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Tip #18: No Christmas gifts this year

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This is Tip #18 of of the Save $1,000 in 30 Days Challenge. (See past tips.)

Today’s tip is to skip the expensive Christmas gifts this year — which cost the average American over $850 last year — and instead give something more meaningful this year.

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Quick link: NoChristmasGiftsThisYear.com

The economy is horrible. People are in debt and they’re losing jobs every day Yet there’s one sacred cow that we can’t seem to shake — no matter how bad things get.

Christmas gifts: The things we love to complain about, but hate to be honest about. Can you even imagine calling your parents, or your girlfriend, or talking to your son about how you can’t afford to buy something this year?

Of course not. And that’s how we incur exorbitant debt, starting off each new year on the wrong foot. Instead of planning to get ahead, we’re already clawing back from debt.

Here’s an article Thomas Friedman at the New York Times just wrote:

I go into restaurants these days, look around at the tables often still crowded with young people, and I have this urge to go from table to table and say: “You don’t know me, but I have to tell you that you shouldn’t be here. You should be saving your money. You should be home eating tuna fish. This financial crisis is so far from over. We are just at the end of the beginning. Please, wrap up that steak in a doggy bag and go home.”

So I’ve come up with a site (along with my friends at Out:think) that I hope you can share with your friends and family. It’s free, and it’s very simple, but the point is to share the idea that you can do something for the people you love without spending money. In fact, I’m willing to bet they’ll respect you more if you look them in the eye and say, “Look, things are really tough this year. I can’t buy you a gift like I want to, but I’d love to help you out around the house or host a dinner so we can catch up.”

There are so many other things you can do together, and you’ll see a small list of suggestions when you click below.

I mean it when I say that money is only a very small part of being rich. And it’s an even smaller part of the holidays.

I hope you like the site.

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Click here: NoChristmasGiftsThisYear.com

Total savings: $50 to $1,000

Last thing to do
1. See other tips in the Save $1,000 in 30 Days Challenge
2. Leave a comment on this post describing how much you’re saving with this tip and any unusual techniques you use to make this tip work.

If you liked this tip, check out my Premium tips — one long, tactical tip per week. Save money or get a 100% refund.

scrooge

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81 Comments

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  1. Hey, what about Hanukkah?

    My boyfriend’s parents called him today and mentioned that for the first time ever (he’s 25) they’re not doing Xmas presents this year.

  2. Just focusing on Christmas for now. Limited resources. I’ll think about expanding if it really takes off.

  3. How about let’s not buy *useless* gifts, or let’s buy them secondhand?

    Ramit, I like your positive approach to taking action. I can’t say I approve of Friedman’s FUD tactics.

  4. Christmas won’t be Christmas without the gifts.

    I don’t just buy gifts for the sake of giving rather I make sure that the gift is of value to the receiver. Something that is is very useful but not necessarily expensive.

    Recycle. Re-use. Repair. We just have to expand our creative minds to make Christmas spirit more meaningful.

    Happy holidays!

  5. You could just print out your own cards that read:
    Times are tough
    Money’s hard
    Here’s your ______ christmas card

    (fill in the blank with your favorite two-syllable explative … such as “f_____g” or “stupid”).

  6. I cut out Christmas gifts years ago. It wasn’t about money, though. It was primarily about not having enough time (although, time is money). A truly valuable gift takes hours to discover. I loathe receiving useless trinket junk as gifts, so I am not about to be one to give such a gift. They quickly add up through the many gift-giving holidays over the years, and either create unnecessary clutter or are junked.

    A gift that comes from the heart is tremendously better than a gift received through a social requirement. All of my favourite and cherished gifts have been received out of the blue on a non-holiday simply because the person was thinking of me. So, that is what I do now: if I truly care for someone, I give them a gift when *I* want to, not because some date rushed me to pick something.

  7. I understand doing this with friends, and even family. I often replace gifts with photos of our children we print for the grandparents, or having a day alone to spend with my mom, etc.

    But, there is no way I am going to not give gifts to my children. We have discussed the idea of doing a larger joint gift for the family like a bounce “house” or the like, but they are genuinely excited to make and buy things for each other. We also play Santa, and if Santa didn’t bring gifts then we would be ruining the magic of the holiday. Part of the reason I love Christmas is because it teaches my kids about GIVING, which in my opinion is a hugely important part of a healthy financial portfolio.

    I do think that most of the people I know make the holidays about the kids in their family.
    If you want to give to a child in your family without spending anything offer your time. Parents can always use a break, and kids always love someone who is wiling to play with them for a few hours.
    If you do decide to spend money, buy a family gift of a membership to a local museum or attraction the family can enjoy all year.

  8. Fine for family/friends/adults but the kiddos need to tear some paper.

  9. First of all, I’m from Argentina… so I know a thing or two (or three) about living through an economic crisis and spending on a tight budget.

    I somewhat agree with the idea of cutting on christmas gifts… if times are tough and you want to save you can search for alternatives (e.g. two years ago I made a large batch of home-made peanut brittle, which can’t be ordinarily bought in Argentina, and gave it as a gift individually wrapped).

    … and yet… I think the idea can be read the wrong way, it’s a thin line between “No gifts for Christmas” and “A depressing Christmas”. It’s also a way of thinking that doesn’t work OK if you extrapolate it around a bit…

    … I used to work for a small software development company that was hit hard by the 2001 economic crisis and was forced to shrink quite a bit (no one was fired but as people left they weren’t replaced, we crammed in half the office space, etc.) During this time we weren’t always paid on time, no new software, hardware or furniture was bought, and all sorts of “bonuses” and “perks” disappeared… and I’m not talking about “Dot-com-era-style” perks… I’m talking about a free lunch, tickets to the theater, a bottle of champagne for Christmas, or any other small gesture which wouldn’t have represented more than 2% of the full salary. As a result of this “depression” we were in, the company REALLY suffered in human terms… relationships eroded… motivation was really low both in employees and management… and quite obvious mistakes started to be made (like neglecting regular visits to customers with maintenance contracts and losing them).

