Saving Money

Christmas: How to spend $0 and be happy


Ah, Christmas…  Who doesn’t love the holiday season?  As a kid I remember struggling to sleep on Christmas Eve, staring at the clock all night… waiting for a moderately appropriate time to sneak downstairs to see how many gifts were under the tree.

No matter what you celebrate, the holidays are sensationalized in America.  For me, Christmas held a special place in my heart for well over 30 years.

It was the happiest time in our house and I’d end up with tennis elbow from opening all of the gifts.

The materialistic nature of the holidays were ingrained into me at a young age.  Distorting my sense of normal and creating elaborate spending habits that would last for decades.

Christmas giftsChristmas, the happiest day of the year

I had what I assume was a normal childhood… seasoned with a dash of dysfunction.  My father has been clinically depressed for pretty much all of my life and my mother… I believe she isn’t far behind him.  She’s just too stubborn to go get help.

Back then my days were peppered with my parents fighting and my mom confiding in me about how awful my dad was.

Oddly enough, the daily chaos always paused around the holidays.  Almost like my parents signed an armistice to allow the kids to enjoy Christmas.

I know my parents loved me, I’m not whining about a broken childhood or anything. I turned out kinda normal… Ok, I’m at least a functional part of society.

My parents just really sucked at showing affection… unless it was Christmas.  On Christmas, they wrapped that shit up and buried us with it.

It was intoxicating.  The gifts… the attention… the affection.  Everyone was happy, even if it only lasted a few days.

Christmas to me was the time of year my parents showed their love and affection.  That love was wrapped up in boxes and filled with arbitrary possessions.

It was my favorite day.

moneyHow did Christmas get like this

So, was my childhood abnormal?  Eh, maybe some parts… but I don’t think my family’s take on Christmas was too far off the norm.

As Americans, we love to over-indulge and let extravagance rain down upon us.  The holiday season sets a perfect stage for our subconscious spending desires to dance in the spotlight.

After we rise from our tryptophan coma, we grab our wallets, brass knuckles, and head out to brave the crowds on Black Friday.

For weeks, we’ve been bombarded with strategic ad campaigns targeted at our heart and wallets.  The urge to buy random shit reaches maximum capacity and the top blows off!

crowd shoppingSo, where did it really start?

There are a lot of different stories as to how the name “Black Friday” came about.  Some say it’s a term based around the sale of slaves (it’s not).  Others say that it’s a term used by businesses as the excessive spending helps get them “out of the red” for the year.

The first reference to Black Friday wasn’t about shopping at all.  It was referring to the crash of the US gold market back in 1869.  Later the term was used in reference to the fact that people called off constantly the day after Thanksgiving.  I guess it made for a pretty nice 4 day weekend…

However, the term was first used to describe the horde of shopping zombies in the 1950’s.  Apparently, cops around Philadelphia coined the term as the day was a total disaster thanks to the influx of shoppers and traffic.

No matter how the term came about, people spend a shit ton of money in the name of a sale.

Sure, you can save some cash by braving the crowds but, consider that most of the deals you’re getting  are actually sold cheaper at other times of the year.  Also, if you skip it, you won’t have to worry about needing to put hands on someone over a flat screen.  Who needs that kind of stress?

online shoppingHo-ho-holy shit I’m broke…

I’m getting accustomed to sharing embarrassing things about myself on this page.  So why stop now?

Christmas would come and I’d typically drop at least $1,000 to $1,500 on my wife and then another $500+ on everyone else.  Hey, I love my wife and this is how you show that… right?

Online shopping really expedited the process. I could do all of my shopping in about 20 minutes.  After a few mouse clicks the smoke from my credit card would fill the room and I’d be left with a financial hangover that lasted for months.

It was my annual cycle.  Rinse and repeat… year after year.

It wasn’t until my buddy and his wife made a joke about the extravagance of our Christmas that I realized we might not be normal. I didn’t think our Christmas was extravagant, but I began to get oddly embarrassed about it.

