Save. Spend. Splurge.

How I reached a No-Gift Minimalist Christmas or Holiday Season

Tim’s post about having a reduced Christmas (and the relief that goes with it!), got me thinking about how I handle the holiday season.

It’s pretty simple. I don’t give gifts, and I don’t get them in return.

It also strengthens your resolve when you read about how retailers deal with discounts the entire year.

Here’s how it works, according to one industry consultant describing an actual sweater sold at a major retailer.

A supplier sells the sweater to a retailer for roughly $14.50.

The suggested retail price is $50, which gives the retailer a roughly 70% markup.

A few sweaters sell at that price, but more sell at the first markdown of $44.99, and the bulk sell at the final discount price of $21.99.

(Note: Profit = $7.49 or about 34%, not including overhead and operating costs like store lease, employees, etc)

That produces an average unit retail price of $28 and gives the store about a 45% gross margin on the product.


I should note that we are also not a family that is BIG on Christmas because I stopped receiving Christmas presents around the age of 10 because my father found it all a waste of money, to which he is partly right in hindsight.

As I got older, I never really did the Christmas gift-giving thing with my family, but I did it with friends.

It was fun, and it was nice to see their faces when they opened their gifts.. but I can’t say I was really all that excited about getting gifts in general, myself.

I just .. never really saw the appeal of getting gifts unless it was something I REALLY WANTED, but that never happened because what I REALLY wanted was usually out of their budget.

It wasn’t until I graduated from college and started traveling a LOT and missing a LOT of events with friends that I slowly and quietly dropped off the radar of being someone who HAD to be given a gift at Christmas and I never tried to re-introduce the practice.

It became a blessing in disguise because Santa Claus is responsible for putting folks into debt!



How rebellious right?

That’s not to say I’m a Grinch.. I just don’t want to be obligated or forced to give gifts at a certain time of the year.

I give gifts with no strings attached throughout the year.

Sometimes on a whim I’ll buy something online and have it shipped to a friend because I thought of them and it makes their day, week, month, etc.


Of course, if someone gives me a gift now, I feel obligated to buy one in return just out of politeness and courtesy.

I never, ever forget who I have given a gift to.

….but I do not actively pester people to ask them what they want, or tell people what I want.

If I ever tell you what I want for Christmas, it’s probably because I’m already about to buy it for myself because I don’t really NEED anything.

I just want stuff and my wants change from time to time. I also feel a bit awkward feeling obligated to give something back to someone for getting me said gift.


We basically spend time finding good things to cook and eat. Simple as that.

On the day of, we get together, have a good meal and spend time together totally stuffed to the gills.

I don’t get anything, I don’t give anything. Sounds like a fair trade to me.



Babies don’t know what gift-giving is and therefore will definitely not be getting anything for the first few years.

After the ages of 3-5, it might become something, but who remembers anything before the age of 3-5?

I am not really that religious and neither is my partner, so more than likely the child will only have one gift a year on their birthday, when it’s a truly special day for them rather than the birthday of a religious figure in a religion we do not follow any longer.

Otherwise for the holidays around Christmas, we’re thinking of not promoting the consumerism mindset to expect something every holiday around the corner (and we are not religious folk), so we might just tell the child that this is our tradition for the holidays — to have a great big meal and spend time together with a delicious cake to boot.

Maybe they’ll get a special treat to eat instead of a gift.

At school if he or she gets asked: Whaddya get for Christmas!? .. we’ll deal with that when it comes to that.


Maybe explain how to tell other kids that they had a great meal, spent the day outside in the park playing in the snow with their family, and had a fantastic holiday instead of being stuck inside watching TV with half-drunk adults and being surrounded by toys they’ll forget a week later when the next biggest thing comes up.

Something like that.

If that sounds stingy to you, I’d pose the following 2 points:

  • The child will feel even better and more special by getting a gift on THEIR birthday
  • They will not miss what they are not accustomed to as a “tradition” in the family

We’ll see how it goes.

