hiya, friends. if you follow us on twitter, you may have caught this little update yesterday:
Breaking news: We’ve convinced the extended family to do no gifts for adults this year, & only homemade or secondhand for the kids. Wohoo!
— Our Next Life (@our_nextlife) December 1, 2015
and it’s true: we got the okay from the extended family to cut out gifts for adults this year, and give only homemade or secondhand gifts to the kiddos. can we get a wohoo? we’re stoked about this shift, and hope it sticks in future years, since all the adults in the family have more than enough stuff, and even the kids have plenty. (plus, you know, we’re like saving our pennies and stuff for early retirement and don’t need to be buying a lot of stuff for anyone. not that anyone does!)
gift-giving occasions can be an emotionally fraught time for frugal types and savers, since while you technically have control over what you spend, there are huge expectations we all feel pressure to meet. and in all other areas of our finances, we each have final say, while at the holidays, it’s a whole family negotiation about what everyone prefers, loaded with the additional pressure of tradition. we know it’s a tough tightrope walk for those who aspire to give (and receive) less.
after we posted yesterday’s tweet, we got questions from quite a few folks about how we managed to convince folks to get on board with this idea, and decided to write a longer post to share how it all went down.
spoiler: it took years. patience, young grasshopper.
we’re thankful that both of our families have always been the wishlist types. there are few to no random gifts other than stocking stuffers, with nearly all presents coming off of people’s wishlists, meaning that everything we’ve received is stuff we want and will actually use. we also have families that are into charitable giving, which plays into our story.
when we joined families, everyone still shopped for everyone. the gifts were smaller, but there were a lot more of them. pro: everyone had a lot to open, which most people enjoyed. con: so much stuff, so much spending, and each of us had to fill a wishlist with a lot of small to medium gifts, which might or might not be what we actually wanted. this gift-giving wasn’t extravagant by any means, but it was certainly more than anyone needed to feel like they were having a proper christmas. so when that gifting method still ruled, we pushed the envelope by asking for donations at the top of our wishlists. we honestly would have been happy receiving only donations in our honor, but instead got stuff plus donations. baby steps. at first, while folks were receptive to the charitable gifts, they didn’t start asking for them themselves for a few years. then that just got to be a thing: everyone would include one or more charities on their list. so that was the first real win in the shifting gift mindset, since it helped everyone get comfortable with giving and receiving less stuff, and instead giving more to worthy causes, while opening the door to conversations about enough and contentment.
then, when the kids came along, and everyone wanted them to have the most things to open, the door cracked open a little wider. along with another ally in the family (an ally always helps!), we got everyone to agree to a gift rotation with the adults, so that each person would just buy for only one other adult each year, but everyone would buy for the kids. the gift money parameters were much higher for this single gifting, but it was still progress. we often made a habit of asking for less on our wishlists than the gift minimum to force charitable donations to fill the gap.
the last two years, we both made the choice to ask for deliberately boring gifts (microfiber cloths that replace disposable paper towels, anyone?), both because there was nothing else that we actually wanted or needed, and because we were secretly hoping it would take some of the remaining luster off of gift-giving, and open folks up to an alternate way of thinking about the holidays. at the same time, our ally in the family went forward with a so kind registry, asking only for gifts of experience, and clearly letting the family know that they didn’t want any more things.
so here we are in 2015, several years into our campaign to get the family to spend a lot less money at the holidays, and also to focus less on stuff. in truth, we started our maneuvers purely in an effort to receive less. we honestly weren’t concerned about the cost of it all, but just didn’t want to get a bunch of things, useful or not. but as we’ve gotten more and more serious about our early retirement plan, the cost has moved into the forefront of our thinking. the amazing thing about our no-spend christmas is that we didn’t even suggest it. the grandparents did. they clearly knew we and our ally in the family would happily go along with it, and looking at the kids’ so kind registries would show that there was nothing new to buy for them anyway — the only things they want are used books and the chance to spend time with family on camping trips and other inexpensive experiences. and it doesn’t hurt that our most stuff-focused relative happens to be broke at the moment… unfortunate, of course, but it helps our holiday gifting cause!
the most interesting thing about all of this is how weird it feels to even be describing this situation given how awesome our families are. people truly care about each other and enjoy spending time together, and the sense of family is real and palpable, especially during the holidays. and with that one exception, no one cares about having the latest gadgets or having status symbols. it’s a family that generally embraces contentment, and doesn’t chase the next shiny new object. but it just goes to show you what a powerful effect our consumerist culture has on people — we have this deep-seated belief that we have to give and receive newly manufactured and purchased stuff for christmas to count. (we can pretty much guarantee that the wise men didn’t buy their gold, frankincense and myrrh during a black friday stampede at walmart.)
it’s taken at least seven or eight years of consistently working to scale things back to get to this point, and while that may not be fast enough for us or for you, we feel good finally getting to this place. if we’d pushed for any big changes too quickly (like when we did actually try to just receive a charitable donation and no actual presents), people would have been hurt, and felt that we weren’t placing enough meaning in the holidays. because even though we might be fired up about reducing consumption in the name of the environment and our pocket books, we can’t assume others are there yet, or will ever be there, and that’s okay. the last thing we’d want to do is make them feel as though we’d pushed too hard and ruined christmas. so our advice to anyone trying to follow in our footsteps is: slow and steady wins the race. focus on the baby steps and the little wins. the big wins will follow. (that advice works for pretty much any topic, actually.) ;-)
so there it is: the story of how we ever so gradually got to a no-spend christmas. the pace was slightly glacial, but we got here, and we bet others can, too.
have you made any small changes to your holiday traditions to move toward a less stuff-focused holiday? any changes you’re thinking about proposing? we’d love to hear in the comments!