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Home » Gift Giving

An Experiment in De-Commercializing the Holidays

Last updated by on August 30, 2013

The average U.S. Consumer is planning to spend $750 on gifts this year, in addition to a few hundred spent on themselves while combing through all of those unbelievable deals.

Exorbitant holiday gift spending is as American as apple pie, but it is one tradition that we would be better off for if it were to go the way of the dodo.

The reality is Black Friday, the wonderful new Black Thanksgiving, and the ensuing weeks are really just “open season” on our bank accounts. We think we’re the ones doing the hunting – but sometimes the hunter becomes the hunted.

I appreciate the value of giving something of sentimental significance. I also am a big fan of giving gifts that save money. Or gifts that give an experience to enjoy.

But the large majority of holiday spending does not come in these forms. It comes in the form of buying others a bunch of crap off of their wish list (in which case they should buy themselves) or crap you think they want (which they probably don’t). It’s a terribly inefficient process. No matter how accurate your gifter is, they could never be as efficient as you are in buying only the stuff that you need, and vice versa.

So the holidays become this inefficient commercial exchange that leaves everyone with a bunch of stuff that has no sentimental value, no use, and the resulting guilt.

de commercialize the holidaysThe No Gift Proposition

Back in 2009, I proposed cutting off holiday gifting between my wife and I. She was 100% in agreement.

We then started a quest to de-commercialize the holidays (and birthdays) in our families.

We told them that we wanted to de-clutter our lives and of our desire for the holidays to be more about the tradition of spending time together versus consumption and the associated stress and waste. We wanted it to be Thanksgiving: Part 2 (the pre-Black Thanksgiving version). Food, drink, family, and relaxation! And we wanted our birthdays to be the same way.

At the time, the idea just didn’t catch on. My side of the family said they liked the idea, but then went ahead and bought some crap anyways (probably out of guilt or habit). Her side of the family couldn’t comprehend it, and we felt somewhat resigned to defeat.

But we kept spreading the message.

The New Tradition

Three holiday seasons later, the picture has completely changed.

Last year saw no gifting on my side of the family, with the exception of a few bottles of wine and some food.

On my wife’s side of the family, we’ve turned git giving in to a combination of donating to a local charity and a white elephant exchange.

Gone are wish lists, gift cards, and all the stuff.

In effect, we’ve started a new tradition. And no one seems to miss the old one. In fact, something about the white elephant makes it much more fun and rewarding than traditional gift giving.

In the process, our families have increased our collective net worth by thousands, we have less clutter, less stress, and a more satisfying time together.

Even if unpopular and first met with resistance, some new traditions are worth starting.

No-Gift Discussion:

  • Have you pursued a similar idea with your family? What was their reaction?
  • If you’ve been successful in de-commercializing the holidays, do you have any recommendations for others interested in doing the same?

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About the Author
I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 10,000+ others by getting FREE email updates. You can also explore every post I have written, in order.

  • Nicholas says:

    My wife and I buy each other something very small, generally under $30. Gift giving is a part of my family’s tradition and I’m fine with that. In fact, I really enjoy it. I’ve been able to contribute significantly to my nieces college fund. It’s not the most exciting gift, but it’s something she’ll be grateful for down the road. I’ve been able to help my dad fulfill his dream of visiting every baseball park in the US. Gifts can be a wonderful thing, but obviously, its the thought that counts.

  • Emily @ evolvingPF says:

    I love this idea. My husband and I no longer give each other gifts for holidays/birthdays. I think my family-of-origin might agree to this but I wouldn’t broach it with my husband’s family. My husband and I have had several discussions (fights) over the meaning of gifts this holiday season and we have very different entrenched philosophical views, I suppose resulting from our different upbringings around gifts.

  • Joanna @ Our Freaking Budget says:

    Whoa, I’m seriously impressed! And I’m feeling super shallow now… dang! I swear everyone just gives each other gift cards in our family now, so this could make for a much more meaningful holiday. Thanks for sharing this awesome idea.

  • Ross says:

    Sound like you’ve really vanquished unnecessary gift giving at xmas. I keep trying to move my family in this direction, but we always end up with piles and piles of junk under the tree.

    I like your idea about giving gifts that save money. Im trying to give only books and energy efficient light bulbs this season. We’ll see how its received!

  • CR says:

    May I just say “AMEN!” to this article. I have been more-or-less preaching this to my friends for the past few years ever since my immediate family has moved this direction.

    My mom, dad, and I have been on the no-gift-giving train for a few years now. Pretty much after I finished college and started working (“being a productive member of society”), then there was no need to exchange gifts when I could buy whatever it is that my heart desires, which honestly isn’t much because I am so blessed to be employed, well-fed, and well-loved. I am 27 now, and am still so happy to NOT be receiving clutter each Christmas, and also to NOT have to buy others clutter. The important part of Christmas is spending times with loved ones, be it around a fire or on a vacation or around a table of delicious food and drink. Yes, these experiences do cost money, but I feel they are infinitely more valuable than “stuff”. “Stuff” will fall apart in a matter of years or decades, and will even sooner lose its shiny newness that was so appealing in the first place.

    So, in summary, let’s all take a hint from this blog and spread Christmas cheer sans-presents this year. Preach it, GE. Preach it.

  • Elise says:

    Nice article. I think it’s a good idea to make spending time with family more meaningful by doing things because you want to and not because of a traditional deadline. I like giving and receiving spontaneous gifts – gifts given because you just wanted to give someone something that you thought they would appreciate. I make custom drawings and jewelry for my friends and family and they love it. I also like to have get togethers at different times of the year. I’ve found that I’m a lot less stressed and financially burdened by doing things this way and I really enjoy time with family and friends that much more.

  • Kristin says:

    Wow – awesome blog. I’m about to that point for next year. The stress of it all, in addition to the money, just takes the fun out of the holidays. Buying a gift merely for the sake of having something to give just doesn’t make sense – there was no thought behind it. A good friend of mine agreed with me that we’d only purchase gifts for each other if we saw something that really struck us as “that person”.

    Also so sad to see our society sink even further into commercialism with Black Thanksgiving. I’m afraid that we are too far gone for things to change as a whole. Just ridiculous. We all need to take a stand for this kind of materialism and just stop buying so much crap!


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