    … So, it’s OK to save and cut on expenses when times are tough… but you have to remember the meaning of gifts, their effect on people, and try not to lose that. Depressed and non-motivated people are no good at saving or making money.

  10. I think I’ll be cutting back this Christmas, and shopping for highly discounted items to give. My mom’s birthday is coming up and I got her a very nice Vera Bradley tote bag at 60% off, so it was $36 instead of $70.

    You can get nicer things for the people in your life if you get them on sale.

    Becoming The Marshmallow

  11. Good idea, we’re pretty much doing this this year. Really, I’m 31, I don’t need Xmas gifts from a whole range of people. Something small and thoughtful from my husband and a call on Xmas day from my folks and I’m happy.

    The problem we’ve found in the past is that you get broad agreement from family or a group of friends – “only small things” or “less than $10″ and one or two always disregard it and go all out. Which is embarassing and annoying and throws the next year into doubt.

    PS can’t get your no gifts site to work.

  12. I have three young neices and nephews, and I truly enjoy shopping for kiddos. That said, we keep it very reasonable. We also only give gifts to our immediate family, which is small since I’m an only-child and my husband has just one sister.

    This year, I’m thinking of giving the adults a gift basket of goods from our farmer’s market, which I shop at every week. We could do this fairly inexpensively, give consumables rather than “stuff,” and I’d be giving the money to the local vendors we’ve gotten to know so well instead of the giant, big box stores.

    I know the point of this was to forgo the gifts, but we choose to limit the gifts, and give thoughtful, useful gifts instead.

  13. Good idea, but the website doesn’t offer much in the way of advice, suggestions or information. If people are interested, I recommend looking at http://www.buynothingchristmas.org/ . It was set up by Mennonites a few years ago. They have a great list of alternatives to buying gifts listed here: http://www.buynothingchristmas.org/alternatives/index.html.

    Not giving gifts or choosing to make homemade gifts should be part of a conversation you have with your family, not some automated message from a website that’s really just promoting this website.

  14. Definitely cutting back this Christmas. Because I don’t have kids and my family and I all have enough “stuff” we’ve been more and more focused on experience gifts. For example, my sisters have asked for all 3 of us to take a jewelry making class.

    That kind of stuff is great because a) it means more than another sweater and b) it may cost a little more than your usual night out, but let’s face it, you were going to go out anyway. So you get some substitution savings from that.

    My anticipated Christmas savings this year: $200 versus last year.

  15. Of course, an irony many are missing is that by eliminating gifts, spending will be less and the economy will suffer more. I’m not advocating that people spend outside their means and try to rescue the economy on their own, but if people treat this downturn (contraction/recession/whatever) as they treated the Great Depression, we’ll be more likely to repeat history.

    Don’t cut out Christmas completely – but eliminating the junk wouldn’t be inappropriate.

  16. I like the idea of no Christmas gifts – more so if you are not even Christian but exchange gifts because the rest of the crowd does!! :)
    I have been buying gifts only for the kids in the family for the last two years. Turns out the others don’t mind at all, and my little cousins and nephews are thrilled to be special enough to get something from me.
    The website is a great idea!
    Money saved by not buying gifts for everyone: ~$200 (that’s a lot for me)

  17. This and the last 3-4 tips are all excellent. Right now I’m in line to save between $900 and $1000 this month! I’ve done this by spending on what I care about (going out on the weekends with friends) and saving on stuff I don’t care about (food during the week, heat at home, my car, and holding off on big purchases).

    Christmas gifts will be a great struggle for me and I might cave and wait till December and buy them. One tip for those who cannot resist would be to leave your credit cards at home and bring cash to buy all your Christmas gifts. Bring say $200 or $300 in cash to the mall for all of your gifts and when that’s gone, you can’t buy any more. If you do this you won’t be tempted to see something in a store that would make a great present and buy it with the credit/debit card; instead, you’ll actually think of how you can get the gifts and stay within your budget.

  18. I think it’s a good idea not to go crazy with spending at Christmas. Just like any time of the year, you should have a budget. Having said that, Christmas time is the season of giving. It is times like this that it is nice to loosen your grip on your wallet and share some of your money with someone you love. This helps you become less attached to the money you have worked so hard to save. You can also make a big difference in someone’s life by brightening their Christmas which may have been otherwise been bleak. Don’t worry you have the rest of the year to save for yourself. :-)

  19. I agree with Eric that it is a Christmas without gifts can be pretty depressing. However, there is another alternative. Buy Christmas gifts throughout the year at sales, keeping in mind that if an item is less than 50% off, it’s not on sale. My wife and I save hundreds this way.

  20. Here’s my strategy for Christmas 2008 – I opened a Chase Free Checking account last spring in order to score a $100 new account bonus. One of the requirements to get the bonus was to schedule a monthly direct deposit into the account. I decided to make this my “Christmas Club Account” (probably too old-fashioned a term for most of your readers – they can Google it.) My goal is to confine my Christmas spending to the current balance in that account, which is about equal to the amount I spent on my husband alone in 2007. (I have to shop for him, three teenagers, and a few extended family members.) I have started my shopping and am enjoying the challenge, and it will be great to have a very small credit card bill come January (hubby hasn’t started a Christmas club account of his own, but I’m asking to limit his spending on me to $100 or less.)

  21. Erik Britt-Webb Link to this comment

    Just tried to use your site. When I tried to send the message, I got this error:

    Severity: Warning
    Message: mail() [function.mail]: Could not execute mail delivery program ‘/usr/sbin/sendmail -t -i’
    Filename: libraries/Email.php
    Line Number: 1444


    From Ramit: Fixed

  22. I like this tip a lot. It’s true that a lot of people have a mentality that without gifts, it’s not Christmas. My father was laid off a year ago, and my mother works only part-time. I’ve spent weeks trying to convince my mom that my sister and I don’t need gifts (I’m 25 and she’s 20). She’s really having a hard time letting go of that need to buy.

