happy monday, friends! please tell us that you got to see the supermoon eclipse, since we were clouded over. one of the perks of living in the mountains in the west is having a clear sky nearly all the time, and it’s why mountain dwellers like us are willing to risk crazy things like catastrophic wildfire and snow in the summer. so to get all those clouds on a significant eclipse day was a huge wop wop. but it was a good reminder to hold on tightly, let go lightly. we were so excited about the eclipse that, when we couldn’t see it, we let ourselves get in a cranky mood. we held on too tightly, and didn’t let go when we should have. it is not unlike the emotional decision-making that makes many investors buy high and sell low.
but speaking of emotional decisions, today we’re talking about gifts. we promise this isn’t one of those “let’s get ready for christmas!” posts. we’re the scrooges who get ornery when christmas decor is in full effect in stores before thanksgiving (never mind that it now shows up before halloween). so if we blog about christmas, it won’t be until december. instead, this is a post about gifts generally, which are on our minds because i recently had a birthday. i used to not like birthdays, because i saw them as a sign of dwindling time remaining. i remember being 11 years old and thinking, “i’m good. i don’t need to get any older.” and i only (finally) started rethinking that feeling when we formulated our early retirement plan, and i realized that we’re now on a path to being both adults and children simultaneously, for a long, long time. we’ll be adults in that we have our finances in order and we’ll have saved enough to sustain us indefinitely, but we’ll be kids in the sense of having almost no responsibilities, and being able to follow our whims on a daily basis. but even if we weren’t on the path to early retirement, i’d still have come around on birthdays. each year we’re granted is a gift, and celebrating birthdays is a perfect way to be grateful for having more time to experience love and joy on this beautiful planet of ours. so let’s celebrate ’em! for most people in our culture, that means giving or receiving gifts of some sort.
obviously, not spending money on gifts is something that aspiring early retirees are big fans of, but right-sizing pseudo-minimalists also aren’t into acquiring more stuff. we’ve already had several big rounds of stuff acquisition in our lives: when we each struck out on our own post college, when we separately got rid of that post-college crappy quality stuff and upgraded to better stuff, and when we got married and got a registry’s worth of stuff that was better still. needless to say, we have more than we need, and there’s nothing we even want. which poses some challenges at gift time.
we may be scrooges about christmas junk for sale in october, but we are not scrooges about gifts. we love giving gifts, and back in our old spending days, we were known to give one or two over-the-top gifts. (but never a car with a giant bow on it. though the mr. did deliver those giant bows to car dealerships when he worked as a flower delivery man in college.) and we love receiving gifts too, so long as they’re something we want and will use. the most unfrugal gifts — no matter how cheap they are — are those the recipients don’t use. so we’re big fans of gift registries, because they let you ask for what you’ll use, while still allowing some element of surprise since the giver has a choice of several options. for years, we kept amazon registries, which were great for that reason. we got exactly what we wanted and our family members buying for us didn’t have to guess — everybody wins.
but as we’ve moved away from wanting any more stuff, we’ve rethought that approach, too. for a while, we asked family for donations in our name, and provided a list of organizations we support. (bonus: they got a tax write-off!) while they were happy to support the orgs, the family didn’t love giving only donations, since they didn’t feel like they were doing anything “for us,” which is the point of a gift. then we started asking for homemade gifts, which felt both very frugal and more personal, but then realized that that’s asking too much of people who don’t consider themselves crafty or creative or who are just very busy. (though we still love making homemade gifts for friends — mostly consumables like body scrubs, marmalade or cookies.) for a while we asked for e-books, though now we get most of those from the library.
finally, we asked ourselves, “what do we love most of all?” the answer: experiences. we love travel, and adventure, and culture. meals out, music, theater, trips to new places — that’s our jam. spending the same amount of money on an experience versus a widget gives you great memories instead of some object that will just gather dust, or eventually require repair. and so we shifted to a gift giving and gift receiving approach that we plan to stick with for a good long time, one which also matches our broader definition of frugality (creating less demand for stuff): we now deal almost exclusively in gifts of experience.
we’re not talking trips to bali, since our goal is biggest goal of all is to minimize spending. we’re talking about experiences of all sizes, many of them small. tickets to the movies. a round of bowling. a day at the art museum. admission to a you-pick strawberry farm. dinner at a new casual restaurant. a gift certificate for a massage. concert tickets. an art class. a season pass to the state parks. or, on the splurgy end, tickets to a big city ballet performance — what i got from the mr. for my birthday, and which we’ll pair with hotel points for a frugal weekend getaway. these are all things we would love to do, as opposed to stuff we’d love to have, and by receiving any of them as a gift, they also take on more meaning when we go do them. even bowling feels special if was given as a gift.
of course it could be awkward to sit on santa’s knee and ask for a round of golf, but there’s a solution we love: the so kind registry. unlike every other registry we know of, which is all about stuff, the so kind registry is about exactly the opposite: gifts of experience, secondhand gifts and charitable donations. (it’s also a nonprofit project which we haven’t been paid or perked to mention. we just love it and use it ourselves.) we’ve shared the idea with our families, and everyone’s on board, filling their lists with things like tickets to disney on ice, or dinner at chipotle, or a season pass to the botanical gardens.
it may have felt like a bummer to some folks at first, thinking about not having physical presents to open, but quickly everyone realized how great it is to have fun activities to look forward to, often ones none of us would buy for ourselves. like me and the ballet. it’s something i now get to look forward to for a few months, and that i’ll remember for a long time after it’s over. that’s the best kind of gift in our book. (and, unlike the supermoon eclipse, we’ll actually be able to see the ballet from our seats!)
how do you approach gifts? have you tried asking for gifts of experience, or charitable gifts? have you found any other great ways to avoid giving and receiving stuff? please share!