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

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.

christmas-present
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?

 

 

 

 

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On Birthdays and Big Dreams

boy on fence

This week, I’m late with my post. I have a very good reason for being late. My youngest, my baby, turned 7 this weekend!

I actually spent Friday feeling a little guilty that I had not managed to get my blog post up on time, but then I remembered what my blogging self would tell worrying self: This is your child’s birthday. The blog can wait.

So it did. Until now.

I just put my youngest son to bed at the end of his 7th birthday. Right as he was getting into bed, he paused and said to me, “Now, I have to wait a whole year before it’s my birthday again.”

Then, he said, in a thoughtful tone, “It wasn’t as good as I thought it was going to be, but it was still really good.”

“I totally understand, sweetie,” I told him. And I do understand. But I was a little taken aback by his wisdom in the way he spoke this.

He said it like he understood that this is just how it is. You build something up to be so great in your head that it can’t possibility live up to your expectations. But it’s okay if it’s still good. In fact, I’m sure that was his tone, and since he just turned 7, I was surprised by his seemingly deep understanding of this concept.

I always want his birthdays to live up to my son’s expectations, but I know there’s just no way this is possible. I hope it doesn’t seem like my kiddo is spoiled. He’s not. He’s actually this beautifully and honestly grateful kid most of the time. Well, I’m sure he’s a little spoiled, but I’m firm believer that we should all be a little spoiled, at least by love.

But he has this great imagination. No a fantastical imagination! And that means he dreams really, really big, even when I can tell he’s trying to be realistic. It’s pretty fantastic, actually.

Reflecting on the way my son dreams so big got me to thinking about my own dreams for myself and my family. I’m generally such a cautious person, but I’m trying all the time grow and change. I think “adulting” every day makes me forget how to dream big, however.

When I was in college, Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who argued Roe versus Wade to the Supreme Court when she was in her 20’s, visited my college. She gave a talk about dreaming big, and I remember thinking that this was an important lesson. Her message was that someone has to do the big things, so it might as well be you—if you want it to be. This felt like such a powerful message to me.

But I grew up and forgot it.

As I thought about my son’s big dreams tonight though, I remembered my own. My husband and I want to start our own independent publishing company. In our family, my husband is the real writer, and reading his writing makes me feel like I’m just wasting words. He’s really talented.

I think we could do it. I think his writing could help us get our publishing company going, and I so have my own dream of writing a children’s book about chickens.

Many days, however, this feels like a fantasy, but, as I write this post, I remember that talk from college and I think my son’s ability to imagine so much greatness. He really does do everything with gusto, and if it doesn’t quite work out, he’s at least had a really good day.

boy on fence
I snapped this picture of my son, still in his jammies, standing on a stool looking out at our newly-fenced yard and appearing so thoughtful. I don’t know what he was thinking about, but I imagine it was something awesome.

So, tonight, as I finally get to my blog post for the week, I write it in honor of the most beautiful 7-year-old boy in the world to me. He has taught me to love bigger, think bigger, and, now, maybe tonight, to dream bigger. I hope, if you read this, you will dream bigger, too!