Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas debt

The money treeAccording to Gallup, Americans will spend, on average, $715 this year on Christmas gifts. This is up from around $640 last year. Every year, I'm amazed that people spend that much on Christmas gifts!

No wonder we have a credit problem in this country. Unless these people are saving up all year for buying gifts or spreading it out, which is probably true for a percentage of Americans, they are really taking a hit at the end of the year.

I don't think I spent more than $250 mostly because some of the gifts I'm giving were made from scratch. The ones that I spent money straight out-of-pocket were toys for the kids and gift certificates for nieces/nephews out-of-state.

Did you end up spending more or less than you were expecting on Christmas gifts? Or, maybe the question should be, did you end up spending more or less than you wanted? How does it compare to the national average?


Rosa said...

The obligatory gifts we give have a pretty set dollar figure to them - $50 each for six family members, $75 and $25 for gift exchanges. $25/each in charity "gifts" to another 3 family members and 2 other friends, plus $125 for an Angel Tree child. $25 for a family birthday that happens to coincide with Christmas. Then about $50 total for all the minor, non-obligatory gifts - mostly for ingredients, glue, paint, and postage, but there's a bookstore gift card for the teacher in there, and a hostess gift for folks we're visiting. Plus maybe $20 in thrift store gifts for close friends.

So I'm right at the average, and we're generally pretty thrifty - the thing is, there are strict expectations in the extended family that we have no power to change - if we *couldn't* make the spending goals, that would be OK, but since we can, if we did not, people would be very, very offended.

ruchi said...

Honestly, I'm not surprised by those numbers. This year was a "light" year for us as my family is going to India, hence no gifts, and we still ended up buying/making a lot of presents.

Personally, I find making presents as expensive as buying, mostly because I have only one crafty bone: I can make a nice scrapbook/photo album. I love to make them, and people really appreciate them, but they aren't really a "thrifty" option.

Lane' said...

I lost my job in August so this year any Christmas presents that I do give, will be homemade. I'd say I'm spending about $5 per person, total and only "shopping" for a handful of people. If I did have more funds available to me, the only person I'd go out of my way shopping for is my SO - everyone else would still get a homemade gift - that's just my preference instead of trying to figure out what to get everyone and stressing myself out.

Kate said...

We've mostly given up on Christmas gifts for other people, except for handmade stuff, or token gifts, or charitable donations. My husband and I still buy gifts for each other, but invariably it's either practical stuff like pyjamas, socks, garden/DIY tools, or else big ticket items (~$300) we were planning to get anyway (beehives, shotgun, etc). We just use Christmas as the occasion and the excuse to make the actual purchases. For adult family members, we made donations to Heifer last year, and asked for the same in return. The year before that it was Kiva loans. Certainly we came in well under $500 for everything in the last few years.

e4 said...

For every ten people who have a small, reasonable Christmas shopping list, there's one fool who falls for the diamond and/or Lexus commercials.

owlfan said...

I'm sure we are spending more than that overall, but much of it is stuff that we would be buying anyway. We're getting my mom a rain barrel, for our shared garden. DH is getting some new pants, shirts and a new winter coat (old one is >15 years old and losing its warmth). All those are things we probably would have gotten at some point during the year anyway, but it seems more festive to have them as gifts.

The kids are getting some stuff that are just fun gifts, but even there, my 14 yo son is getting some money for a cell phone and a few months service. After that, he will have to help pay for his service, but now that he is in high school, he is really at a disadvantage to not have a phone.

Dmarie said...

spent MORE than we thought we would, as always. But Christmas does give us a good excuse to open our pocketbooks and give a little boost to the next generation(s). Happily spent some bucks buying our daughter her first maternity clothes!

Adrienne said...

So far I've spent about $17 on a gardening book for my Mom. That's it. Mom is the only one in my family who gets all worked up about xmas, so she's the only one who gets much in the way of gifts. I'm also hosting a holiday potluck at my apartment, and will spend a bit of money on food and decor for that, but probably less than $50 all told. That's it for my holiday spending!

