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December 10, 2008

The Struggling Economy Deters Christmas Gluttony

Images4 It was Christmas Eve 2006 and we were visiting my parents' home in Virginia.  After a leisurely family dinner, we put the kids to bed and then my husband and I brought out the boxes of presents we had transported from Philadelphia.  I had purposefully left them unwrapped so I could enjoy wrapping them on Christmas Eve by the light of the Christmas tree, soaking in the smell of baking pies and the sound of Christmas music streaming from the computer. 

But when we opened the boxes and started to sort and organize gifts, we realized how utterly ridiculous was the amount of stuff we had for our children.  We had just picked things up as we discovered them, and we never really stopped to think about how much we had purchased.  We briefly discussed putting some things back to return or save for birthdays, but we couldn't decide on anything we wanted to hold back so we just began wrapping.  And wrapping. And wrapping.

The next morning, the kids were delighted to find that Santa had visited during the night.  That delight was gradually replaced with a sense of duty  as they had so many gifts that they literally got tired of opening them.  It's not exaggerating to say that we had to cheer them on to open the last of the gifts.  It was like a gift-opening marathon, and there were times when I wasn't sure if they were going to cross the finish line.  It was utter insanity.

Christmas 2006 was also the year that my husband and I decided we wouldn't buy Christmas gifts for one another, but when we arrived in Virginia and my brother asked me to go with him to a jewelry store to pick out a gift for his fiance, my husband remarked to me offhandedly as we were walking out the door -- "If you see something you like, let me know!"

That was all the encouragement I needed, and I ended up getting a designer necklace for Christmas that year.  (And of course I had ignored the no-gift-giving rule myself and had a present or two to put under the tree for my husband.)

Last year we set out to be more reasonable in our purchasing, but our children still had a ridiculous amount of loot under the tree.  And then my husband surprised me by splurging on an extravagant piece of jewelry that I had been wanting.  We weren't reckless with our spending, but we certainly weren't responsible.

This year, as you may have heard, we are supposedly in a recession.  Not that you could tell by the traffic at the mall, but retail stores are reporting lower earnings this year, and there is all kinds of talk about tightening our belts and having a more frugal Christmas.

We have certainly hopped on this frugality train.  As I said, we hadn't been reckless, but we hadn't exactly been wise either.  Since reading a book by Dave Ramsey, my husband has been micromanaging our budget, and we have been living on cash for the past few months.  We've been worried about how we will keep from using the credit card this month with Christmas shopping to do, but like most families, we've been creative and we're managing pretty well so far.

For one thing, reviewing products for my blog and attending several blogger events with great swag has provided gifts for our kids and family members, and I'm very thankful for that.  I've also been keeping better track of what we buy for each child.  We are being more purposeful in our shopping, and that is keeping costs down.  We're taking the "less is more" approach this year, and so far it's working.

As for each other, we ordered two $100 American Express gift cards with our reward points, and we each get one to spend on the other.  We aren't allowed to spend anything else on each other, and we have made a pact to stick to it or else!  (I'm not sure what "or else" entails, but I'm not going to find out!)

It won't be as much fun as opening one of those little boxes of bling, but come January when there is no credit card bill to pay off, I will be thankful we were wise with our gift giving this year.  It's fun to splurge every once in a while, but it's not necessary to go all out every year.  I look at it this way -- now those extravagant years will be even more memorable.

We haven't told our children to expect less under the tree this year.  They are still young enough that they shouldn't notice any difference.  They will have plenty of gifts to open; it just won't be an Olympic event.

This is an original post to the Philadelphia Moms Blog. Jo-Lynne also blogs on her personal blog, Musings of a Housewife and at her beauty and fashion blog, Chic Critique.

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