This holiday season feels less magical to me and its because I have started my journey to financial independence. I’m going to be completely vulnerable and admit that I’m feeling anxiety about spending money on gifts. I’m behaving much more like Scrooge than Santa. I’m the grump turning the Christmas lights out to save money. I’m looking at things in our possession to see if any of them are “regiftable”. Is there anyone we can skip buying for this year?
When I started my FI journey four months ago I realized rather quickly that several of our expenses are fixed and unable to be lowered. Some things just cost what they cost. But everything else is fair game and I’m attempting to lower the cost of as much as I can. Nothing is free from my scrutiny, including Christmas.
Christmas spending in our home tends to land itself somewhere between the $1500-2000 range every year. This is for everything from our custom family picture Christmas card, Santa photos, decorations, and presents for our very large family that includes multiple “step” siblings and lots of kids. Let’s not forget our two divorced mothers or the family we sponsor every year out of generosity. Spending 2k on Christmas hasn’t been that big of a deal to me in the past. We make plenty of money so why not spend it on our loved ones?
Buying someone something they desire, something they wouldn’t normally spend money on, is part of the fun of the gift giving process. As I hack away at expenses every month trying to lower our cost of living, I’ve managed to chop many desires off our list, which is making it harder for me to spend money on items that just aren’t that necessary right now.
For example, I know my husband has 14 ball caps in his closet. So when he hints about wanting another one for Christmas I simply can’t bring myself to buy it when I know he has so many already. He absolutely does not need another ball cap. If I’m being honest, there is really nothing that my husband or family needs at all. We are beyond lucky that our wish lists are filled with wants. It’s not lost on me that many families feel anxiety because they can’t buy any presents on Christmas. The thought of that alone makes me grasp my fist full of money even tighter as I shop. I want to give my family a joyful and fun Christmas but to just spend money on unnecessary items feels, well, wasteful.
Evaluating every expense has opened my eyes to how wasteful we have been in the past. I see every dollar that was spent on crap that landed itself in the trash or donation bins as a regret. That’s money that could’ve been in my 401k…that’s money that could’ve gone towards the mortgage…the reason I still have to work is because I wasted money on this stuff…
I’m full of regret and I don’t want to spend money the way I once did but I must confess, I’m afraid of looking cheap to my friends and family if I don’t continue my expensive gift giving.
We have always spent about $100 on each niece and nephew in years past. The thought of dropping this to $50 has me wondering, are my in-laws going to notice? They know we make plenty of money and can afford nice Christmas gifts. Will they look down on us if we spend less? Will the kids be disappointed?
I’m definitely not making things easy on my husband when it comes to buying me gifts this year either. I have been telling him not to get me items I have previously requested as I feel the expense is no longer necessary. My dear husband finds this annoying and has told me to stop ruining his fun on more than one occasion.
When you have spent years blowing the budget on Christmas, how do you simplify and reduce without becoming a party pooper who only gives socks and underwear?
I see many bloggers suggest giving experiences as presents instead of more “stuff.” I’m sure there are a number of fun things we can do with friends and family around town that would be a great way to spend time with each other and for some people this is a wonderful idea. I can see me and my best friend going downtown to the Christmas tree lighting and following that up with drinks and appetizers at a restaurant. This would be a great present to each other. Quality time with my bestie is always a great choice; we could spend hours talking and drinking good wine and the money spent wouldn’t feel wasteful. But it’s still money spent and going out can be expensive.
Sadly, this idea won’t work for my mother who feels love by getting gifts. It’s a great idea to substitute gift giving for experiences when you can, but you have to know your audience. You don’t do this with the person who finds great joy in opening presents on Christmas morning.
We could set spending limits as a way to reign in the budget around Christmas. I think this is a reasonable suggestion and one I would happily follow if it weren’t for the uncomfortable conversation that comes with it…”hey mom, let’s only spend $50 on each other so I can save money and become independently wealthy.”
That’s not exactly how I picture the conversation going but that would be the gist of it. Setting a spending limit makes the gift exchange process feel more like an exchange of money. If we each agree to only spend $100 on each other, then why don’t I just keep my money and you keep yours? Limiting ourselves to a budget is a smart idea but it increases the pressure on us to make those gifts feel special.
Just Buy for the Kids
Sitting down with my loved ones and agreeing to only buy for the children in the family would be a good start. But my divorced mother would disagree. If we don’t buy her gifts on Christmas, she doesn’t get any. Like I said earlier, receiving gifts is how she feels loved. I’m pretty sure a conversation with her about saving money and changing family traditions would fall on deaf ears.
There are many who would argue that the meaning of Christmas has nothing to do with gifts at all. I don’t disagree with this and while I would be more than happy to forgo all gift giving on Christmas I would find myself alone with many hurt family members. The meaning behind the holiday season has long been replaced with consumerism. I think changing the traditions of society and family requires multiple conversations and won’t happen over one holiday season.
When I see a blogger suggest that I make a present as a way to save money I am filled with dread! I am not a crafty person so my gift making abilities are limited to cooking a delicious meal and creating a homemade coupon book where the receiver can trade in a coupon for one hour of quality time with yours truly. This is a great idea for other people…but not me.
Should we just take a break on FI during the Holidays?
If I asked my husband this question he would say “YES!” with no hesitation. If you are following my blog then you know my husband thinks financial independence is a bunch of bologna. He can’t see how it’s possible for anyone to stop working and retire on a 401k that’s based on a market that could collapse tomorrow. But he also sees I’m miserable at work and he understands that the sooner we reach that magical FI number, the sooner I can quit my job.
As I have discussed cutting back this Christmas with my husband, he is fine if we spend less on each other but not on our kiddo. I understand his desire to create a magical tradition for our child and I agree that the fun of Christmas morning is in her expressions. I wonder if she would notice if we spent half as much money? Would she miss that $20 My Little Pony set? Would she be disappointed to only get 4 gifts instead of 10?
I already know the answers to these questions. She’s still too little to feel cheated and I believe if we started lowering her expectations now it will keep her from feeling entitled on future Christmas mornings. Let’s not forget the lottery of gifts she receives from relatives (see photo below).
I think taking a break on the pursuit of FI during December is a bad idea. I do believe, that the conversations need to be had with our family. We need to discuss our expectations on gifts. We need to determine what the holiday means to us. Is it about the presents or something more? We need to avoid hurt feelings in the ones who truly want and find joy in the gift giving while optimizing the process as much as possible.
I did have one awkward and uncomfortable conversation with my siblings. We agreed that once the nieces and nephews turn 18 they are considered adults and no longer eligible for Christmas or birthday gifts. This will save a lot of money in the future as several are that age and many are close to it. The siblings also agreed we would not buy for each other. We will focus on the kids and our parents.
We are still on track to spend $1500 this Christmas. As much as I would love to spend only half this amount I must admit that, at this time, it feels impossible due to the number of people we buy for. I find this insane by the way…the concept that spending only $750 on Christmas is not a reasonable option. I mean, what the hell? That’s a big number to spend for a holiday that lasts one day.
Pursuing FI should not be so rigid that a holiday season fills you with anxiety to the point that you dread it. It should be a guide, helping you see the ways that your money can be used to bring joy to others, all the while, not breaking the bank and derailing your goals.
My anxiety, I think, is because I’m too afraid of disappointing people. I’m too afraid to suggest something as radical as just spending time together, snuggled in pajamas watching the Griswolds. Which is really sad actually, because that’s ALL that’s on my wish list.
Mrs. CRNA (aka The Ghost of FI Christmas Present)