Wednesday, August 22, 2012

$100 Christmas Challenge

When I first read about a $100 Christmas Challenge, I was very skeptical.  Who could only spend $100?  I was used to spending $100 per person or more.  The Grinch learned that Christmas didn’t come from a store, but I was caught up with all the trimmings and trappings and wasn’t sure I wanted to try Christmas without them.  

I thought of my favorite Christmas that happened just a few years ago.  We all went on a family trip for our Christmas present and I didn’t have to deal with buying gifts for anyone.  We spent a night on the beach roasting marshmallows and the boys burned whatever else they could find.  Not one person complained about not having a pile of gifts.  And, I didn’t have to spend the time focusing on gift giving.  

Contrast that with another Christmas where I worked at a toy store.  It ate me up inside as I was told, People don’t know what they want.  You need to tell them what they want and sell it to them.”  Needless to say, I didn’t last long after Christmas season was over.  I refused to follow the advice given and asked people about the person they were buying for and what they liked and sent them elsewhere if we didn’t have anything that would work.  What could I lose by trying something different this year? 

Actually, I was pretty worried.  I had never tried anything this drastic before.
Since this was a big step for me, I set aside $100 cash for Christmas, but also decided that I can give away anything that I got for free or could use money from selling used items that I didn’t want.  I checked out the book Hundred Dollar Holiday by Bill McKibben so I could find out the purpose of this challenge from the source of the idea. 
Reading the book helped me look at Christmas in a different way.  For so many years we have been just following tradition without thinking about why.  Why do we celebrate Christmas around December 25th?  What did they do years ago, before the marketers tried to take advantage of the holiday by pushing people to spend and spend and spend.  How could things have changed so much from kids being excited for an orange and a candy cane, to kids expecting video games, computers, Ipods and smart phones?  

Think of how stressful Christmas has become for people that some have come to the point where they don’t even look forward to Christmas any more.  Stores start advertising sooner each year and now they even put out Christmas things after Halloween, Some stores are even staying open on Thanksgiving.  The main idea I got from the Hundred Dollar Holiday was that we need to get Christmas back to where we enjoy the holiday and spend time with family and friends celebrating.  It didn’t really matter how much you spent, but make it a more joyful holiday since that is really what it should be.  By spending less, it makes you think more about what you can do or give the person.  The hundred dollar idea can help to spark your creativity and figure out some things to do to make Christmas more meaningful.

I told my children about the challenge I was going to do.  I was expecting to hear some complaining, but they didn’t.  One said that she would be happy to have homemade jam instead of gifts.  Another said that we didn’t need to get them anything.  One of them is joining me on the challenge.  Not everyone’s family will be so open-minded, but it is worth trying the challenge for yourself, whether people agree or not.  This could be a welcomed opportunity as there are many people that are unemployed, underemployed or having financial challenges.
There are several things you can do to keep the cost of gifts down for Christmas. Here are some ideas:
1.      Use points from credit cards to get free gift cards, gifts, etc.  For example, I got a free gift card to one of our favorite restaurants for free.  I also got a night on the beach in a nice hotel for myself.  That would normally cost over $300, but we had enough credit card points to get it for free. 
2.     If you are a college student, or if you have some extra books around that you don’t read any more, sell the through Amazon or another book company to generate some extra cash.
3.     Do you have more clutter in your home than you really need?  Why not sell unwanted and unused items on E-bay or a second hand store in town?
4.     Do you have furniture that just doesn’t work in the place you live anymore?  Sell it through Craig’s list. 
5.     Do you have an extra car sitting around that isn’t being used and you are just wasting money insuring it?  Sell it!  Put the money you get in an IRA fund for yourself and save money on taxes as well! 
6.     Do you have a computer, video games, Ipods, CD’s, or DVD’s that you don’t use any more?  Sell them or trade them for something you do want.
7.     Do you know how to cook or can?  Why not make bread, jam, muffins, applesauce, etc. for people for Christmas?  If you get the fruit or garden produce from friends, make it into something special for someone for the holiday. 
8.     Give gift certificates for services.  Why wouldn’t want a nice massage or have someone cook dinner for them?  Wouldn’t you love a certificate for free babysitting if you have kids? 