Greenpa said...

It's a problem. We've got our societal head so far stuck up our own butts we can't really see the problem.

Economics Fauxbel winner Paul Krugman has a column in the NYT today

which includes this blinding insight:

"The root of our current troubles lies in the debt American families ran up during the Bush-era housing bubble. "

Yup, the entire root problem with our economy lies in- housing debt.

Couldn't possibly be anything more substantive; like, we no longer have jobs, or better, livelihoods, where people MAKE something of value to their community. Where we are valuable, to each other.

Even the McJobs have vanished with the McMansions. And I'm afraid we're pushing McChristmas right now; too; get out there and CONSUME, so our "economy" can "recover".

Substance, schmubstance. We're so lost, we don't even have a good model, of a good "substantive" holiday to really follow. Home-made cookies and popcorn chains help; but still aren't quite there.

It's all very tangled, and I'm not claiming to have the answers. It's just, somehow- we need to find ways to celebrate, and enjoy, the turn of the year, where money is simply not a measure of success.

swiggett said...

We don't spend that much, but we do spend several hundred dollars gifting to both of our families. We just have a lot of people to whom we want to give. Larger families have both good and bad points. Really, though, we spend around $300. If you added in the extra money spent on baking supplies or gas used to visit the family, it would probably be about $500.

Robyn M. said...

It's very trendy these days (and not just a little bit self-congratulatory) to show off how little one spends on Christmas gifts anymore, as if the smaller and smaller price tag somehow becomes a badge of honor. Well, we spend a lot. This year we've budgeted $1000 for presents for our family, immediate & extended. We don't go out and *try* to spend that amount, but we have it available to use if the gifts justify it. Last year my family was unemployed and we did have to cut way back, but this year I have a good and secure job, with enough savings to cover the costs. I'm not going to be shamed into lowering the amount in order to satisfy other people's judgmental instincts.

Why do we spend so much? Well, this is just about the only time in the entire year that we buy nice things for ourselves and our kids. We don't regularly buy new toys, nice clothes, games, or anything else. So once a year we get to indulge, and get things that will be *fun* and will be enjoyed by us all and we will never otherwise be able to excuse. Is that really so bad? Yes, we try to shop locally. Yes, we buy lots of handmade things. Yes, we *make* plenty of gifts (which, it might have occurred to you, also cost money). And sometimes we just want to get stupid, awesome, overpriced total consumerist SH*T, because it makes our kids' faces light up. And we can get things for ourselves that we ordinarily would never attempt--like a rainfly for camping, or a roof rack for our car.

So I'm gonna spend money, and I'm not going to hide under a sheet and tear up my eco-card for it. There's nothing wrong with having a very thrifty Christmas, but there's also nothing wrong with mindfully and joyfully spending money (if you have it) on your friends & family. Everyone is in a different situation--blanket criticisms of how much people spend just sow divisiveness and defensiveness.

Anna @ Blue Dirt said...

I enjoy spending and I enjoy saving. We've decided to buy presents for ourselves and our children, and make gifts for everyone else this year. It cuts the time and hassle spent wandering around the store wondering what they would like.

I'm actually more worried that the people receiving the home made gifts will scoff since they spent money on us, and I gave them something made from a thrift store sweater for $2.50. But I also am getting in practice before I start to sell my crafts as a business. And one of those nice scarves should go for about $20. It's all relative I guess.

Nic, SD said...

