Christmas for the Destitute

First, my disclaimer:  I’m not destitute.

However, I’m trying to spend Christmas acting like I am a pauper.

Why, with small children and beautiful-and-more-than-deserving wife, would I want to deprive my family of a bountiful holiday?

Before we get into the reasons for being a horrible grinch bent on depriving my children of their god-given right to rampant consumerism, let’s look at the Philosophy of Destitution.

The primary reason to pull back and tone it down is basic frugality.  Excessive anything is not frugal. I am training my children–and for that matter, my wife and my self–in the finer arts of personal responsibility and frugality.   Accumulating debt for a fleeting holiday is insane.  If we can’t afford to buy it, we certainly can’t afford to give it.   Anything else would be setting a bad example and children learn best by example.

Another piece of the Philosophy of Destitution(when I read this word, I hear a deep, booming voice in my head, like a 30s radio superhero voiceover)  is “green”.    I consider myself a conservationalist rather than an environmentalist, so don’t read too much into that color.  I try to be responsible, instead of destructive and I try to avoid being wasteful.  Toys that won’t be played with are wasteful. A garbage can full of packaging for those same toys costs money.  It is much cheaper to avoid the landfill here.

Back to “Why”. Why would I be willing to deprive my family?

Four reasons:

1.  It’s not deprivation.  My family is not lacking for any of life’s necessities, and frighteningly few of life’s pleasantries.   A lifetime of rampant consumerism and eight months of struggling for correction have loaded my children with more toys than they can possibly use.   The only thing they will be missing is an overload of consumption and needless purchases.  I think they will survive.

2.  It’s cheaper. I could spend $1000 on presents, but what would I accomplish?  We’ve spent the year trying to undo a lifetime of bad habits and irresponsible spending.  Going overboard on Christmas shopping will merely continue to set a bad example for my children.  They won’t have more fun with 10 presents than they will with 2 they care about.  If children have too many toys, they never get an opportunity to become attached to any of them. It’s too much choice.

3.  Reduce Clutter. We’ve got too much stuff, already.  My kids have too much.  We can easily make do with less, and we will be, early next year, but that’s a project for another post.  All of our dressers are overflowing and the toyboxes are stuffed.  We need less.[caption id="" align="alignright" width="196" caption=" "] [/caption]

4.  We’ll save money for everyone else. We informed all of our family and friends of our intentions.  That way, they won’t feel any obligation to do more than we are.  Everyone wins. Nobody is feeling flush, and a few of my close family has been out of work for a few months.  Now is not the time to waste money.

How are we going to manage an artificially destitute Christmas, without hurting any feelings?  We’re taking a three-pronged approach, with a similar refrain:  Reduce, Reuse, Refuse.


One year, my brothers and I decided that adults would not trade gifts.  Even as adults, when we buy everything we need, that makes for a boring Christmas.  I know there’s nothing under the tree that will fulfill my life, but it is fun to open gifts.   That year, we decided that we were going to trade gifts between the adults.   The children have never been included in a cutback.

Some years, we do couples’ gifts.  My wife and I buy a present for each of my brothers and their wives.  I have two brothers, so we buy two gifts.  The problem is that my brothers and I married women with tastes wildly different from us.  It’s hard to buy a single gift when a couple is the living embodiment of “opposites attract”.

Some years, we draw names.  Since there are two of us, that’s still two gifts to buy, but it is easier when we can focus each gift on a single person.  This is my favorite method of reducing the gifts.”

This year, we are buying a “guy” gift and a “woman” gift.  We will be doing a drawing to see who gets what.   I don’t know the exact system, yet.   I’ll find out next weekend.  This was a difficult way to buy gifts, since we all have varied interests and hobbies.

Most years, we buy stocking stuffers for all of the nieces and nephews.  This year, we let everyone know that we’d be passing on this tradition and only buying these for our children.  Nobody minded because it means they were all off the hook for extra stocking stuffers, too.


We save all of the bows that the little kids don’t smash.

We have a 10 year supply of gift bags.

Worst of all, I am a firm believer in regifting. Of course, hand-crafted gifts are not eligible to be regifted.  Personal items that show a great deal of though are likewise exempt.  Generic or “afterthought” gifts are perfectly acceptable regifts.   Just make sure you regift into a different circle than the one that gave you the gift.  You don’t want the embarrassment of explaining the regift to the original giver.


It is okay to refuse to participate in a gift exchange.  Just like every other part of your life, you are responsible for your safety and security.  This includes financial security.  If you can’t afford to participate, or participating is contrary to your values or priorities, then refuse.  If you do so politely, there should be no hurt feelings.  If there are, you have to question the motivation of the offendee.  They are not the ones paying your bills, after all.

It’s probably easiest to avoid participating in “Secret Santa” gift exchanges.  A simple “I’d rather not” is usually all it takes.  If the organizer pushes, push back.

If you’ve got a history of giving presents to your coworkers, make sure you manage their expectations before you stop shopping.  If they get you a present because it was reciprocated in the past, there will be hurt feelings.  Let them know ahead of time that you are cutting costs this year.

I’ve never given Christmas presents to my friends.   When a new friend enters my circle, I make sure to manage that expectation.

The hardest refusal is to family. Extended family will probably welcome the opportunity to save some money, but close family could be difficult.  Make sure it’s an option you actually want to take, and approach the person most .  likely to agree.   “We don’t want to exchange gifts this year” will work better than “I don’t want to buy you a present”, so get an ally.

Remember, you are responsible for your finances, and Christmas debt is a lousy present to give yourself. Stay in your budget and manage expectations to avoid hurt feelings.

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