I’m not set in stone on this, but I am also trying to be careful not to give the wrong message seeing as we ourselves do not give gifts to each other as-is.

Either way, I’d rather have a holiday season for the rest of my life, with no gifts from my family, except the gift of spending time with them and having a special meal, and I’d like my kids to understand that concept as well, even if they do decide to change it up for their families in the future.


  • Frugal Flirter

    Great post – we decided this year to really reduce the amount of gifts we gave, and instead invited a bunch of family and close friends on Christmas Eve for dinner. It seemed to go down really well with everyone, and as well as cutting down the cost of Christmas, it also really reduced stress levels, without having to rush around the shops getting gifts!

  • Tania

    I buy very few gifts for Christmas. My mom, dad, sister, brother in-law, one auntie and one uncle for family. I also buy food as a family gift for another set of cousins/auntie/uncle locally as they host us many times on the holidays. I only buy for family that I’m very close to, that I have a strong relationship with and nothing extravagant. I do have many other aunties/uncles/cousins that I don’t anything for during the holidays as we’re not that close anyway. Very small gifts for the people that report to me and my boss (I usually buy them all the same thing though, something locally made from a Christmas fair). I buy no gifts for friends. I spend maybe $500, $300 of it being for immediate family. Most of it being gift cards for dining or consumables that don’t add to the amount of “stuff” in the home.

    My friends and I do tend to give little gifts to each other at other times for no reason other than we live apart and haven’t seen each other for awhile. My local friends and I rarely even treat each other anymore. We always just split everything when getting together for breakfast etc. I also bring treats every now and then to the office for no reason. I feel like there is so much goodies during the holidays that I’d rather offer a treat at another time when we haven’t had anything for awhile. I’ll do ice cream or sherbet or dipped shortbread cookies every now and then.

    Christmas is so commercial now and that’s not what it’s about. I do love Christmas but I love that it’s cooler so I can cuddle up at night, holiday music and seeing my family. I could completely go sans gifts, no problem.

    I am one of the few people I know (in the US) that doesn’t go to the mall at all between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The gifts I do buy come from the grocery store, office supply or restaurants. Why the office supply store? They have all kinds of gifts cards at Office Max, from Amazon to Macys to Apple, it’s a one stop shop and I have to go anyway to buy 2014 calendars for my office wall. For wrapping, I make my own gift tags and I reuse magazine and catalog pages.

  • SarahN

    See for me, I’m so slack at remembering birthdays, which is why I like Christmas – and stores make it easy for you to buy. That being said, like you, I hate feeling obligated to give gifts! I hate giving a ‘useless’ nothing gift! When I hardly know someone, but would enjoy a meal out for their birthday with our mutual friend.

    I am Christian too, so there’s no disconnect there. I can understand getting over the gift giving nutso-ness of Christmas, I think my childhood has always been very moderate on gifts. I’m pushing for experiences from the BF seeing my parents won’t give gift certificates, they like ‘things’ – so then I write them wishlists…

  • Lisa E. @ Lisa Vs. The Loans

    The BF and I have decided to stop spending so much on each other. This year, we didn’t give each other a Christmas gift, and we were totally fine with that! It didn’t affect our relationship negatively or anything like that. Instead, we got to spend a lot of time together, and that’s really what matters during this time of year.

  • Emily @ Urban Departures

    I am the opposite; I go all out for Christmas with gifts, celebrations, decorations and music etc. I celebrate Christmas as part of my faith with gift stemming as a symbol Christmas. I don’t think gifts are necessary to celebrate Christmas- in many ways, it distracts from people’s reason for celebrating- but I think gift giving with the right intent and motives is good. And, in my family, it’s a well-loved tradition.

    Babies and toddler’s don’t understand the concept of gifts, but nonetheless, my toddler is getting lots of presents this year 🙂 Ultimately the gifts are for me in the sense that it makes me happy to shop and buy things for me. Perhaps not the purest of motives…

    I’m actually surprised you’re not a gift person, only because you compiled such awesome wishlists!

