Could You Afford Presents This Year?

I really love giving gifts. I get into the whole thing, from actually buying/making something to choosing the perfect wrapping paper and bow. I think I’m pretty good at the art of gifting, because I really think about the person and put my heart and soul into the gift. Over the years I’ve done everything from writing poetry to buying the latest electronic gizmo.

This year, however, we can’t afford Christmas presents. There have been some years where I at least got something for my husband, but this year not even that seems prudent. olivesmarido is very frugal, you see, and would rather we save our money than spend money on something he doesn’t need. My present to him is cleaning the house every weekend for a year–and since his birthday is Sunday I’ll take him to dinner. But other than that, we just can’t afford it. This is too bad because I really wanted to get him tickets to see Avenue Q on Broadway.

He was originally going to get me an Amazon Kindle, but looking at our financial situation (I’m planning on spending the summer in Mexico again, and also will be starting graduate school next year and taking out copious amounts of student loans, and also we will be moving and will possibly need to purchase a car…) well you get the idea. Instead we canceled the order and have put the money into savings toward these upcoming expenses.

I assume everyone in our family for the most part to be understanding. It’s costing us a pretty penny to travel back to Michigan in January and since nobody we know has any place to put us, we’ll spend most of our nights in hotels. This adds up fast, so we’ve decided to get everyone a nice card. I’ve had more than one person in my family announce that they cannot afford Christmas presents this year, so I know we’re not the only ones who can’t afford it.

On the one hand, I wish we could do something, because I love giving just as much as I love receiving. On the other hand, the feeling of liberation from the burden of spending large chunks of money for no apparent reason is very nice. I am of the mind that you shouldn’t give unless you truly can afford it – nobody should have to go into debt over Christmas. That is, in fact, the exact opposite of what the holiday is supposed to be about.

I don’t expect anything from anyone, I just try to appreciate what is. I hope nobody feels like we didn’t care. For the last several years I have grown more and more impatient with the message that you must get presents to show people you really care. I think for a lot of people it’s an unreasonable expectation. I can’t tell you how many clients we have (in credit counseling) who call in dire straits every January because they blew all their money in December. It makes me a little bit angry that there is so much pressure on spending money. I would estimate that 50% of the people who give presents can actually afford it. I don’t think I should feel guilty at all about this, and yet I do.

So I’m curious–how many Dopers had to forgo gifts this year. How do you feel about the tradition of giving gifts? Like me, do you think the pressure exceeds the value? Is my thinking on this too black-and-white? Can we find a middle ground?

We didn’t forgo entirely, but we did scale way, way back. So did everyone else in the family, it seems. We spent about $75 on each of the kids, instead of the usual $150 or $200. I suggested to my husband that we not buy for each other, but that didn’t go over so well. So I made him a necklace and got him a couple of things. I think I spent about $50 on him altogether. He did get more splurgy than I did, because he found a great deal on the I,Claudius DVD set that I’ve been mooning over for years.

I made necklaces for almost all of the women in my families - 10 in all, from about $30 of beading supplies. Last year handmade jewelry was one of two or three gifts they each got, but this year it’ll have to stand alone. I let my son get away without shopping this year, except for my mother (and he bought me a beautiful strand of tiger eye beads without my knowing!) My daughter decorated little craft foam “gingerbread” men and Christmas trees, which we stuck in little cello bags with some tinsel, Hershey’s kisses and wallet sized pictures of her with Santa (which I printed at home from the scanned 5X7 I purchased). It’s important to me that she has *something *to give everyone; the dollar value on a gift from a three year old is rather unimportant in my eyes.

So yeah, it’s been a rather frugal little Christmas for us.

We started saving up for Christmas back in June (no credit Christmas, baby!) and I think we did fairly well. I made homemade salt and sugar scrubs for my MIL and SILs, and the adult children drew names, so we didn’t have to spend a lot of money on the grown-ups.

This is actually the first Christmas in a few years that I’ve bought anything for anyone. I still didn’t spend much ($30 apiece for two friends, and I’ve budgeted $50 for my mom but haven’t been shopping for her yet), but it’s more than $0. Gift-giving really has not been a priority since I started school in 2002, but earlier this year I finished paying off my car, I got a decent raise a few months ago, and I’m finally getting enough in scholarships to cover tuition, so I decided to buy a few things. A nice confluence of events, especially considering the economy.

(Then again, I was taken by ambulance to an ER in early November and haven’t yet received my bill for that, so I might be skint again shortly!)

