When I was in my 20s and didn’t know any better, I bought people presents with my credit card and then took a couple of months to pay the money back. It was incredibly stupid. Not only did I buy more than I could afford, but then I racked up interest charges while paying off the balance.
You can celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or any other holiday without going into debt. This is gonna be a tough-love post, and it may make you angry. But it’s for your own good.
That’s because on average, Americans added over $1230 to their total debt from the holiday season in 2018. That's up from $1054 in 2017. That is just crazy. So I want to offer some real alternatives to breaking the bank with your spending this season.
Also, know that I’m not affiliated with any of the links mentioned here; I have nothing to gain.
Excuse #1: But I have to give presents to kids!
So, you think that a kid won’t understand if you don’t give them lots of presents. Where did they learn that behavior from? If an adult taught them that presents are a requirement at certain holidays, then that same adult can teach them there’s a better way.
If it’s your child, then ask yourself whether you’d rather have them upset about not receiving presents, or upset when you have to sell off what they already have or even move them out of their home because you have so much debt you can’t pay the bills. Telling yourself that you’ll take on more debt and worry about it later, especially when you have children to support, is extremely irresponsible in my opinion.
Not only that, but it’s teaching your children the wrong ideas about money. That instant gratification is more important than financial responsibility, and material things in the present hold more weight than saving to buy a house, or go to college, or retire someday.
Also, giving gifts at Christmas to children (or anyone else) has no established link to the Christian faith. The first Christmas in recorded history is in 336, but giving presents didn’t become popular until the early 1800s, thanks to Moore’s “A Night Before Christmas” poem.
I’m not saying this will be an easy conversation—and definitely, don’t spring it all on them on the day they are expecting presents. If you feel like you HAVE to get them something, make it no-cost or low-cost. Here are a few ideas.
- Participate in a “swap.” The website TOYCYCLE is a non-profit that allows members to swap toys for free. You can try it at no cost for 30 days and cancel at any time. If you decide to join, it’s just $1.99 per month. You could also organize a swap in your community. The Spruce has an instructional article about how to do it.
- Look for free or cheap items on sites like Craigslist or Freecycle. You can also post ads on there asking for certain things - just don’t get too crazy with your expectations.
- Thrift stores: you can find used kids’ books and clothes for as little as a quarter apiece. Sometimes, you can find toys and other items brand new, still in the box.
- The gift of an experience and your presence. Near my hometown, there was a neighborhood that’s famous for holiday decorations. During the holidays there’s a long line of cars driving through at night, and the sidewalks are full of people walking through to admire the lights and music. All it cost was the gas to drive through, and everyone from my grandmother to my younger brother enjoyed it. If it snows where you are, you could spend the day with them building snowmen and having a snowball fight. You could stay inside and watch holiday movies and bake together. Or, you could go as a family to volunteer at a shelter, to help them understand the value of everything they have.
Excuse #2: But my friend/family/co-worker always gets me something. I have to give something back.
No, you don’t. First of all, make an announcement that you don’t want to exchange presents this year. You don’t have to give any reason, but if you want to give one, be honest. “I can’t afford it.” Anyone who gives you a hard time over that statement isn’t worth your worry.
People who care about you should want what’s best for you, and that means supporting you in making smart financial decisions. If they complain they already got you a gift, tell them to please give it to someone else or return it.
Not only that, but people may secretly be relieved when you tell them you don’t want to exchange gifts. They, too, may struggle with their finances and be too embarrassed to say anything. Your admission can lead to honesty on their part.
Excuse # 3: It makes me feel good to give to other people.
Then how about giving things to people who really need it? Volunteer, or donate things you don’t need anymore to charity. If you don’t have anything to donate or don’t have time to volunteer, then use your social media accounts or contacts in the community to ask others to donate.
Sometimes, employers will match donations for fundraisers. You could get permission to start a collection for your charity at work, then send an email to everyone in the office. Tell them why you believe in the charity and ask people to give $5. Give them a link to the charity’s website so they can give the money directly.
If you have 30 people in your office, that’s $150 this charity didn’t have before. I remember when I worked in an office, every year I’d get emails from co-workers about their kids’ girl scout cookies, or a school fundraiser where you’d buy chocolate for way above retail to raise money for the school. Just think how much better it is to just donate money without getting anything material in return. It’s more money for the cause, healthier for your waistline and just good karma.
Start some new, better traditions this year.
The retail industry has been profiting from holiday gift-giving for about a century now. I think 100 years is long enough. It’s time for us to take the holidays back to what they should be: a time for love and family.