For a year now, we’ve been in a Recession. Last month, the United States lost over 500,000 jobs. Many families are relying on credit cards to survive. Many businesses are struggling. Many jobs are tenuous. And the prospects over the next several months look like the worst is yet to come.
I don’t mean to say those things to depress you or shut down your emotions. On the contrary, I think emotions and our ability to create magic in our minds will get us through these tougher times. I think we just need to change the way we think about the holidays.
I know these discussions are not easy. Contemplating not giving gifts, or giving fewer gifts, is not easy in our society. We have social expectations – Scrooge is hovering in the shadows, and we fear of being seen as him. I feel these pressures. I walk through downtown Seattle, and see the beautiful store displays, with the festivity of shopping in the air. I think of my cousins who enjoy new things, who need and want stuff for school and stuff for play. I think of the smiles good gifts can bring to my friends and family.
And of course I fear the discomfort of receiving a gift and not returning one, too.
So what can we do about these feelings? How can we create a celebratory feeling of the holiday season, how can we spread cheer and good will, how can we brings smiles to our loved ones’ faces – and not break our finances to pieces, and not take off years of our lives as we stress about the debt gifts bring? And furthermore, when other families are struggling to survive during the holidays, how do we not feel guilty that instead of helping them, we buy stuff that we really really want, but maybe don’t need? How, how, how?
This is not a small dilemma, it is not a simple dilemma, it is not an easily solved dilemma. But we must figure out a solution!
Redefining The Holidays For The Current Economy
We can begin by redefining what the holidays mean to us, and redefining what they mean to our families. Bring your families together and be honest about the economy and your personal finances. And then brainstorm to find a way that you can all come together to have a happy holiday without breaking your banks. If you all put your heads together and become part of this solution, feelings won’t be hurt and each of you will feel invested in your family’s new way of celebrating of the holidays.
Ten Frugal Ideas For Holiday Gift-giving:
1. Have a gift exchange, where each family member picks a name out of a hat, and gives a gift only for that person. You can create a maximum value for the gifts as well – eg, gifts must cost less than $25.
2. Pool your resources together and go on a fun family outing. If each person pitched in $20, what fun thing could you all do together?
3. Buy gifts only for the children in your family.
4. Make a rule that all of your gifts will be gifts of time and skill, rather than money or things. For example, Matt and I may give my parents the gift of helping them put their home back together after their remodel. If you sew, offer to mend clothing or help make new curtains, towels, pillow cases, or whatever they might need. There are many, many opportunities here!
5. Create a family gift-giving budget – you may want to use the envelope budgeting system here – and STICK TO IT.
6. Keep traditions that don’t cost money. One tradition my family has is to read out loud “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” before bedtime – with each person taking turns reading it as the book is passed around the room. These are important traditions, for children to be sure, but also for adults.
7. Buy sustainably. Buy used, make gifts if you can, buy from local small businesses who are probably also struggling right now, and make sure to buy things that are useful and things that will last. Think hard about what the gift receiver needs. And if you can’t think of anything, buy gift cards to the local market or a favorite store, or buy coupon books for local businesses.
8. Think about pooling part or all of your gift money to help those who are in greater need. If you do this, make sure that each person in the family plays an active roll in choosing the recipient(s), and if you can visit the recipient(s) on a pleasant and meaningful trip, all the better. Make this a meaningful and happy experience for everyone involved!
9. At the very least, think about a one-gift rule, where you give each person only one gift that is not very expensive but is very thoughtful.
10. What do you do? Please let us know what solutions you’ve come up with for the holidays!
Above all else, remember that the true spirit of the holidays is the celebration of all that we have – our families, our friends, and our dreams. I hope that you are good to yourselves this holiday season, and allow yourselves to set economic and physical limits as you nurture yourself and those around you – in mind, body, and spirit.