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The Approach of Buy Nothing Day and the Reasonable Way to Buy Gifts

My oldest daughter did some art at the office on a large dry-erase board. I added my flair which is the drawing on the right. My daughter named our cat Marimar so I started to walk around the house saying, “Marry me, Marrimar!” What can I say? I’m a crazy accountant. She is very pink so I started calling her Pinky and the name stuck. So Pinky she is.

Once I reached the age of majority I discovered something I learned to really hate. Money was tight in those days. I didn’t have a reservoir to draw from for basic expenses. Buying my first home required the purchase of my first furniture. There were always extra expenses to waste money on.

It also seemed like society was intentionally trying to keep me poor like the farmer I grew up as. Farming was part of my history shortly after my 18th birthday, but income was thin and I refused to dip into reserves.

Then came holidays, birthdays and other events. It seemed like every time I turned around there was another event I was supposed to spend money on. Every month had at least one birthday or holiday where the media pressed hard on the weak minded to squander money they didn’t have on stuff people would soon neglect.

A financial crisis was a wedding or milestone anniversary. The budget was stretched to the breaking point when a wedding arrived requiring yet another monetary outlay.

Christmas was the worst! Here was a time of the year to celebrate love and hope and instead every free moment was squandered thinking about what gift to buy whom and then running around purchasing said gift. There was no time to reflect on love, hope or family. We were too busy assuring the profits margins of retailers.

The hardest part for me was age. The starry-eyed feel of the holidays made way for the reality of exploitation by large corporations brainwashing the masses into believing Christmas was really about spending money. They never advertised the greatest gift you can give is you. No money in that. To suggest something so insane was un-American. (So my non-American readers don’t feel left out, just replace your country’s name in the last sentence where you see American. It’s not an exclusively American sickness. It exists where you live, too.)

The bright lights and decorations of the autumn and winter holidays (spring and summer for my Southern Hemisphere readers) were overwhelming as a child. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day always had a special feel to them. And marketers wasted no time raping the consumer of their money.

Buy Nothing Day

Buy Nothing Day is traditionally held on the day after Thanksgiving in the States: Friday, November 24th this year. It is recognized as the busiest shopping day of the year. It amazes me we can spend a day giving thanks and the next pushing our neighbor to the floor screaming, “Get the f*ck out of the way! It’s mine!” Love and thanks evaporate into mindless demand for self in less than 24 hours. The good news is retailers open early now on Thanksgiving Day to get an early start on the selfishness.

Our family Christmas tree outside the holiday season.

And it all costs money! An electronic gizmo marked down 20% will cause normally sane people to spend what they don’t have. Thank God banks invented credit cards so you can deal with the fallout later. Of course, the marked down gizmo will be passé in a year or less, selling for nickels on the dollar in the remainder bin.

Last year I wrote about Buy Nothing Day on the actual day. This year I want to get a jump on the more important holiday of spending nothing before people are out the door and trampling old women and children early Friday after the day of thanks.

Now I know you are better than what I’m describing. All readers of this blog are. I attract the best readers in the blogosphere! Instead of trampling wild women with credit cards in outstretched hands, you casually shop Amazon or some other online source. If Friday doesn’t tickle your fancy, you can rob your employer by shopping at work the next Monday. (If business is going to benefit from crazy spending they encouraged, you should have the right to screw them back. Right? All in the holiday spirit, of course.)

And if you are serious about financial independence you either have stepped off this madness long ago or need to right now.

The Reasonable Way to Gift Give

I get it. Some of you think I’m acting like the Grinch who stole Christmas. All I have to say to you is, “Bah! Humbug!”

I didn’t steal Christmas, I promise. What I did do is develop some responsible gift giving policies in my household. Shortly you will see how my children demanded they give Mrs. Accountant and me a Christmas gift. Giving is very important.

I have nothing against gift giving. I don’t have anything against buying stuff for yourself, either. As long as your spending is responsible for your personal financial situation I am okay with it. My concern is overspending and over gift giving until the meaning of the holiday is lost. Holidays, birthday and other important life events are times to reflect, not digress into spending madness. Keep the occasion special is all I’m saying.

In my household gifts aren’t exchanged or given for any birthday or holiday, except Christmas (with exceptions). Weddings and anniversaries are one-time events (or should be) so a monetary gift is usually given.

We buy a small amount of candy for Easter (a very small amount). We decorate the home (and yard sometimes) for major holidays. We don’t go crazy on decorations either.

