Thursday, October 14, 2010

Simplifying Christmas

Yes, I know it's a little early to be thinking about Christmas (unless you're in retail), but I think we all know it's coming.

A few days ago on Good Morning America, one of their regular financial advisors, Melody Hobson, was talking about ways to afford Christmas. The segment was not about finding ways to save money in a permanent way but just to skimp enough from now until December to be able to buy a bunch of stuff and then go back to living your normal lifestyle come January. Granted, I applaud the effort to get Americans to plan for their upcoming purchases in order to avoid charging everything and being stuck with the debt a month later. Additionally, some of her suggestions (like canceling cable TV) were things that you could continue doing after Christmas, although she didn't emphasize that part.

There's something more important going on here, however. We all know how commercial Christmas has become. We all know that kids and relatives don't really need most of the stuff that people buy for them each year. We all know that it's a financial strain. Furthermore, we all know that the most memorable parts of Christmas involve family gatherings, trips, and other experiences. Regardless, for reasons I don't want to detail here, we keep the cycle going.

This year, I recommend that you think about ways to simplify your Christmas and make it about experiences rather than items.

My immediate family draws names and we each buy gifts for just one person. We set a $50 limit. When I tell people this, I often see this look of, "That sounds way more reasonable than what we've been doing." Sometimes they'll even say something to that effect, but usually they will muse, "I don't know if my family will go for it."

Put it this way: I can't imagine someone who loves you would say, "I don't care if you can't afford it. You're buying me Christmas gifts, God damn it!" Or maybe they might say, "You want to donate money to charity this Christmas instead of buying grown people a bunch of stuff they can afford to buy on their own? How dare you be so inconsiderate?"

I've also been thinking that even my family's version of drawing names could be modified to make it a little more experience-based. We draw names, we give out wish lists, and we never end up with weird stuff that we can't use. It's all very logical, which is nice, but we've been doing it for so long that I think it's time to change it up. We have the simple part down but not the experiential part. I don't have any good suggestions, though. I thought about taking myself out of the drawing because I don't really need anything, and I'm trying to cut down on clutter. Then again, gift-giving is a special thing, and if done right, it can bring people closer together.

I welcome your thoughts and suggestions on this. What are some ways to simplify Christmas?