    I also was laid off this past summer, and while I’m working again now, I’ve only had 2 paychecks, so my savings is not padded yet, and the credit cards took a smal hit during that time. I plan to think of a way to make gifts for the family, because frankly I don’t think my family really wants me to go into debt for the sake of a few moments Christmas Day and a full junk drawer/jewelry box/china cabinet/closet/wherever these things end up.

    A few months ago, I saw a movie in Blockbuster that you might appreciate. It’s called “Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping.” The film is very tongue-in-cheeck, and this guy impersonates an evangelical pastor to make his point, but the message is great: let’s reclaim Christmas to be a holiday about family, not trinkets. Plus it’s good for a few laughs (the man storms Walmart headquarters and invades Disneyland on Christmas day ).

  23. I bought all my gifts early and kept them cheap. Therefore for 10 people I expect to spend no more than $250.

    I know people who spend that on ONE person.

    Total saved here: $0

  24. i understand the sentiment…i guess some need to be snarky about it–i sent one, but choose not to be snarky about it (i.e. the odd santa).

    there are gifts that are far more valuable than something new from the store.

    good to see the change in our thinking.

    j.

  25. My Aunt did this about 15 years ago and all it did was breed resentment in the family. Another solution is to set limits on the price you will pay for a gift and under no circumstances go over it. Another trick is use the retail price for adding up to the limit. For example, if your limit is $20 and the item you are going to buy someone is $20 but it is on sale for $12, then it doesn’t matter. You’re at your limit for that person.

    Another idea is to pool your money. Three kids pooling their $20 limit can buy something more useful or meaningful for their parents (i.e. $20x3x2 = $120 for the parents).

    The photo idea is also a great idea. I love getting photos of nieces and nephews because I live in a different city than they do.

  26. No gifts is a terrible idea. Way to ruin Christmas! You don’t have to buy something to give a gift, you can make something. You can do something. To just not give gifts at all? Shame on you. Its not about the expense, its about giving something away, even when you can’t afford to.

  27. sdb: You didn’t even look at the site, did you?

  28. Actually I did, those are all things you should be doing anyways, and the fill in your own box doesn’t really cover what I was talking about, but thanks

  29. Joan Southwick Link to this comment

    This year we all agreed, no gifts,, BUT, we are going to spend time together, we have a party planned to tie a christmas quilt, and will play a game at our Christmas party to determine who takes it home..

    Cost,, the time it took to go through old boxes of Fabric at Grandma’s house and put together the quilt top $0. Buying the batting….. $0 I found some in her basement. Buying the backing fabric, $ 10 – on sale with a coupon.

    My daughter is hosting a gingerbread house making party, for cousins and friends,, bring your own gingerbread house,, and decorate at will… (buy old candy at the dollar store,, you aren’t really going to eat this, ya know?)

    We are going to go see a Christmas movie as a family.
    We are going to have a potluck Christmas party, early enough in the month that all of our families have plenty of “them” time.

    For friends, I am giving out cards, letting them know I volunteered for the Happy Factory X number of hours for them. The happy factory makes toys for third world/underprivileged children at no cost to the children. http://www.happyfactory.org

    I have volunteered for them all year, raising awareness, raising funds, and delivering toys to homeless shelters, low income medical centers, first generation literacy programs, boys and girls clubs in low income areas, and planning and attending their events. they provide many volunteer opportunities..

    My cards will have a picture of the happy factory toys,, and I have decide to just say,, have a happy Christmas! I volunteered an hour in your name this year at the happy factory..

    I was able to get 700 toys this year to distribute.. just for the Christmas programs. I have been able to deliver about 2000 toys all year this year, through my volunteer time, and we raised several thousand dollars with our Gala and auctions.

    Definitely making a difference. and thats the point, right?

  30. Joan Southwick Link to this comment

    One other thought,, and idea…. I am the Queen of a Red hat lady group, and have several elderly ladies in the group (my mother in law and her friends) who are on a fixed income. I was stressing about a way to get a little something for each of them,, without making them feel like they needed to do something back,, and spending money they didn’t have,, or having them feel like they needed to “gift” each other.
    I started looking for chickens at thrift stores and second hand stores a few months back,, ( we are the little red hens,,, hence the chicken theme ). I was discouraged, because even at thrift store prices, to buy something for everyone was going to cost me at least $100.

    I got on a few websites for estate sales, and hit the jackpot,, an estate sale at the home of someone who “collected” chickens. I waited till the sale was nearly over, went and told them that I was doing this for a group of elderly ladies, and he let me have 20 chicken items for $40. Thats $2 per gift! The ladies pass around a piggy bank at each get together and put their change purse money in it,, and I get around $10-20 per month,, so I didn’t spend ANY money for November,, and won’t for January either, then the chickens are paid for. I enlisted the help of my grandchildren to wrap them and decorate the packages with leftover paper and some plain packing paper with glitter and crayon. We will play a game to distribute the chickens, and let the ladies steal from each other for rolling doubles,, or whatever,, I think it will be a lovely party,, cheap, with fun CHEAP presents. think creativity rather than $$$$$

    just for your info,, I got chicken prints in frames all matted, chicken trays, chicken roasting pans, chicken vases, chicken candy dishes, wooden chickens, chicken pull toys, chickens for your yard,, it will be a hilarious party at nearly NO cost…

    AND NONE OF MY LADIES HAS TO BUY A GIFT FOR AND EXCHANGE!!!!!

  31. I don’t see how it saves money to wrap up a steak dinner you have already paid for and taking it home.

    My family struggles as it is to think of gifts for each other – we already have so much. I try to take advantage of the days off school or work to have several gatherings here. The woman who posted right before me had some great ideas for spending time with family – having gatherings, volunteering, Thanks Joan Southwick!

