I will preface everything with one understanding: there is no problem with buying people “stuff,” as long as you have the money to do so (aka you’re not going into debt to do it).
I have no doubt that there are many people you want to help and want to buy gifts for. However, that doesn’t mean you should, and more importantly, it doesn’t mean you can.
Christmas is supposed to bring joy into our lives, but for most Americans, it only brings worry and stress.
Budgets are tight enough throughout the year (as 70% of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck) and to find extra cash to buy presents is really tough for a lot of people. To make matters worse, here in Missouri, we also get nailed with a Personal Property Tax bill that is due by the end of December.
So to say that the budget gets strained a little in December would probably serve as an understatement.
So what do you do if you don’t have enough money to buy everybody presents? Many people will choose to go into debt, because they feel obligated to buy everybody a present, but my hope is that you choose to be wiser than that.
If you’re okay with being “different”, then here are a few ways that Holly and I have managed to make it through the last couple of Christmas seasons.
1) Set a limit and pay cash
I realize that this is a fundamental concept and it’s basic common sense. But I have to say it because common sense was lost back in the mid-90’s (maybe even before then).
When we first started our journey of getting out of debt, there were some tough decisions that had to be made.
That year we didn’t buy any family members a present for Christmas. A couple of years after that we started giving $20/couple to only our parents and grandparents. Finally, this year we’ve decided to bump it to $40 a couple. Woohoo! Shopping spree!
It isn’t a lot and I wish we could do more…but that doesn’t mean that we can or that we should.
Learn to set limits that you can afford, and most importantly, stick to them!
2) Don’t partake in “swap a gift,” “name draw,” or whatever else people call it.
These things crack me up.
This type of giving was good back in the day when we used to buy heart-felt, personal gifts for people. I will add that if you’re family still does that, then I think this is a great way to limit spending and give a person a great gift!
But now it’s really just a joke: you draw my name, I tell you what I want, and then you go buy it for me.
And then the same is true for me: I draw somebody’s name, they tell me what they want, and I buy it for them.
I have a good idea: how about you just go buy yourself whatever you want, and I’ll save my $25 (or whatever the limit may be).
Seriously…that whole ring-around-the-rosie just made me spend $25 on myself!
Holly and I decided to opt out of our family’s a couple of years ago. We’d rather have that $25 to focus on paying off debt and getting ourselves out of bondage.
At the end of the day, there is nothing wrong with partaking in this sort of gift-giving. I have my own opinions, but they’re nothing more than that. It’s good to give! But you shouldn’t do it if you’re struggling to pay bills or have to go into debt for it. Period.
3) Learn to say “no”.
Learning to say no is the single hardest part of managing money well.
If you don’t have the money, or if you have debt you’re trying to pay off, you certainly shouldn’t go further into debt to buy somebody a “gift.”
This is the first time in 3 years that Holly and I are buying each other gifts for Christmas. You read that right…
And you know what? We were okay through those years AND we still love each other (even to this day).
There will definitely be family members that scoff at the thought of you not buying them (or other family members) presents. But you can’t be concerned with that. The reason they feel that way is because they’re determining how much you love them by what you can buy them. They’re placing too much value in “stuff.”
4) Make handmade, heartfelt gifts
I’m not creative, but I’m always impressed with the things my clients do and think of creating for their families.
Two years ago we made cookies for everybody. I will say the intent was good, but it didn’t turn out so well. I’m pretty sure we spent more money on ingredients then we would have if we just bought people stuff.
If somebody in your family is cooking a bunch of food, offer to bring something over. Let that be your gift to them.
If you have young children, or nieces and nephews, buy them something small or something that you made. They’re really not going to know if you spent $100 or $5. All they know is they got a toy.
5) Sponsor a family in need
Try to talk with your family and get everybody to agree NOT to buy each other gifts. This may help you avoid spending money that you don’t have, and it may help you avoid the ring-around-the-rosie gift-swap thing.
Simply have everybody agree to give $10 and sponsor a family in need.
My guess is that your family members probably don’t really NEED anything. And if your family members struggle with money, you can still find the joy in giving by helping a family in need, and you can reduce the amount you’re spending as well!
Frankly, it’s a win for everybody.
Be wise this holiday season. Be willing to say “no” if it’s necessary. If you can pay cash for presents, then wonderful! But please don’t be paying for Christmas in April.
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