Curbing the impulse to shop for the holidays

Have you noticed that the holiday marketing comes earlier and earlier each year?  I stopped to pick up some thumbtacks the end of August and spotted not only back-to-school aisles, but also Halloween and Christmas displays up for sale.

So I thought today was a good time to reflect on the upcoming holidays and how I plan to stay out of the biggest mind-numbing spending and advertising of the year.

Last year about the time I started this blog and I wrote about the Black Friday excess and why people feel the need to put themselves through it.  The gist of the article questioned whether people were trying to buy love through gifts. You can read it here for yourself.

My brother, informed us that he no longer goes to the store on Black Friday.  It’s not because he no longer buys, but he found that starting at midnight he can purchase anything online for the sale prices in the stores.  Darn, I thought I finally had something in common with one of my siblings 🙂

Growing up my presents were simple.  One year I wanted an alarm clock with radio so I could listen to music in my room and get myself up for school. That was my only present and I was happy.

As an adult, my grandmother, knowing my love for horses, bought me a horse ornament for my Christmas tree.  She usually found these at discount stores and laughed because she never spent more than $3-4 on me each year.

Those ornaments were something I eagerly looked forward to each year, they were some of my most cherished belongings, unfortunately I lost them the year she died in a house fire, but I still have the memories and know she understood me enough to know I needed nothing else.

I found things my children really liked and bought them little things most years.  For example, my youngest loves eagles (the animal not the sports team, he’s a Cowboys fan 😦 ) So I would search all year when I was out for an interesting and different eagle to give him.  He looked forward to this just like I did the horse ornaments.  I would pick him up hand carved eagles from clay, a poster for his room, nothing expensive, but they were important to him.

One gift I gave each child every year was a book.  I believe reading is important and love books and wanted to foster that love in my children. I still buy books for gifts (yep already have them picked out for this year).

I also give hand made gifts.  This year the grand kids need scarves so I’ve crocheted them each one.

As you can guess, I already know what gifts I will be giving this year, I don’t wait for the last week to buy just anything I can find on sale, and I don’t wait for the sale flyers to come out.

This years gifts will include books, music (keyboard for the youngest child), skates for the oldest two children, and gift baskets of home made food for each family.

I set a limit of money to spend several years ago and stick to that amount, and I don’t use credit cards, as I own none.

Here’s how I break down what I spend on the yearly holidays:

For the adults:

  • Birthdays: $5
  • Easter: nothing except I bring a dish with me to dinner
  • Christmas: $25 (this year was an exception, I helped redo a kitchen for one son and his family, and gifted the other son and his wife with babysitting and refurbished furniture I found when they bought their house)

For the children (grand kids):

  • Birthdays: $10
  • Easter: $5
  • Birthdays: $10
  • Halloween: $5
  • Christmas: $40

My decorating is very simple as well.

I decorate with things found in nature.

  • For Easter, I decorate with forced bulbs, and usually pull out the lighter colored blankets giving my home a spring feeling
  • For Fall, I combine Halloween and Thanksgiving together and use pine cones, pressed leaves and use darker colors around the house to make it feel cozier. I use a fallen tree branch I painted lightly to  hang pine cones from.
  • For Christmas, I no longer put up a tree or use electrical items that drain electricity.  I keep the tree branch and pine cones and add a few ornaments. I have a couple of Santas I set out, and then use food like a basket of fruit to make it fell festive.

So how do you avoid the craziness of the holidays?  Do you wait till the last minute?  Do you stand in line on Black Friday?  How do you try to put meaning into your gifts?

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  1. I have never ever shopped on black friday. I hate shopping for one thing, but that day is just bizarre. I actually do very little shopping for Christmas. I’m 1500 miles away from family, so I don’t celebrate a whole lot. I phone my mom that day and talk to everyone. I’m easy to please.


    • I’m sorry you are so far away from family, but I understand why you did, I’ve always wanted to live in Canada, it was something my grandfather wanted and told me his reasons so many times I think it became part of me.

      I went out one Black Friday because my then 16 year old son begged. We made it through 2 of the stores he wanted to go to and then asked to go home saying this was horrible. I was happy to go home. I wish my children didn’t buy for me, but they do. They have learned to give me practical things. Last year the group photo they had done of their two families together was the best present money could ever buy. My youngest frequently burns me music he knows I enjoy so there is little invested, and my oldest is learning to let the kids make me something rather than buy me things.


  2. I think it is one step at a time. Tradition dies hard, and my parents were big-time shoppers at the Holidays. The also could afford it a lot easier than me! I do try to make a point of not buying impulsively, though. If I give a gift I don’t want it to turn into clutter. I would like it to be useful. I don’t shy away from asking outright what my kids need.


