4 simple ways to spend less and enjoy more this holiday season.

Nothing Succeeds Like Excess

The end of the year can be a time when our financial plans go out the window. We end up spending like a drunken sailor, only to wake up in the new year feeling hungover when we look at our credit card balance.

I used to experience this every year. I love giving gifts and I used to spend way more on them than was prudent. And I wasn’t alone in this — everyone in my family sort of overdid it, and our Christmas celebrations eventually became day-long present-opening marathons.

There were so many gifts we sometimes had to take a break out of sheer overwhelm. I remember a few years actually getting a little nauseous from the whole ordeal on Christmas Day.

Avoiding the Holiday Spending Hangover

A few years back, my mom, my sister, and I decided to stop giving each other Christmas presents. Instead of the commercial frenzy and late-night wrapping, we decided to give one another our presence.

Now, we fill the stockings with pieces of paper on which we write favorite moments with one another from the year. (We call them Favorite Frames, a term we learned at Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts.)

Wrapped in our PJ’s, coffees in hand, we snuggle up and read our Favorite Frames to each other and digest the beauty of the past year. I make a slideshow of photos from the year set to music, too.

Then, we get all dressed up and go out to a really beautiful meal supplied by local, organic farmers, and at the end of the day we see a movie.

This new Christmas ritual has made it so easy to not overspend during the holidays. I still do a little holiday shopping for my dad, stepmom, little sister, and a few friends, but overall, the frenzy has stopped.

This year we’re going to visit Mike’s family for a few days after Christmas. When we first made the plan to go, I could feel my stomach tightening, thinking of the shopping we’d need to do and remembering my old habit of overdoing it. I didn’t want to stress out about buying the perfect gifts for my soon-to-be in-laws.

But the Watts are a smart bunch (that’s why I’m marrying one of them) and instead, they decided to simplify as well. We all chose a name out of a hat on Thanksgiving (via Facetime since we weren’t all together). We each have one person to buy for, with a $50 limit.

How sane.

3 Simple Ways to Love Your Loved Ones, Yourself, and Your Money This Year:

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, the Solstice, or some other festivity around the end of the year, here are some ways to practice simplicity, sanity, and #moneylove this holiday season:

1. Frame it. Decide to make your presence the gift this year. Perhaps only purchase presents for the little ones and then share favorite moments from the year with your adult family members. Unwrapping our Favorite Frames has become one of the most precious times of the year. I think you’ll love it too.

2. Swap it. Instead of buying gifts for everyone, assign each person someone to get a gift for, like the Watts family does. Or, do what my childhood girlfriends and I have done for nearly 20 years running: have a Yankee Swap! Set a spending limit, everyone buys a wrapped gift, and then you do a fun swap. Everyone goes home with something unexpected! Full instructions can be found HERE.

3. Make it. If you find yourself with time on your hands but not that much money, spend a little time making handmade gifts. One year my sister gave me a composition notebook that she’d covered with a handmade collage of images she thought I’d like. She also scattered some images throughout the pages as inspiration for writing. I loved it and I still treasure it.

4. Release it. Mike and I are having a Winter Solstice party this year. We’ll have little cards by the fireplace on which people can write down what they’d like to release and leave in the darkness of the shortest day of the year. Then we’ll have other cards where they can write down what they’d like to welcome in with the light as the days grow longer starting on Dec. 22nd. The end of the year is a beautiful time to reflect on what’s working and what’s not, and let go of what’s not. Spend some time letting go instead of accumulating and you’ll fee more free.

Remember: we do not need to show our loved ones how much we care by spending exorbitant amounts on them.

Your presence is a gift. Bring that this holiday season. (Tweet it!)

What holiday traditions do you have that you love?

How can you simplify this holiday season?

Leave a comment below!

book-goodiesP.S. If you find yourself needing to buy a physical gift or two this year, why not give the gift of financial consciousness and self-value?

My new book, Money: A Love Story, is the perfect gift for anyone who wants to get their financial duckies in order in 2014. Plus if you grab a copy by January 1st, you’ll get the online event called “A Course in Having Enough” that I co-taught with Marianne Williamson, Barbara Stanny, and Amanda Steinberg, CEO of DailyWorth, for free. That, my friend, is a gift that keeps on giving. Get the book and the details on the course HERE.



  • Arleen

    I thought Kate had some insightful ideas regarding the holiday overwhelmth of shopping etc. Maybe it’s time to shift some of our traditions so that the days prior and day of would be of comfort & ease to you rather than frustration, exhaustion, & bewilderment.

  • This year, I suggested that we not exchange gifts with adult siblings and instead spend an evening together while we’re in town. We live 12 hours away and rarely get to do that anymore. That time will mean so much more than anything we could buy each other.

