My own family composes of first-generation immigrants. The only thing I remember celebrating as a child was Chinese New Year’s. By celebrate, I meant we lit incense and watched Chinese New Year TV specials for hours; we didn’t do anything besides that but symbolically it was important. We didn’t do birthdays or anniversaries either.
Holidays are not made for the working poor. I remember my parents hoping for extra shifts during the holidays because it meant having a little more money.
My husband’s family was more of your run of the mill average American. They had a budget first and foremost – but they also noted how important a good Christmas holiday would be to a kid’s childhood. They found real and authentic ways to prepare for a perfect holiday with 4 kids to gift for.
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The Wrong Way To Celebrate Christmas
I don’t tell people what’s the wrong way of celebrating a holy, family-oriented holiday, but I will be honest with you, I think this is wrong the wrong way to spend Christmas:
A friend of ours lamented once about how her family always goes all out for Christmas. They are extremely generous with gifts. It sounds like a great thing but naturally, they also expect great gifts in return.
By “great” I mean nothing under $200 per person at Nordstrom (with at least 3-6 people expecting extravagant gifts). She’s annoyed about it but her anti-gift murmurs have gone on deaf ears. Her mother has a spending problem and her sisters enjoy being on the receiving end of their mother’s spending problem. Hmmm.
The highlight is there’s a sure-fire chance that she will get a new iPhone and the latest Coach bag. Except…she doesn’t necessarily need any of those as a debt carrying graduate student on a fixed income. She needs RENT and FOOD and cash, cash, cash for those student loans.
Plus, she can’t exactly afford to gift the same kind of extravagance of Coach and iphones. But she has no other choice (and no, she’s not sure how her sisters are ponying the cash for gifts either).
Isn’t that terrible?
So Christmas for her looks like a big fat bill instead of a joyous occasion for family and her family doesn’t take things seriously because they like their tradition of a flashy Christmas.
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8 Ways to Give Nice Christmas Gifts (Even When You’re Broke)
1. White Elephant/Mystery Santa Gift Exchange
White Elephant and Mystery Santa gifts have been around for decades and it’s easy to see why. In addition to the obvious joy these gifting games bring, they can also be highly cost-effective. With everyone taking turns and swapping gifts there’s no telling what you’ll end up with. Either way, this method is definitely one fun way to enjoy Christmas gift-giving without breaking the bank!
Each person/couple brings one gift and takes one gift. I’m loving the restraints because frugality is my favorite shopping game of ALL TIME. The gifts are piled under the Christmas tree and everyone who bought a gift has to grab another person’s gift. Then when everyone is done opening, you can choose to steal another person’s gift or keep the one you unwrapped.
With the remainder of the wrapping paper, we all humanly launch paper balls, like ammo, at each other in a festive holiday war.
2. Setting A Price Limit
Whether it’s for your significant other, children, or co-worker, setting a price limit is never a bad idea before exchanging gifts for the holiday season. What’s more embarrassing? Buying a gift that’s too expensive, or one that’s too cheap? By setting a price limit on gifts, you’re essentially eliminating any embarrassment or anxiety that might come when purchasing gifts for others! Not only this, but setting a price limit also ensures that you’ll be purchasing a gift that is within your budget! Our families agreed upon gifting budget is $25 (or less) per person. There are a lot of practical gifts that fetch for under $25.
3. Prepare Early & Find Pre-Sales
What is the single busiest day of the year for retail workers throughout the US? You guessed it! Black Friday! The day after Thanksgiving is a time for rest and rejuvenation after eating your way through the turkey Olympics. However, for those brave enough to hop off the couch and make their way to participating stores, they could most definitely reap the rewards when it comes to cheap Christmas gifts! However, according to the US Census Bureau, you may want to double-check the fine print before planning to do all of your Christmas shopping on Black Friday alone.
You can also take advantage of Cyber Monday if you’re lazy like I am by combing Slickdeals (app + website) for the best deals approved by fellow Internet cheap stakes like me.
In addition to Black Friday, it’s important to remember that there are good deals to be found all year round. Cyber Monday is a great time to purchase those pending items in your Amazon carts. If you plan early enough, you can also find great deals on coats and other winter clothes during the summer months! Due to the obvious lack of need for a coat during the summer, retailers will drastically lower their prices so they can move the product quicker. Make sure to check out both online and in-person retailers to ensure you find the best deals/coupons when hunting for Christmas gifts!