    • My grandparents raised me and coming from the depression era were not big spenders, nor did they want much in return. Tradition is hard to let go of. Presents weren’t elaborate, but food was. I am learning to enjoy the holidays now with less food, we don’t need an entire buffet to be happy on those days.

      I too ask my kids what they want, and work with them to choose what the little ones want/need. I have turned into the go-to person for gift buying as everyone gives me their wish lists and then everyone else calls me to see what they can get them.

      I know raising a family is hard today, so part of the gift baskets I’m putting together for my son’s families also includes things like coffee they drink, and boxes of raisins, jams, etc to help them with their food bills.

      One thing I am happy for is that my boys never learned to use credit for Christmas shopping. They learned to set budgets and use cash. One has a jar he puts all his change and single bills into during the year, then come time to shop they add up what they have and use that as their budget.


  3. I had to stop by today to see what you’ve been up to, or rather I guess I should say “what you’re blogging about”, which is probably the same thing, right? 😉

    I liked your post and can identify with so much of what you say in it. After we conversed through posts last week I thought how much you and I had in common and after reading this, that idea is even more true than it was before.

    I hate the commercialism at Christmas-time. I went to grab a few more things for the garden ( a new rake, etc) at WalMart last week and when I got to the “Garden Center” all that was left was some miscellaneous items like potting soil, etc. I bet I don’t even need to tell you that it was taken over by Christmas items – trees, bulbs, wreaths – the works! I know they say it’s earlier every year, but I think that things have gotten way out of hand with the whole thing.

    I/we make most of what we give away and have for years. We have 8 children (he had 5 from his 1st marriage and I had 3) and right now we have 13 grandchildren. Living on less that $700 a month, it doesn’t leave much for gift-buying. I’ve found that most of the people on our gift list love homemade gifts, but there are a few D-I-L’s, etc who think the only good gift came from Old Navy or Bath n Body Works, etc. I’ve given up trying to please people who cannot appreciate something that I took the time to craft for them. Moving on…

    So much of what you wrote about what you spend for birthdays, etc is like we do. Ours is a bit different, but the premise is the same. All the grandchildren live at least 30 miles away, some across the country, so to be fair, we send them each a card with $5 in it. It might not be much, but at least they can get something they want or put it towards something they want or need. The kids of ours are all adults and they all get homemade gifts for their birthdays.

    At Christmas time, some of it’s easy as far as the grandkids are concerned. The ones that live here in Maine (or a cold climate) always get a box with hand knit (or crocheted, depending) matching hat, mittens (or gloves), scarf, socks and slippers. Then I always make them something like a quilted throw, pillowcases, things like that and they end up with 7 or 8 homemade things. For instance, this year all my granddaughters (they’re all under 11) will be receiving hand made cotton dolls to put on their beds or play with, either way is fine with me. I have some tote bags and aprons done already for a few of them, cloth books for the three 1-2 year old kids, etc. I still have a lot left to do, but I have accomplished some of it throughout the year. I hate having to do everything in a rush.

    I enjoyed your post, loved the autumn leaves picture – it reminded me of what I’m doing tonight – trying my hand at dehydrating some fruit. I read on the ‘net somewhere about drying out apples and oranges and then there is a combination of whole cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon sticks. I’m glad I bookmarked it because I want to make it tonight. Well, I guess that’s out anyway, as it probably takes longer than I’m imagining just to dry the fruit – so I’ll go with this… I’ll dry the fruit tonight and make this autumn treasure tomorrow!

    Sorry this turned into such a long reply, but I had fun while here and wanted to let you know, as well as I haven’t visited with anyone all day, so I guess my typing is making up for that, lol!

    BTW, I’ve shared with a few people the post of yours about your grandson and the landfill – truly priceless!



    • Marie,

      First thank you for sharing the story of my grandson and the landfill, I’m glad it touched you.

      I came at crafting late in life. I was a tomboy and wanted nothing to do with the many beautiful gifts my grandmother made and wanted to teach me. Luckily for me, she lived long enough to see that I took it upon myself to learn later.

      I love how you plan what gifts you give. What a huge family you have! I have 2 sons, between them I now have 3 grand children, but it’s been a huge change for me to go from buying/making for two to now 7. My eldest grand daughter keeps pointing out things she wants me to make and I book mark them and plan to learn how to do that.

      Currently, between everything else I am working on cross stitch ornaments to add to the “tree” that will be on display. I am so bummed because I plan on using the tree for autumn and the later holidays. To do this the grand kids and I collected plenty of leaves and I pressed them in library books. Unfortunately, I forgot about them when my dil showed up unexpectedly and offered to take any books back I had ready to go. Someone will be finding perfectly pressed leaves and now I have to go collect more! What a hardship 🙂

      I am truly amazed by how well you do with your income. I make just over that on average, but there’s only me to support. I need to get a few pointers from you.


