Don’t get me wrong, I personally think Christmas is a great time of year. The decorations are pretty, the lights make evenings more sparkly, you get to do traditions with your kids that you remember from your own childhood, and people in Seattle might actually crack a smile when you walk past them on the street — though now you’ll never know if that’s true or if in your holiday haze you just imagined it peeking up behind their masks. There is a lot of good around this holiday.
And yet, as there are always two sides to any coin, in this gift-giving culture, Christmas can also be a real financial burden. Particularly if you’re prone to gift-giving as a language of love (said by a person who suffers from that quality).
I can’t say I have the answer to this. And I could hypothesize forever about how our consumer society seems to be in its twilight years. I could lament the major burden of organization, gift-giving and holiday festivities that seem to land in the laps of most wives and mothers I know. Either way, this holiday can be stressful as much as it can be lovely. In the era of COVID, this is even more pronounced as we see people throughout our country suffering in a way that none of us feel like we have the power to change at a societal level. It’s frustrating and stressful and also evokes guilt and gratitude for the safety and resources we do have.
Here’s how I have adapted to motherhood, the responsibility I feel to make these holidays special for my son, and gift-giving to all the family and friends that I love …on an entrepreneur’s budget. So get ready for my list on financially navigating your Christmas spend while trying to express your love to people.
The first few years I was back in the United States after I lived abroad, (btw, the trick to a low-spend Christmas before Amazon was the gift-delivering beast it is now, was to just skip going home for the holidays), I was busy starting a business and settling into the cadence of an U.S. lifestyle, so my shopping was done predominantly from December 10 through December 23. I learned after a year or two that this was the sure-fire way to spend way more money than I wanted to during this season.
So in year three, I started making lists for present ideas throughout the year for my key buys. Parents, in-laws, and the kid. Around July I would start to actually think about buying some of them in order to spread out the costs and try to optimize on prices. That meant both buying early and taking advantage of sales. My childhood friends will tell you I was never good at jumping on a bandwagon, so admittedly I always thought Black Friday had a little too much hype. That was until I realized that if I was organized, Black Friday was a coup to my budget. (How’s that for squashing my hubris?).
So my first key hard-earned takeaways for navigating the financial burden of the holidays became:
1. Make your lists throughout the year
2. Start buying early and leverage sales
3. For number 3 we move to resources closer to home, use the children.
One very useful thing about having a child is that around Christmas you can use them to make presents. Some may call this child labor, I call it showing off the grandchild’s creative talents to adoring grandparents. One year we made hot chocolate mixes for everyone which was a good stocking stuffer. Another year he had a whole art project tracing cool warriors from different countries out of a picture book, that actually ended up being pretty cool and a big hit that year. (“He’s such a good artist!” said by the biased, genetically-connected relatives). This year we’re working on DYI Christmas ornaments for stocking stuffers that are not breakable and easily sent by mail.
4. Gifts that keep on giving:
Age appropriate, but investing in the kids’ future (when really you have to anyway) and giving it to them as a gift is pure genius in my mind. My ever-amazing co-founder Maia Monell details all the easy ways to buy investments for others in this article. I personally am a fan of treasury bonds, and now that my kid is 9 and has a concept of ownership, stocks. It’s never a large sum, but it’s a great opportunity to make them feel a part of generating wealth at a young age, and have them receive a statement each month to watch their money grow (or fall, and therein lies the low-stakes education).
They’re also all kinds of banks around that have low fee high-yield savings accounts for kids. We opened one for my son a couple years ago at a local credit union and I jealously watch him get 6% on his savings every month. He gets that statement in the mail and he sees passive income being made in his sleep. If you have friends and family that don’t know what to get your kid, money in a savings account or investment vehicle that’s pretty awesome, especially when they get older and can look cool to their friends when they already know what compound interest is. (Admittedly, maybe my mommy pipedream, but we’re working hard to make money sexy over here).
Over the five years we’ve lived in Seattle, we’ve built a lovely group of friends. There are enough of them whom I care about and to whom I always want to give presents that I could potentially break the bank. On top of friends, who knew doing something nice for your kids teachers is a thing — though don’t get me wrong, if COVID has taught me anything it’s that all teachers deserve champagne and bubble baths every day for their work cajoling the growth of the future generations mailable brains. To achieve my purpose of showing gratitude but not breaking the bank, there are two ways I have devised to show my appreciation. One, is cookie making. My son loves doing it, people love eating them, you can make big batches and distribute to many people, and flour, butter and sugar don’t cost that much mula.
6. Throwing a party.
The other way, (more in a pre-Covid era), has been hosting Christmas parties or dinners for friends, usually in the form of a potluck. This has become a fun tradition for us over the years. I make our traditional mulled wine, people bring food, there’s a fire and tree, people get all warm and snuggly, we play games and, voila, we all feel the holiday cheer :-).
7. Family members.
Finally, and said with deep love and appreciation, I realized two Christmases in, that I had an opportunity to leverage the grandparents. I am lucky enough to have three sets of parents. My parents divorced when I was young and my father remarried my stepmother when I was nine. They then divorced when I was 21 but she is like a second mother to me, so essentially my son has six grandparents including her new partner and my bio-parents new spouses. Now I realize this is unique, however, I have no qualms in leveraging this lovely scenario to obtain things that my son needs throughout the year. He will definitely be getting new shoes from one grandparent and drum lessons from another. Obviously, this is unique to our situation, however, leveraging family members to provide your children things they need/want is a great way to stretch your budget so you can focus on one or two key items you know the kid will be excited to get from you.
In summary, holidays are complicated and I have not found a great way to save easily in this season. But I have found ways to reduce costs while still showing my appreciation for the special people in our lives.
Have any other tips and tricks? I am really game to learn how others get through the holiday season with cheer and low cost. Maybe I’ll even jump on a bandwagon for the cause:).
Make a list of presents throughout the year
Start buying early to spread out the cost, yes, take advantage of sales
DIY -food, kids art, consumable items are memory making and mostly utilized gifts.
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