  32. What a great idea! My husband is laid off right now, so definitely no Christmas presents this year…

    Thanks

  33. like many other commenters, my partner and i are limiting our holiday expenses as much as possible. we both spent too much on each other last year and are students with very little income and this year we decided on a $20 limit, which has been fun and challenging. so far i’ve found 5 perfect items for her for less than $13. we’re limiting our gifts to family this year as well. everything we’ve bought has been on sale or from a garage sale or thrift store or consignment store or the dollar store. i enjoy the challenge of it in the same way i do when i buy anything i want/ need: always on sale and never at full retail price.

  34. Any of these tips are suggestions, so people should quit complaining. I wouldn’t worry about killing the economy by not buying gifts since most Americans wouldn’t have the discipline to actually follow through on that. What I applaud this post for is pointing out that we can often give more meaningful gifts that don’t necessarily cost a lot of money. Paying for you and a friend to take a class and learn something new is a wonderful idea because you’ll spend time together and the class may even be an investment. Nonetheless I think we all have realized that our economy was dependent on people living beyond their means and living by the mantra “Consume, Consume, Consume”. We already had a negative savings rate as a country before the current economic situation; I wonder what it will be like now.

  35. The only people I purchase gifts for are those in my family: mom, sister and my own kids. There are creative ways to give without spending a lot, so I’m not in favor of just doing without gifts. Yes, I saw the site.

    I picked up a GC at Restaurants.com for my son and his new wife. They are struggling financially and could really use a night out. Cost me all of $10 (I’m sending the cash they’d have to spend to redeem the certificate, too) but I know they will appreciate it. My oldest girl is getting a book on how to apply for college scholarships. Costs me an eensy fraction of what college tuition would cost me, and will encourage her to seek higher education. My mom just had hip replacement surgery and is using a walker. I made her a bag to hang off the walker to hold all her “stuff” while she scoots from room to room (she’s overfilling her pockets to the point of tearing them now.)

    It doesn’t have to be expensive, but I like the opportunity to give something to others. I think what we need more than boycotting gifts is to really put our heart and soul into gift-giving and to give thoughtfully instead of just throwing money at the day.

  36. I love this idea. Over the last few years, my family members and I have stopped buying presents for each other. Instead, we write a story according to a prescribed theme set in advance.

    For example, one year we each wrote about our favorite house we lived in (my family lived all over the world and in a lot of different houses). My parents have written stories about their childhood. We learned some amazing things.

    The gifts are priceless. On Christmas we read them out loud. It doesn’t matter how you write, everyone has something to say!
    Lisa http://www.resumepie.com

  37. I clearly remember disliking Christmas by the time I was in middle school, and I think its safe to say it was never as important to me as people expected. To everyone who thinks their children just wouldn’t survive without Christmas gifts – are the kids really that excited about the presents, or do they want you to think they are excited because it is polite and appropriate for them to be excited by that thing you got them that they will use once and then it will sit around their room for years. (This was frequently the case by myself and my cousins, I clearly remember discussing it when we were kids – we were raised not to be rude, and therefore acted completely gracious, but we really didn’t care for our gifts about as often as not) Tiny children like ripping off paper and don’t care what the present is, and older children (if they have been raised not to be greedy and completely self-centered) would often prefer one or two gifts that they would really enjoy instead of a dozen things they may or may not ever use.

    Also, the concept of buying something you know someone would like and then saving it for a specific day months in the future since you are “supposed” to have something to give them that day is ridiculous to me. I would much rather buy gifts for my friends & family throughout the year if I see something I think they would particularly like, and I certainly don’t want ANYONE to feel obligated to try to find a gift that suits me perfectly just because the calendar says that “that day” is coming up. And really, I have enough $20 or less items that sit around junking up my house. As much as I love cute little things that sit around and look pretty, I really don’t want or need any more of them. I’d prefer someone spend an hour talking to me (perhaps at a coffee shop, where even if we each buy a $3 drink, total spent = $6) than having them spend $10+ on a gift that is somewhat meaningful since it comes from them, but I probably have no real use for.

  38. This year after much,much arguing on price($400 doesn’t save me a dime), we decided to do a name exchange with a limit. It is helping out a lot since there were about 15 people to shop for. Plus it saves me from getting gift cards that I wont use.

    My boyfriend and I are planning a day to do something new together. It should be fun.

  39. I bought gifts for my brothers, but am canning for my parents. I really held myself back on the family gifts – I think I would usually spend $75 on each of my brothers and over $100 on my parents. This year, I kept it under $35 a piece.

    Total savings: about $125

  40. Year after year we don’t remember what we got from someone last year, but we DO remember what a great time we all had doing one thing or another. We’re all about making gifts any more- it means something more, is more thoughtful and fun, and the REAL joy comes from spending time with each other.

  41. I’m hosting a brunch for my girlfriends the Sunday before Christmas. I am making a few batches of cookies so each can take a few home along with homemade recipe cards for each cookie, that will probably cost me $2 per person plus the cost of food, but brunch is alot cheaper than even a dinner or cocktail party and since many of my friends live outside the immediate area I’m hoping more will be able to attend an event they can drive to and then back home during the day instead of trying to find a place to stay or driving home at night.

    My boyfriend is not a gift person so when he asked me for a somewhat expensive book ($30) for Christmas I just had to get it for him since he’s never asked me for anything in the five years we’ve been together. Last year I knit him a pair of slipper socks and bought him a movie for $13 (total).

    I haven’t decided what to do for my parents yet. Argh.

  42. I am also cutting back on Christmas gifts this year, instead of shopping, wrapping, mailing, etc…I just made an umbrella donation to my favorite charity. I am planning on putting a note in everyone’s holiday card stating that instead of a gift, they will be helping others. I know it’s lame, but it saves alot of money and time and also helps others which can be a gift in itself.

