‘Tis the Season to be Spending


The internet is alive with the sound of bloggers spilling their beans on how much money they are spending this season on Christmas gifts for their family and friends. Predictably, the amounts are all over the place with some spending very little and others flirting with a 4 figure territory. We are pretty much done shopping so it seems only appropriate to share our own numbers and see if there are any lessons to be had here. One of the benefits of running a blog is the built-in accountability since you can’t just shred the receipts and charge it up next year, forgetting the hangover that comes in January.

We have 3 groups that we usually get presents for:

  • My wife, me and (starting last Christmas) – our son

  • My wife’s family – 5 people

  • My family – 6 people

Not that long ago my wife and I used to buy really nice and often expensive presents for each other. It wouldn’t be uncommon to gift things (or pictures of things if too big to fit under the tree) like jewelry, a new pair of skis, an elliptical machine, tickets to Europe, DSLR camera, a new used car… you get the idea. While some were merely timed to be given as a Christmas present and were budgeted for anyway (trip to Europe, car), others were extravagant and unnecessarily spendy.

A couple of years ago the two of us looked at all the stuff accumulated in our big house and declared “Opulence – I has it“. We have everything that we ever wanted – so much so that we should be selling some of the stuff on Craigslist. Since each of us has everything, it’s pretty hard to pick out something that one of us would really want. It does not matter how much money we could (reasonably) spend – in the end the fact remains that we are happy with what we got already. So what’s the point of spending a lot on a gift then? After talking it through we decided that it’s best to set the limit on gifts that we get one another. Gifts don’t have to be store bought, but if they are then it should not cost more than $50.

Apparently, my inlaws are facing the same problem trying to get us gifts. The standard operating procedure nowadays is 1) Them directly asking us what we want or 2) Them telling us to create an Amazon wish list for foolproof shopping. This is how I end up with things like Philips Sonicare brush heads and Gillette Fusion razor blades that are all currently on my Amazon list. Of course it works both ways and my wife tends to just ask her family what they want. Her aunt bypasses the whole “waiting for someone to ask her” game and will just straight out tell my wife what she wants this year and where to buy it. In my humble opinion, it would be a lot less hassle and aggravation if we each just got ourselves what we wanted then. Aren’t we doing just that already but in a lot less efficient way?

Yes, I know – where is your Christmas Spirit?!

This year, after exchanging presents (surprise! oh, wait, I know EXACTLY what’s under that wrapping paper) and having a few celebratory beverages we plan on having a talk with the inlaws to see if we can change up the routine a bit. While it would be nice to do away with this silly tradition and just enjoy our time together, I know it’s not gonna fly in this family so we’ll propose an alternative – a Secret Santa with a $50 limit. We can throw the names in a hat and each of us can give and receive one present. My wife is sceptical, but I feel like deep down everyone is a bit tired of it all anyway and will be relieved. Someone just needs to speak up.

Now, my family is a wild card. My sister and my mom don’t ask us what we want – which is great – but since we don’t want anything we end up with some interesting gifts. It’s not like any of it is bad, but it’s usually not anything that we could use (“we have everything”) or it’s not our “style” at all. Some recent examples include a ceramic teapot, a carry on suitcase and a back support belt – all collecting dust around the house.

And while we try get them something we think they would like I’m sure we are mostly missing the mark with our presents as well. We’ve given up on my brother-in-law because he always said things like “WTF is this?” upon opening a present from us. Now he gets things like CFL light bulbs, peanuts and Jesus action figures.  You are welcome.

My sisters kids are 1) Adult city slicker 2) Teenage girl with “hip” expensive tastes 3) Pre-teen boy who thinks that anything less than a $400 game console is a sign of no love. I KNOW they are just being polite when they thank us for our (uncool) presents.

I can go on, but I’m sure you have plenty of similar examples in your own family. The point is, a large part of the Season is spent stressing about what gifts to get and then having to (often) pretend while opening presents from others. I don’t like either option so we’ll be trying to change it up next year.

My wife and I will continue with our $50 limit for each other. I’m hoping that the Secret Santa arrangement will work with the in-laws. For my family, maybe we can switch to Experience rather than Things gift giving. Tickets to a movie, museum or theater? I don’t know exactly but something along those lines. One tradition that I plan on continuing is giving my sister’s family a calendar with some of the family pictures I took throughout the year. This is one gift I know they all absolutely love and enjoy.

Now let’s break down 2013 Christmas shopping and see what we spent:

  • Wife, me and our son – $100.  I got off easy this year. We went to see a ski movie and I ended up winning a $50 gift certificate to a local ski shop along with a pair of lift tickets at a ski resort. I took her shopping and she got a pair of ski gloves and ski socks which cost around $70 for a total out of pocket expense of just $20. That plus free lift tickets make a great present for both of us. I will be getting a pair of New Balance sneakers that my wife bought for around $30 online on Black Friday. I really need a new pair because my old ones are falling apart from all the walking. We spent around $50 on our sun buying mostly clothes and a couple of toys.

  • Inlaws – $170. My wife did all the shopping in this category and got things like clothes, crafts fair jewelry, personalized stationery and candles.

  • My family – $230. We both did a little bit of shopping to get something for everyone on the list.

It looks like we ended up spending around $500 on gifts in the run-up to Christmas. With 14 people on the list it works out to roughly $35 per person. Certainly nothing extravagant here and well within our means. However, the point is less about just trying to save money and more about trying to avoid the stress that traditional gift giving seems to bring year after year.

Let’s see what kind of a followup I can write this time next year.

Merry Christmas!



6 thoughts on “‘Tis the Season to be Spending

  1. The secret Santa is a good idea and one that, rather pleasantly, my in laws actually suggested this year! So instead of buying 5 presents we only bought two.

    I agree with you that most people would welcome the idea so good luck with pitching it to them!

  2. Secret Santa seems like a reasonable thing to do with an in-law situation. Three years ago, my wife suggested that idea for her side (we don’t shop for my side) and everyone agreed. The following year, we suggested just buying for the kids and leaving the adults out as it seems pointless to continue buying for grown-ass people. That idea went over like a turd in the salad bowl – although they reluctantly agreed to a 1 year trial. This year we are back to Secret Santa. Good luck!

  3. We never really spend much money on gifts in our family. This year we are only giving gifts to the kids. We spend a little more on gifts if we go to a family gathering, but it’s mostly consumable like a nice chocolate bar.

    • I’d love to get to the point where we get small presents only for the kids. As an adult, I’m happy with a gift of spending all this extra time with the family that we don’t get to see as much as we’d like.

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