I Don’t Buy Christmas Gifts And I’m Not Sorry

An oldie, but goodie. I originally published this post way back on Christmas Eve in 2013.  Since everyone is busy with last minute gift buying, I thought that now would be a great time to share my philosophy on Christmas gift giving.

I have a confession that will seem very Grinch-like: I don’t buy Christmas gifts and I don’t want anyone else to buy gifts for me either.

I used to be like everyone else; scrambling every year deciding who to get what while worry about spending money that I didn’t have.  I would think of who could possibly send me a Christmas gift.  Was I getting a gift for someone who as not getting me a gift and therefore would feel obligated to get me some tchotchke? Was I not getting a gift for someone who I should be getting a gift for? Was I getting something too expensive?

All of the time that I was spending money on gifts for friends and family, I was actively trying to get out of debt.  It finally occurred to me that I was spending money that I didn’t have to please others.  After running around during the Christmas season it would take me about two or three months to pay off the balance from the gifts that I had bought.  The thought finally hit me that I was being an idiot.  I decided that I had had enough and I did what made sense:


I pulled my family together and told them that I was tired of running that hamster wheel and that they should not expect gifts from me anymore.  What I was doing was insane.  I was digging myself maybe Christmas means more? - Christmas Giftsinto a hole every year to please people who would probably have told me to stop spending anyway if they knew that I was trying to pay off a debt.  I didn’t make an announcement about my financial situation.  Instead, I asked them to stop getting me gifts because I was no longer going to get them gifts either.  It was only right that I should not expect them to buy me gifts if I wasn’t getting them anything.

Instead of the whole gift buying hoopla, I decided to take Christmas back to basics.  I’m a lover of most things Christmas: the lights; the songs; the cookies (oh boy the cookies); the ugly sweaters and the general feeling of warmth and cheer.  For many, Christmas has morphed into a consumer driven, rum punch soaked cornucopia of excess spending and false cheer.  I was tired of being a part of that and honestly, I wanted to end the year with more money in my pockets than when I began.

So, I called a family meeting and told them that instead of buying more stuff I would take them all out to dinner at a place of my choosing one or two days after Christmas.  Including me, there are usually six of us who go out to dinner.  The first year, I stuffed everyone into my mom’s small SUV (my little sister was in the trunk area by the lift gate firmly packed in like a crate) and drove us all down to Chinatown for a real Chinese dinner. Not only did they love the food, but my parents enjoyed having all of the kids together in one place having a family meal.  My step-father discovered his love of Chinese beer and designated drivers.  That first year dinner for six with a 20% tip cost me $200.00 and I have not looked back since.  My brother now splits the cost of dinner with me, saving me even more.

The 2016 Christmas season will be the 7th annual Sandy’s Buying Dinner holiday gift and I don’t think that anyone misses having a gift under the tree that came from me.  My mom still insists on buying me a Christmas sweater because I can not break her out of the habit.  It’s okay because the Goodwill folks get a nice sweater from me after I have worn it once or twice so that my mom can see that I did actually put it on.

The best part is that I get to spend quality time with my family cracking jokes, drinking a frosty adult beverage or two and introducing my parents to a different cuisine.  All of the years that I spent buying Christmas gifts were not lost, it just took me time to evolve into appreciating time with my family as the most important gift that I could possibly give them.  Once the moment is gone, you can not get it back. I guess you can say that when I stopped giving gifts, I discovered the true meaning of the Christmas spirit – the love of friends and family.

So, if you’re busy out there today trying to get some last minute Christmas shopping in, come over to the dark side and consider not giving Christmas gifts.  Try giving your time instead.

Merry Christmas.

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50 thoughts on “I Don’t Buy Christmas Gifts And I’m Not Sorry

  • Yes, this year I asked my husband and my sister and her family if we could just exchange prayers and well wishes for each other, and not have to worry about the gifts. It’s working well!

  • I don’t think you are being a Scrooge at all! Experiences trump stuff every day. Hey, if you wanted to save even more, you could cook the dinner yourself. Make it a “thing” with traditions, great decorations and special wines and beers (Chinese beers for your step-father?)