  43. My sister has been making coupons for her children as rewards and they have become the “hot” items of her household. They are for things like “getting to decide where to eat on karate night” and “being mom’s lead helper.” These coupons are extending into Christmas gifts, because they are popular and what the children actually value and want.

    I’m definitely not giving up gifts, but I am also realizing that thoughtful, luxurious, and extravagant gifts don’t necessarily cost money. My sister would probably treasure three hours of babysitting more than any material possession I could find. Another person on the list is getting a website designed by me.

  44. Green Eggs and Ham Link to this comment

    Honestly, I love the C.E.O. approach. I haven’t visited your site for a while and I honestly regret missing the start of this month’s challenge. Personally though I still think that the simple $1/day savings could still also be implied but then I do agree with you that in general it won’t be followed!

    However, look at our investments, if we’re completely risk-adverse and put it into GICs at rates like 3%, you’d make more money saving $1/day on drinking cheaper orange juice. Plus $1/day is only one item, do it on 5 items and that’s $5/day, $150/month.

    When you’re about to put your quarters into the soda machine, go to the tap and drink some water, then ask yourself if you’re still thirsty. Those drinks you’re buying don’t quench your thirst anyway!

    Lol yes I’m a cheap @ss. But it works, and then just like Ramit was suggesting, write up a list of “what you want to buy” and prioritize it. Then you’ll realize that maybe if you quit one or two habits, you’d be able to remove it from yoru wish list and put it in your living room (like the big screen TV).

    One big tip for those it applies to, stop smoking…not only is it killing you, it’s like rolling up a dollar bill and smoking it every time. There you go, $5/day saved! + future value of your health that you never thought about =).

    Love your website, keep it up!

  45. I’ve never been a fan of the commercialization of Christmas. This part of the holidays I find stressful and not fun. I enjoy the Christmas dinner and family hugs. I don’t want or need anything – certainly not lotion, soap or perfume which I still have from 3 different people who gave it to me last year.

  46. Since we’re atheists, saving money at Xmas is easy for us. We usually spend the forced time off work by taking a mini-family vacation.

    This year we’re going to Vegas. Hotel rates are dirt cheap in Vegas during the holidays (we’re talking $40/night for a 3.5 star hotel on the Strip), and the place is much less crowded. We’re doing lots of family-friendly (we have a 11 year old), inexpensive activities while we’re there like visiting the Pinball Museum and the Ethel M chocolate factory tour.

    All in all, we’ll be having a lovely, secular 4 day family vacation in Vegas for around $600. Much less than many families spend in one day for Xmas!

  47. I’m surprised. I didn’t expect you to push for lower consumer confidence. Isn’t it better for the economy for us to continue spending our money?

    I expected you to tell people to follow a strict budget for
    Christmas; to only spend what you can afford on Christmas. That makes sense.

    Encouraging all your readers to spend $0 on Christmas is just baffling. There’s certainly things we can do without. But don’t we depend on each other for our jobs? Won’t more people lose their jobs if we spend no money on Christmas? Maybe you don’t work at a department store. Maybe people who buy services from you do work at a department store.

    People are dumb with money…..but,

    Am I wrong?

    I buy Christmas with my cash-back bonus from Discover Card. I buy groceries and gas on the Discover card all year and pay it off in full each month. It works out just right for my family’s size. Christmas bonuses (which aren’t as reliable as I’d like) go straight into savings and paying off debt. And yes, sometimes I spend an extra $100-200 if the bonus was really good.

  48. That idea of “spend more you can save the economy” is a fallacy. I’m astonished that people actually believe it.

    Individually, you have very little influence on the economy, so you might as well save as much as possible for your own financial security. In fact, once you’re financially secure, you’ll probably contribute more to society, any way.

    Now, if you’ve saved up and/or can afford it, go for it! But if you’re buying out of guilt — whether for your family or hoping to save people’s jobs — that’s the wrong reason to buy gifts.

  49. I’m going to save some by not giving Christmas gifts to my pets this year. They never appreciate the gifts anyway.

    Our family actually saves throughout the year in a “birthday / holiday fund” account. Works like a charm, because if we find the perfect holiday gift on the cheap in April, there’s already some money in the account to get it then.

  50. I am drastically cutting down on spending this year. I hope this saving turns into a permanent habit.
    I love what you are doing. Making people aware that spending because of commercial reasons is wrong.

  51. Perhaps I am overestimating your sphere of influence, Ramit. My bad ;)

  52. If you must buy stuff…

    Why not buy it on the 26th? Prices bottom out and you still have a few days off work. Ask yourself what the 25th really means.

    Some people’s families (especially those who are recent transplants from other, non-Christian countries) don’t celebrate Christmas. My family, a trio of the most unsentimental Chinese people you’ll ever meet, used to exchange some money and cards, and generally go through the motions.

    Then we realized, that makes absolutely no sense!

    To Ramit and to all readers:

    Does your family really celebrate this originally Christian religious holiday? Why? How?

    Is it meaningful to spend $50 on a Christmas tree if you are a Ramit or a Susan? WWAID?

    Better to take advantage of Western society’s obligatory few days off to relax with people (or furries) you love or check out the awesome sales for things you really DO need for the rest of the winter / year.

  53. The economy finally helped me convince my parents that instead of spending well over $1000 on gifts we don’t need, we’re just gonna run up to the mountain for a day for inner tubing and snowball fights. Tons of money saved and memories that will last A LOT longer.

  54. I have already come to this realization about no money = no gifts. Six months ago, my boyfriend and I agreed that we are only going to buy ONE gift for each other and it can’t cost more than $50. In past years, I have spent as much as $800 on buying a past boyfriend a computer. Big mistake, but it was under good intensions. Never doing that again though… And I have already told my family that I can’t afford to buy any Christmas gifts for them this year. But at least they have been understanding because they know the financial troubles I’ve been going through. So overall, this tip is going to save me hundreds.