We probably spent half of what we usually do (we're saving for a move) and came in at about 150. So a lot less than the average Americans. A little more than we expected, but we didn't extend beyond our means or anything.
I gotta say, a scaled back and simplified holiday season is the way to go. So much less stress this year! My mother spent a stint unemployed, and simply can't afford extensive gifting, and she made the same comment, there.

simply_complicated said...

very hard to figure out actual dollars spent, as i make a lot of our gifts throughout the year. actual 'bought' gifts tally up to perhaps 300$, mostly for within the immediate family (hubby and i set $50 limits for each other, $40 for the kids, but then you add 'santa' gifts, and stockings, and the total goes up)
homemade gifts include crochet items, Mead (honey wine), jars of jams and jellies, handmade chocolates, and handspun wools. all of these have a 'cost input' value, but determining how much that actually is can be tough.

we may actually be close to $550 or $600 when it was all added up (we give a LOT of handmade gifts!)

Ellen said...

I think how much you spend at Christmas is hard to quantify, because people have different sized families and those families have different expectations. I only have 5 family members, counting extended family, and there's no children. (only child and only grandchild and I haven't had kids yet). I only spend around $300 a year for Christmas, and I don't even try to be frugal. I think it's impossible to look at the total number that someone spends without anything else and say whether that's frugal or too much.

Lisa Nelsen-Woods said...

I agree with Roybn M. My husband and I have a large immediate family. We don't generally give gifts to them for birthdays, etc. Christmas is the one time of year when we do to parents, siblings and their kids. I shop throughout the year for ideas and meaningful gifts. Sometimes I make gifts but last year after trying to make at least one small gift for everyone because that's what I *should* do as a greenie, I missed out on every single activity that I enjoy during the holiday season because I was making gifts. I had to put in an IOU to someone for one of them. I was a cranky elf last year trying to live up to someone else's green expectations.

I think we shouldn't focus on how much people spend or automatically think that if they are spending a large amount of money, they must be buying extravagant wasteful gifts. That's not always the case.

It's my money and I should be allowed to spend it as I like.

Instead I think we should be emphasizing NOT GOING INTO DEBT for Christmas. In some cases, it's going to be difficult to give gifts if you've just lost your job or not getting an expected bonus. But for most people, with simple adjustments like opening a Christmas club account at a bank (remember those? Mom always had one) and putting even just $10 a paycheck into it, will give you a significant amount of your own money to spend as you wish.

Unknown said...

I've spent within my budget but still spent more than I wanted to.

If I had my choice I would do prezzies for the kids only and just spend time with family.

We've done this with two groups of friends this year and had just a ball.

This suggestion just does not seem to be going down very well though.

Honestly, it is making me so that I am really not looking forward to Christmas.

Aimee said...

This year, Christmas happens to co-incide with a few things that are different from usual: my in-laws are here from Mexico, where they don't really have a tradition of gift giving on Christmas. It's more about feasting and staying up late Christmas eve. Then, I am also learning to sew this year. And we are also pretty broke. So with that constellation, here's what I'm doing:
All children will get stockings. If past years are any guide, each stocking costs about $10 to fill. That's $60 right there. And so far I've spent about $40 on fabric, etc, to make presents for adults (pretty much limited to eye-pillows and aprons). I imagine I'll spend another $100 on the feast (there are, after all, 12 people to feed). Oh and the tree (live of course) will cost $40 or so. Now I'm up to $250 and I don't even have anything for my mom or siblings.

I don't think there's any way to make Christmas totally inexpensive, even if you ban gifts altogether. And who wants to ban them altogether? I will raid my pantry for gifts for neighbors and friends, and give them pickles and cajeta and jam.

Anna Marie said...

I'll probably spend about 20-30 bucks- my family didn't celebrate xmas grownig up, so I don't have any obligation from them.

However, my husbands family has decided for some strange, uncomprhensible reason to me), to start celebrating it. Fortunelty, it's still a small thing, and mostly just a family gathering, but they do like to exchange small, cheap gifts. One aunt is getting a coleus cutting, and I'm going to try to find food related gifts for the rest of them. I've requested seed company gift cards.

Sandy said...

