I Am a Cheap-Ass Santa: A Christmas Shopping Rant

 

I Am a Cheap-Ass Santa: A Christmas Shopping RantWell, it’s that time of year again.  Winter is coming. That means it’s time to buy your children, family, and friends stuff that they don’t really want or need….all in the name of Christmas.  I have never understood how a beautiful religious holiday turned into the giant push for mass consumerism.  Still, I plan on participating to a certain extent.  Afterall, I have small children and they believe in their heart of hearts that a giant fat man in a red suit will soon be showering them with toys!

 

All I Want for Christmas is a…3DS?!?

Speaking of toys, I recently asked my 3-year-old what she wanted for Christmas.  She replied with the usual – art supplies, baby dolls, dress up clothes.  But she also said she wanted a 3DS like her friends have.  A 3DS? Hmmm…

I had no idea what it even was.  After a quick google search, I learned that a 3DS is a personal gaming console that costs between $160-$200!!!  Why are kid’s toys so expensive?  And why do her 3-5-year-old friends at daycare have toys that cost so much?!?

Really, it makes sense why so many people in this country are broke if they are buying their toddlers $200 gaming systems.  But still, she talked for hours about how her dream toy is a 3DS.  But what about my dreams?  I have a vintage Nintendo that I have had since before she was born.  Since she was a little baby, I have been dreaming about teaching her how to play Super Mario 3…then beating her ass at it.  Furthermore, $160 is more than I Santa spends on each child for Christmas anyway.  It just isn’t in this Santa’s budget.  Let’s just hope that she doesn’t spend Christmas day disappointed.

 

Santa’s Conflict of Conscience

I guess I just feel weird about the whole thing.  My 3-year-old daughter clearly knows what she wants for Christmas.  However, my 1 year-old couldn’t give two shits less.  She doesn’t need anything at all.  I could literally wrap up toys she already has and easily pass them off as new Christmas gifts.  Yet, I feel guilt-tripped into buying her new stuff since her sister has a better idea of what’s going on.  I feel like I have to participate in this or I may scar my children for life, leaving them with issues that they will have to deal with as adults.  I don’t want my frugality and dislike of “stuff” to cause them sadness or stress.

I also think that the world we live in is entirely messed up sometimes.  Across the globe, and even in our own country, children are starving and going without food – much less Christmas gifts.  Kids in other parts of the world may never see a toy and may never even live to adulthood.  Yet, here I am….manufacturing wants for an oblivious 1-year-old so that we can appear normal.  Sure, Christmas is definitely a time when people give to charity.  Yet, it is also a time that we give ourselves permission to overindulge to the max.  To me, it feels like a slap in the face to starving and poor children to be buying my kids stuff that they don’t need…just because.  I really wish that I could just live in ignorant bliss sometimes!

I also wonder what the environmental impact of all of our consumerism will be in the future.  How can we keep making, buying, and throwing stuff away the way that we do?  Where is it all expected to go?  What is going to happen to all of the snow globes, broken toys, worn clothing, gadgets, knickknacks, and kitsch that none of us want anymore?  Are there really enough landfills to hold this never-ending hoard of discarded junk?  Is that even what we want?   I can’t help but wonder when our earth will reach it’s breaking point and when we will finally stop to take a look at what we are really doing.  We just can’t keep making tons of cheap junk and throwing it away forever, can we?

I hate to sound so negative.  I do like Christmas….I am just starting to dislike what it has become.  I remember my mom once told me that she got like a potato and an orange for Christmas.  They were poor but they were happy.  What happened to the good old days when that was enough?  How are we going to continue to meet our children’s ever-growing expectations for Christmas?  Will I always be a cheap-ass Santa?

About Holly

Holly Johnson is a wife, mother of two, and frugal lifestyle enthusiast. She is the co-founder of Club Thrifty and a staff writer at Get Rich Slowly, Frugal Travel Guy, and U.S. News and World Report's "My Money Blog." Holly has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger Personal Finance, Fox Business, and Daily Finance.

