Working towards FI can be a strain on relationships, especially when your financial goals don’t align with the people you care about most. It’s difficult to turn down invitations and defend your decisions, and some people just can’t understand why a person would sacrifice so much.
But while that strain is manageable throughout the year, the holidays tend to aggravate the issue. When the majority of people are comfortable overspending and even going into debt to fund their gift-giving, it’s no surprise that a more austere approach will turn some heads.
Thankfully, there are ways to opt out of traditional gifting gracefully. Here are some great alternatives to consider this year.
Start an Exchange
Richmond Howard and his wife are still saving for FI, so a few years ago they started exchanging books with their in-laws. Each person picks four to five books they already own, wraps them up and gives them out at Christmas.
“The best part is that it gave us a conversation piece throughout the year,” he said.
Implementing this kind of exchange is easy when you have something in common, like running, knitting or other hobbies. For example, my friend Leah and I will sometimes exchange art journal materials. We’ve talked about making it a regular Christmas gift exchange, saving both of us money and clearing our house of stuff we don’t use.
When you agree to do this kind of exchange, no one gets offended that you’re not spending money on something new. Plus, sharing interests is a great way to bring your family and friends closer together.
One year, I bought my mother-in-law a book she’d been wanting for months. After she read it, she passed it on to me and my husband. The next time we were together, we had a great discussion about it.
Do An Experience
Instead of giving out gifts, Allison Owen of Owen Your Future takes a vacation with her in-laws every year. So far, they’ve gone to Iceland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Allison said they alternate between warm and cold climates so everyone is happy.
“We all agreed that spending time together was way better than gifts,” she said.
Taking a family vacation might not be much cheaper than buying presents, but if you already love to travel, it’s not such a big inconvenience. Most of us would agree that we need less stuff and more memories with the people we love.
If you love the idea of taking a Christmas trip, bring it up to your family. There’s no need to jump straight into a lengthy trip abroad–you can start small with long weekends to nearby cities. That way you’ll get a better sense of how enjoyable it will be to travel together.
Remember to bring this idea up early in the year, so people have plenty of time to save and plan. If your family isn’t receptive to the idea, you could also bring it up to your close friends.
Skip Gifts Entirely
This year, Nicola Richardson of The Frugal Cottage told her relatives that she and her family would prefer not to give gifts. They also didn’t expect any in return. Richardson and her husband are actively saving for FIRE and trying to minimize how much money they spend, as well as how many items they bring into their home.
“Most people seemed relieved that I'd said the idea in the first place and are happy with the plan,” she said.
Even if you think your family would never agree to this idea, it doesn’t hurt to bring the possibility up in a casual way. You never know if your lavish aunt is actually putting Christmas gifts on a credit card or if your newly-graduated cousin is only making $25,000 a year. As Richardson discovered, plenty of people would secretly prefer to sidestep gift-giving altogether.
Teresa Mears of Living on the Cheap said she and her 37 family members decided long ago to draw one name out of a hat instead of buying presents for everyone. Even if your family isn’t that big, buying presents for even five people can get expensive.
Some families give every child a gift and then pick one adult from the group. Kids are the only ones who truly care about holiday gift giving, so your sister-in-law is probably fine with not buying you a bubble bath set this year.
Set a limit everyone can stick to, and maybe even incorporate a theme if that helps. Consumables, like chocolate and alcohol, make great gifts because they’re easy to pick out and you know most people will like them.
Zeb Bibi said most people understand if you want to cut back on Christmas presents because you’re saving for a new car or a down payment on a house. Unfortunately, saving for FIRE wasn’t a good enough excuse for her partner’s family.
“If you say retirement, you'll probably either get no movement in expectations and/or side remarks that it must be nice to have enough to save for it,” she said.
Unfortunately, there’s no perfect way to handle rude or annoying comments from friends or family members. You can only explain your decision and handle any criticism that comes your way with grace.
If you do get a mean comment, don’t sling mud in return. Your cousin who calls you a cheapskate is probably just jealous that you have enough money to save and aren’t living paycheck-to-paycheck. It’s OK to defend yourself, but try not to let it ruin your relationships.
Overall, having a FI Christmas is totally doable, you just have to set the expectations early, communicate clearly, and suggest alternatives.