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How To Save Money on Christmas Gifts

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Now that we’ve crossed the Halloween threshold, the Christmas season is fast upon us. Here are a few ways to save money on Christmas gifts.

The threshold used to be Thanksgiving, the day after Thanksgiving, also known as Black Friday or more accurately Bloody Friday since Walmart and the denizens within starting notching up a body count.

As an editorial aside, I think it’s deplorable that many retailers, especially the Big Box variety are now open Thanksgiving Day.  Thanksgiving Day used to be a sacred, uniquely American institution devoted to overeating, football, and fighting with the relatives you can’t stand.

Lately, it’s devolved to become a ‘Murican’ holiday, signifying nothing other than our mindless over-consumption of cheaply made foreign tat.

The people forced to work that day, in those stores have a family too that presumably, no matter how terrible and dysfunctional, they would rather be spending the day with than helping you score a sweet deal on a waffle maker.  So please, stay your ass home to discourage this trend.  That said, back to business.

Many of us would just like to spend the holidays with our family without the added pressure of choosing the perfect gift and then wrapping it so well Martha Stewart would be in awe.  In fact, I will go so far as to venture that most of us feel that way.  The problem is, no one will be the first to step up and say so.

Well, I hereby endow you with authority to stand up and say, “From this day forward we will no longer buy each other useless crap we can’t afford and really don’t want anyway!”

Feel that? Feels like freedom baby.

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Let’s take a look at a few ways that we can stop the gifting madness but still have a great or even better Christmas.  Please keep in mind that you can’t spring this on people December 21.  Some people are freaks and will already have next year’s gifts purchased and wrapped by then.

Have this conversation via group email now or at the very latest, over Thanksgiving when everyone is more pliable from tryptophan and booze.  (The tryptophan thing is largely a myth.

The reason you feel sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner isn’t the awesome lean protein that’s in turkey.  It’s all the beige carbs you scarfed in the form of stuffing, bread rolls, and mashed potatoes.  Poor turkey, getting all the shade.)

 No Gifts

No gifts!

Ok, this is the nuclear option and won’t work for everyone.  But it’s an option never the less.  It’s all in the way you approach the conversation.  For instance, standing up at the Thanksgiving table, beer in hand, declaring, “Look, I’m a cheap bastard, and you’re all cheap bastards too.

We barely tolerate each other, and once Nanna is dead, we never have to do this again.  So in that spirit, let’s not buy any gifts.”

Use a little finesse.  If your family is pretty small and you’re close, explain that things are tight this year and you would like to forego giving or receiving gifts.

If you have a big family, give the old speech about how Christmas has gotten too commercial, robbing the holiday of its real meaning, family togetherness.  Or whatever.  You Norman Rockwell types need to give the rest of us some pointers on how to pull this off in the comments because I’ve got nothing.

The 4 Gift Rule

The 4 gift rule is easy to understand the way to teach children that they can’t have everything they want. You buy your children four gifts, one from each of four categories – something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read. And you don’t have to spend a lot on these gifts.

There are lots of good reasons to follow the four gift rule that doesn’t have anything to do with raising grateful, non-greedy children.So much of what is made for children is plastic junk that will sit in a landfill somewhere not degrading for hundreds of years. And it comes packaged in more plastic.

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This one will work great with friends as well as family.  Let your friends know that you would like to do something with them rather than buy each other gifts.  A few years ago my best friend and I went to a performance of The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center and then had dinner at Esca.  She paid for the tickets, and I paid for dinner.  It was a great evening and much more memorable than buying each other sweaters.

 Family Gift

Rather than buying multiple gifts for each member of a nuclear family, buy one gift for the whole family or couple.  A Netflix subscription, a membership to a local museum or zoo, one of those photo albums printed from photos if your family isn’t too ugly to be immortalized in book or (gag) calendar form.

Charitable Gift

This is controversial because maybe the recipient doesn’t have the same charitable tastes that you have.  So a donation in their name to Planned Parenthood probably won’t be properly appreciated by your right wing, bible banging cousin.  And you don’t feel comfortable donating to the NRA or whatever things that kind of people support.  But most people (psychopaths excepted) love animals.  So maybe a donation to their local animal shelter.

 Gifts for Children Only

I think this only works if all the siblings have kids.  It doesn’t seem fair that the child free person in the family gets stuck with the bill for their seventeen nieces and nephews and gets nada in return.  So tread carefully here.  But honestly, once you’re too old for toys, Christmas gifts are never really the same.

You are unlikely to be as excited and happy as a four-year-old unwrapping a Cabbage Patch Doll, Furby, Tickle Me Elmo, whatever the must have toy is that year, no matter what you get.  So I say this as a person who doesn’t like kids, let them have their little moment.  Enjoy a festive fucking beverage later as your reward for altruism.


New Orleans at Christmas

I saved the best for last you guys.  Depending on the size of your family and your choice of destination, this may not be the cheapest option.  But it is the most fun.  I did this for the first time two years ago.

I wanted to see my family, but they don’t live somewhere easily accessible from NYC.  So I suggested we all meet up in New Orleans.  Well, one member had been spending Christmas with his family his whole life.  But doesn’t really like his family.

So when I suggested New Orleans, he wasn’t sure.  I told him he was a grown up and didn’t have to spend the holidays with them.  Not really.  He only felt obligated, and it was just what he had always done, so it was what he always did.

Christmas Eve sitting at Pirate’s Alley Café drinking absinthe in 70-degree weather, lightning struck.  He realized it was the best Christmas he had ever had.  No fighting, no arguing, no biting his tongue.  Just the holiday with people he wanted to spend time with.  Couldn’t believe he hadn’t done this years ago and had done it every year since.

You don’t have to spend Christmas with your whole extended family.  You can take your own little family and go somewhere great.

I’ll recommend New Orleans as I often do.  It is magical any time of year but Christmas there is just something else.  No decorating, no cooking, no fighting.  Just fun and food and family in the setting of your choice.  Consider it.

To be honest, your extended family probably doesn’t like you any more than you like them so rather than be mad, they’ll be relieved.  They’ll all sit around the dinner table talking shit about you but what the fuck do you care?  You’re in New Orleans, home of such delights as the go cup, po boys, gumbo, and jazz.  Life doesn’t get much better, never mind Christmas.

So those are some ideas to help you put the brakes on the stress that the overspending causes during the holidays.  If any of you take the leap and do the vacation idea, let us know where you went and how right I was that it was the best idea you ever had.

If any of you try to pull any of this off and are disowned, I’ll be in New Orleans again this year so come on down, and I’ll buy in absinthe.

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Candice Elliott - Senior Editor Candice Elliott is a substantial contributor to Listen Money Matters. She has been a personal finance writer since 2013 and has written extensively on student loan debt, investing, and credit. She has successfully navigated these areas in her own life and knows how to help others do the same. Candice has answered thousands of questions from the LMM community and spent countless hours doing research for hundreds of personal finance articles. She happily calls New Orleans, Louisiana home-the most fun city in the world.

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