Updated on 12.12.06

The First Christmas Present You Should Buy

Trent Hamm

Every year, we find ourselves drowning in a giant orgy of gift-giving. We buy and buy physical items that we give to our family and friends, hoping to see a big smile on their face and a warm embrace. For me, my weakness is children; I tend to want to buy them a present that makes them jump up and down with excitement.

What I’ve learned, though, is that it’s not usually the gift itself that they remember. Instead, what they remember is you at Christmas. Think back to your family Christmases. Do people who were exceptionally joyful stick out for you? They do for me, and seeing such joy was what made our large family Christmases memorable. I don’t remember the people who were going through stressful events and were worried about paying for everything; I remember the ones who were happy, the ones who didn’t give the $250 electronic gift.

The first Christmas gift you should buy this year (and every year) is peace of mind for yourself. If you go to your family’s Christmas festivities with extra stress on your heart because you simply spent too much for Christmas, not only will you enjoy the holidays less, but your family will enjoy them less, too. Sure, someone might have that iPod they’ve been yearning for, but what will stick with their heart is the big hug and smile you gave to them, or the hour you spent playing with your nephew’s new dump truck.

The road to holiday contentment is simple. First, take a third or a half (or even more) of your Christmas spending budget and put it in a high yield savings account For me, this would have been a solid chunk of change in years past, but this year my Christmas budget is already far smaller than in previous years.

Then do the rest of your Christmas shopping using your remaining budget. Maybe instead of buying someone an expensive book, you can buy them a copy of one of your favorite paperbacks instead. Maybe instead of a wonderful new sweater for your sister, you can give her a ring and offer to cap spending on each other, or just buy for each other’s children. Maybe, just maybe, you can make a few presents yourself, like homemade soaps or homemade ethnic foods.

I argue that this is the best Christmas gift you can get for your loved ones – and for yourself. Why? As the holidays wear on, you’ll not have that sinking feeling of debt pulling at your ankles; instead, you’ll have money stowed away for a family emergency. As you sit around the Christmas tree with your family, you won’t have the underlying feeling of stress that you had in previous years; you’ll be happier and freer than before, and it will simply show in your personality.

If you still believe that this is Scrooge-ish, just do it for one year. Let the money sit in the account, then use it and do whatever you want next year for Christmas. You might just find that having that backup fund made things easier, lightened your spirit, and made for a very merry Christmas after all.

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  1. annab says:

    I love the idea of making gifts, especially little foody things. When I was a kid, my great grandma used to everyone cookies (by mail) and it was THE most anticipated item in the christmas season. Especially if you have your “signature” item that can be used up (so you can do it again in a year.) Things like herb vinegars, or flavored oils that are difficult to make in small batches, but good if you give the same gift to everyone. I love getting stuff like that, because you can enjoy it and use it up (instead of gifts you can’t really use that just take up space.)

  2. PiFreak says:

    Definately homemade gifts are the best. This year, I bought picture frames at dollar tree for everyone on my list ($10), some cheap paint at 4/$100 ($2), and then painted them, and put their names on them. They’re collage picture frames, so I’ll put one picture in each, and leave the rest up to them ($3 at Walgreens). I have leftover paint for other crafts, and have only spent $15 on everyone. While at dollar tree last year the week after christmas, I picked up 2 rolls of wrapping paper for a dollar, and wrapped my gifts this year with that ($1). The nice thing about this is that then at dollar tree, if I pick up four other things for the four most important people on my list, I’ve still only spent $20 on everyone on my list.

  3. PiFreak says:

    P.S. Just read the comment – My mom makes Kahlua every year, and it’s the most loved gift by almost everyone.

  4. Sandy says:

    What you said is true…doing something for/with someone on your list is often more appreciated than anything. This year, one of my neices announced she was vegan at Thanksgiving…so when our family got together the other day for our christmas time together, I made her 3 different vegan options. As it was, all the relatives made the usual…ham, baked beans, mac and cheese…all with things she won’t eat anymore. she was thrilled to see on the table several new options for her meal, and so, until she says she’s not a vegan, I imagine I’ll continue to prepare these for her. When we were all saying goddbye, she gave me a hug, and said thanks for cooking for her, and I could really tell she appreciated a great deal what I had done…much better than another gift card.

  5. I make an outstanding BBQ sauce that everyone loves and you can’t get it anywhere but from me–and no amount of money can buy the love that goes into a food gift. I also make Amaretto cakes for gift that people fight over and it grew to a cottage industry when people who had sampled them started calling me to BUY them from me! There’s a website called the Rum Cake fairy and she uses the same recipe I use and sells her cakes for $40 plus shipping and that’s fine but I sell mine for $25 and they cost about $5 or so to make which includes labor. I have to put a limit on the number of cakes I can do every year or I’d be baking around the clock! The point is, most people have everything they want/need and something delicious that is a treat is always appreciated. I’d rather have a food gift than anything because it’s a gift from the heart that money can’t buy.

  6. Andrea says:

    Another choice is to pay for Christmas all year 1/12 of your expected expense at a time. My credit union offers a Christmas Club that they keep in a separate savings account all year, and I write a check to this account each month for $47/mo (for me). In mid-November I get a check mailed to me, that I then go and cash. All of that money goes into an envelope. I put aside 10% to buy something for a child less fortunate (Angel Tree, Foster kids etc. that are the same age as my son). Then I let my son help with picking out items for this boy, and this year he suggested that we also pray for him and his family, which we did. When the money is gone for the family presents, shopping is done. For those who are still liking to live on the cash plan, it is a very tangible way to know how much more you can spend.

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