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Christmas Without Consuming in California

Because the decision to say “no” to consumerism and instead be more mindful during the holidays is a universal issue faced by many families, especially during these uncertain economic times, I thought I’d follow Sarah Stewart Holland’s lead and share what my family does to stretch our budget while still embracing the Christmas spirit.

A few years ago before budgetary constraints forced me to be creative with my holiday spending (i.e., pre-baby, pre-WAHM, pre-Los Angeles mortgage days), my friends and I decided to forgo traditional gifts in favor of alternatives that better captured the meaning of Christmas and the holiday spirit. It’s funny, we came to this decision after we finally had full-time jobs that paid the bills and were no longer grad students. Despite our newfound ability to buy presents without worrying about ending up in the red, we still felt guilty about needless consumption or, if “guilt” is too strong of a word, we definitely felt turned off by the frenzy surrounding Christmas shopping. (Maybe it was a sign of our newfound maturity as adults since we were creeping closer to 30?) Either way, we made a commitment to get each other gifts that didn’t play into such consumerism. As a result, we created a much more thoughtful Christmas tradition that we’ve carried forward.

Each year, we give gifts in amounts that we can afford to charities that support causes near and dear to our friends’ hearts, we give gifts of experience (i.e., a French-themed movie and dinner night prepared at our home), or we give sentimental gifts (i.e., mixed tapes, photo albums, etc.). These are all things that are easily translatable to a holiday with kids, too. You can give your child a gift of making pancakes together. You can give you parent friends a night of free babysitting. You can buy an inexpensive massage book and experiment giving full-body massages to your spouse. Or you can scan your children’s artwork and create a coffee table book or DVD for grandma and grandpa.

Other ways families can enjoy a more manageable holiday season include:

  • A Family Gift Exchange: Everyone selects the name of one person and only buys or makes a gift for the individual within a certain price cap (usually $25 or $50). Or children only receive presents, while adults enjoy the gift of watching the kids’ excitement.
  • A Makeup Gift Exchange: A girlfriend recently told me that she and her close girlfriends draw names and buy a beauty product priced at no more than $25 for one other person, so everyone doesn’t go broke and gets to go home with something fun that she might normally pass up at the cosmetics counter.
  • Gift Giving Done Right: Elizabeth Antonia of the littlest offers this sage advice based on a tradition established by her older sister—each family member gets four gifts: something you want, something you need, one little something, and something to read.
  • Homemade or Practical Gifts for Siblings: Design Mom shared a great idea where siblings only make each other gifts such as painted cocoa mugs, repurposing old sweaters as scarves or beanies, or mason jar snow globes. And if they’re too young to manage a creative project, she has the children pick out practical gifts for everyone like toothbrushes or band aids that feature different designs.

How do you make the holidays fun but more manageable?

~ The Other Sarah

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