Instead of focusing on what is under the tree, find some things to do around town.  Go to a Christmas play, go sledding, watch a Christmas movie with friends and make a fun treat, have a potluck Christmas dinner with friends or family, make a gingerbread house together, make cookies and take them to friends or those in need, or go sing Christmas songs at a rest home. 
Try the $100 Christmas challenge.  It will save you a lot of money and help you avoid those after Christmas credit card bills.  You can be creative and think of more personal gifts to give others.   Give meaningful gifts where you had to put some effort into them.  You can spend time with friends and loved ones and not let the gifts be the main focus.  Take Christmas back and celebrate like it should be – a time for family and friends and joy and service. 


  1. The husband & I severely cut back on gift giving a few years ago, and we know that that has irked a few folks around us. It's something we just stuck to our guns on & tried to explain in advance the what & why's of it all, but still, we know it has irritated at least 1 family member on my husband's side.
    The odd thing is with that particular person, we still give him a gift. We do that because we know what an over-indulged brat he is & not giving him anything would just send him off the deep end. Yes that logic makes no sense at first glance...but it's a compromise.

  2. Jane,

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Do you feel better or worse after cutting back? Does it take away from your holiday celebrations at all or does it even make any difference? What are some things you do now? Do you make gifts, give less, give used things or what? I think this will be a real change for me this year. I have done things the same way for so long and this will be a change.

  3. Hi again, as far as do I feel better or worse - it's more a matter of feeling relieved. The past 2 Christmas seasons we did things our "new" way & it's as if we view the holiday season with brand new eyes. We did a little bit of decorating but instead watched Christmas from the bleachers & found that to be a better viewpoint!

    Have you ever seen those videos or movies in which it shows a blissful person walking down a busy New York street at normal speed while the hundreds of people walking around her as well as the traffic are moving in fast forward hyper-speed? That's how it feels now with the holidays - the blissful person strolling leisurely while the rest of the world is zipping by frantic to hurry-get before someone gets it first.

    As far as gift-giving goes - we gave traditional gifts to a select few folks (2 to be exact) that we knew wouldn't survive the lack of a traditional gift. For everyone else they either got our love & support via a phone call, e-cards or got a easy peasy homemade treat I made. Simple easy stuff like homemade Reese cups, "fancy" rice krispy treats or butterscotch nut bars. Oddly enough, we gave a few friends each a 6-pack of unique beers they might like to try (we have those kinda friends - the beer-drinking kind). :)

    As far as announcing to everyone we know that we are cutting back - we really just found a clever ways to mention that we have been extensively downsizing as we just find we need & want less stuff. We kept that conversation going until we felt the person on the other end got a pretty good grasp & hope they took the hint. If folks were adamant about getting us something - we flat out told them a gift cards to a local beer store, boat/marine store, a restaurant or iTunes is about all we use/need.

    Now with my side of the family & my friends, being direct works best. I can flat out tell them we don't need anymore stuff - so knock it off ;) I'm also the youngest of 4 siblings & we long ago stopped giving one another gifts once we all got well into our adult years. I just simply ask my Mom what she wants/needs & get her that which tickles her to no end.
    My husband's side of the family is a bit more touchy feely & it took a little softer approach which bordered on over-doing it in terms of mentioning how very focused we are on downsizing.

    Still, someone ended up giving us a huge coffee table book that I wasted no time in selling on eBay. Cold? Mean? Harsh? Nope, it was our gift & we chose to not keep it. Gotta stick to your guns otherwise there's no point in decluttering if unwanted or un-needed stuff keeps coming back in the house. Ended up selling it to a lady who was gonna regift it as a belated Christmas gift. LOL

    As far as making gifts, other than easy treats, I'm not the craft type which I'm ok with! LOL

    Decorating, party-going, etc - well we did the minimum & found being on the sidelines was waaaaay more fun than being on the field!

    As far as changing how you have been doing the holidays, it will be easier than you think & you'll find you can actually enjoy the festivities & the season & your family instead of just checking off holiday to-do's.

  4. Jane,

    Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed reading about your experience. Have a nice day!