Posted by: Kate | December 9, 2010

Money Talks – It’s Holiday Time!

The holidays are so often a time of financial stress for families. The pressure to get the right gift, the gift the recipient will just adore, so often is accompanied by the belief that a more expensive gift will be the one. The cost of holiday decorating, cooking and baking can also add up. In our house the financial stress was compounded by the fact that our house insurance and our car insurance were also due in December! I am embarrassed to admit how many years it took us before we realized we could get control of all this. First of all we took care of the car insurance by doing a six month term to get it due in June, and then renewing for a year. We still pay our house insurance at the end of December, but I don’t treat it like a surprise anymore, and save the money up well in advance.

I don’t look at decorations when I’m out shopping, nor do I look at the pages of decorating in all the flyers (in fact, I rarely read flyers other than the grocery store’s). We have enough decorations, and we don’t shop for more unless something needs replacing (this year we did buy a new tree and some new outdoor lights, in both cases to replace old ones that were no longer functioning well). I plan my holiday cooking and baking well in advance, and account for the cost when deciding what we can and can’t afford to do this year.

We have a really small family, so the amount of money we spend on gifts isn’t high. To help out some family members who don’t have a lot of extra income, we have agreed to not exchange gifts with them. The only thing we struggle with is that everyone agrees the children should still get a gift — only we have the only child in the family! So there are people who get no gifts from us but they still buy Bush Boy a gift. For those people we sometimes give some homemade goodies, or Bush Boy might make them a little present (this year he is buying his gifts to the immediate family with his own money).

The thing about homemade gifts is that we sometimes overlook just how expensive they can be, both in time and in materials. I am more careful now in what I make, evaluating the gifts in a realistic light (and the giftees).

We love the holidays, and we love finding the perfect gift for special people. We have learnt, though, that the perfect gift does not mean the most expensive gift. Sometimes the gift of time is the perfect gift, sometimes a small tool or well-thought present is the perfect gift. Sometimes it is an expensive gift, but then we will get other family members to participate, or else we save for the gift over time. We like the challenge of really thinking about the recipient and what he or she would love.

How about you? How do you deal with the financial stress of the holidays? Do you have a separate holiday account? Do you put it on the credit card and pay it in January? Do you opt out? Let’s talk!



  1. We have five grown children. Two of them are now married, so that means we have added in 2 daughters-in-law. It just wasn’t going to be sustainable t buy gifts for each and every one. If the financial outlay didn’t kill me the stress of the shopping definitely would! :-) We now put names in a hat and draw. We put a limit on how much can be spent on each gift as well. This year we have changed things a bit. We have cut the limit from $50 to $25, and everyone is going to put the difference towards a charity. We will present the charity ideas when everyone is here and vote on which one to send the money to.

    Instead of gifts our focus has shifted to enjoying time together. This year we will probably all go up to the local ski hill and go tubing together. We have also instituted an annual New Year’s “cook-off” day. We divide up into groups of two or three and each group takes on preparing one part of our big meal. It is a lot of fun in the midst of a lot of craziness and mess.

    Your son is young though. The things our family does are geared toward adult children. It sounds like you have some good ideas in place for keeping the consumerism that can take over the season under control.

  2. Last year I tried Free Christmas…meaning the presents, not the food. Everything I gave, I got for free. In a couple of cases it was review copies of books. Other people got things I knit or sewed from my stash. I do surveys online (opinion outpost) and can trade my accumulated points for Amazon claim codes, so I was able to buy three presents that way.

    Because of how 2010 has been for me, I didn’t put the pressure of ‘free christmas’ on myself this year. I am sticking to a lower per-gift budget, but it still feels like it’s costing the earth…after only one year of presents costing nothing (and being REALLY FUN to give), I am spoiled for spending!

    So 2011 will be Free Christmas again. I’m looking forward to it…I’ll have more time to plan than I did last time, and once again won’t face a daunting Mastercard bill in January.

  3. Hmmm…how to answer that. In our family, Xmas was always a huge deal with lots of presents. I think that since my parents were pretty darn poor when they met and couldn’t really do a ‘decent’ Xmas when we were really young, they tried to make up for it later in life. But this keeps going even though my brother and I are both in our late 30s. And at times I find myself really uncomfortable with the tradition (and it’s completely foreign to J and he’d just as soon ignore Xmas all together!). So I’ve been slowly changing the way I handle things and it seems to be having an effect on my family as well. I really try to do well-thought out handmade gifts (by me or made by others). I don’t focus on the cost so much but will stop and reconsider if materials seem to be very costly. Some years I just don’t have the time to do that (like this year) and so I (1) split with my brother one major gift for each of my parents of something they really need, (2) talk with friends that I normally exchang with and we make alternate plans (like instead of swapping gifts, one friend and I decided to put some money away for a future visit instead), and (3) I talk to family members and urge them to tone down the cost/amount of gifts given or urge them to instead make a donation to a good cause instead of buying us a gift.

    I still feel guilty at times with the process but I do know how much the tradition means to some members of my family…and I think that’s important as well. But like everything else, what I spend for Xmas never exceeds what I can pay for in that month nor does it really interfere with our monthly expenses (meaning that we adjust in other areas so that in the end, Xmas doesn’t really add much to our normal spending).

Welcome! I always like to hear what people think of a post, it often leads to a great discussion! I am now responding to comments and questions right in the comments themselves, so other people can follow the conversation.

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