    Tip: hundreds?
    This month: Don’t even know anymore. Packed lunches, no eating dinners out or drinking, no x-mas gifts, buying generics… I’ve been doing them for the past couple months already, but I have noticed a change in the money going out. I used to put 1/3 of my monthly expenses on a credit card and knew that needed to come to an end fast. Now I am close to living within my income, but still not much for savings. I have been using ING savings account for 2 years now and have always set aside $50/month for emergencies. Every little bit helps though.

  55. I would love for Thomas Friedman to come up to me in a nice restaurant and tell me what to do. He would be walking out with a bloody nose, and would never do it again. His opinion is just that, and he is free to tell it on the internet, but he has no right to approach people and tell them what to do.

    I am all for cost cutting and saving, but when a man works hard day in and day out, he deserves to eat at a nice steakhouse once in a while.

  56. Tommy, I agree. Honestly, it’s one thing for us to want to be frugal but you need to be realistic about life.

    That and Thomas Friedman is an ass who has an answer for everything.

  57. Wow this is really sad to read, is it that bad in the U.S? I could not imagine giving my parents or little brother a gift for Christmas. I see this time of a year as a chance to show the people around me how grateful I am for everything they have done for me.

  58. It took years, but my immediate family finally broke themselves of the Christmas shopping habit. If there were any kids to buy gifts for, we definitely would, but for the adults? Hell, we all have everything we really need, and what we want? We’ve probably got that, too. If there’s anything we actually need, it’s less clutter, not more.

    Old habits died hard, though, and occasionally they still pop up among some of us. But most of us have ended up embracing the radical idea of not going batshit insane over holiday shopping. It’s come as a relief, even to the ones who still “backslide.”

    That doesn’t mean not giving gifts; it just means not going out and doing the Christmas shopping thing. Homemade cookies, jams, candy, and other edibles are fine. Passing along books you’ve read and enjoyed to family members who would also like them is okay. So is making mix CDs, or swapping prints and CDs of family photos. Honestly, it’s made the holiday so much easier and more relaxed–hanging out with relatives on Christmas is finally fun, these days.

    Since I’m the artsy-craftsy one, I do handmade stuff or small paintings; this year, I’m redecorating ugly but inexpensive (~$5 each) wooden photo frames to suit each recipient, and including appropriate family photos. Ten people are getting them, and if I manage to spend the entire $100 I’ve budgeted for the frames, supplies, and mailing costs, I’ll be surprised. Last year, I sewed simple stuffed and beaded Christmas ornaments from the big bag of silk and velvet scraps in my sewing room. Cost? Whatever a spool of thread and a hank of gold beads go for (less than $10) and mailing costs. I spent maybe $40 total, and a couple of weekend afternoons doing pleasant, brainless work while listening to an audiobook. Not bad at all. Beats the hell out of looking for a parking spot at the mall and fighting the crowds.

    What motivated this shift had little to do with economics (though I was ass-out poor at the time I initially proposed it). In fact, the more affluent my family became over the years, the more they embraced it. For us, it was simply a matter of breaking old habits and questioning certain expectations and obligations that no longer worked. It was about being able to relax and genuinely enjoy each other’s company, rather than adding more stress (and unwanted clutter) to each other’s lives.

    Last year, we started another radical shift in how we do Christmas by deciding to celebrate it at other times, rather than on December 25th. Our Christmas last year was actually on December 11, and it worked out brilliantly. Not only were airfares significantly cheaper (I saved $271), but the airports and flights were much less crowded and my fellow travelers less stressed. It was also easier for some relatives to get that week off instead of Christmas Week. So we’re doing this coming “Christmas” in late January, in conjunction with a relative’s 90th birthday. Admittedly, that move isn’t for everyone, but it’s yet another way we’ve found to bypass the collective holiday insanity.

  59. Every time I get paid, I take all the cash in my wallet and put it in a Christmas fund. This year, at the beginning of Nov, I had $700. I will spend that money for, yes, holiday gifts. No credit cards, No borrowing. It’s more than enough for my friends and family.

  60. We have a policy of only giving people food for Christmas. Everyone we know has too much junk, but some sort of home-cook’n is always appreciated. It started with the idea that people used to only hand out sweets during the winter solstice. Back then, the idea was simply to put your neighbors in a good mood so that they’d be nice to you for the rest of the year.

    This year we’ve made a hot sauce out of our own home grown scotch bonnet, habaneros and Thai bird’s eye chillies. It only cost us vinegar, salt, garlic and refrigeration.

    Next year, we want to brew our own barley wines, red ales and sodas. We plan to get everything off Craigslist.

  61. I don’t understand people that feel like they ‘have’ to buy people gifts, and are miserable doing it. I don’t have to do it, I do it because I like to, and I keep it reasonable. There’s nothing like seeing a person you care about open a gift from you and genuinely enjoy it, sometimes inexpensive, sometimes not so much, but never lavish.

  62. Ramit,
    About the website, not to be a complete blog troll, but what mental state were you in when you came up with this? I mean, going to the library and playing board games for Christmas? Going to the park when it’s like -3 degrees outside? Unless you’re about seven years old, let’s not even talk about the magic trick idea. And then, you list a bunch of things that could be much more expensive than just buying a simple gift. A decent home-cooked meal including appetizers, deserts, alcohol could run quite high as well as going to some local attractions (amusement parks? zoos? even a decent museum can run $12/adult.) Lessons to learn any type of new skill or indiscriminately acquiring a new hobby can be quite outrageous.