My daughter is engaged to a wonderful young man who has sole custody of his tree children; my grand-kids just more than doubled! I gave them cash for the kids this year, because I have absolutely no idea what to buy them. THe rest of my friends and family are getting either homemade aprons, kitchen goodies, or experiential gifts; all in all, I'll probably spend right around the national average, give or tae.

Sarah C said...

We put away money in our ING account every paycheck specifically for Christmas. Last year when we both had jobs, the amount was 60% higher than this year.

This year I did 75% of gifts from scratch. I spent a good amount, but nowhere near the US average.

Laura Kaeding said...

A lot of the customers my wife sees at her job tell her that a lot of people in this area are forgo-ing Christmas gifts altogether. She has suggested handmade gifts, which gets a "no one likes handmade gifts" response. To which she responds "who doesn't like homemade cookies?"

One guy I once worked with spent over 3000$ on one Christmas, 1000$ on just his parents. This is just overkill to me.

We have the money this year, we chose meaningful gifts that involved serious thought on each person we bought for. We may have spent more, or less, on what we got, but the gifts have real meaning to how we feel about that person.

Feeling obligated to buy gifts based on a financial amount, to me personally, is inhumane in some ways. Saying that you will be disappointed if X doesn't spend y.yy$ on you is selfish and I would choose not to buy for that person. But that's just me, and I don't like being told what to do and how to do it.

Lindsey said...

I've been shopping since August. I'm 8 1/2 months pregnant and was desperate not to go to the mall(s) this year. I've only spent a small amount of time in actual stores. I've tried to be very thoughtful and specific with my gift giving. My husband and I both have very large families so we buy a lot of gifts. I think we might be a bit over the national average but we only put a few things on credit cards (to get the 'deal' or % off and those are already paid off); everything else has been cash.

I really enjoy giving gifts around the holidays but I have no interest in going into debt doing so.

Anonymous said...

I'd say we spend right around the average. A bunch of our gifts have to be shipped and sadly that adds to the expense. We also do a holiday photo card which I usually print myself- but I add that in as a cost too.
We spend probably $125.00 on the 2 kids but not always at Hanukkah or Christmas because they get so much from relatives. We usually get one large gift each year that they can share or pass down (bike/play house, etc.).
I always feel like I have a lot of people to buy for- but others buy for many more. My pared down list has 30 relatives and friends and teachers (or the like) on it- but mostly this is family- we are blessed that our children have grandparents and 2 greats still alive (and have lost 2 as well).
I also make a lot of things and buy through coops, buy stuff over the summer at the farmers market, etc. But I still seem to end up buying a lot in December. I also occasionally choose a more expensive group than I should because of the type of gift-- for example I once gave someone a membership to a local museum and we were able to get together. It probably was about $10 more than I 'should' have spent, but it was better than the alternative (stuffed animal or cheap plastic toy). And actually, I was worried about it, but I ended up happy.
I couldn't tell from what you wrote, but I would still count up how much money the homemade gift supplies cost. We tend to do food or recipes in Mason jar and even though we save our jars we tend to not get them back and I always seem to end up buying a bunch around the holidays. Sometimes my homemade gifts end up being more expensive than I think they will be.
Also the wrappings and shipping costs add up... as does trying to find something for the hard-to buy-for- relative. And if you are trying to buy local or be a conscientious shopper (however you choose to define that) it can be difficult... but I've decided I'd rather give cash/gift card/ or donation rather than buy a crappy gift just so someone has something.
Last year I put some of the gifts in baskets that I got at the Farmers Markets but that added to the cost. They were a fundraiser for the Farmers Market, so I ended up being okay with it and the kids helped me make cookie mixes for everyone and we divy'ed up their art projects amongst the relatives, too.
The other thing I do is photo albums (I've done 1 a year for different relatives because it is so expensive) and a calendar for parents/grandparent&greats with the kids pictures in them.
We do not give birthday/anniversary or other presents to parents/grandparents etc. except for occasional 'big' celebrations.
The thing is that I feel like our family is spending an appropriate amount over the year but I tend to see very little difference between how much people from different backgrounds give. I know my parents were very frugal growing up- we had very little money and I know families that were extremely poor that got their kids really expensive and lots of gifts.
And now I always feel like I'm the stingy one- but realistically I'd cut down our expenses more, too, if I didn't feel so stingy if I did.
I think people need to reflect a little more and realize that their friends probably feel the same way they do. For example, if you don't expect a present from someone, or understand that someone might give a gift that is less costly than you, or would be delighted by a simple inexpensive gift (etc. etc.) why not assume that your friends would feel the same about you?
Frankly, I'd be sad if the gifts I got cause someone regret or difficulty down the road. I really try to be joyful about giving and receiving and be thankful for the person choosing to honor that friendship.

