When it Comes to Gifts, Under-Promise and Over-Deliver

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As I have worked to incorporate minimalism/simple living in my household, one of the most stressful challenges has been Christmas gift giving.  When my daughter was young, we were typical parents.  We wanted what was best for our child. Truthfully, we wanted to give her everything!  And since she was the only grandchild at that time in both our families, the extra “stuff” she got each year multiplied.

I watched each year as toys were played with once and then forgotten, clothing sat in drawers unworn while Rowan outgrew the items daily, and baby gear (and then toddler gear) often turned out to be unnecessary.  Christmastime was a huge engine for creating a messy, increasingly cluttered space.

The transformation started with my asking my mom to dial back the gift giving at the holidays.  Growing up, we always had huge Christmases, so I think that notion was just part of my family’s DNA.  Blessedly, my mother understood what I was saying and abided by my wishes.  If she was unhappy about it, she certainly didn’t let me know that, and for that, I am grateful.

By the time Rowan was six, I started planting different seeds.  As she’s gotten older, there have been years where she received a larger-than-usual gift.  But each year, I dialed down her expectations for gifts overall.

That, I would argue, has made all the difference.  We talk about the meaning of the holiday, and how we really want her to give some thought to gifts she requests from Santa.  For the past two years, I have asked her in advance how many gifts she believes she should receive.  She really ponders this, and so far, she has come up with reasonable requests.

The most recent Christmas, for example, she thought she should get a total of five gifts under the tree.  I told her this was completely reasonable.  Throughout the holiday season, we talked about it, and she was steadfast in her notion that five was the goal.  She ended up with thirteen gifts under the tree (although I’d like to point out that five of those were books).  This is what I mean about under-promising and over-delivering.  She was expecting five, so she was thrilled when there were more.  In fact, the first thing out of her mouth when she came downstairs was, “That looks like more than five gifts!!”

The same Christmas my husband and I agreed to fill each other’s stockings, but no gifts under the tree.  We helped Rowan pick out a few treats for our pets that we wrapped up, and of course, she got to open those, too.  The result was the best Christmas we’d ever had as a family.  We played games — old and new — each day of the holiday week, and we didn’t blow our budget.  On the contrary, we actually added to our savings instead of paying off gift-buying credit card debt.

The real take-away is this:  Manage expectations.  Whether you have kids or not, you can lay the groundwork to manage gift expectations with your entire family and circle of friends.  If times are tough and your Christmas will be leaner than usual, communicate that.  Children are totally capable of understanding.

I will confess Greg and I were married for ten years before we had Rowan.  So, our lean years were pretty much over by the time we had our daughter.  Nevertheless, even though we have had the means for an “over-the-top” sort of Christmas, it has always been a source of stress for me.  As a country, I think we are over-consumers, buying too many things we really don’t need.  So, admittedly, our having a dialed-down Christmas has been a choice versus a necessity dictated by our financial circumstances. But still, it’s resulted in a much more meaningful holiday.

Don’t go into debt just to cover up your financial situation or because you think that it’s necessary to prove your love for people.  Be up front about the limitations you face, and instead plan fun things that don’t cost a dime and do them together.

What ways have you enjoyed less expensive holidays?  Please share!

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