I always feel a sort of push and pull at Christmas time. For years, I’ve been trying to learn to live more frugally, and, in the last year, as we’ve worked to simplify and work less, sometimes, I do feel like things are a little too austere around here.

I should provide context. Austere for me is certainly not austere for most. Although we grow as much of our own food as we can, we buy organic food at the grocery store for what we can’t grow, and, as a family, we eat very well. We also have a comfortable house and a reliable vehicle.

But I’m pretty sure 90% of my socks have holes, and since we gave the family car to our oldest son, sometimes, I really miss having a car. But that’s about as austere as it gets around here, so I shouldn’t complain. I hope I’m not.

Still, since it’s Christmas time and it feels like it has been a really tough year, I’m having really strong urges toward “retail therapy,” but I’m trying to keep my head.

I have a long history of struggling with materialism, mostly in relation to my boys. I think mom guilt played a role. For example, when my youngest was a toddler, I had a particularly demanding job. I worked about 70 hours per week and had to travel quite a bit. I missed my family so much, but I think it was hardest being away from my little one. So, every time I traveled, I would shop for him way too much and shower him with gifts when I came home.

My husband expressed concern about this, but the problem with this mode of operation really hit me in the face when I arrived home after some travel for work and my husband and little one met me at the airport. The first thing my toddler said to me was, “What did you bring me?”

Yep. I knew I had been making a big mistake at that point, and, really, that was one of the moments that caused me to start rethinking things, to figure out how I could exchange money for time. To get more time would mean less money, but it felt like a necessary move.

But Christmas is still a struggle in materialism for me.

To help, my husband and I read about a plan to keep Christmas simple and still make it special. I read a blog post last year about a family who kept a plan to give each person four gifts and four gifts only—something you want, something you need, something to share, and something to read.

I loved this idea and thought that we should try it this year, especially since we would have to be more budget minded than we usually are. But I loved the way this plan kept Christmas special.

So, this year, we’re doing it! I made a little grid for each member of our family, and my husband and I have been figuring out a gift for each category. The most fun has been the “something to share” category, and I’m excited to see how this works out. We’ve been looking at games, fancy chocolates, and other fun presents for this category, and I’m excited for all of us to share a present with one another.

Photo credit: Ben White, Unsplash

This seems like a good plan for our family. I do believe in keeping Christmas special, even though I totally understand that it has turned into a terribly commercial holiday. But life can be a grind. It feels good to take a break from it and celebrate. I mean, that’s what holidays are for, right? Humans have been doing this a long time. We need a holiday break from the grind, and I believe holidays are necessary to overall happiness—however we choose to celebrate.

But I don’t want to charge things on the credit cards either. I believe we have a plan for balance, and I’m excited to see how this goes this year. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, what are your plans to keep the holidays special without breaking the bank?





8 thoughts on “On Something You Want and Something You Need: Keeping Christmas Special on a Budget

  1. I did something similar when my kids were growing up — not formalized like you have, but kept presents minimal, mostly hand-made, but with one “boughten” present (usually not the biggest of the lot, either and never a big-ticket item, as we had 5 kids and not a big ticket budget). We always included something to read and something to DO (art or craft kits or supplies or the like) which often ended up as “something to share” at least with the sister(s) most close in age (there was a 10 year spread).

    And about those socks… would you like to learn how to darn? It’s a useful skill and can easily be done inexpensively and without making lumps and bumps to hurt the foot.


    1. JJ, I totally love this! I so want to get to where I can make more presents for people. The first year I became a professor, my salary was so low that we really couldn’t afford anything for our oldest for Christmas, so I made him a quilt. That boy still has that quilt! Anyway, yes and please on learning to darn. Do you have time to teach me though? I would love to meet you and learn from you!


      1. Darning is a good skill to learn and yes, I would be happy to find time to teach you. Actually, let me talk with the folks in our local MOFGA chapter; we are always looking for things folks want to learn and things we can share, so this might be an idea for a small workshop perhaps in January or February, when the holiday hoopla is passed and we have all recuperated a bit! Would either month work better for you? We usually do these things on a weekend day, but to maximize accessibility (since I know not everyone works M-F “normal business hours” I will consider doing both a week day or week day evening and a weekend session.


  2. I love the idea of 4 presents. You’ll need to think harder about what to give, which will give more meaning to the presents. We also cut back on the ‘big’ gifts several years ago and mostly give things that will be useful or treats to eat and share. Our family enjoys christmas much more without the stress of christmas shopping. Enjoy Christmas.


  3. Jane, we have definitely found the process to be a lot more fun. You are so right about having to think harder, and I am hoping it’s going to make each present feel more special to the boys. And you are also right about how stressful Christmas shopping can be. Anything we can do to cut down on that is a good thing. 🙂 Thank you for reading!


  4. I’m not doing All the Christmas decorations this year. It’s a big thing in our up scale neighborhood. I think it has gotten way out of hand. I mean really, how many lights can you put on a single home? Any way, I told my husband, I just want to put up one little flag, that reads : JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON.

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