In the LearnVest Personal Stories series, everyday people share the details of their money lives, discussing the individual choices they’ve made and how it’s impacted their financial journey.
Today, one dad tells us why he and his wife don’t exchange gifts—and why they’ve also chosen to downplay presents for their daughters. By skipping the whole holiday gift-giving hoopla, he says that it actually makes his family’s season merrier.
This time of year, most of my family and friends are frantically running around shopping malls and waiting in crazy-long lines to get gifts to put under the tree. Some of them have a lot of fun doing this—and others are totally stressed out.
As for me, my wife, Sherri, and our two teenaged daughters, Winter and Sylvie, we sneak in as many long hikes as we can before the snow starts falling and spend our weekends cooking delicious dinners. You see, Sherri and I don’t get each other gifts, and we don’t buy many for the girls, either. As a result, there’s no such thing as “pre-holiday craziness” in our world, and we truly get to experience all of the magic of the season without any of the stress.
A No-Gifts Christmas Tradition Is Born
Sherri and I met in our late 20s and bonded over our shared vision that a frugal, simpler life might just be the ticket to happiness. We talked about “Walden” and how we’d both read it as teenagers, but how we hadn’t truly understood Henry David Thoreau’s point until much later in life. And we’d seen many of our family members try to keep up with the Joneses, working constantly to make payments on a big house, two brand new cars or a boat.
With all of that in mind, we decided to minimize our wants and stick to our needs.
So starting early in our relationship, we made an agreement: birthdays, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and other holidays were “no gift zones” for us—at least not for store-bought presents. Instead, we would write poems, create something by hand or give each other an experience on those special occasions.
For example, for our birthdays every year, we leave the house early in the morning to hike 15 miles on the beautiful, deserted trails at Lake Hope State Park near our home in Athens, Ohio, and then have a great meal at their lodge restaurant. It feels decadent to ditch work for the day and be together in the woods. Neither of us would trade that for a store-bought gift of any kind.
Fast-forward to my siblings and I having children and trying to buy birthday and Christmas presents for everyone. Sherri and I felt like we already had everything we needed to be happy, plus we didn’t always use the things that we were given. And whenever we visited our extended families at Christmas, it seemed like the piles of gifts for the children got higher every year, and the toys would just be forgotten a week later. We feared that we’d be doing a disservice to the kids by teaching them that this was what life was all about.