    Also, as you can see, telling people to eliminate holiday gifts is never going to go over well. That’s because people have been doing this sort of thing even before Christmas existed. Also despite what you are trying to convey, Christmas-related debt isn’t 100% attributable to shopping for gifts for other people. People often buy ridiculous gifts for themselves, they travel, they entertain and because they have so much time off, they spend a lot of money just trying to find something to do. Many of these other things can be drastically cut back with much less pain than cutting out gifts. If you are trying to get people to modify their holiday spending behavior, I suggest that you do it less gimicky/sensationalistically and with greater respect to the larger picture. You could:

    A.) Suggest that people spend less and save time by making gifts in bulk or buying used. Another good suggestion would be to look into gifting magazine subscriptions. You can do this on Ebay for very, very little.
    B.) Promote potlucks or cookie exchanges at someone’s home instead of lavish holiday parties at restaurants. If you must gift at these holiday parties, consider gifting good, inexpensive wine, craft micro-brews or other high quality, inexpensive grown-up alcohol because if there is enough good alcohol at the party you may not have to have an “after party” later.
    C.) Usually you can’t get away with not having concrete, non-consumable gifts for small children. So, advise people to consider gifting art and craft supplies or school supplies instead of toys. Parents have to buy these things anyway. The stores that sell these sort of things aren’t as busy as toy stores during the holidays. If you do it just right, you’ll be able to keep them busy for hours and they’ll think of these things as toys anyway.
    D.) Mock the “kids” who don’t want to grow up. Tell them to forget about Rock Band or Guitar Hero. They don’t need to buy a Wii or an XBox just because their friends have them. An old iPod is good enough, as is an old phone. They need to be grown-ups, and they probably didn’t grow up to be James Bond.
    E.) Plug Entertainment Books or similar. People have a lot of free time during the holidays. They eat out a lot. They watch a lot of movies. They are at the mall whether they want to be there or not. Entertainment Books offer discounted movie tickets and BOGOs at local restaurants. Many of them also offer free restaurant.com gift certificates.
    F.) Talk about economical holiday travel. This is important for people traveling home, people going to Vegas for New Years and for snowboards and skiers. There are many discount bus lines now that allow travel between major cities for $1. Train travel may also be coming back.
    G.) Advise against costly New Years resolutions. Nobody needs to join a gym on January 2nd. A three mile walk in -3 degree weather or a snowball fight would be much more effective than joining a gym early on.
    H.) Advise people to consider the total cost of a gift before purchasing. Unless you’ve talked about it for months in advance, purchasing a puppy or any pet (beyond an ant farm) as a Christmas gift is a bad idea. Puppies can cost their owners several thousand dollars over their lifetime. Also, advise that people look closely at gift cards before purchasing. Certain credit card based gift cards carry monthly fees or other hidden fees. Gift cards also come with an opportunity cost. They are the same as cash but they can not earn interest. Essentially, they are an interest free loan to your store or restaurant of choice. Avoid purchasing gift cards without proper incentive to do so.
    I.) Suggest methods of coping when getting together with well-to-do relatives or friends that enjoy showing off because they are stuck in the 1980′s. Extensive time spent with these people can kill your self-esteem and derail good saving habits you worked hard to establish. More so than a few well-chosen gifts.
    J.) Encourage people to be proactive, and even entrepreneurial, in returning and exchanging unwanted gifts. Sometimes unwanted gifts do sell on Ebay for more than the giver paid for the gift retail. (Think discontinued Bratz Dolls). There’s also way too much opportunity cost involved in storing unwanted gifts.
    K.) If Christmas is a time for giving, then it is also the best time for readers to be entrepreneurial. Baked goods, car detailing, snow shoveling, renting out extra rooms, gift basket services, hosting poker parties, rent a Santa, etc. You should be able to do it all via Craigslist.

  63. Kiva.org.

    Each member of your family contribute an amount to a group you create on Kiva.org. Then spend time together over the holidays and talk about what microloan you want to give together. The best part – you get the money back so you can do it again.

  64. I love your ideas, and this one is great. I’ve long avoided even the birthday gifts. I tell my friends I don’t want them – I want their company on the mandatory-celebration day, not the material stuff.

    Awesome idea Lane (Kiva.org) is a wonderful place. Also consider http://www.oxfam.org/ and http://www.unicef.org/ … though you don’t get your money back -you know you’ve likely saved about as many lives as the dollars you’ve contributed.

  65. I love this idea but here’s the thing:

    my family is totally cool with the idea but my husband told his mom last night and she was VERY anti-this “do you need a loan? Why can’t you afford Christmas presents? You both work.”

    Actually we’re paying for 2 rounds of IVF and THAT”s why we want to keep things really simple/ cheap in the other areas of our life. (She doesn’t know and he doesn’t want to tell her about the IVF)

    Also I’m in South Africa – here people are not into the simple way of life and frugality – on the contrary, it’s a very status-driven place I live in (Johannesburg) where people feel valued by what they wear and drive.

    Any ideas?

  66. [...] #18: No Christmas gifts this year & Tip #20: Change the date of [...]

  67. Sorry, but I don’t agree with the ‘no gifts’ rule. There’s no reason to be a scrooge just because you don’t have lots of money to throw around. Figure out how much you have, and make a budget.

    $20 per person, $10 per person, $5 per person. Make gifts for everyone instead of buying. With a little thought you’d be amazed what you can buy with those amounts of money.

    Even if you have to buy things second hand surely your friends, and family will know your situation, and be glad that you thought enough of them to buy them something.

    It doesn’t have to be expensive – I can think of plenty things I’d be thrilled to get that cost $5 or less.

  68. I’m trying something different this year. My boyfriend and I are meeting his brother and wife in Mexico for New Years – they live in the UK and we live in the US. I’d like to get his wife a nice casual necklace she can wear while we’re there. I did a lot of browsing, but couldn’t find what I wanted for the price I wanted to pay (less than $20). I just went to the crafts store and found a very high quality semi precious stone that was EXACTLY what I was looking for. So I bought some rope, clasps, and the gemstone for $13. I haven’t made my own jewelry since 3rd grade – I hope it goes well!

