Ahhh – January… A Christmas shopping hangover month. We finally took the Christmas tree down a week ago when we had some time to ourselves after all the holiday travel. All the decorations have been put away and the Christmas tree is sitting by the fire pit outside ready for a yearly bonfire. Christmas would be just a fading memory was it not for the credit card bills that have been steadily rolling in this month.
Sure, we pay off all credit cards at the end of each billing cycle but they are still significantly higher in January because of holiday shopping we do in December. Every year I try to limit what we spend on presents but somehow we still end up spending a ton. At least it feels like a ton, so this year I wanted to look back at the actual numbers to see how we did. We use Mint to keep track of our finances so pulling out the numbers is as easy as searching for all transactions flagged with “Xmas”.
My wife has been complaining about her smartphone being ancient, slow and frustrating to use with today’s apps. On the market since early 2011 it was dated and due for an upgrade. After searching for a modern replacement I settled on Motorola Moto G which ticked all the right boxes. With an ebay unlock code and a case the total came in right around $100 for a brand new phone. Pricey, but in reality it’s still net savings because she went from a $30 per month prepaid plan with T-Mobile to a $10 per month plan with Airvoice Wireless. Better phone, better network and $20 savings per month – what’s not to like!
Our son got a t-ball set, Spiderman action figure, Spiderman pajamas for a total of $40. If it were up to me, he’d get a couple of his old toys gift-wrapped because at this age (2) he really doesn’t care about presents so we might as well enjoy this short non-materialistic period. Plus he gets plenty of presents from the family. It’s not just about the money either – with his toy box already overflowing why do we keep adding more toys? My wife didn’t want to hear it so I just let this one be to save an argument. Of course I couldn’t leave it completely alone so I emailed her this article for perspective: When Mommy and Daddy Took the Toys Away.
Every year I try to put some thought into what to get my 24-year-old nephew who’s just starting on his own path to FI with a 6-figure job and a 6-figure student loan. This Christmas I got him one of my favorite books about money – Your Money or Your Life. It was pivotal in my decision to pursue financial independence and I only wish someone would’ve given me this book when I was in my 20s. I also got him a Utili-Key (always on my key chain) and a set of fancy IPA beer glasses (he started brewing his own IPAs) to round-up the themes of FI, self-sufficiency and fun. Total cost – about $35.
My nephew got an art supply set and a sketchbook for $30. We’re working on getting him away from video games and back into art projects that he actually likes a lot. I don’t think video games are evil or anything but there is something wrong when an 11-year-old sits in the basement all day by himself screaming into a headset to his “friends” online.
Our niece got a scarf and gloves. She is at that age where nothing you get her is good/cool enough so after trying to be creative and failing several times we’re finally giving up and going with something boring. Total cost – about $30.
After our summer trip with my sister I knew exactly what to get her and her husband for Christmas. They brought 3 bikes to the beach and I was tasked with unloading and loading them back on the bike rack. That rack has seen better days and was a hazard to anyone following their minivan on the road. I bought them the same bike rack that I use on our car. It works great, it’s super sturdy while costing less than many other racks on the market. Cost – $40 at the time that I bought it. Looks like the price is higher now but it’s still a great deal compared to other racks in this price range.
Year after year the best gift that I give to my sister’s family is a calendar that I make using the pictures I take during the time we spend together as a family. They told me several times that I could stop giving them any presents at all as long as I continue making the calendar. It does take several hours to put together but I enjoy the work and their reaction. The calendar itself is usually around $20 but this year I scored a deal where it was only $6 at Shutterfly.
This Christmas my mom became a proud owner of new car seat covers. The 16-year-old Infiniti’s leather seats finally started to bust at the seams so a prudent solution is to put a set of covers on it. Other than that the car runs like a champ so if this band-aid keeps my mom from considering a new car, I’m all for it! Cost – $25.
No matter how much I tried I couldn’t convince my wife to forego Christmas cards this year. I really don’t get the obsession that people have with sending these to each other to only throw them out sometime in January. Our magnet board is still full of cards we received from friends and it’s right about time we recycle all of them. Cost – $65 including envelopes and stamps.
My wife does all the shopping for her side of the family which includes her mom, brother, sister-in-law, aunt and a cousin. She also buys me a present even though I’d be perfectly content with getting nothing. Tallying up all of her expenses it looks like she spent about $204.
Adding it all up we spent $575* on Christmas presents in 2014. Looks like my gut feeling that we were spending way too much in December was true – that’s a lot to drop on discretionary spending. Every year I hope we can do better only to find out that we failed miserably yet again. It’s a lot of people to shop for but I still think that with some creative thinking (Secret Santa etc) we should be able to keep our Christmas expenses to under $200.
*I’d be willing to subtract $100 from this for my wife’s new phone because a) the old one was falling apart and b) we’ll be saving $20 per month after a short 5 month break-even period. Who says Christmas presents can’t have an ROI?
I leave you today with these pictures. Do you really need to use expensive gift wrapping paper? If you buy your gifts online they might come with free gift wrapping already (AKA brown packing paper that companies like Amazon use to pad their shipping boxes).
Slap a wisecrack on it and you’re good to go! You can probably guess which gifts were wrapped by me and which by my wife in the first picture of this post?
Either way I’m glad I don’t have to worry about presents for at least 10 months. A birthday here and there but there’s much less pressure than around the Christmas holidays when it seems to hit all at once.