Ah, the holidays–the pinnacle of excess eating and spending before everyone wakes up on January 1st with an emotional and literal hangover, with a resolution that it will “totally be different this year!”
Cynicism aside, the holidays can and should be aligned with the FI mindset. It’s a time to connect with loved ones, put value in moments together and enjoying meaningful traditions.
For some of us though, we might have family members who may want to overindulge in terms of gift giving, dining out, travel, and expectations for who is hosting.
If you’re dreading the holidays, read on–hopefully, these tips will make the holidays more joyful for everyone, FI or otherwise!
Setting Boundaries Early
If you’re relatively new to FI, or, you’ve decided that your holidays need to be aligned with your financial values–this may shock your family members a bit.
Your decision to skip or reduce gifts will likely be a point of contention. Even changing up traditions to something less expensive can cause a rift, so tread lightly.
As soon as possible, send out an email to set expectations. Explaining your “why” is key and a great way to introduce the coming changes. You may want to consider making a phone call to anyone who might need a conversation. This will further help your loved ones understand.
But don't let them guilt you into spending more than you want to. You aren't asking permission to spend less. You are letting them know now, so they aren't surprised later.
Gift Giving Options
Come to the table with alternatives if you’re unable to travel for the holidays this year, or aren’t able to participate in all of the usual functions. It can seem personal and can be a real kill-joy to seemingly no longer “care” about what has always been the norm. (Nobody wants to be the Debbie Downer at Christmas). Offering an alternative just might be what the whole group needs to see that change can be good for their own budgets.
Some ideas would be to explore a low-cost alternative for later in the year–maybe to celebrate a milestone birthday, retirement, or an-off season family reunion when travel is more affordable and less harried.
One thing we’ve tried in our little family is to ask for “edibles and experiences,” instead of stuff. Last year, since our family is so spread out, each person brought edible gifts from their current state of residence. Food gifts are easy to transport, usually low-cost, and can be cracked open over a good game of cards. (This Texan loves a good card game with some craft brews and queso!) The time and food create connection, memories, and shared time enjoyed together.
If, by chance, you’re planning on downsizing to a smaller home, asking grandparents to chip in just “one toy and one book” will help them help you declutter and save money. Explaining that a smaller home can mean a better school district or less commuting time for mom and dad helps frame up the decision.
An idea of The Four Gifts is an easy way to ease off of the gift giving overload for the children in the family. It's simply something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. Keep in mind it is something, not somethings. The gifts can become more thoughtful and meaningful when the pressure to have an ever-expanding pile under the tree is removed. Gifts that are meaningful are appreciated and used so much more than those things that just add to the everyday clutter.
Another alternative is gifting experiences and memories. Pitching in for experiences that are on someone’s bucket list is a great way to cheer someone on while keeping within your budget. For yourself, or if you know of the need in your giving, asking for contributions to a larger goal–like an upcoming wedding, or children’s summer camp, is a great way to get people connected and supporting one another.
Some gracious gifts are helping to pay for school fees, dance or instrument lessons, or other practical expenses that just stretch budgets. There are lots of alternatives instead of pulling the plug on gifts entirely. Last year, we were gifted tickets to the local bat caverns! It created memories to be cherished for years to come. And we have enjoyed gifting spa days, festival tickets, and National Park passes as well!
Awkward Conversations In Person
Even if you’ve successfully broached the subject via email or on the phone, regarding gift giving or changing up traditional activities, this might come up again when you get face time over the holidays with your family. The holidays are usually a time when well-meaning family members make pointed questions and remarks over dinner.
If you know a certain family member is uneasy about your recent requests to change things up, or even makes snide remarks about your financial outlook and circumstances–it’s a good time to nip it in the bud. Acknowledge their remarks, reiterate your why, and thank them for being so patient or supportive as you know change can be uncomfortable. They may even, eventually, thank you for helping them change their perspective on holiday traditions and expenses.
Dealing with difficult family members is never fun, but treating them with kindness while maintaining firm boundaries is key to keeping your sanity!