As the Zeroes have evolved from Financially Irresponsible to Financially Independent, our behavior at Christmas has changed as well.
There was a time when Christmas was a great source of stress. Worrying about what trendy gift to buy the kids, or which of their friends will give them a gift, so we can provide an appropriately reciprocal offering. Because we had little left over after paying our bills, it was also stressful because we knew we were likely going to put Christmas on the credit card.
Now Christmas rolls off our back like drops of water on a duck’s behind.
To give some idea of where we are now, let’s recap the responses given this year by each member of the Zero household when asked “What do you want for Christmas?”
Mr. Zero: You know better than to ask me this question. There isn’t anything that I want that I don’t already have. If you must give me something…. I could use a few more pairs of underwear.
Mrs. Zero: Jewelry! —- Long pause with a knowing smile – – – Just kidding, I don’t know. The only thing I want is for everyone to be happy.
Little Zero #1 : I would like a new computer. I have $2,000 saved. If I spend a portion of my own savings, will you pay for the other half? [This is the third year in a row that he has proposed this arrangement, but he didn’t pull the trigger until this year. That boy doesn’t like to part with his money. I think his savings rate is about 99%.]
Little Zero #2: Zero #3 needs more RAM in his computer. I will remove some RAM from my computer and sell it to you, and you can give it to Zero #3 for Christmas. OK? [Zero #2 might be a used car salesman one day] . The only thing I want is a new skateboard. I have been researching options online. I found a site where I can order all the components and put it together myself. They deliver to Asia. I will use the proceeds from the sale of my RAM to pay for international shipping. The skateboard is within our budget. [We have never actually told him our budget for each child, but he has 13 years of historical data and has made an educated guess – – a pretty good one actually. His proposed skateboard fits nicely in our goal to spend <$1000 on Christmas gifts for the entire family.]
Little Zero #3: What is Zero #2 getting? —– long pause with a suspicious look on his face —- I want video games.
You will either find the above amusing or disturbing. My mother thinks we have ruined Christmas for our kids. My mom loves Christmas. We didn’t have a lot growing up, but my mom always made a big deal out of Christmas. So much so, that even at the age of 17, I was expected to play along with the whole Santa Clause thing.
I can remember going through the department store advertisement pages in the newspaper, marking all the various toys that I wanted Santa to bring me. Most of it was junk, and would not be operable by the time I returned to school in January, but boy oh boy, I really wanted it.
When our children were younger, we also played along. They would make a Christmas list for Santa and often they would receive at least a few items from their list. We would fret over whether the number of gifts under the tree was enough to provide an adequate level of gift opening excitement. But somewhere along the way we have evolved to a more practical and less emotional place when it comes to Christmas. Although the kids are excited for Christmas day to arrive, there is nowhere near the buildup and anticipation that I experienced growing up.
Honestly, I have felt a bit guilty the last couple years. Has my frugality ruined Christmas? In my quest to achieve Financial Independence, have I deprived my little Zeroes the excitement and joy that should be their birthright?
I think the answer is no. I think the kids view of Christmas gifts is a lot healthier than mine was and will serve them well as they grow into adults. Instead of long list of crap toys that will be forgotten within a few weeks, they are training themselves to be thoughtful about what they want.
I think that is what frugality is about. It’s not about never spending a penny on anything that goes beyond your basic needs, rather it is about deliberately spending on only those things that contribute to making your life more fulfilling or enable experiences that bring you real happiness and joy.
Happy Holidays and Best Wishes to all!
Disclaimer: I realize this post is not about the “real” meaning of Christmas. It’s a more practical look at attitudes around gift giving and being introspective about the things that we desire in the context of frugality. The “real” meaning of Christmas, treating our fellow human beings with kindness and generosity, shouldn’t be something we strive for ONLY at this time of year.