Sunday, November 4, 2012

Man, I'm Broke Monday: It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

At our favorite stores, we're reminded that Christmas is already nigh.  And I know many of you probably have been shopping all year for the occasion.  Others shall decide to go out into the Black Friday frenzy, while some will wait until the very last minute (Do you think everyone will enjoy these Halloween leggings I found in the almost-free pile?  Everything else is sold out).  

I've never been a huge Christmas shopper, mainly because I've never had the means to be and have never felt inclined to charge thousands of dollars worth of gifts that require twelve months of payments.  But this year, I came to a realization after watching the film "What Would Jesus Buy?"

(Some of you might be surprised. I'm not a devout follower of any religion. I do, however, think there's plenty to be learned from what Christ had to say. I mean, love one another?  That's good stuff!)

Anyway, the film follows a touring choir that travels all over the country spreading the gospel of anti-consumerism, suggesting that perhaps it's not a great idea to spend a fortune on stuff and that real gifts don't need to cost a thing.  I'll admit that some of the folks featured in the film, including the Rev. Billy, are pretty fanatical about their message, and it's far from a great movie, but I see a lot of value in getting people to be more deliberate and thoughtful when it comes to the holiday shopping bonanza we endure every year.

Ryan and I have talked a lot about what makes a good Christmas. Does it require tons of gifts and doodads?  For one thing, buying dozens of presents would put us into loads of debt, which hardly gives me a warm feeling.  And most of us have witnessed a child ripping open gifts, tossing the stuff aside, and then asking if there are any more to open.  Then of course everything gets ignored while the kids play with the tissue paper, boxes, and hangers rather than the plastic beeping thingies you actually paid for.

The best part of the holidays. The Food.
For me, what I really enjoy is the eating. And relaxing with family. And then family naptime followed by more eating.

So perhaps the purchasing frenzy just ain't worth it.  

This isn't to say I haven't been grateful for some of the gifts I've received. Both Ryan and I come from very generous families, and we as well as the children have benefited from their presents, which are usually quite mindful and often very interesting (that awesome playset in the backyard? Yup, thanks to the grandparents.  The large tinker-toys that are going to be presented to the children this Christmas? Thanks to YiaYia).  But I've also received gifts from others who obviously scrambled for "the right thing", and once I was even re-gifted an item. No big deal (who hasn't regifted something?  I have without shame) except that the gift was something I had given to that person a few years back. Must've been really meaningful, huh?

So why not lift that burden a bit by not worrying about "the right thing" and not giving cheap tchotchkes as a token because you feel obligated to send something to your neighbor's friend's therapist you met once three years ago?  And why not reconsider the ingrained need to show gratitude and love with a thing you bought and instead offer your time, your kitchen, your expertise, or something you made?

Mom, I don't need 100 gifts that beep (and then break soon after)!
Giving to charity is a great alternative as well.  We gave to Heifer International last year in honor of our parents (all five of them), and this year, we'll aim for charity, too, although we might give to another organization if the urge strikes us.  And for the kids in the extended family (all of whom live far away from us), we're digging deep to find toys that aren't too junky and might have staying power, although this one is the toughest challenge of the season, especially since we rarely see the children.

For our own brood, we've been throwing around ideas, and while the kids will have a few things to open--socks and underwear of course!--we're looking for experiential gifts. One thing we've thrown around is setting aside a portion of the budget each month to go to a new restaurant. The children love eating out, and so do we, but it can be expensive for a family of five.  By bypassing a large gift in December, we can divert that Christmas money into something we'll all enjoy for an entire year.  Plus, it fits in well with the obligation I feel to teach my children to behave in restaurants (Katie, which utensil is appropriate for oysters?).

We're also thinking of ways to give to our community that can involve the children (while writing a check is a great idea, it's not that much fun for the kids who still don't really understand money that well). The local elementary school recently communicated that the school nurse needs granola bars and children's underwear for kids in need.  And picking up a few extra jars of peanut butter for a donation to the food pantry is a simple way to engage that "I just gave" good feeling.

Ideas for friends:
* Babysitting coupons
* Vouchers for a home-cooked meal
* Access to your home library (if you have lots of books, for instance)
* Alcohol (it's expensive, so for us, it's a treat. Sure, it's a "thing" but boy it's fun!)
* Scarves you've knitted or something else you've made

Notice I haven't thrown down the gauntlet and told you that only bad people spend money on stuff at Christmas.  I just hope you can give out of the goodness of your heart and not because everyone else expects a particular way of doing things. And please avoid debt.  A great gift you can give to your family is financial stability.  But really, there are no rules.  Celebrate as you see fit in the way you find the most meaningful.


  1. This is so true! We definitely get into the habit of focusing on the money we spend on "things" when the holidays come around. This is a great way to think about it:)

  2. In my family we have what we like to call a "Buy Your Own Damn Present" Christmas. Each of us spends a set amount on ourselves, then on Christmas morning we open them up in front of each other to see what we all got. Works for us, and everyone gets something they want/need.

  3. I love what Kellie does! It's genius indeed.

  4. This grandma loves pictures, especially since we don't see ya'll enough. Ryan's camera can take some great ones. Send a cd/dvd of them and I can print what I want and how big I want. Cheap, but priceless to me. nk

    1. You better start asking Ryan once a week for that. I'm not in charge of the photography around here!


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