Comments

  1. I seriously despise everything that Christmas represents. There isn’t any better symbol of our ridiculous consumerism than Christmas. A shame because I have great childhood memories of it.

  2. Christmas has completely lost its true meaning to most people. Every year it becomes more and more materialistic and I find myself struggling to take part in the enjoyment of it.

    • Yeah, pretty much. I guess that’s what the article is about- hating Christmas myself but wanting to preserve the good things about the holiday for my children.

  3. I can relate, having three little ones Christmas CAN be expensive, but you just have to draw the line somewhere. We can already see our 5 and 3 year old falling prey to marketing that we get in the mail and they think that it all just magically appears.

    We’ve cut back a lot in what we give them each year because our parents send so much junk and there’s only so much that you really should give kids that young. We hold back the large majority of what we have budgeted for them and do things one on one with them throughout the year. It tends to be more enjoyable for them plus they get to have the memory as opposed to some other piece of plastic junk.

    We feel the same way about our nine month old as you do your youngest. We could just give him a piece of wrapping paper and he’d be happy as a clam. :)

  4. Christmas can definitely be a conflicting season. While it certainly isn’t the only thing that we can do to help, donating to charities around Christmas time can make us “feel better” (again, there is much more that we can do year-round). I remember when I was in grade school and we would sponsor a family that was having hard times and we’d all bring in stuff they needed and a few people would go deliver it all. Was one of my favorite parts of Christmas in elementary school. I think balance can really help.

    • I totally agree. We have sponsored families the past two years. This year we are donating to a family friend and sponsoring some tornado victims with gifts and clothing. It definitely brings some meaning back into the season for sure!

  5. I completely agree with you. Some people don’t know the meaning of Christmas anymore, it’s all about getting, and making the retail industry rich.

    The sad part is, our children are growing up the same way.

  6. I feel the same! The boy and I are COMPLETELY different when it comes to Christmas. He loves presents (which I guess makes it easy when I need to find a present for him) but I honestly never want anything. I would be fine with just more Christmas trees in my house. I just like the decorations and holiday mood!

    • I don’t want anything either. This year I am asking for a new papershredder. (mine broke)

      • Haha, that’s amazing. It’s the kind of thing I’d ask for.

        A few months ago my fiance got a $250 Amazon gift card, so he used it to buy things like a new garbage can, an iron, and a slow cooker. He threw one video game in there just so he could say he at least used some of it for something “fun.” Clearly I’ve found my perfect match. :)

  7. A 3 year old wants a gaming system? Holy Cow!
    We don’t have any kids, so it’s probably a lot different, but we tend to give each other one gift, then wrap up a couple of smaller things that would have been “every day” purchases anyhow.

    • Greg and I don’t buy for each other at all….although I have a surprise gift for him this year. (its not a thing, its an experience)
      Shhhh……….don’t tell!

  8. I enjoy X-Mas season….you know the snow, the time off work, Christmas carols, work X-Mas parties…but I certainly don’t enjoy spending money when it doesn’t need to be spent.

    Call me cheap….but seriously…like you said everyone has it already….probably x3….so why do they need a 4th version of it.

    Never the less, sounds like you may have an expensive kid as she grows up, but never the less sounds like a smart cookie! :)

    • I have been downsizing my life over the past few years and I seriously don’t want anything new. Anything I get will most likely get regifted!!!!!

  9. Kids toys are expensive because many parents will buy them. I’ve met parents where all it takes is for their child to say “I want….” And, just like that, the toy has been bought :-)

    I grew up a little differently. What seems to have worked in our family is that we were rewarded throughout the year. Not just for a holiday. Sometimes, I was surprise with a gift here and there. And, other times, I was simply told “no, I can’t have it.” I wouldn’t dare to argue with it because I knew better :-) I’d like to think I had healthy balance growing up.

    • We got nice things for Christmas when we were little….and we didn’t get much throughout the year. I think that is what made Christmas so special though. My mom made a big deal out of it….and I have a ton of amazing Christmas memories from when I still believed in Santa!!!