See, my friend and his wife don’t buy gifts for each other.  They don’t find it weird and neither one really gives a shit about gifts.  For years I thought they were insane!  Who doesn’t buy presents?!  What kind of humans are these??

It wasn’t until I tried to think about what I had received in prior years that I started to notice we had a problem… I couldn’t think of much!

To further test my theory, I asked my wife what I bought her in previous years.  She was able to name a few things, but neither one of us could remember exactly what we bought with all of that money.

As it turns out, those gifts really weren’t that important to us.  We each just like to give the other person things because we assume it makes them happy.

sad faceChristmas without gifts

Knowing what we now know, we need to make a change.  So, we decided to not buy any gifts for each other this year.  It was one of those ideas that seemed so good when we talked about it.

“We don’t need anything,” we said.   Common sense to not spend, right?

Have you ever agreed to something and instantly regretted it…  Well, here I am, wildly nervous about not buying my wife any gifts this year.  We have been together for 11 years and I’ve always blown the budget around Christmas.

I feel like someone who has smoked 3 packs a day and just decided to stop today.  Obviously I know it’s the right move but, holy shit… This is hard and it’s really effing with my emotions.

I absolutely love buying things for my wife.  I get this weird tingly feeling in my stomach when I hand her something to open.

Maybe it’s stupid but, I love it.  The thought of not handing her anything this year is killing me.

I know it’s not normal to spend thousands of dollar once a year because you like the way it feels.  I get it… emotional spending is a quick way to derail your financial goals.

Breaking the cyclical trend is important for our financial health, this year more than ever.  My wife and I have made tremendous financial advancements this year, and my love of buying Christmas gifts can’t set us back.

sad man black and whiteHow do I deal with my crazy ass emotions? 

For starters, the fact that my home is happy 365 days a year certainly helps.  We love each other and openly show it.

I hated how my home felt as a kid.  As much as I loved Christmas, I would have preferred to have a warm, affectionate home all year.

My wife and I aren’t perfect but, our home is warm and I want to show her how much I appreciate her every day.

We aren’t swearing off holiday joy, we will still do something to celebrate.  Maybe it’s making a big delicious dinner, purchasing something we need for the house, or hanging out with my brother and his family.

We’ll still celebrate, and it’ll be more meaningful this year.  The money that we do spend will be useful and targeted at items we both would like for the house, or perhaps a small trip together.

The days of allowing a holiday to manipulate my spending are over.  The struggle to not feel bad… that’s something that I’ll work through.

How are you planning on celebrating the holidays? 

Are you a gift giver, or do you have another tradition?  Let me know in the comments!!

3 thoughts on “Christmas: How to spend $0 and be happy

  1. My wife and I don’t buy each other gifts either, but of course we have to get stuff for the kids. We try to keep that fairly simple though, and usually stick to one or two “big” gifts and a small handful of smaller ones. After all, they have six grandparents, all of whom will go over the top buying presents!
    If you’r reluctant to not give anything, perhaps something handmade and heartfelt would do for both of you. There are lots of great ways to tell someone you love them without spending money, and, as it sounds like your wife is on board, she will surely appreciate both the thought you put into it and the fact that you have saved money.

  2. I like the idea of being purposeful with your gifts. Maybe there’s something you’ve actually needed around the house and the sales going on might be the best opportunity to buy the needed items. My wife and I buy gifts for each other but nothing major. Growing up, my parents would spoil us but I’m thankful as we got older, we would trade the extravagant gifts for trips, meals, or other social outings. That made for worthwhile memories.

    And it sounds like you guys are very happy with each other 365 days of the year. Carrying over the materialistic nostalgia of youth to this holiday doesn’t seem like it’s enhancing your relationship with each other. Just the relationship with your credit card company. Good for you on saying no to presents this year. I bet you’ll remember the gifts you get each other this year, unlike years past. Funny how the absence of something stands out more than that thing itself.

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