  • Andrew@LivingRichCheaply

    Glad I am not the only one that wants to be a gift minimalist! I don’t have much gifts to give…give my parents cash and usually a gift for my wife (and we also don’t give gifts for EVERY holiday). But this year, my wife and I decided not to get gifts this Christmas and when my co-workers heard I didn’t get anything, they were all over me. They said my wife REALLY doesn’t mean “don’t get me anything.” They were giving me a hard time about it, I started feeling a little bad. What do you tell people? As for babies…my son is about 6 months and would rather play with the wrapping paper. Our family has gotten him gifts and that’s fine. In the future, I’d get a gift for my kids, but definitely won’t be going overboard like many other people I know!

    • save. spend. splurge.

      What do I tell people?

      I don’t tell them anything, or I smile and make up something I bought myself if I’m being pushed. Sometimes if I am feeling a slightly bit annoyed with the questioning, I might say: We had an amazing feast prepared.

      Babies and children tend to not care about gifts as much because they don’t get the holiday, but it’s also if you give too many gifts all the time, it loses its meaning completely.

      This is why I am sticking to the birthday gifting, and no other holiday.

  • Jacq

    The youngest son asked for a scarf for Christmas this year. Also a different trash can for his room and a larger water bottle. I was like “WTH? – would you like socks with that?” Too bad, he’s getting an xbox since his brother’s machine contracted the red ring of death. I would have got it anyway, I’m just saving it for Xmas. And yeah, I’ll splurge on the scarf etc too – also things I would have got him anyway – well, except he doesn’t really *need* a bigger water bottle. 😉
    The oldest asked for a book – fortunately, it’s a textbook so was fairly pricy. And now that he’s older, I get him a nice bottle of some kind of alcohol every year and he uses that to toast himself during the year as he reaches his goals. Also bought him a set of neat beer glasses since I bought him a beer making kit last year.
    I asked for a heated throw from them (my home office is a fairly chilly room without the fireplace going) and a cool coffee mug. I always try to not buy myself something that I want during the year so that they can get it for me. Usually something practical – last year it was a new digital slowcooker. Hmm. Never noticed before that all the xmas gifts I ask for somehow save me $.
    They are strange children – not sure where they get that from…
    I’d rather not take the position of being counterculture based on principles – oh, everyone else is doing this, so we are not. We do what we like because we want to. Just like we’re having crab legs, lobster and swedish meatballs (each of us pick a favorite) for the Xmas meal because none of us really care for turkey or ham, not because we’re boycotting turkey.

    • save. spend. splurge.


      YOU KNOW where your kids get it from — YOU. 🙂 They’re not weirdos, they’re mini-Yous. I’d love to have kids like yours in the future (actually, I am hoping Baby Bun will turn out to be just as smart / savvy.)

      I think past a certain age, gifts lose meaning in the sense that you have money that you’ve earned and you can get it for yourself.

      When you’re a kid, where do you get money? It’s not that easy, so I see the point in giving gifts to kids, although I am unsure that giving gifts all the time is a good idea (I had friends who got gifts for EVERY holiday.)

      We too, hate turkey.

      Our meal is more seafood and poultry, no turkey. I’d rather eat sushi than turkey.

  • Lila

    I used to get presents as a child but I don’t get them as an adult, we quit doing that when I was in my early twenties. I actually don’t mind that because I think presents were more exciting when I was a child. Plus the best moments are actually spending time with your family. ^_^

  • jane savers @ solving the money puzzle

    What is that cake thing? I want that for Christmas.

    I give gifts to my sons only and a small token gift to my parents. My dad is 79 and he likes to open gifts. $10 each for my parents and less than $100 on each child. A book, a t-shirt,a new toothbrush each. A car snow brush for the one who has a car and a nose hair trimmer for the one who doesn’t have a car- both of those were $9.99 each. Little snacks and treats for the stockings. All the presents and enough food to stuff us all for days is still under $300.

    TI see nothing wrong with giving gifts. Christmas can be very magical and gifts are a part of the magic.