  10. I’ve got to say – I love Christmas (or Winter Festival). However, I think I’m lucky in that if one of my friends or family said they wanted [SUPER-EXPENSIVE-THING] they’d be looked at with a mix of surprise and disgust – although it was NOT that way when my sister and I were little – excess – yep, it totally happened, largely thanks to seriously over-zealous grandparents. We do a lot of handmade and service exchange now. But, of course, it’s different for a kid.

    One of the things I loved about Christmas were the traditions my family built up around it. Christmas Eve = family movie night. Christmas after-present-before-massive-food-intake = sledding, After Dinner – extended Family Charades – that kind of thing. So much fun crammed into two days, and all the cookies you can hold.

    Although I don’t have a little one yet – I can imagine how challenging it must be when they start asking for things like that. You want your little one to have memories of the fun and abundance – but setting up habits and expectations for ever more excess – ehh – not so good. I know you just wrote the post – but have you decided how you’re going to deal with it? I’d be really interested to know what you do.

  11. Ordinarily, I’m all about Christmas. The lights, the sparkle, the decor, the mood. For the past 2 years, mainly due to intense budget cutbacks I just wish it would go away. For me, I don’t need to go over the top, but I’ve always enjoyed buying that perfect gift for someone.

    • Nothing wrong with that. And it should be about quality vs. quantity anyway. I would much rather get one thoughtful gift than a bunch of crap!

  12. I totally agree–it’s getting to be way too much. I only buy for my niece, nephew and my parents (my sister and brother-in-law and I agreed to not buy gifts). I get my niece and nephew a couple of books and send money to their college accounts for every gift giving occasion. They get plenty of stuff from other relatives–and I’ve always thought that my presence was more important than my presents.

    • Yeah, totally. I think giving college money is an awesome gift! I have tried to get grandparents/aunts/uncles ton contirbute to my kids 529’s in lieu of gifts, but nobody listens. =)

  13. I would have to agree with James. I am not a big fan of Christmas either. It just shows how greedy and self absorbed our society has become. Gone are the days of people not wanting stuff and just wanting to spend time with family. Now it is all about what you get. We don’t do gifts with our families and we are proud of that.

  14. It is crazy that kids in kindergarten have iPads. I like DC’s comment about about adopting a family. We did that last year and let our daughter pick out toys and kept telling her it was for someone who didn’t have any toys like she did. I have no idea if it made any impression at all, but hopefully will down the road. We probably will spend too much on her. We only have one, and my husband and I aren’t doing
    gifts for each other. We have considered getting some sort of tablet as a family gift, but it depends on the price and if we can decide what we want. I also have two little nieces, 4 yo and 6 mos. The four year old is getting some fun stuff, and the baby won’t because she has no clue. Maybe some teething rings or socks?

  15. Brian Porter says:

    Holly is cheap and a miser – HOWEVER, she is correct.

    As I’ve previously mentioned, I have 6 kids… We buy them 3 gifts each (like Jesus got) – and a stocking with little stuff… If its good enough for Jesus, its good enough for them. With all the kids, they all play with all the other kids’ stuff anyways… We have a very large extended family so they all get gifts from them as well… My wife and I have basically sacrificed any gifts to us so people will get our kids gifts – we have to purge about 1/2 of our existing toys prior to Xmas to ‘make room’ for the new toys, aka Goodwill or donations… Instead of taking back some duplicate toys, we frequently save them and regift them to others throughout the year and compensate our kids with the cash equivalent in their bank accounts… The kids get money from relatives – if there is a more expensive gift they want, we tell them to save up…

    Most of the time, my kids are happiest playing with a big empty box… I’m thinking about just buying them moving boxes and LET THEM USE THEIR IMAGINATION!!!!!

    I love Xmas – both the Santa part and the Jesus part and the stories that accompany both – and we pass those stories along to the kids. But, we always stress that Santa has to make toys for ALL the kids and they can’t have every little thing they ask for – AND Jesus’ family was so poor he was born and put in a manger (no crib for a bed).

    It’s all about the presentation to the kids – then ultimately how they pass that along to their kids – IT STARTS WITH YOU!!!