    Either way, it sounds like you have a great Christmas!

  • I like to take care of my family throughout the year, so we don’t need Christmas or Easter to get stuff. I usually get myself everything I need, so I don’t need others to care for my wants/needs. We just spend some time together and relax.

  • I wish I could do this. I hadn’t talked to my mother for about ten months, and my sister for about three years. They are not very nice people. Low and behold, I got a call from my mother at the beginning of December. She had a list of stuff I should buy her and my sister’s family. I ended up buying them gifts. Even the cost of shipping them, was outside my budget. I figure that I won’t have to speak to my mother for another ten months, now. They all have much more money than I have, and could care less about either my son or me. To be honest, just the thought of spending anything on them made me sick. Next year, I am just not going to take her calls. Last year, I told them I couldn’t afford to give gifts and you would have thought by their reaction, I was the worst person in the world. I have tried talking to my mother about my situation, to say it falls on deaf ears is a understatement. I have made up my mind this is the last year. My son and I deserve a good Christmas.

    • Not only do you deserve a good Christmas, but you deserve one without stress. You also deserve to not have to spend the months after Christmas paying for the stuff that you bought for Christmas. If you didn’t put it on credit then you would have spent money that could possibly have improved your financial situation.

      Saying “no” to your family is incredibly difficult. I know that we all feel the pressure to please our family members or to keep up appearances but you have to reach a point in your life when you put YOU ahead of your family members.

      I hope that your next Christmas is stress free and filled with good quality time with your son.

    • Oh my! I’m so saddened by your situation with your family. I hope that someday there is a mending. (I am astranged from my siblings myself). I will keep you in my thoughts and wish for you the best. Please know, that even strangers like myself, can be kind. If I knew where to send it, I would send you and your son the best gifts ever. Wishing you peace, joy, love and a wonderful 2014!

  • Maybe just a small gift to keep the spirit going.
    Anyways, I get gifts around Christmas anyways, because it is right before my birthday.
    I am a believer in gifts, but it doesn’t need to be too bi.

  • Sounds like you got a great tradition going on there, Sandy!

    My husband and I have never bought each other Christmas, birthday, or anniversary gifts. We just don’t want to spend the time and money plus get all stressed out trying to find the perfect “thing.”

    • That’s a nice thought, as long as you ALL actually love it, and aren’t accidentally peer pressuring someone into the most stressful financial hardship of their year. For someone who can’t afford it, or hates the stress of gift shopping, especially when you don’t even know what people like, Christmas exchanges are awful and receiving an unwanted gift is not pleasant or thoughtful, it’s dreadful. My financially distraught family refuses to listen to my pleas to stop the gifting madness. I offered “experience Christmas;” they still bought me bags of clutter and guilt in exchange for my cheap couples wine&painting gift certificate. I said “this year leave me out, I’m not participating in the exchange” and after they smiled and said ok, they proceeded to shower me and my husband with more gift wrapped guilt, except that year we didn’t even come prepared with a family experience gift card, we just said “thanks, you REALLY shouldn’t have, we agreed we weren’t exchanging”, and got those blank smiles saying “well YOU said that, not us.”
      Everyone says “let them.” But when they cry to you all year long about not making ends meet, and then end up giving you over $300 worth of gift cards to places you don’t go, house decor that does NOT fit your house, and unreturnable clothing that doesn’t fit (your body or style), it makes me want to cry! Cry for their waste of time and money. Cry in frustration that they don’t care how their gifts make me feel awful and guilty, or cry when I give into the peer pressure to keep giving.
      It’s to the point my husband doesn’t want to even see them at all in the winter to avoid the whole thing (its his family afterall)
      Anyone else been here? What did you do?

  • I’m with you Sandy! The past few years I told everyone I wasn’t getting them squat. They justed looked at me like I was a crazy person. I told them I want to spend time with them. It’s not about the gifts, but the memories.

    • I just told my family I was not buying them gifts for Christmas this year and forever, but I would make food and spend time with them. I got the evil eye!!! I really just don’t want the crappy gifts anymore. Keep your 10 bucks I will keep my 20 and I won’t have to worry about the bills next month.