Great post! We must be thinking alike today because I just made a post about virtually the same thing. I didn’t think this would be true but it feels really good to have scaled back. I spent one exhausting day at the mall with my mom and sister and left it at that. The freedom from shopping for several weekends, buying online (with my credit card) and wrapping lots of gifts has been great.

My son got a video game, a wireless headset for his X-Box 360, a shirt, and an X-Box Live 3 month subscription. Some candy and other goodies in his stocking, and that was it. My daughter got a hoodie, a pair of jeans, a tank top, a book, and a makeup bag with eyeshadow, foundation, and some lip gloss (I had an ulterior motive - maybe she will stop using my makeup now). Some candy and other goodies in her stocking, and that was it for her as well. We told them well in advance that this Christmas was going to be minimal. We had dinner, built a fire in the fireplace, and spent the evening together. Opening gifts was another part of a nice day and not the highlight of the evening.

The reason for this season was all about family, and it was so much less stressful than previous years. Then again, I quit my retail job to go back to school, so that could be why I feel so much more mellow. Retail work is hell November through early January.

That’s funny, I just posted in your thread too. It would be a lot harder for me to cut back if I had kids. For one thing I have that spoiling instinct, but also I would worry they wouldn’t be able to understand. I’m glad you were able to talk to your kids and let them know what to expect. It sounds like they made out pretty good to me!

It’s absolutely true that the whole point of Christmas is to spend time with your loved ones, but I wonder how often that message gets lost in the shuffle?

I bought a sweater for my boyfriend and something special for my grandmother. That’s it. I usually go all out and buy something for all my family, friends, even co-workers. This year, it was surprisingly easy to not buy anything.

Although I did miss wrapping presents.

We were broke until a couple of weeks ago, but now we’re OK. I made a lot of presents–we usually try to keep it pretty simple. This year we did decide to splurge on AG dolls for the girls, and that’s about all they got from us. I sewed clothes for the dolls (an AG outfit costs ~$25, which is about what I spent on making nighties and 4 fancy outfits). I’m very happy with what we spent and how nice a day we had with a lot of family.

Unfortunatly not so much. It made my wife cry, bless her heart. I’m just glad she puts more importance on giving than receiving.

I’d never heard of American Girl dolls (I had to google ‘‘AG doll’’) It seems like a more sophisticated version of Barbie… I like that they each have their own story and character and seem really set apart as individuals. Well maybe I’m overthinking this… but I think it would be a cool present.

Not much at all. Everyone got homemade food. Mom got a great carrot cake (spent a lot of time decorating it, at least), grandma got zucchini bread, etc.

I used to think that my kids would be so disappointed if they didn’t have lots of things to open on Christmas morning. When they are little, toys aren’t usually very expensive and it’s easy to have a lot of things under the tree for less than $100. As they got older I still wanted to give them lots of things to open, in addition to that one great ‘Wow’ gift from Santa. Video game systems and electronics are expensive! Clothes for teen girls are also very pricey, especially when her favorite place is Abercrombie & Fitch. Once you start doing that it’s hard to scale back.

I always enjoyed their excitement so much that the January bills felt justified at the time. And February, March and April…

Last year I decided to return to school. I quit my job in April and have worked part-time ever since so I could go to school full-time and retain my sanity. I’ll get an Associate’s degree next June. I just started a full-time job a week ago. My first day was my husband’s last - he got laid off.

With all of this going on I realized that I need to refocus on what is important to me. Completing an education so that I can get a better job - definitely important. Buying things that we have to pay off for the next few months? Nah.

Shockingly enough, the kids didn’t shrivel up and wither away into nothingness out of disappointment and shock. They were happy with what they had.

One of the advantages of being deployed is access to bazaars with exotic gifts at bargain basement prices. I actually ended up getting more extravagant gifts than I would have had I been home (Afghani rugs for my parents and brother, emeralds and star sapphires for my daughters), but spending much less. I even got all of my cousins marble bowls, at a total cost of maybe 50 bucks.

I am really glad to hear that. It is a fantastic thing that you have prioritized your education… this is essentially what I am doing too, as all these upcoming expenses are related to graduate school. My husband is in grad school right now, and it’s awesome that he gets paid to be a student, but it’s not exactly a fortune to live on. I thought long and hard about the expense of returning to Mexico (four months’ room and board PLUS four months’ rent in the states), and decided it must be treated like an educational expense, since learning to speak fluent Spanish will be such an integral part of my career and the work I do will greatly enhance my odds of getting into my concentration of choice.