Anonymous said...

I only have my kids to buy for, and we upped the budget a little to purchase one decent present for each. No debt though, as we have savings and no credit card.

Our present to family and friends is an open-house at our place on Christmas Day. I'd much prefer giving to community.

Kristijoy said...

hmm I think I am spending about 500$ this year on gifts...that's canning and food supplies for 20 pints of stuff for extended fam and folks I need a small gift for, a secret Santa exchange, 6 family members and one SO.. that includes buying locally made crafts and goods and supplies for knitting and crafting. Buying local goods, supporting small makers, crafters and business owners and purchasing crafting supplies, new or used, adds up! I'd probably spend less if I still bought crap from Target... as it is I spread that spending out over several paychecks, so it's not a big hit at all. it's carefully budgeted and I always ask my family months in advance what do you NEED, what can you use and then try to find them something special and unique that fits the bill. I do have credit card debt..left from when I lived a more conventional American lifestyle...but nothing I buy these days is charged. I learned that lesson (and am still paying for it). I also paid in cash or on debit as much as possible to avoid merchants getting charged for credit purchases with by debut card.

Robj98168 said...

I spend about the same- I make a good portion of my gifts and did this year, so I don't spend much at all.

Sarah said...

I am curious to know how many family members this average covers. is it $700ish for average American couple and their 2.5 children or what?

Personally, my husband's earning puts us in the top 5% for household income but we live very frugally. We have 4 children in a 1300 sf house with a single care. Besides 2 toys at Birthdays, Christmas is the only time we give my children toys- encouraging them to use creativity and imagination instead.

Our Christmas budget this year was the largest it has ever been: $75.00/child and $150.00/each for my husband and I. There was additional $ spent on extended family which brought our overall total up to about $750.00

I would like to mention that if you choose to buy Organic, Handmade or made in America you will spend MORE than if you shopped at Wal-Mart. Last year we bought my girls a handmade kitchen from NovaNatural and it was $370 WOW. Even a small # of gifts can really add up when you are buying straight from the artist or trying to be environmentally friendly!

Wendy said...

I, actually, have no idea how much we spend on Christmas gifts. For local family, it's usually homemade gifts. For out-of-state family, it's gift cards. We also participate in an "adopt-a-family" project every year with our dance school.

We don't budget for Christmas gifts, but we don't go into debt either. We've always just tried to give something that the person can use, and sometimes it's something we've made and sometimes it's something we've purchased.

That said, my husband and I have a running agreement that we don't "buy" gifts for each other on Christmas, and it's always a fun challenge to find something we can each use without spending money. Luckily, he hasn't tired of flannel pajama pants ;).

Rosa said...

Sarah, my total was just aunts/uncles/cousins/grandparents. My partner and I "exchange gifts" by buying something we would have anyway, and wrapping it. I got him a piece of equipment for his job, but I don't include it as a Christmas cost in my budget.

historicstitcher said...

I don't generally spend that much at Christmas. I buy juice and supplies for making wine in the summer (about $100) and give that along with a handwoven dishtowel ($not sure, I make them from my stash of yarn) to each adult couple in my life. They're useful, consumable, and well-received. Nearly everyone on my list asks in advance what kind of wine I'm making each year, and more than once I've been asked how they can get on my "towel list."

