We're doing a Hundred Dollar Holiday this year, and it feels wonderful. Scary too, but I'm trying to let that go.
For many years now we have scaled back a little each Christmas, if not on money spent, then certainly on the number of gifts given to our boys. Their Christmas is not the gift free-for-all that mine was.
I'll admit that the fact they we purchased new bikes for the boys in November made introducing the idea of a $100 holiday a little easier. Not that there wasn't a little dissent. But they came around; they are good kids and they had already been told that new bikes in November meant we would have a small Christmas.
But how did we get here? Honestly, I had a bit of a post-Thanksgiving meltdown thinking about gifts for my extended family. Two years in a row I pulled off meaningful Christmas gifts involving old photos, but that well was dry this year. I was facing rising panic, something that happens to me when I am feeling forced to act outside of my values.
This, of course, is my issue. I worry about other people's expectations and not meeting them. I feel badly that my dad spends so much more money on us than we do on him (this is still true even though he has cut his budget in half). I wonder if people even like it when I give handmade presents. In short, my self esteem takes a nose dive as soon as I start thinking about gifts.
Once upon a time my family held a gift exchange among the adult siblings and spouses. It worked wonderfully, but then we added a new member to the family and that person didn't want to do an exchange. We chose to honor her wishes and went back to everyone giving everyone else a present. Papa's family also tried a gift exchange and even the grandparents were included, which was fantastic, but when the economy tanked Papa decided he wanted to give everyone a present and oops, that was the end of the exchange and now everyone gives presents to everyone else.
So there I was, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, trying to come to terms with the amount of gift giving we do and the fact that I didn't have an ace up my sleeve for this year's gifts. I didn't want to give cash and I didn't want to shop for items that might be enjoyed but would require going against my values.
Those values are simple. Give homemade, consumable, or experiential gifts. If something is to be purchased, do so from a small, local shop. Skip the malls, the big boxes, and the gift cards that tell people where they have to spend their money. Don't give cash (despite the advice in Scroogenomics). Oh, and do it without spending a lot of money so that we can donate to a local charity. Keep the focus on spending time together rather than on gives given and received.
My reasons are simple, as well. Homemade and experiential gifts are not made overseas by people who may labor in deplorable working conditions and they do not require being shipped across the country. They also encourage us in our own creativity. Consumable and experiential gifts don't clutter up houses, and later, landfills. Experiential gifts build memories. Shopping local, especially for items that are produced locally, helps maintain local jobs and supports the local economy.
This is our first Hundred Dollar Holiday, and as I mentioned, a few things came together to make it seem feasible for us. Not only had we already purchased new trail bikes for the boys, but we had planned an outing for my father-in-law's birthday and told Papa's siblings that the tickets would be our gift to them. Since that money was spent before we decided on our spending cap we decided to roll with it. It may be a rationalization to say that the money was spent in honor of a birthday, but it is also true. We wanted everyone to be able to go.
Also, we aren't against spending money on gifts; we are consciously attempting to break the stress cycle and overconsumption at Christmas. Indeed, shifting spending to birthdays feels like a great thing to do; birthdays rarely cause the same panic that holiday gift giving does. For birthdays, in addition to the list of homemade, consumable, experiential gifts we include items that contribute to these things, such as bikes and biking accessories. I have no doubt that when my boys look back they will see biking as their defining activity during their teen years. They are building memories on their bikes day by day.
It is my hope that this year will be a tremendous success and that we can then broach the subject of gifts with our extended families sometime during the year. While not everyone may be on board, my guess is that quite a few people will breathe a sigh of relief at the idea of minimizing or eliminating the gift giving at Christmas.