  • This is so, so what I needed to read today! As much as I’m trying to train myself to reframe the holiday season and move away from stress and strain, I found my mind wandering over my shopping list while I was on the way to work this morning. Admittedly I have a lot of shopping left to do. In that moment it was so easy to forget all of the real joy this season brings, not to mention the promise of things to come, and fall back into stress mode! Habits die hard, don’t they?

    I love the idea of a solstice party! We’re having a get-together next weekend and you’ve inspired me to ask my friends what they want to let go of and what they want to welcome in. A week early, but it’s the thought that counts, right? ;)

  • I love this post and really appreciate the suggestions for finding more meaning and connection over the holidays — especially the Favorite Frames.

    I give a photo book to my mom every year filled with photos and funny and thoughtful things that my son has said over the year.

    Here’s are some of the other activities I love to share with my son:

    Send a card to a member of our Armed Services. Try to do this today! A card postmarked by December 6th will be sent by the American Red Cross to armed service members all over the world in time for Christmas. Anyone can send a card and you can send as many as you’d like! Please send all cards to:
    Holiday Mail for Heroes
    PO Box 5456
    Capitol Heights, MD

    Go to the library and check out children’s Christmas classics. Here are some of our favorites: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Dr. Seuss), Olivia Helps with Christmas (Ian Falconer), Olive, the Other Reindeer (J. Otto Seibold), The Polar Express (Chris Van Allsburg), Night Tree (Eve Bunting)

    Rake leaves for an elderly or shut-in neighbor.

    Watch a holiday movie together. Here are some of our favorites: It’s a Wonderful Life, Christmas in Connecticut, White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, Charlie Brown Christmas, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, The Bishop’s Wife (with Cary Grant), A Christmas Carol (with George C. Scott).

    Take a drive and scout out the best holiday lights in town.

    Thanks again for this thoughtful and inspiring post!

    • Kate

      These are such fabulous ideas Stacey! I love them all. Especially the photo book with the funny things your son said all year for your mom. How precious!

  • What a lot of terrific ideas about how to make the holidays more meaningful and less expensive. A winning combination!

    And I love your card idea for your Winter Solstice party — a card for what to release and leave in the darkness and a card for what to welcome in with the light. In fact, I’m going to suggest such an exercise to my audience on my radio show next week — and will give full credit to you, Kate, of course!

    This year, after many years of saying I was going to do it, I am volunteering some of my time over the holidays to a homeless shelter for women. I already know it will be the best gift I could give myself, and my bank account will like it too! :)

    • Kate

      So glad that resonates Carol! Give credit to my mom – we’ve been doing that ritual as a family on the Solstice for years!

  • It’s 6am here in Australia, and only just last night I decided to make my a main Chrissie gift to my family and New Years resolution be ” to be more present with my children”. Your post is perfect timing. … Presence vs presents. Many thanks xxx Quigley

  • Ellen

    I told my children when they were very young (grown and on their own now) Jesus was given three gifts, you get three gifts! Today we adopt a family and give one gift to each other. Both of these things make for a stress less Holiday season.

  • Molly

    I love the winter solstice party idea. That is such a great idea!
    Thank you. (For that and for all your work)

  • Oh my goodness this is such good timing ! I’m juggling two things this year, not wanting to overspend and also being very far away from family & friends this Christmas. Last year I wrote my ’10 favourite things about you’ for each of my loved ones. They turned out to be the favourite gifts I’ve given (and my heart swells with love when I see that everyone has kept theirs somewhere special). I LOVE the idea of favourite moments and I’m sitting here now scribbling down names and special memories. Thank you x

  • katie

    We don’t accumulate much throughout the year. My husband and I save all year to buy our kids presents. I start shopping and wrapping in the summer but we don’t end up spending too much anyway. We pay cash as we go and don’t mind getting and giving used (books-antiques-etc.) We give each other consumables (special spices-pasta-tea) or I make the gifts. I make jam-cookies-blankets-dolls etc. When Christmas comes and the kids get their new shoes- legos-barbie-etc it is so wonderful because they are so grateful and happy! Because we don’t. Buy much during the year this holiday stands out!

  • Katherine

    Hello Kate!

    Over the years as my children became adults, I would choose two cards from a Holiday tree at my bank; a boy and a girl that I could buy gifts for in lieu of giving my adult son and daughter gifts.

    I would pick out clothing in the same colors my daughter or son would choose, or toys that either of my children would have asked for at Christmas time. Then I would send them a card telling them the name of the child (if it was on the card), their age, and what gifts I had given them.

    Doing this helped my son and daughter appreciate doing for others who might otherwise go without, and allowed me to double my shopping and giving pleasure.

    Thank you for your wise words and the healing energy I can feel from you!

    Many Blessings,

  • These are really beautiful ideas. Thanks so much for sharing. As I get older and live further away from home I really just value spending time with family.

    I would love to try some of these out with my family!

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