  • We stopped the madness last year. It was the best thing in the world. After having many baked goodies left in the fridge, I think I’ll end that next year, too!

    I agree, tho! I’d rather sit down to dinner and spend time with family. We did that this year and it was awesome!

    • Now, I am a fan of baked goodies. I am one of those people who hang out by the break room around Christmas just to scarf the cookies that everyone else brings in. You have no idea how much I love it.

  • I totally agree w/ u on this. Anything I “need” I’ll get for myself. But I don’t want to spend money b/c I’m obligated b/c someone bought me something I don’t need.

  • I took the same tact this year. If I want something I’ll buy it. I don’t want to go into debt for a bunch of gifts b/c people bought me a bunch of stuff I don’t need.

    The nieces and nephews got books n puzzles… Not fun…

    I’ll do the same thing next year too.

  • My family has never really given gifts. As a child this made me really frustrated because all I ever thought about was how everyone else got gifts and not me and it wasn’t really until my teen years when I stopped caring about it.

    However, after all this I’ve decided that if I can, I’d like to do the same with my children and family when I have them. The only difference is that I’d like to really try to help my kids see there’s more to christmas than what gifts they’re going to get. Because I believe my parents wanted me to see this, but they didn’t do much to help me see it.

  • I’m with you on this although I haven’t stopped all together. I do little gifts. Just this week I asked someone what they go for Christmas and they hesitated and couldn’t even remember.

    We make such fuss about getting the right gifts and get stressed or put ourselves in debt only for it to be forgotten a couple weeks afterwards.

    I like the back to basics because mm the holidays is about family not shopping.

  • This is so spot on! I totally agree with you. And what’s better, you’re not really a Christmas-hating Grinch– in fact, you appreciate Christmas for what it’s REALLY about, family time and good food. I thought I was alone in loving Christmas, but hating the gift fuss (most people who announce their lack of gift-giving also hate the good things about Christmas, like togetherness and seasonal treats).
    I don’t have a whole lot of spending money, nor am I a fan of no-gift guilt. Doesn’t it suck that Christmastime always has to come with some disappointed head-shakes from people your wallet COULDN’T accommodate?

  • I love this idea. It always seems that buying experiences (like having a meal with your family) is a better idea than buying physical gifts. I’ll have to try this next year!

  • I think you are focusing on the right thing for the holidays. My bride and I decided last year that we wouldn’t exchange gifts anymore. It was silly to wrap a gift up that we already knew what it was and open it up in front of our kids and now grand-kids. Being early retired and living off of our portfolio we do have a Christmas budget for buying gifts for our mothers, the kids and grand-kids of which I can happily say we stayed right on this past season.

    • Awesome for you! This was the first year that my mom didn’t buy gifts. My husband is still on the dark side. But we did all go out to dinner on December 26th and it was only $250 with tax and tip. Most of all, we had a GREAT time AND I was able to bring my husband to dinner for the first time. 🙂

  • It’s not just Christmas. It’s valentines day, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, on and on.
    Sick and tired of constantly running around buying stuff for people.
    Always expected to buy a bunch of crap nobody wanted.
    When does it end.

  • i too am one of those people that don’t buy gifts and don’t expect any in return. all that is too damn expensive and i have no family to worry about. the only three people i buy for; one was homeless, one is handicap, and one is my best friend! all my living relatives live out of state and THEY can afford to buy themselves and their kids gifts…i say bless them! i do call weekly to see how my family is doing throughout the year. i do sent birthday and Christmas cards (yes i am “old school). i don’t put up a tree because they are not cheap either. i give gifts, expecting nothing in return.