    Sorry for the rant – but when it comes to the Xmas hype – we’re our own worst enemies…

  16. I understand where your coming from. My wife’s niece and nephew (6 and 10) every year get just about everything they want. For example, both of them last year got Kindle Fires and that was just one gift. What is a 6 going to do with that? My wife knows how much it frustrates it me especially when I don’t think her niece and nephew know the true meaning of Christmas. They just see it as when they get expensive gifts.

    • I just wonder how it’s going to be in 5, 10, 15 years. Right now they are so young that they don’t care too much….but I hope they don’t expect us to keep up with the Jones’s as they age. It’s not gonna happen! Hopefully I am setting expectations low….

      • The early years are a lot easier. I thought I would provide my kids the basics and some small gifts and they could earn the rest. However, my son would rather wear his current running shoes with holes in them falling apart that are a certain brand than get a brand new pair that are a less expensive brand. He does not want to earn money for the new pair, he’d rather just wear the old ones if I don’t buy him the new ones, even in the rain. It’s a battle we’re working to resolve. Adults don’t want to keep up with the Jones’ necessarily, but some kids sure do!! My daughters are younger and easier but that whole subtle indirect peer pressure can be a challenge!

        • I am a super miser, but I kinda get where your son is coming from. Once you get in the higher grades kids are much more brand conscious and most of us as teens aren’t confident enough to go against the tide. I remember dying inside when my mom tried to get me to wear fake keds or jeans that weren’t Guess! It’s all so silly now that I am grown up, but I definitely remember how I used to feel! If you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it, but I’d rather get my child one pair of socially acceptable sneakers than force them into the walmart brand.

  17. I have hated how Christmas has become all about consumer gifts, but that is apparently how it is. I enjoy spending the holidays with family and just relaxing. I hate shopping more than I could ever imagine.

    With all of these expensive gifts, I am sure that Santa is even borrowing from China. I wonder if he is about to hit the fiscal cliff.

    I feel that same way you do Holly and there should be no shame with that.

  18. It has gotten wildly out of control. Kids (well, adults too!) today want everything and anything – cause apparently all their friends have it. And everyone has so much already they really don’t appreciate what they do get..sigh..

  19. I know you aren’t alone in your thinking. I think parents always want the best for their kids, but you don’t want it to come at a price, especially a price that will do financial damage to you. I think many people wake up with financial hangovers once the holidays are over and think, “what have I done!?”

  20. We don’t celebrate Christmas by buying things. If we get something, we give in turn something homemade. We send cards to our far away family. I hate watching people spend hundreds of dollars each season. What a dumb way to worship Christ, by materialism and consumerism! Spend time with each other instead! Buy a gift for someone when it is THEIR birthday, not His! End rant.

    My tip to you for your kids is this: organize or attend a Toy Swap! (Easily organized on FB and CL.) Make sure you state that the toys must be in good/working condition and cleaned/disinfected beforehand. People bring donations, and choose a couple toys they want for their own kids. It’s fun and FREE! :)

  21. I had no idea that was a gaming system either. I have three nephews and I just ask my sisters what they need/want. Thankfully my sisters are reasonable and don’t pick gaming systems or other expensive gifts. I guess when they get a little older that will start happening, but they’ll still be getting pjs and simple gifts from me. Mom and dad can buy the expensive gifts if they choose.

    • Well, we all have a budget to stick to. It is just too expensive to get her a 3DS at age 3. I love her enough to let her be disappointed but set her up for a realistic view of what life will be like. She won’t always get everything that she wants.

  22. Ugh. Christmas. Shoot me now.

    I completely relate, Holly, and I will be visiting family and volunteering my time over the holidays instead of partaking in all of the mindless consumerism. Toys are shoddily made nowadays, anyway, and, ultimately, I want my butter bean to see Mommy helping those less fortunate as she grows older.

  23. A 3 year old wants a toy that costs that much? Good golly! I’d ignore it. Make some Christmas Child boxes together and get them something small. I get pretty frustrated seeing some kids reactions to gifts that are around me. A certain few kids are always getting “stuff” and never things they need like winter jackets, as gifts. Then later I hear about how their family is struggling. I donno, maybe don’t own 3 different game consoles??!!