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5. Buying Second Hand
One thing I’ve learned (especially during my college years) is that there’s no shame in buying second hand! In fact, some of the coolest and most unique purchases are usually found in antique/second-hand shops! Whether it’s hometown local boutiques or prominent retailers such as Goodwill, you can’t go wrong with buying second hand. Make sure to check out each store’s schedule to see if they have any seasonal/weekly deals as well!
6. Credit Card Rewards
Credit Card points aren’t just for airlines anymore! In fact, many credit cards offer a percentage of cashback on either specific categories of purchases or even every purchase you make! Stock up your points throughout the year and you could potentially be on your way to getting those expensive gifts at a much easier to bear price!
Remember that um…unique sweater that your Aunt Sally gave you four Christmasses ago? Maybe it’s time to clean out your closet and part with some old gifts, while also crossing off some people from your own Christmas list! Just remember the rules of regifting etiquette and as long as everyone’s feelings are left intact, you can definitely regift that sweater and more this Christmas!
8. Handmade Gifts
You’re parents probably have those old Christmas ornaments that you made when you eight. Thus, proving the point that the tried and true method of handmade gifts is still a foolproof way to go during the holiday season. This is the age of the Internet and Pinterest! ( I mean have you seen some of the things people can do nowadays?) So, dig into your crafting box and open up your creativity this holiday season. Your wallet with definitely thanks you…and the people who receive the gifts will too!
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The Right Way To Celebrate Christmas
I finally understand why Christmas is the “most wonderful time” of the year after having the privilege of celebrating it with Husband’s family. Not everyone’s as lucky as I believe we are. All we have to do is take a train ride to the airport, float in the air for about two hours on a metal bird, and in exchange – we get free room and food for a week while we celebrate Christmas. Kick arse!
We fly in before Christmas. Every Christmas Eve, we go to Hubby’s aunts (mother’s side) house for a big holiday potluck. Usually, they have to put 2 long dining tables together to fit everything. We just walk into the dining room, get a plate, and load up on as much food from the buffet line up as we want.
There’s lots of family time and a lot of food too. After the finger food is cleared off, they put out another dining table size worth of just desserts and fizzy drinks. The whole night is just eating, chatting and being merry. No one involves presents because we’re just there to enjoy family time.
Around 10 PM, Hubby forcibly rolls me out of his aunt and uncle’s house, back into the car and we drive home with the rest of the family. Me with two chicken wings in hand and a smile on my fat face.
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Thank the blessed man who invented stretchy pants!
Less than 12 hours later, on Christmas Day, we wake up and eat again. This time is a layout brunch buffet at Hubby’s parent’s house (father side of the family). There’s holiday sausages, eggnog, homemade applesauce from the apple trees in the backyard etc.
We repeat the process of “comeeee and get it” with desserts for the last round while everybody catches up.
After all the guests leave, it’s just parents and Hubby’s siblings left. We eat some more, lounge around, clean up, nap. Somewhere during that time, my husband and I sneak into our room and wrap our Christmas gift.
This makes me so thankful I married into a frugal family. I could just hug them. There is a reason why I always say Hubby’s parents are ‘The Millionaires Next Door’ archetypes.
- Spend money conscientiously with forethought. Focus on having the 3 big “Fs” – family, faith and friends that’s worth splurging. Believe that holidays were worth not cutting corners when you can afford it.
- Spend on what meant a lot to them personally and much less on other things that didn’t matter to them. Put in a lot of thought before you decide with your wallet.
- Shifted their money habits with what was beneficial to their children by being considerate of their lifestyle. Is one child doing financially well but the other child is struggling to pay off student debt? Then consider the comfort of everyone by setting a gifting budget.
- Practicality before bling, get with the program you!
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Interesting how parents can be frugal all year but make an exception for Christmas, that is what I do too.Our Christmas used to be magical, I still try to keep it that way but it is a little harder now. The White Elephant gift exchange sounds like something I would do once my kids move out. Thanks for Sharing Lily and have a wonderful Christmas.
Happy Holidays Caroline! Any new updates on the job thing?
Not they are still working on it! We probably won’t know until the New Year. Thanks for asking.
Ms. Frugal Asian Finance says
Wow that sounds so much fun! I love the family gathering and the FOOD!
