8 Guilt-free tips to minimize Christmas spending

12-11 Christmas

I was already a few purchases into my holiday season when a friend of mine said she’d really enjoy a no-spend or buy-nothing Christmas. She envisioned swaps of artwork, clothing, and books between friends who could give freely from what they already had without adding to the stress and pressure of the holiday shopping season.

I budgeted around $400 for holiday gifts, but I probably won’t end up spending that much at all since I shifted my focus to giving experiences and artwork rather than purchased goods (though the unicorn calendar was a great buy and I stand by it).

Here are some ways you can reduce or eliminate your holiday spend without feeling like you’re downsizing the holiday cheer factor.

  1. Give your time. When I asked a friend what she wanted for Christmas this year, she thought about it and said that she’d love a day we spend together more than anything I could wrap up and give to her. Pencil a friend onto your calendar for a day of movies, hanging out, or even going out to window shop and try on the most hilarious Goodwill outfit you can find.
  2. Create something. One of my hobbies is painting, and I plan on creating art for many of the people on my list this year. It’s something that means a lot to both me and the recipient, since I create something personalized and inspired for each person on my gift list. You could also write letters or poetry, draw something, make homemade bath products, or sew something for your recipient.
  3. Cook something. So technically you’ll have to buy ingredients, but baking some cookies or cooking someone’s favorite meal for them is a great way to put your time and energy into showing your love for them.
  4. Regift. If you got some gifts last year that are still hanging around, new or barely used, give them to someone on your list who will love them and have a good home for them. And if you can’t bear to regift, then admit to yourself that you’re not using them and send them to the local charity store.
  5. Host a party. Instead of shopping for a personalized and unique gift for everyone on your list, you can opt to host a holiday party instead! You can focus your time and energy on preparing a delicious meal and ask everyone to bring their favorite dessert for a mouthwatering pot-luck of treats.

If you’re a dedicated gifter who just wants to reduce the budget instead of shoestring it entirely, try the following ideas!

  1. Try the “four things” holiday gift. Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. This is a great way to give gifts to the kids in the family so all bases are covered, while maintaining a frugal gift budget.
  2. Shop local. Buy from local crafters and shops instead of Amazon Priming everything* or shopping big box stores. Check your city’s calendar for local craft shows, which are all over the place leading up to the holidays!
  3. Shop handmade. ETSY ALL THE THINGS*.

*Some people have no reasonable options but to purchase from large sellers like Amazon, Target, Wal-Mart, etc., due to finances, schedule constraints, physical ability, etc. Your own mental and physical wellbeing is more important than shopping local or small.

Are you planning on a “less is more” holiday this year? Tell me your gifting plans!

PS. If you’re in the Cleveland, Ohio area, don’t miss your chance to buy tickets for the Jolobokaflod fundraiser for the nonprofit Reading Room CLE on December 21! The Reading Room promotes literacy in the Cleveland area through a nonprofit bookstore that supports educational and artistic programming.

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The Holiday Obligation Bill of Rights

christmas catIt’s that time of year again. It’s only the first week of December but the flames on your holiday stress fire have been getting hotter since mid November. I’m prone to seasonal affective disorder, which starts as soon as the time change happens and the clocks roll back an hour. Suddenly it’s pitch black when I’m driving home from work, everything is gray and overcast, and the deadlines are rushing at me like something out of a Final Destination movie.

Personally, I’ve got a book deadline, three blog commitments (I have a new website and I’ve started publishing on Medium, though I may adjust the frequency so I’m not tripling my workload with a weekly piece on each platform), and social plans all vying for my attention. Luckily, the whimsy of the season and the thrill of shopping for the perfect gifts for my loved ones gets me through the first couple months of fall/winter, but after the new year starts, it’s just three more months of slush and snow and darkness and existential angst.

As I’ve been working toward a lower impact life (both physically and mentally), I’ve found that I naturally have created guidelines for how to spend my time. Ever the minimalist at heart, it’s important for me to remember that minimalism isn’t just about physical stuff and clutter. It’s also about a healthy schedule and mental clutter so that I make time for the priorities.