  69. I tried limiting gifts before, or sticking to small things. Unfortunately some people changed their mind and didn’t let me know. I felt ashamed and downright awful when our holiday event took place and we were bombarded with gifts and had little to return.

    Even making gifts costs money and often PPl end up feeling their time-spent, specially created, filled with love, homemade gift isn’t enough they end up spending more money last minute by buying additional items to go with it.

    My husband lost his job in July. He’s been looking for work non-stop since. I am disabled. We had no choice but to apply for food stamps. He went back to school this Fall thanks to a grant, for a year course to hopefully get better work. We’ve been living on pasta for a week now. I ran out of yeast to make bread and we seriously do not have one dollar between us. I dream of fruit and vegetables. I’m afraid when the oil heat will run out.

    I ran out of deodorant over a month ago and cannot buy any because it is now a luxury item in my life. I have absolutely no idea how to give any kind of gifts when I barely have enough food for my family. I cannot sleep or eat. I try to find things in my home to sell just to pay utility bills. We stand in line for hours once a month for 2 bags of food, often well past expiration, at the nearest food bank. Which by the way rarely contains anything you actually want to give your kids to eat.

    I don’t care about gifts for myself, in fact I absolutely do not want anything, but for my children… well it’s tearing my heart out. I’m thinking of avoiding all family and friends this holiday season because I cannot take the discomfort of another awkward holiday event. There are 18 people who expect gifts from us, and we have struggled before, but never like this. I feel so helpless.
    Worse, my daughter has her birthday a few days after Christmas and I have absolutely nothing to give her. I’d sell my own laptop if it was worth much of anything, but thanks to it and a few hours of free internet, I come online to look for help, ideas, work, sometimes a distraction, or let the kids play games as a treat.

    Your little website is cute and sweet, but my extended family and friends wouldn’t go for it. I’ve tried such tactics in the past. So thanks for the gesture, if only it were that easy. Most people want presents, they don’t feel like it is Christmas without them, and an event (well, as I have no money that cannot happen) isn’t something I can give. A helping hand, or teaching, is something I am always doing for others, so it doesn’t make for an actual gift from me since it is my normal way.

    I wish Christmas wouldn’t come at all this year, and so far it doesn’t look like it will. Not in my home at least.

  70. HELP we had agreed no gifts but my brothers still buy for the girls in the family. What can I get them I was thinking no more than fifteen dollars each.

  71. So wait, what is Thomas Friedman doing in a restaurant if everyone should be home eating tuna? Oh wait, just young people who are supposedly dumber than their parents who didn’t adjust their 401ks (if they had them) for risk. Jeez.

  72. [...] ecards  provide. Or you can send a special note to tell them you’d like to give them something more meaningful  as an [...]

  73. Our family draws names with a $100 limit. That way each person only has to buy one present, and it can be something of higher value, or several smaller items, whatever works best. The kids are a free-for-all though, however because of this, last year the kids had more presents than they knew what to do with. So this year I’ve cut back to 1 present per child instead of the 2 or 3 we did last year. Christmas Budget reduced from $800-1000 down to $300.

    For close friends we had a nice holiday dinner and played games, instead of exchanging presents. The time spent together is far more valuable to us than any material item in a box.

  74. My family is doing a starter version of the “No Xmas Gifts”… we are giving small gifts to each other, but are focusing on donating to charity with the money that we would have otherwise spent. There are a lot of great organizations that help a lot of people that are not getting the support they normally would and need. Here are some tips that I’ve found to make donation gifts more charitable:
    1. Tailor the donation to the recipient. I am looking for a literacy-based charity as this is a cause near and dear to my mother.
    2. For kids, the Heifer project can be a great intro to charitable giving. We are giving cousin/children some chickens or goats through the Heifer project. The $$ donated toward these animals goes to families in other parts of the world, but there is the thought of something tangible that the kids can think about.

  75. Ya know I’ve worked in a restaurant as a server for over 30yrs. to support my three children alone. One left at home. I really resent his suggestion because we have to work for a living too. I guess you want us to be unemployed as well. And let me tell you we’re the first person that gets screwed because we rely on tips to get paid. Our owners who are very wealthy corporate assholes make us claim 100 percent so we see no paychecks. You should really watch what you say.

  76. I totally agree with Vessa above me. My husband and I both work in the restaurant industry and it is so bad this year that we can’t buy presents even though we want to. Also, I think it is very selfish of people not to buy gifts when you can afford them. It is a way to show loved ones you care about them. Right now I am trying to figure out how I can get something for my husband without spending money.

  77. Giving gifts is not of Christian origin, but was a Roman holiday that over time was associated with Christmas. The true meaning of Christmas is the birth of Christ – not Santa and giving “stuff.”

    I say get back to what it is really about and follow Jesus’ example and be angry with the merchants who wanted to profit off of God in the temple.

  78. One suggestion I read about recently was limiting the gifts. The writer had stated his family had established a custom of giving only 3 gifts to each person, group-gifts I am assuming. The writer stated they came up with this idea as baby Jesus received 3 gifts and they were trying to keep in the true spirit of Christmas.

    I do like this idea, and realistically, if you go in with someone else, a sibling, parent, etc. for a gift for someone, together you can come up with a better gift than your budget/brainstorming skills might allow alone.

  79. i ‘quit’ christmas a few years ago. i told everyone in the family not to buy me a gift and that i would only purchase one gift each for the kids under 18. most of the family was SO relieved not to have the hassle of gifts. now, every year, we go to the movies and have dinner and thouroughly enjoy forgoing the presents.

  80. [...] 18: No Christmas gifts this year. That’s kind of harsh, don’t you think? I mean, why are we saving money all year if [...]

  81. [...] Tip #18: No Christmas gifts this year | I Will Teach You To Be Rich [...]