  • Tracy

    I have to say that growing up my parents didn’t have a lot of money. So I would only get toys on special occasions like Christmas and on my Birthday. I will never forget about this one toy I wanted (it was a dog playground with dog action figures) so badly. It was $30 at Wal-Mart. My mom said she would buy it for me if it went on sale for $15 on boxing day. Well, on boxing day, it sold out. I was only 7 and I cried for days. I still think of that toy around Christmas time, and a little part of me will always be resentful towards my mom. It was only $15.

    • save. spend. splurge.

      @Tracy: Hmm. Food for thought. You STILL remember that toy?

      I can only remember wanting this $100 pink organizer to enter in data about friends and their birthdays with their telephone numbers (yeah I’m a geek), and not getting the toy at all.

      It wasn’t until my brother came in and gently explained that $100 was a lot of money for a toy (I didn’t know), and it was not something important that I’d be able to keep forever that I stopped crying and considered what he said.. then accepted it.

  • anna

    I couldn’t agree more that I’d rather emphasize spending time with loved ones and having a special meal over gifts. That’s something I’d like to instill with hopefully future little ones, too. Happy Holidays to you and your bf, Mochimac! 🙂

  • Nico

    In regards to giving children under the age of 5 gifts. Yes, it’s true that the majority will not remember anything from those years. But we all know that these years are crucial to their development as humans. The emotions from these experiences, whether good or bad, will stay with them forever.

    I agree that some celebrations and gift giving are really over the top. I think they are often more for the parents than for the kids.

    • save. spend. splurge.

      @Nico: Perhaps.

      I am not entirely convinced that we can’t generate the same emotions of having a wonderful day for them by cuddling them more, feeding them a delicious meal they chose, and doing what THEY want to do that whole day (e.g. go to the park and swing all day), rather than hiring a clown, renting a bouncy castle and going all out.

  • eemusings

    This kind of stuff can really be shaped by how you were brought up. My parents didn’t give us gifts, not on birthdays or any other occasion. Which SUCKED once we realised how other families did things. So I definitely want to do (reasonable) gifts, one per occasion, for our kids when they are old enough. I’ve never understood people who throw big parties for their babies from the first year on and buy their babies MULTIPLE presents. Seriously WTF, s/he is not old enough to appreciate it or remember it later on.

    T’s family are all dirt broke so there isn’t a ton of gift giving pressure there, though I notice that like with a lot of poorer families they go all out with birthday and Christmas gifts for the kids.

    • save. spend. splurge.

      @eemusings: Oooo I can see how that would suck.

      I would at least give ONE gift a year. At least on their birthdays, I mean that’s really kind of.. cruel for a kid, seeing as I did live through that.

      I DO NOT get people who give big “I AM ONE!” bashes with babies who don’t understand what the big deal is all about. They spend hundreds to thousands on a day just for .. well, themselves. It’s not for the kid in the end.

      I totally agree with them not appreciating it enough to remember it later on. It’s cute to see photos of a baby with an outfit and all that, but… really? A clown? A huge party? What for?

      I would also concur that poorer families tend to give a lot more generously this time of year. They save up for this one occasion which is very nice.

  • Jane

    Christmas in my home consists of traditional gift giving, though the largest emphasis is placed on celebrating the birth of Christ. I do realize that many people choose to celebrate the Christmas season in their own ways and agree with you that too much emphasis is often placed on giving gifts.

    I think that it is also important to practice and teach children about other ways that we can give to others. Like simply spending your time with those you love. As I’ve gotten older, everyone in my family seems to have fewer wants and needs. We’ve been trying to redirect our focus to spending more time together and often take trips rather than spending cash on physical items. We’ve found that the time we spend together tends to be more memorable than the gifts we receive.

    Great post!

    • save. spend. splurge.

      @Jane: I am all for people celebrating Christmas when it is because of their beliefs. I think it’s great that you try and share that with your kids.

      There seems to be a lot of stress surrounding gifts too — what to buy, who to buy for, how much to give… I’d rather avoid all of that (I’m lazy too).

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