Since the holiday season is usually stuffed to the brim like an overfilled stocking with social and family obligations, I want to remind everyone that boundaries and taking care of yourself are still important and valid, even when it feels like your time is more necessary elsewhere.

Here are ten rights you have this holiday season.

  1. You have the right to stay home. Seriously. Even if it’s Christmas at your mom’s house. Even if you haven’t seen your second cousins in fifteen years. Only accept plans you WANT to do and have the ABILITY to do.
  2. You have the right to limit your budget. While “gift giving” is one of the five major love languages, the price tag is not a defining characteristic. Don’t go broke (or into debt) in an attempt to show people how much you care. If you’re close to your budget limits and still want to give more, consider handmade gifts or writing heartfelt notes, especially if the recipient is a “words of affirmation” love language person.
  3. You have the right to leave early. If you’re at a holiday party or family gathering and you’re tired, uncomfortable, or otherwise just don’t want to be there, it’s okay to say your goodbyes and head home early.
  4. You have the right to eat what you want. Love your body, eat a cookie, don’t punish yourself.
  5. You have the right to ask for what you really want. Nobody has to give it to you, but you have the right to create a wish list and be clear about what you want. One year, my sister asked for cash to help fund an alternative break trip she was taking with a group in college, and family members deemed it inappropriate to ask for cash. Unless it hurts somebody, it’s okay to ask for what you want.
  6. You have the right to reschedule social plans. Some of my closest humans probably won’t be able to get together until after Yule and Christmas have actually passed. It’ll still be a great time. You can literally reschedule your holiday festivities to a later date, or celebrate early!
  7. You have the right to call it whatever you want. Celebrate Yule, Christmas, Hannukah, or any other of the myriad winter holidays happening within this timeframe? Rock on and celebrate it your way. Pay no attention to the grumps arguing about the war on Christmas. That’s not a thing.
  8. You have the right to not call people you don’t want to talk to. I am estranged from my parents, and the holidays are one of the toughest times to be estranged. I still feel a little tug that says I should call or reach out. Nope. I do not have to open myself up to emotional abuse, and neither do you.
  9. You have the right to return or re-gift. If you receive a gift that isn’t up your alley for any reason, you are under no obligation to keep it. Don’t stress out by finding a place for it or worrying about what Great Aunt Edna will think if she never sees that sweater in your selfies.
  10. You have the right to not hug people. Neither children nor adults are obligated to hug or otherwise show affection to anyone if they don’t want to. This is especially important to impart to children, who are learning about bodily autonomy. If a little kid doesn’t want to hug and kiss grandma, make it clear to everyone that it’s not okay to force it.
  11. BONUS: You have the right to decorate as much or as little as you want. I hung my favorite ornaments on a potted palm tree. You make the rules!

Giving the thought that counts

With Christmas just around the corner, many people are scrambling to finish their Christmas shopping.  I don’t know if it’s my new minimalist outlook on life (I somehow doubt it), but I am finding myself very much indifferent to Christmas this year.  I have no decorations up at home (definitely minimalist of me), and even when helping my friend decorate her tree or seeing my mother’s decorated home, I have no flutter of excitement about it this year.  Maybe it’s because I’ve seen roughly 0.0005 inches of snow so far, and it’s late December.  Maybe it’s because I’m not a little kid about to get a ton of presents.  I know several people who have also said they’re just not getting into it this year.  Maybe the world will end today, who knows?  (Mayan calendar joke, not really predicting the apocalypse). I’ve even tried a marathon of all the Doctor Who Christmas specials, to no avail.  Though I am now afraid of a lot of Christmas decorations.

I do have a feeling that taking my sister to see our dad tomorrow might instill some Christmas spirit into my soul, and I definitely foresee some more excitement on Monday when my family sits down to a family meal.

What I loved about my first Christmas out of college was that I had enough money to buy everyone a REALLY AWESOME GIFT.  I spent a ton of money.  Looking back, I am mildly ashamed. For instance, I bought a Rock Band set that was played once.  Once.  There’s a hundred bucks.  I also bought “us” (I was married at the time) a Wii Fit, which I did play a lot but had to leave behind when I left.  So there’s another hundred bucks.  I bought my friend some books, and I got my sister stuff I don’t even remember but at the time I thought she would like, I got gifts for aunts and uncles and cousins and looking back, I realize that I just liked shopping.  I liked the thrill, and maybe even the stress, of needing to find a gift for someone.