So yes, in essence I am choosing going to Mexico over buying Christmas gifts. But I think every person has the right to make those kind of choices without feeling like they are giving their family the short shrift.

Yes, but like others, we did scale back a bit.

I really love giving & buying gifts, and sometimes go a bit nuts (like spending too much). I did a lot of bargain hunting this year, and also made some gifts, too. It pays to be crafty.

My husband & I did not exchange gifts last year, but neither of us really liked it, so we did this year. Just less than usual.

My wife is back in school, so we are way cut back this year as I am barely squeaking by. So we tried to focus on our immediate family (myself, wife, children) and the extended children… and not so much on any the adults. Even then we had a very strict budget.

My wife did make necklaces for some of the women, using beads and pearls and whatnot that she has. So the only people that really ended up not getting anything from us was most of the guys.

We could afford it, but we generally avoid the whole over-the-top gift frenzy that surrounds the holidays anyways.

I like to give nice handmade gifts… I gave one friend a floppy beret made of super-nice pima cotton (which was a splurge at $16/skein, but since that’s all I need for the hat, it’s still a bargain), made jewellery for a few other girlfriends (about $5-$10 per piece in materials), made marmalade for The Boy’s parents and my mom ($3, including the cost of the jar) and made a huge batch of biscotti to hand out at work (pennies a cookie). I still package everything up nicely with ribbon and accents from the dollar store, so that it doesn’t look cheap, but other than that I refuse to set foot in a store between mid-November and Jan 1st.

I think it’s probably residual psychological damage from all those years in retail. :slight_smile:

I thought I could afford it, so I gave the nieces and nephews Christmas cards with greenery, as usual. My older sister apparently thought I couldn’t afford it, as she gave me the eye as I gave her kids their envelopes. I could be wrong, but despite this year’s disastrous returns, I don’t believe I’m going to go broke any time soon.

My mother died a couple months ago and no one was in the mood for a big Christmas. I got my nieces each 4 movie theatre passes and large boxes of candy to sneak in. I thought about cash, but I know when you’re broke, things like movies are the first thing cut from the buget, so I gave them something they wouldn’t give to themselves. My sister was going to get cash, but she mentioned she needed to buy a rolly laundry hamper, so she got that. My nephew at first said he didn’t want movie passes, didn’t want a bookstore gift card, etc. Now he’s decided that maybe a Borders gift card would be just the thing.

The dogs got 2 big bags (25 in each bag) of pigs ears, but two weeks ago they got them down and ate them all. Bad puppies! Milkbones for the 6 dogs!

It was a lowkey Christmas, Mass on Christmas Eve, but not Midnight Mass, dinner with my sister and nieces and nephew on Christmas Day. I’ll hit my brother and his family later on.


We did fine, but that’s just because I’m anal about cash flow. Ordinarily we buy gifts all throughout the year, only having to fill in about half our gifts towards the end of the year. I used to see things I knew someone in our family would love, and proclaim that I’d have to remember that for Christmas. Ha. That never happened. Then I tried carrying around a pocket-sized diary in my purse, and making notes of what I’d seen or ideas I had. That was better, but still left a lot of stressful hunting around near the end, especially if I couldn’t find exactly what I’d seen before. Now we have a drawer in a dresser in the basement that is the “gift drawer” and we buy it when we see it. That not only reduces stress, but it spreads out the spending so it’s not all bunched up in the last month of the year.

I also move money into a savings account every month, that is my “escrow” funds. I plan ahead for the entire year for what our major expenses are going to be; property taxes, auto and motorcycle insurance, homeowner’s insurance and a kind of big chunk for annual motorcycle maintenance. I add all those costs up, divide by 12, and that’s what I move to savings every month. Then, when the big bills pop up, the cash is there and we don’t have to scrimp on everyday living expenses.

Well this year we had kind of a hectic year and somehow managed not to do any advance shopping to speak of. BUT. . . the bike has been sitting in the garage for months not even being used, after having had some pretty major work done on it a while ago. So I took the bike maintenance money I’d set aside and used that for Christmas gifts this year. We also did a LOT of our shopping at Mervyn’s, which saved us a boatload of money because everything was so deeply discounted since they’re going out of business.

And for my husband’s colleagues, we made candy wreaths for each of them. The raw materials ended up costing us about $12 for each wreath. And if you stick with hard candies, you could actually make them for almost half that because the candy is much, much less expensive than the soft chewy kind.