      • Don’t want to be negative on all of the positive things with this post, but as someone that works in a library, I’m suggesting you don’t press your leaves in a library book. It does do damage to the pages and the book won’t last as long. Library books get much heavier use than ones at home and wear out faster. And living in an area where the budgets for libraries have been cut, we’ve got to make every book last as long as we can.


        • I hadn’t thought of that, thank you for pointing that out I won’t do it again. I appreciate your comment, budgets for libraries have been cut every where, including here. I love the use of my library, as I no longer buy books, so I would hate to do anything to damage a book.


          • I hope I didn’t sound scolding, I was just trying to point out something that you might not have thought about. At our library, we are starting to get some new books, but for a whole year the only new books we got were donations. That started a viscous cycle. People went elsewhere for their books instead to the library which meant usage was down. Then the county council said your numbers are down, so we don’t need to give you money. Hopefully, things will turn around soon.


          • No, I didn’t take it as a scolding. I’m genuinely happy you brought it up. We always pressed leaves in books and since I don’t buy books anymore it was a library book that was handy. I try to be very careful with library books and get upset when I see food stains or children’s books that are so sticky you can’t open the pages. So with that in mind I don’t want to be adding to the problem.

            I don’t know everything, I expect people to share what they know so I can learn more. Thank you.


  4. Oh, after all that I still forgot something and it’s the most special of all!

    Each year, all our children and grandchildren receive a handmade ornament with the year on it somewhere. I’ve found that almost all of them can’t wait to see what they get year to year, it seems they are more excited about this than the actual gift(s) they get!


  5. I used to occasionally shop on Black Fridays because the prices were so good but I always went with something in mind. However, now they’ve just made them stupid trying to out do each other. I’m not getting up at 2 am to shop.

    i find figuring out what to get the extended family for Christmas difficult and stressful. There are several reasons for this-names are drawn, but not until late into the game. Also, one side of the family does do homemade gifts, but along with the cookies and jam, they are professional woodworkers, knitters, sewers, and one is in chef school. I know I shouldn’t, but I find it hard to compete in this arena. One year, I suggested that we give to charities in each others names and no one liked that idea.

    Oh, well. This is where I need an attitude adjustment and realize that it really is the thought that counts.


    • I like the idea of exchanging names when there is a large extended family. One of my friends does this, they have several family get-togethers over the year, and chose July fourth as the day they exchange names. If any one can’t be there someone else chooses a name for them. They also set a spending limit, but I don’t know what that is.

      As for your dilemma, I’m sorry you feel you need to compete reading your blog, you are talented and have so much to offer. If buying gifts isn’t your thing, then give what you feel comfortable giving without any pressure to measure up. I do like the idea of giving to charities in each others names, but I don’t think my family is ready for that either.

      What about experiences? Tickets to a show, one day pass to a zoo or museum, we have a children’s museum here that only charges the adults (something like $5), so you could then be giving a family a gift. I don’t know what’s in your area (or theirs), but hopefully there would be something inexpensive that maybe they never thought to check out.


  6. We went out to WalMart one year on Black Friday, and I hated it. It was so crowded, and people were so difficult to deal with. It just ruined my day. But I have to admit, we do go out on Black Friday. One store near us offers free donuts, coffee and juice that morning. We go, have our breakfast, watch all the crazy shoppers, and buy socks and board games (2 items they have on sale every year). We consider this to be entertainment.


    • Ours was Best Buy, then my son wanted something at Target, but once he got to Target,he worked his way in the door and turned around and came back out. Said there was no way to get through the store and asked to go home.

      I like your idea of entertainment for Black Friday! I would love people watching from the comfortable spot of not being in the crowd, but I think it would drive me nuts to see the pushing and shoving up close.

      Each Thanksgiving I do the same thing, I drive down to visit my son and his family. Since he works as manager at a retail store he has to be the first one there to open up, he would be exhausted if he drove up here and back in one day. We have a lovely dinner, watch football, play board games (yep we love them too), and enjoy the little one. On Black Friday, my dil and I look through the paper, we share the puzzles in the paper, and talk about the sales. We enjoy a quiet day with the little one, then I drive home on Saturday afternoon. To me this is heaven.


        • I enjoy it each year. It’s just so relaxed and laid back. I miss having them close so I enjoy the time to catch up. Of course there is always the ribbing, my son is a Dallas fan, me a Steeler, so there is a Dallas game to hopefully pick on him about. Then there’s the games, it’s a blast to play with adults from time to time. And best of all, I avoid the crowds.