Most people tend to really get into the holiday stress.  It’s almost like a badge of honor to drive yourself clinically insane trying to find gifts.  Here’s a secret: No you don’t! That is a man-made stress.  You do not have to give in to the cultural frenzy of Christmas Shopping.

This year, I’m much more purposeful in my gift-giving.

My sister is getting some of my clothes and jewelry that I don’t wear (and she’s fine with this!).  She also was supposed to get a pair of leggings I bought her in Spain, but my mother put them in her room in a fit of cleaning, not realizing they were supposed to wait for Christmas, so whoops.

My mom is getting help cooking and cleaning, for one thing!  I am also currently researching area spas to get her a gift certificate for a massage.  She loves to be pampered.

My stepdad — and I can say this on the internet because he doesn’t read my blog — is getting a gift certificate to accompany a pilot on a thirty minute flight and get to fly the plane for part of the flight!  He drives a racecar as a HOBBY, so I had to find something thrilling for him.  This was perfect.  My backup gift was going to be a wine aerator because he’s super into wine and doesn’t have one.

My best friend and her family will be receiving a gift membership to their local zoo, because we go all the time and it will be great for them to be able to get in free whenever they want to visit.

In my opinion, the more experiences you can give to people in place of things, the better — all three of these things on my list are experiences.  Mom gets to go to a spa, Stepdad gets to fly a plane, and Best Friend & Kids get to go to the zoo.

The list goes on… some people do read my blog so I can’t go into other details.  But the important thing about this year, and how it should be for people every year, is that I’m going for quality over quantity.  If I put thought into a gift, and it’s really and truly something the recipient would appreciate, I’m golden.  If I put thought into something and it is a gift for a gift’s sake, I’m stopping myself.  I would rather schedule a lunch date with the person or get them a cup of coffee and catch up than give them something they won’t need or even want.

It’s just that simple.  When it’s the thought that counts, make sure it’s thought about the person and not the compulsion to give.  There’s plenty of thought about that already.

Happy Christmas!

The reason for the season

Today is Black Friday.  You may or may not have gone shopping at 4:00 this morning.  I know that my sister was at a store before the sun was up because she literally started a retail job TODAY.  Poor girl.

Anyway, today I want to bring your attention to the reason for the season.  No, it’s not (necessarily) Jesus.  It’s love and peace and giving.  Here are some ways you can embrace love and peace and giving without going to the mall:

  • Donate time, money, or gently used items to a charity, soup kitchen, or family in need during the season.  Make it a family tradition.
  • Make gifts: Make a delicious food item, put it on a pie plate from a thrift store, and include a note that the dish is theirs to keep or regift to someone else.  This is a nearly zero-waste gift. If baking or cooking isn’t your thing, consider making bath scrubs (in repurposed glass jars!), or make creative art pieces.
  • Spend time together: Spend time with your family and friends during the holidays, just catching up or doing something you enjoy like seeing a movie or treating yourself to a favorite restaurant.
  • Offer your services: Offer to do the dishes after the holiday meal, or spend some time watching your relatives’ or friends’ kids so the parents can get some time alone.  Every minute you spend helping someone else is a minute they get to themselves, and that is a wonderful gift to give.

These are just a few ideas for keeping the focus on family and love around the holidays. Share more ideas in the comments!

What are your favorite things-that-aren’t-things to get in the holiday season?

Tis the season

It’s almost Thanksgiving.  Which, in today’s culture, means that it’s almost Black Friday Eve.  People will camp outside stores to make a mad dash for doorbuster sales and discounted prices to prepare for their holiday gift-giving traditions.

I posted a note on my Facebook and tagged my close family and friends, letting them know that they were exempt from giving me a gift this year.  Here’s what my note said:

Attention friends and family, with Black Friday approaching I wanted to let you know that you’re off the hook for me this year.  Consider yourself gift-exempt.  I would rather have a nice phone call with you to catch up (if you’re far away) or make plans to spend time together (if you’re close) than get a gift.

