I don’t want anything this Christmas. Not one thing. And I have never felt more festive.
If you think I’m being hysterical, it’s because it’s historical. I can’t remember one present I received for Christmas as a child and, if I did, I would bet my monthly salary that the toys broke soon after or I simply stopped playing with it. How do I know this? Because when it comes to shopping and gifts, not much has changed. I lose interest in most consumer products after buying them (my iPhone being one obvious exception.) I’m not alone: Nearly 9% of American families don’t participate in holiday giving.
I have an uneven history of gift-giving, starting with the jewelry box I gave my aunt made out of an egg box covered in metallic paper. (I was 8 and learned how to make it from a BBC Television children’s show, “Blue Peter.” We never spoke about it.) Years later, for a friend’s wedding, I bought them four Waterford Crystal glasses (at $100 a pop). I later broke one at a dinner party. They divorced before I replaced it. One recent study found that the “deadweight loss” (how much more the giver is prepared to pay for and use the item than the recipient) for gifts in the U.S. is $12 billion.
It’s empowering telling people, ’Let’s not spend any money on each other this year,’ and watching the relief on their face. Like staying up after midnight on New Year’s Eve, you don’t have to do (or buy) stuff because everyone else is doing it.
I do, however, like the act of unwrapping presents. The best part of any gift is the not knowing. After that, it’s all downhill from there. Here’s a perfect example: Somebody very special recently gave me a box of Zingers, a type of chocolate cake. (It was a private joke as I was overusing the word “zing”). I had a feeling it was a novelty gift, but I never wanted to open it. I just wanted to keep guessing until (thy) kingdom come.
Zingers are related to the more popular Twinkies. Apparently, they come in devil’s food, raspberry and vanilla flavors and cost $19 for a box of 10. That’s all you need to know. There’s no way you would actually get me to eat one of them. But eating them wasn’t the point. (I tried one. It didn’t end well.) I opened the box and poked at them anxiously as if they were baby aliens that would wake up and bite my fingers off at any minute. But they were still among my favorite gifts of 2016.
Listen:The Hatchimal “superdad” and his wife defend his 11th-hour flight to Spain to buy the toy on MarketWatch’s podcast, “Money, Markets & More.” (Subscribe on iTunes.)
I don’t judge others who want to get into the holiday spirit. After all, one-third of retail sales in the U.S. takes place between Black Friday and Christmas. And this week, I wrote about a father who flew to Spain from Ireland to buy his son a Hatchimal. I liked this story because the man in question, Sol Mac Eoghan, had a sense of humor about the trip. He got a four-day vacation in Spain (by himself a week before Christmas), had three fillings done for one-third of the price at home and made his kid happy. Joan Crawford had the right idea when she went through her children’s belongings three times a year to see what they should donate to charity.
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I get it. I know that the chase is sometimes more important than the actual reward. His son, Charlie, will learn that too in time. He will know what it’s like to really want something and, in time, learn that the anticipation is greater than the reality and maybe a lesson on supply and demand. (If everyone else wants it too, maybe wait.) I would still like to see his face and hear him scream the moment he opens it. But I’m also conscious that Americans are now in more debt than they were before the financial crisis.
Joan Crawford had the right idea when she went through her children’s belongings three times a year to see what they should donate to charity. Give to your charity or your church, spend time walking (or running) in the park and cooking dinner instead of shopping. Phone your mother!
It’s really empowering telling people, “Let’s not spend any money on each other this year,” and watching the relief on their face. Like staying up after midnight on a New Year’s Eve, you don’t have to do stuff (or buy stuff) just because everyone else is doing it. Give to your charity or your church, if you prefer, spend time walking (or running) in the park and cooking dinner instead of shopping. Phone your mother!
Think about a gift that costs nothing or next-to-nothing. It’s a lot more fun. Put an old family photograph in an picture frame (and, if it needs fixing, Photoshop it for free online), write someone a letter, put a stamp on an envelope and actually walk to the post office, or set time aside to FaceTime with an old friend you haven’t spoken to all year. Recycle one of your favorite books so someone else can enjoy it. What are they doing just sitting there on the shelf? They’re not going to read themselves. There’s so much you can do without the ring of cash register.
It’s possible to buy something really thrifty and make it count. The best gift I ever gave anyone were two Portmeirion China teacups and saucers with a card saying “Tea for Two.” The couple had requested no gifts, but I quietly decided to give a token gift anyway (so I may be cheap, but I’m not quite as bad as the Grinch.) The bride said it was their favorite gift and, on their first wedding anniversary, even posted a photo of the teacups on Facebook. It was a sign that there’s no overdraft on your imagination. (See what I did there?) Those cups cost $20 at a thrift store.
Also see: A father’s letter to his adult children at Thanksgiving: You’re on your own
The advice from the Moneyologist? Don’t follow the hoards into the stores. Do something against tradition for a change, especially when the rest of the world appears to have lost its mind while doing it. This includes (in no particular order) buying a house during an economic boom, sharing what you had for dinner on Facebook, standing on a cliff to take a selfie or waiting outside an electronics store on Black Friday for an even bigger television set. Here’s a message you won’t see in a shop window: “YOUR TV IS PLENTY BIG ALREADY.”
And while we’re on the subject: The Grinch, as Dr. Seuss portrayed him, gets a bad rap. He was just trying to get your attention. He wanted you to live in the moment, too. “It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ‘till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
Call me cheap. But you’re still not getting anything this Christmas. When your birthday rolls around? Or if you need someone to talk to about a problem at any hour of the day or night? I’m there.
View more information: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/im-a-grinch-and-proud-of-it-why-i-wont-spend-one-red-cent-this-christmas-2016-12-22