I buy for the kids, though. Sometimes I make things for them, but I don't shirk from buying something I really like to give to the kids. I make them sweaters and socks and hats and mitts any old time - I don't buy them stuff regularly. So it's pretty special when I whip out the cash and buy _things_ for them.

This year was more expensive than most, but it was not on credit. I planned for it, and knew the expense was coming, as I knew a while ago what they were getting. my problem comes in with stocking stuff and fun little things I know they'll love. I tend to go overbudget in that area and need to be more careful!

Amy said...

$715 is actually lower than I would have thought. But not for us. So far, I think I have spent maybe $40 but haven't gotten started much yet. I estimate that this Christmas, we will spend around $600. (nothing on credit, though) That is for hubby and I, two small kids, one grown daughter & son-in-law and one family gift for a family of 3. I am hoping for less, but this is going to be a *big* Christmas for us, as we have had some really hard years the past few years, so this year we are celebrating a bit. I am doing some handmade things and thrift store finds, so that does help.

robbie @ going green mama said...

I think people are tired of scrimping and just letting things go to the wind this year to "make up."

We didn't budget per se this year, but most of what the kids got were needs. They got one toy, and the stocking will have art supplies.

Gifts outside our family were very inexpensive and we put the emphasis on things the kids could make. We're also fortunate in that most of our family is working and has resources to have what they need.

Anonymous said...

I am spending about $800 this year, and it's less than the usual $1000 or $1200. I keep track of what we spend, and that includes the turkey, the baking supplies, the gift wrap, the shipping costs of mailing gifts to friends, and the little gifts I pick up for the piano teacher or the neighbour.

I spend about $150 to $200 per child (and I only have two). Depending on what they want for Christmas, it only gets them 3 or 4 good quality gifts plus stocking stuffers. We don't buy a lot of junk all year long, so Christmas is my opportunity to get them something special that I know they will love and use.

I save up a bit of money during the year, and plan ahead, so I don't go into debt. It's not stressful.

I honestly don't see how I could do it much more cheaply than that, unless I started in June with making crafts. Generally, I don't find crafts or home-made gifts substantially cheaper than store-bought.

On the other hand, I have heard that stuff is a lot cheaper in the US than it is in Canada, so maybe I'm not actually splurging like crazy.

Cynthia in Denver said...

I've spent less this year, only because I'm too exhausted from being pregnant and moving into a house.

Delora said...

I think we spent more than that average. I do always give some homemade gifts, but the ones I do purchase are always practical (ie, my 10yo son is getting needed new shoes, a needed new backpack, and some needed new clothes; my BIL is getting some new cookware he requested, etc). We also do "experiences" for gifts, so often purchase theater tickets or a fancy meal out for family members. These are pricey gifts, but aren't the same type of consumerism that has such a negative environmental impact.

The dollar amount alone doesn't tell the whole picture.

Anonymous said...

I too think this depends on the size of your extended family. We end up spending approx $500 on 14 extended family members, and probably another $500 on my husband, me, and 2 children. This is what I expected to spend. Not a hardship, as we have budgeted for this. I would like to spend less- as extended family children become adults, they eventually get dropped from the gift list. Gifts are practical and usable, except for a few toys for the youngest children. Anything that is needed this time of year (such as my daughter's ski pants, ski gloves and long underwear) gets wrapped up and put under the tree!
I also question whether homemade gifts are counted as costing nothing. I appreciate the gift ideas you have put in your blog, but organic oranges, good chocolate, and gin do have a cost, as does gift packaging.

EcoBlogger said...

Hear Hear! We need to think seriously about our consumerism problem & the endless fascination with keeping up with the Joneses. This useless pursuit has only served to leave most people with piles of trash & debt!