  7. Lois,

    Thank you for the great post about Christmas and giving. Giving and consumption are two things I think about a lot, and I just loved your intentional, heartfelt approach to seasons and celebrations. My daughters are very small and we are just beginning to put our Holiday traditions in place. Thanks for helping me to remember that simple pleasures are best, and that we want to always keep the focus where it belongs, on spending quality time together.


    • Some days I wish I could start over with raising my boys, but knowing what I know now. Now that my boys are adults, their best memories of the holidays are of the little things, the way the house was decorated, or the full house of friends and relatives, not the gifts. They also tell me that it was so important to them to know I was happy school was out (before we started home schooling) because so many of their friends would say their parents were dreading the kids being home for the summer. I had this tradition, where I would watch for them and turn on Alice Coopers School’s Out, very loudly. We would all sing the song then sit down to a light lunch where we would make a list of all the things we wanted to do during the break. Kids just want to feel special, but money spent, IMO doesn’t do that the way all those little special things you can do during the year will.


  8. Hi Lois…You have a really great blog here! thanks for all your wonderful ideas and suggestions for helping us to live more simply. I too have been attempting to simplify my life and learn to appreciate the enormous good that is available to all of us if we take the time to slow down and see it! I also think this blog post is VERY timely because many retail stores have already started pushing Christmas on us…and it isn’t even Halloween. As far as what I do…I wrote a blog post myself last year outlining some of my new routines…for anyone who is interested it is here: Thanks again for your ideas…and I’ll be checking back for more in the future….


    • Thank you, glad you found some of my rambling to be helpful. I agree with you, the rush to market the Christmas, and every other holiday is getting out of hand. Here, I spotted Christmas displays, like I mentioned, the end of August. My view is this, if we really want it we will wait until it comes out. I’m not going to buy any Christmas decorations when I’m still having 80 degree weather and enjoying summer. I will definitely check out your blog as well.


      • Hi Lois…I went to sign up for your blog feed but couldn’t find a way to do that (or at least one I could find easily) Is there one? Do you have an email sign up for new posts? That would help me find you again. Please let me know and keep up the good work!…


        • Hi Kathy, I hadn’t realized there was an option for me to have this, yes I’m tech illiterate, but learning. I found it and added it. If you have any problems let me know. Thank you for pointing this out.


  9. Hello,

    I just found your blog and I am enjoying the reading. I am new to the downsize and live smaller life. I am retired (Retired Knitter on my own blog). I have always been a declutter-er, but that darn stuff just seems to reproduce on its own (I know it doesn’t, it has help, but I like to think it is not my fault 🙂 ). Anyway, now my husband and I are downsizing seriously with the intent of moving into a much smaller space (2,200 sq feet down to about 800 or 1000 sq feet) in the next year or two. The big declutter and downsize has begun.

    So reading your blog and your experiences has been inspirational to me. Having less has such a freeing feeling to it. And since we are retired, spending less is absolutely necessary if we plan on outliving our money.

    Looking forward to more posts.


    • Hi Elaine,

      I’m happy to hear you are in the beginning of a new phase in your life. That’s quite a shift in lifestyle going from 2,200 sq ft. My move wasn’t nearly as big as I downsized a few times slowly and never lived in any thing very large. It was freeing to me to let go and embrace a new way of living, I hope it is as well for you and your husband.

      I know what you mean about the clutter reproducing itself. I can honestly say that while a little comes in from me, and help from my neighbors, a lot comes in from the grand kids who bring things to show me then forget to take it home or decide I should keep it here. I have begun to put their things on a small table by the door and have their parents take it home with them.


  10. A lot of our buying is prompted by advertising. So I’ve been teaching my children to watch or listen to advertising mindfully and critically, so their buying decisions are theirs and not the marketers’. Not having television in the house helps a lot.


    • Good for you teaching your children about marketing tricks. Advertising is so sophisticated it can even trick adults.

      When my kids were little I too tried to avoid the advertising. One of the tricks I used was in when I had them make their gift wish list for the holidays. Their birthdays were in July and September, so I would have them give me a list of what they wanted so I could share ideas with family. But then that list couldn’t be updated with things from the ads they saw after their birthdays. Of course I would watch what they were into and add ideas of my own, but the ads couldn’t affect what they asked for. I also taught them that the prices of these new things being advertised would fall dramatically the first of the year, so if they saw something they really did want, to wait until after Christmas and they could purchase it with gift money or their savings. I remember one board game my boys asked for. It sold for $45 before Christmas, by the first of the year it was $19.99. That’s a huge savings.


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