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A Less Is More Holiday

By in Guest Post | 14 comments

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by Gary Foreman

Gary has one of the longest running personal finance blogs on the web, The Dollar Stretcher. He shares my interest in creating meaningful holidays.

Spending Less this Year Could Actually Mean a More Meaningful Holiday

Until recently Americans have increased their holiday spending every year. One record year after another. If you didn’t know better you’d think that we were running on a treadmill trying to buy holidayhappiness.

But the recession of the last few years has changed all that. Families struggling to make mortgage and credit card payments are cutting back on holiday purchases. And, they’re discovering something surprising. They’re actually having a more meaningful season when they spend less!

Hard to believe? Perhaps. But more and more people are reporting that a simpler holiday is actually more enjoyable. Let’s see if we can’t findout why that might be true and what changes you might want to considerfor your own holiday.

Begin by considering the years when money was plentiful. You might have had a budget, but if you overspent by a few dollars it was no big deal.

So if you couldn’t find the sweater you wanted for Uncle Albert you just chose the next closest thing. Often a little more expensive, but so what? Check Uncle off the list.

Same thing on party planning. Guest lists were easy. The more the merrier. Sure the party was so crowded and noisy that you didn’t really get to catch up with anyone. But that’s just the way that holiday parties are.

But the last couple of years you simply didn’t have the money to spend on the holidays. You had to keep to a budget. Spending extra wasn’t an option.

So what happened? You began by removing some names from your gift list. There were a number of people that you really didn’t want to buy for, but did because you figured they expected a gift. You talked to them and decided not to exchange gifts this year. You found that it was refreshing not to have to take valuable time buying their gift. Less time spent cruising virtual or brick and morter shopping malls.

What about the remaining people on your list? Unlike years past, you didn’t have as much money to spend on them. But you found that by thinking about what they’d like you could often find unique, creative gifts in unusual places. On eBay or in 2nd hand shops. The gifts related to their lifestyle or some experience that you shared with them.

How were these gifts received? Actually quite well. As an avid flyfisherman your uncle found the collection of old postcards featuring fishing scenes fascinating. Your Mom was all teary eyed when you gave her the framed caligraphy list of things that she taught you about life.

Upon reflection you realized that thinking about the person the gift was for tied you closer to them and made for more meaningful gifts.

You also found that you spend less time with holiday related activities. To avoid buying a closet full of party clothes, you dedided to turn down all but the most important gatherings. In their place you spent time with your family at a number of free community events. It was the first time in years that your family spent so much stress-free time together.

Looking back on it you found it to be one of the best holidays that your family has ever had. No stress about spending money that you didn’t have. No credit card hangover in January. And, you actually got to celebrate what really matters for the holidays: friends, family and faith.

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who publishes The Dollar website and newsletters. They’ve been teaching people how to “live better…for less” since 1996. Check out these ideas for inexpensive teacher gifts.

What is your favorite holiday memory? Is it a gift, experience or something else?


  1. Holidays shouldn’t be about the miles traveled but the memories made!


    October 24, 2011

  2. A thoughtful gift need not be expensive. The holidays have become so commercialized, let’s remeber what they are about. Family and friends and not things.


    October 24, 2011

  3. We are driving up to Oregon this year for Christmas to spend it with my family. It will be nice because we are taking the kids to see grandma. Which means not very many presents but that not the point anyways. At least we will be enjoying time with family.


    October 24, 2011

  4. @Moneycone-Memories last, things son’t!
    @krantcents-Family and friends are priceless, material goods… not so much.
    @TAnya-Sounds like you are in for a special holdiay this year!

    Barbara Friedberg

    October 24, 2011

  5. We cut back on holiday gifts quite a few years ago, and the holidays really have felt a lot more meaningful and relaxed ever since. The holidays that have meant the most to me have been when my family was all able to be together.


    October 24, 2011

  6. Last year, I decided I would cut back on expenses and invest in the lives of those around me… we keep saying gifts reflect our love, so I decided to spend time writing coupons. It could be a coffee with me, a trip to the zoo, etc. All things I would enjoy doing and would do… but with the intentionality of spending time together.

    Doctor Stock

    October 24, 2011

  7. Well I would have to agree with Gary, the most I enjoy about holidays is having all the family reunited under one roof.


    October 25, 2011

  8. I totally agree with Moneycone. Holidays are about the experience and the memories, not the stuff, the money, the gifts, or the miles. Holidays are about cherishing the awesome people we have in our lives and celebrating our freedoms. At least that is what I think they should be about. It has only been since commercialism has gone nuts the last decade or so that this has been pushed to the background.

  9. @Jackie-It’s nice to maintain a “reasonable’ spending level most of the time. Keeps one out of trouble!
    @Dr. Stock- I think this is great!! Creative and personal!
    @Beating-time with family is priceless….usually 🙂
    @Miss T-I’m really big on making memories. I have to disagree, I think commercialism has been around a bit longer!


    October 25, 2011

  10. I don’t think i’ve ever spent that much on holidays, though i tend to spend a lot more on birthdays. it was always the case that the family was just more into being around each other and not so much the gift opening. it’s great to give gifts, but when they were just bought at the store without much thought just to have a present – it seems a little bit less exciting. it also drives a feeling of entitlement at holiday time, each time expecting more than the last.


    October 25, 2011

  11. @1st step-That entitlement thing can really get out of control! I agree that “less is more” as in many things in life.

    Barb Friedberg

    October 25, 2011

  12. We go for the experiences. We do splurge on the little ones, but for the adults we just do homemade or small gifts.

    Marie at FamilyMoneyValues

    October 25, 2011

  13. We’ve never been much for extravagant gifts. I do indulge quite a bit in wrapping paper and ribbons. I follow the Matryoshka-doll-style of gift wrapping: one box inside another inside another inside yet another. A pair of earrings might eventually be in a box the size of microwave. A little wasteful, I know, but it makes for a lot of fun and anticipation and guessing games.

    101 Centavos

    October 26, 2011

  14. We don’t really spend much on gifts during the holiday season. The memories of the family celebrating the special days together cannot be equated with the material gifts.


  1. A Less Is More Holiday - The Dollar Stretcher - [...] of your personal finances. She's been kind enough to run an article I wrote called A Less Is More Holiday. It's…

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