  24. I can totally relate, Christmas is INSANE. I love Christmas more than anything but not for the gifts. I love decorating, choirs, baking and FAMILY time. I love to give gifts too though but I like to get creative and give things people don’t think of for themselves, I consider myself quite a good gift-giver. My daughter will only be 6 months old. We’re only getting her 2 small things that she will have forever (rather than toys and clothes she won’t ever care about). When it comes to kiddos wanting crazy expensive stuff my hope is that we can manage this when they get older by making sure they realize what Christmas is all about. It’s tough when their friends have everything and they feel left out though!

  25. I agree wholeheartedly. I’m going to have a really hard time with this when I have kids. You could try doing what my parents did, but it’s probably a lot harder to do when you celebrate Christmas rather than Channukah. My parents never asked me what I wanted for Channukah, but to make sure I didn’t feel completely left out, they’d give me something small like a comic book.

    In fact, I don’t remember any time in my life when my parents ever asked me what I wanted as a gift. Instead, if I asked them for something (at any time of year), they’d either buy it for me right then, or tell me that I didn’t need it so they weren’t going to buy it for me.

    Somehow they managed to raise four kids who didn’t really care that much about gifts. Sure, every now and then I felt jealous of my friends who got piles of gifts on Christmas, but that jealousy was fleeting because it’s not like my parents deprived me of the things I really wanted.

  26. I completely agree! We spend so much money this time of year to teach our kids they can have anything they want because mom and dad have to keep up with the tradition of consumerism our society perpetuates. My aunt always buys us a gift from the Heifer organization or something similar so that instead of stuff, a family in whatever impoverished area can have an animal to help support their family and eventually their community.
    So much of it is culture. I know one woman from Peurto Rico (I’m pretty sure I’m spelling that incorrectly,) but she was telling us that for Christmas “Santa” came and filled their shoes with candy. That’s all. And you know what? For them, it was the BEST DAY EVER.

    • I’m sure it was and I wish that our culture way the same way. Unfortunately, we live in a world of *spend, spend, spend* and don’t pay for it now. Worry about it later!

      It’s dumb and I will not participate!!!

  27. You’ve managed to articulate what I think we’ve all been feeling for a while. Good luck with your 3 year olds wish list.

  28. I love Christmas! It is my favorite time of the year :) But I do agree w/you that the consumerism part of the holiday has spiraled out of control. I love the decorating, the cookies, the tree, the music…the “experience”. Christmas is not about buying expensive gifts. I didn’t grow up that way, and we certainly aren’t going to raise my daughter that way.

  29. My niece and nephew got their DS’s a while back, from Nana of course :). My mom spoils them. But she spoiled us kids too. I agree with you, it’s a crazy world. There is so much polarity at times in our own luxury and the poverty of people we see around us. The best I can do is not be overwhelmingly consumerism-oriented and just practice what I preach. It’s hard though, I want to have a big tree with gifts under it for everyone in my family!

    • I know what you mean. I am of two minds on this…I want my kids to experience the joy and wonder of “Santa Claus” and all that Christmas has to offer. At the same time, when is it enough? It’s hard to find a balance.

  30. I think right now, being young, she doesn’t have the idea that art supplies and Nintendo gaming systems are quite different in price range! For my family, we aim for ~$50 a person in gifts. We usually get 2-3 things for each person. Perhaps you could encourage her to save up and buy a Nintendo on her own, or talk to her about how buying a Nintendo would mean not getting any other presents.

    Don’t forget, if you do get her a gaming system you’re going to be on the hook for getting her games – wayyyyy more expensive.

    • Yeah, she definitely doesn’t have a concept of money. She knows that she has $13 in her piggy bank but she doesn’t know how much that really is or what that means.

      Really, Im just not getting her a 3DS- or I mean- Santa isnt. She’s just going to have to get over it! Really, she is an appreciative and sweet girl. I don’t think it will matter.