I know that the holiday season is a time of giving, and you may feel strongly about getting me a gift.  If you do feel compelled to give me something for the holidays, please remember that I’m vegan, I  buy organic as often as possible, and I don’t use commercial bath or beauty products with unpronounceable chemicals in them.  If you want to buy something for me, please buy something made in the USA or a Fair Trade Certified import that is not made of plastic. You could also make a charitable donation in my name to a worthy cause.

Or just ask me what I’m currently coveting, for example:

  • -A HankyBook: http://hankybook.com/ (I like the pink lotus pattern especially)
  • -White or sage green color cloth napkins (secondhand, seriously, shop at Goodwill, antique malls, and estate sales)
  • -Measuring spoons (again with the secondhand stuff from Goodwill, etc.)
  • -A nice (and smallish) bamboo cutting board, or bamboo cooking utensils
  • -Really, just ask and I will come up with something I would really appreciate as a gift! But you are not obligated.

Now that I have given you my high-maintenance hippie Christmas list, I’m sure you’ll be very relieved to go read the first part again and remember that I am giving you gift-exempt status!

I love you all, and I wish you happy holidays 🙂

I thought this was a pretty appropriate note letting people know that, as we approach the Time of Shopping, they could leave me off their lists.  This is my one-person passive protest against consumerism.  Because really, Christmastime has become more about the gifts and the sales and the stuff than the love for a lot of people.  I just want the love.  I’ve always loved Christmas, and I remember spending days going through catalogs and circling the things I wanted.  I don’t even remember what I asked for or received most years.  These are the gifts I remember the most:

  • A music box with Disney’s Aladdin and Jasmine on the flying carpet, some time around age 5 or 6.  My dad wrote a very long note about how I was not to shake the box because it was fragile, and I thought it was a joke so I shook it anyway.  It was fine, but I did lose it at some point through the years and I bought one on ebay a couple years ago because I missed it and it reminds me of my dad.  It’s on my filing cabinet at work.
  • A “Boxcar Children” book from my aunt, when I was around 5 or 6.  I remember saying “Ew, I don’t like these books,” and my mom told me to be appreciative and give it a chance.  I quickly consumed ALL THE BOXCAR CHILDREN BOOKS.  I even “left a mystery” in the house when we moved out of it.  It was not a good mystery, it was some pokemon cards stuffed into a hole in a closet wall. I am mildly ashamed of this.
  • A stuffed animal seal, around age 11.  It was donated by someone because we were part of an adopt-a-family program.  I have donated gifts to families in need since then, always remembering and being thankful for those who gave me that seal.
  • A glass chess set from my brother, age 11.  It was gorgeous and wonderful.
  • A laptop computer from both my parents when I started college (age 17).  I saved the gift tag for years because it was the first “Love, Mom and Dad” gift I had seen since they divorced when I was seven.
  • This year my mom is paying for my hotel stay in Spain as my Christmas gift, because she is awesome.

I remember how those gifts made me feel.  All of these gifts were in tune with the things I loved and appreciated, like my favorite movie (Aladdin, at the time), a favorite hobby (reading), a game I had recently learned to love (chess), and something I needed for school (the computer).  This year, mom’s picking up my hotel tab and I have no additional expectations for more gifts, because that gift of having a place to stay on my vacation is plenty, even without a tangible item.  I’m minimizing tangible items, remember?

But putting parameters on gifts like this is a little inappropriate because it’s the thought that counts, right?  My counter-argument to this is that all I want is the thought. I want my family and friends to think about me this season, to call me on the phone and catch up, to go out to lunch, or to just spend some time with me.  My “parameters” for the gifts I would like are the same parameters I set when I’m shopping for myself — I do my best to buy local, sustainable, Fair Trade, and made in America products.  I do not always succeed, but I make an effort and I am always thinking about what my dollars mean.

(My iPhone is staring at me like I’m a hypocrite right now.  Are there any ethically made cell phones?)

All I ask is that, if someone is going to get me a gift (which they are in no way obligated to do), they get me something that resonates with my personal values and beliefs.

Are you taking any particular stands on this matter for the holidays?