I feel like I want to try everything on the table, including the wings you mentioned haha. Jared’s parents and his family are so practical and wonderful. As I was reading your post, I was also starting to picture the family gatherings and all the gifts 😉
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and Jared! xoxo
Thanks for sharing your family’s traditions! My husband’s family is amazing too. We just had a lovely Christmas dinner with turkey and roast beef and it was so warm. Then going over again for Christmas brunch. I love being fed!
Wow $1000 presents! Jared must have loved Christmas.
I have done the white elephant exchange
Merry Christmas! But with friends.
Happy holidays Lily!
Kekeke he made out like a bandit. It was $1k for 4 kids, $250 isn’t bad right? That’s a Gameboy and some games hahaha.
Gary @ Super Saving Tips says
Thanks for sharing your holiday festivities with us. For Christmas, my wife and I head to my mother-in-law’s home for a little light gifting (we’ve managed to cut it back considerably) and lots of food and family. While I’m not especially religious, I do feel like focusing too much on the gifts takes a bit away from the season. I’d rather focus on the family and friends…and the food, of course the food! haha
I hope you and your family have a merry Christmas and a happy new year!
I think the gifts take away from the experience too! It would be so funny to see what people come up with for $10-$15 that’s practical.
Tawnya @ The Dancing Dollar says
It’s crazy how everyone celebrates the holidays differently. We even follow different rules for my husbands & my side of the family for Christmas.
I couldn’t agree more that Christmas shouldn’t break the bank. I also value time with family more so than presents these days. I love that you’re a practical gift giver to. I’m not big on gifts, but I definitely appreciate practical things I will use.
Thanks for posting!
Surprises me too Tawnya! Diff strokes I guess! Thanks for your comment ?
The holidays are a wonderful time of year. Your in-laws house sounds like my house. I have done some remodeling, but refuse to spend $20k on cabinets. Our Christmas is spent visiting both of our families. There is an abundance of food and good company. The gifts are mostly for the children. It is always a costly day for me because my wife’s birthday is also on December 25th. I make sure to get her separate gifts and take her out the day after Christmas.
Holy moly Xmas baby! That’s awesome Dave!
Btw – wow cabinets really cost $20k?! Holy cow…
Foreign BornMD says
What a nice way to celebrate! It sounds like you & Jared’s family embrace the true meaning of Christmas. What a nice family tradition to pass down to the kids.
Thank you sir! I fear the day we have to host our own Christmas! Sounds like so much work :p
I love the Marin County shout-out. That’s where I live.
Howdy neighbor ??
Joe @ Retire by 40 says
Merry Christmas! It sounds like you’ll have a great holidays. Enjoy!
We’re not going down to CA this year. Mrs. RB40 traveled a lot for work so she wants to stay home. That’s fine. We normally gift the kids some toys, under $50. For the adults, usually chocolate or something yummy snacks.
Christmas isn’t a big deal for me because I’m an immigrant. Mrs. RB40 is much more into Christmas.
A Journey to FI says
So I’m from Venezuela and I can relate to some of the traditions you’ve highlighted especially the food part. Anyways, back in the day I remember gifts flying around from left to right because our economy was good but after a while the system had us adjust to a more frugal celebration where faith and family was all we needed. Secret Santa became the way with white elephant being the latest theme. In my own family I’ve asked my wife not to give me anything and I say the same thing to relatives that want to give us stuff. It’s kind of a sensitive thing because you don’t want to make people feel bad. However, I’ve come to realize stuff during Xmas doesn’t make me any happier. Yes, I cannot expect everyone to be the same way I am but we’ll see how these holidays go. Merry Xmas and High five to the stretchy pants!
The holidays sounds so much fun to spend with your husband’s family. We go to both sides of our family for Christmas. We head to my parents house on Christmas Eve and the next night on Christmas we go to Mother with Cents’ parents house. It practically the same in both houses, we chow down on some food, mingle and watch the kids open their gifts since it’s mainly for them. That’s what the holidays should be all about, spending time with family.
Happy Holidays to you and your family Lily and enjoy your time back here in the Bay!!
My family usually gives gifts because my sisters are much younger than me I feel like it’d be cruel to not give gifts. Even so, we generally ask each other what they want (does this just destroy the gift giving spirit?). Good thing my sisters want for nothing…one of them could not think of anything and asked for a large tube of white paint. LOL
I usually splurge on the boy for the holidays and I do have to roll over months of shopping budgets to cover that one, but it’s generally one nice item + an practical/fun experience (the expensive portion is basically having to get 2 tickets instead of 1).