  31. Tackling Our Debt says:

    I remember by toys for my nephews when they were kids. Each year they received more and more toys and all of those toys eventually got thrown away. Fun at the time, perhaps, but eventually all thrown out.

  32. We had this issue last year, and so this year we’re doing the “gift Trinity” – three gifts per person, no more. It’s supposed to be Christian-themed, but we’re skipping that mart, and just going with the minimalist aspects of it.

  33. You are right Christmas has changed dramatically over the years. It wasn’t until I moved to Canada where all the Holiday Glam hit me as I wasn’t used to this. We sponsor and donate every year to give back to those in need and that’s enough for us. We buy one gift for a family member and we don’t go overboard. It’s more about spending time together, egg nog, treats and good food.

  34. Tons of responses…love it. I ranted on what Christmas has become last year and I might do it again this season. It really does bother me and it does get to the main issues that we have in our society: we love crap and we now show our love and affection for one another through the giving and receiving of said “crap.”

    It’s no longer “the thought that matters”; instead it’s buy me what I want or please don’t bother. Or…if you’re going to buy me something please make sure you provide a gift receipt. :)

  35. I’m surprised your kid didn’t ask for an iPad. I babysit two kids ages 5 and 7 and they each have their own iPad and Nintendo DS.

  36. I have a 4 year-old half sister and anything she has been seeing on TV she wants for Christmas. We are reducing the list to 3 items so she gets that Christmas isn’t a mountain of gifts festival. So far nothing too expensive, but I get your rant, it is really going too far!

  37. When I was a kid all we got for Christmas was candy. Now, I see kids with their iPhones (seriously, an iPhone for a kid?!)

    Ugh… I don’t think you’re being negative. You’re just being honest and real. The boat you’re in the boat we’ll be on sooner or later and I can’t imagine what those days (especially Christmas) will be like for us. Oh I know… I’ll just knit them a 3DS, or whatever the gadget at that time will be.

  38. The early years are a lot easier. I thought I would provide my kids the basics and some small gifts and they could earn the rest. However, my son would rather wear his current running shoes with holes in them falling apart that are a certain brand than get a brand new pair that are a less expensive brand. He does not want to earn money for the new pair, he’d rather just wear the old ones if I don’t buy him the new ones, even in the rain. It’s a battle we’re working to resolve. Adults don’t want to keep up with the Jones’ necessarily, but some kids sure do!! My daughters are younger and easier but that whole subtle indirect peer pressure can be a challenge!

  39. I’m on board with you with just keeping things simple. No presents! It’s hard for kids to understand though, as I think we can all remember the excitement growing up.

  40. My son asked for an iPad ($500) and the Lego Death Star ($500). I told him to a job!

    I’m with you that Christmas has gotten a little out of control. I love presents and giving and all that good stuff (especially when it comes to the kids), but I think our culture has gotten a little bit overboard.

    • Oh dear. My brother convinced my 3 year old to tell me that she wanted an Iphone a few weeks ago….just for fun. I am not ready for all of this!

      And hey, what kind of Lego is 500 bucks?!?!?!

  41. Last year around Christmas they did a story on NPR about a charity program, sorry I can’t remember the name. Anyways, the charity allows you to pick an animal, and each animal has a different price, to give to a person in another country. They get a pair, or a few of this animal to breed. Then they can sell the eggs,milk, meat of the animal. It allows them to earn a sustainable income from these animals.
    I was going to buy a small animal for my niece this year, but I’m not really sure how it would go over. I might just do it and buy her something small. But I thought that was an awesome idea for a gift.

  42. We will still get our kids something this year.. probably <$100 per kid, tho… But we are going to be donating even more to charity along with our church, and our kids are going to be a big part of that…

    At some point in here, we need to remember what this holiday is supposed to be about..

  43. You had me at the title. Kid consumerism is just plain crazy. Every time I walk into a Babys R Us or the like I fear I’ll break out in hives just from the thought of all the waste it represents. It’s just plain gross, but it’s our world. And we can’t beat ‘em, so we join ‘em.

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