  • I tried having this same discussion with my family about not buying Christmas gifts and it did not go over well at all. Our debt has snowballed into a massive amount over the years, and I blame no one else but me. I am the sole provider for our family when it comes to money and admittedly I am to blame for most of the spending. However, my family is now spoiled. They have EVERYTHING they need an much of what they want, but it’s never enough. We go out and buy whatever we want pretty much all year long. I don’t see how Christmas should be another excuse to rack up the credit cards buying stuff we really don’t need anyway. I tried to explain the situation with the money, but I’ve already set a presidence, so now they expect a couple thousand dollars worth of gifts under the tree that they won’t even appreciate by February, long before I’m done paying for it. I’m stuck in the difficult situation of having to make a stand though so that we don’t end up in financial ruin. Besides the money saved, I can only imagine the stress reduction that accompanies not having to worry about acquiring a bunch of crap just in the nick of time. Truth is, we have everything we need already. What a spoiled bunch of brats, including my wife, that I live with and support. I wish they supported me and could try to understand our situation and the true meaning of Christmas.

    • Hey Robert,

      I’ve embraced tough love and have been sneaky to get there too. Here are some suggestions: 1) Reduce their allowances during the year. Put a freeze on your credit cards and accounts so that you can’t get more credit or spend on your current accounts. Cancel premium cable tv. Drop their phone plans down to prepaid (I did this one with the ENTIRE family – they hated it but learned to live with it). Cook more. Take things they don’t use to consignment shops.

      In the meantime, let them know that your financial situation is difficult and if you don’t make these changes you will not be able to help pay for college and things that they find important – and then stick to it. It’s going to be hard, especially with the spouse, but you can do it.

      Chin up!

  • I love this idea Sandy. I’ve started giving gifts (birthdays, holidays) that are centered around doing something with the person instead of an actual gift. Going out to dinner is an even more economical solution. Thanks!

  • I’ve been trying to do this with my family for the last three years but they don’t get it. I don’t need more stuff (and neither do they if I dare say so myself). I don’t want their money or for them to spend money on me, but then they do! So I feel obligated and guilty. I’ve started making people gifts instead (cookies, chocolates,etc). This year for my own sanity I’ve had to take the stance that if they don’t like it tough titty.

    I like the idea of an experience but the dinner thing is something we already do every year. So it’s dinner AND presents! I tried to take them out to a tree farm for a family outing (sleigh ride to get a tree), hoping to make it a tradition, but they lost interest after one year. I guess I don’t get their version of xmas and they don’t get mine.

    • It’s okay Annie. Sometimes you just won’t win. Keep plucking along though. As long as you’re okay with your efforts and that what you’ve done gels with what you believe the season should be about, it’s all good!

  • I give family Christmas eve boxes that include hot coco mix, homemade cookies, a board game, coloring books, I usually do 3 boxes (3 different families)and keep them around 20-25 dollar each. So I spend about 60-75 dollars on Christmas, my family and friends that do not have children just usually get a tub of Christmas cookies.

  • My husband does a huge Christmas every year. I feel, as we approach 40, saving should be our number one goal. I want to gift our 7 children clothes, socks, deodorant, and other practical items. I don’t like receiving gifts. I feel guilty thinking about how hard the person worked to obtain said item. 🙁 I know my hub will never stop. I feel this will be a major hurdle for our relationship.

  • When I go on vacation, it never fails that someone I hardly know will ask for a gift. As if I want to spend my time shopping for them in a strange place and lug it all back with me when airlines have increasingly stricter baggage rules. The gift is always something they could buy at home or order on line, anyway. Chances are it will say “Made in China” on it regardless of where it is purchased. My point is that “gifts” are a drag. I don’t need to get them and don’t want to feel I owe anyone anything. I can buy whatever I want. I find the whole idea of gift giving repulsive and smarm-y. I really can’t bother being around anyone who expects gifts and , thankfully, I friends and family who feel the same way. Love doesn’t depend on buying things for others. When people buy me things it is often something I hate and throw away.

  • When I 10 yrs old I was diagnosed with 2 rare brain tumors. That was my first Christmas in the hospital. A lady came to my room with her guitar a small drum, and a tambourine. She introduced herself and said she stopped by to spend time with me and see if I would like to sing some songs. I didn’t think it then but I do all the time now. This lady could be home, or with family or friends on Christmas day, but she chose to be with me, nobody in general. To me that was one of the best Christmas ever . I don’t know who she is or where but Thank her and God for putting her in my path!

  • If a child cannot be happy with a few simple gifts, then they don’t deserve anything at Christmas. That sounds harsh but it’s true.

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