for my mother helps me stay financially friendly.

My loved ones will love the exact same whether I spend $10 on them, or $100. Likewise, I would hate to think that Grandma skipped buying her medicine to spend her last $100 on some frivolous item for me because she didn’t want to disappoint me or show up empty handed. That’s something I just don’t believe I could ever forgive myself for contributing to.

Grandma sacrificing her health may be an extreme example… but ask yourself if you have ever put off buying something you needed so you could buy someone else a gift. Truly, it’s a selfless act, but I want to know that my loved ones prioritize the things they need over buying me stuff that I don’t need.

Each year, I do my best to prioritize spending quality time with those that I love while they’re around. This is the most important part of the holidays for me.

You can buy stuff, but you can’t buy quality time.

Don’t forget this.

Source for annual holiday spending: www.nrf.com