Kids are different than adults. We bought our girls Christmas and birthday gifts when they were younger. They received their gift on Christmas. We don’t do that now that the girls are older.

When our girls need something during the year we may buy it for them and indicate it is for their birthday and/or Christmas. This year my oldest daughter had her college tuition paid and my youngest has a cell phone courtesy of mom and dad. No large boxes of regretful spending will grace the space below out Christmas tree.

We decorate a fern we affectionately call Fronds for Christmas. Our Christmas tree costs nothing and stays green all season long.

My girls were aghast when Mrs. Accountant and I pleaded they don’t buy us gifts this year. Their response, “You mean we can’t make you something?” Oh, my God, girls. No! Of course you can make us something. The cost of making us a gift is really small compared to a retail purchase. And more important, giving mom and dad a piece of you is more important than any gift available in stores. Yes, you can make us something. My girls are artistic and I value every piece they give us. A gift filled with thought is the only gift that counts.

Mom and dad also have a different form of gift giving. I can gift my girls money. ($14,000 this year; $15,000 next.) If they have earned income and spend every penny, I can still gift them money to fill a Roth IRA up to their earned income limit. Also, remember, tuition paid for children doesn’t count toward the gift limit.

I think a gift that keeps giving a steady and increasing stream of dividends is better than the latest over-priced gizmo.

My parents are the only holdout. Holiday gift giving has decreased to zero. Mrs. Accountant and I stopped exchanging gifts decades ago. The gift giving thing died almost before it began between us. Our relationship is built on something more solid than trinkets.

My parents still give my brother and me gifts at Christmas. It is an awkward moment as we want for nothing. We have all we want and hunger only for intimate family time during the holidays. We have the family time, but my parents still believe in the traditional Christmas where gifts are given. I apologize to my non-Christian friends, but God gave his Son out of love. That is the real meaning of Christmas. That is the only gift that counts. The gift of hope.

Gifts will still exchange at my parent’s home Christmas Eve. This year we have an electronic gizmo I’ll use as this year’s gift. I don’t know what else to give. I received the gizmo as a gift and will re-gift. (I have no problem with re-gifting.) I’ll never use the gizmo. Contrary to popular wisdom, I’m not much into technology. I’m always a little late, if ever, adopting new products. The gift value is around $50. I see no reason to spend more on gifts for people who have everything they could want. My real gift this year? The ladies in my house will accompany me for some quality time with family sharing stories and a warm cider.

Final Advice

Please don’t read this and try to follow my advice to the letter. It takes time to get people to adjust to less gift-giving. Maybe you enjoy giving gifts and have plenty of money to do so. Then gift give!

What I will ask of you is this. Keep it simple and personal. A gift should be a part of you. You can create your gifts. They mean more. If you lack talent (as I do) you can buy a gift or re-gift. But it should have meaning. Fewer gifts with thought are worth more than a room piled to the ceiling with gifts given out of obligation.

The best gift of all. Mrs. Accountant and I share time together often. It costs nothing, but lasts a lifetime.

My gift to you is this blog. My words come from the heart. I pray every day you find value and meaning in my work. Your satisfaction is the greatest gift I can receive from you.

You can give me another gift. Leave your words in the comments section below. I know it’s become so passé to say that in YouTube videos and blogs. I don’t ask often, but this one time, humor me, even if it is only to say “Merry Christmas”, Happy Hanukah”, Happy Holidays” or “May peace be with you, my friend.”

If you still want to buy loved ones a physical gift, go ahead. It’s not wrong as long as you are not trying to buy love.

If crowded stores of crazed people pushing each other to save a few bucks doesn’t appeal to you, you can shop online. If you buy from Amazon you can use the link here. It doesn’t cost you a penny more and it supports my work. (Humor me.  This blog is a business and a profit does thrill me. All I ask for is responsible spending. I don’t need the money and this blog will survive regardless.)

I’ve neglected to tell you what I get Mrs. Accountant for Christmas. I’m sorry, but that’s none of your business. But like I said, the best gift is to give a part of yourself.

Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to every one of you, kind readers. May you find the perfect gift.


Thursday 30th of November 2017

Merry Christmas! Thanks for the motivation. I am the only one in my family that wants to dial it light for Christmas, but not quite as light as you. We have 5 kids, and I usually limit my buying to clothes, art supplies, and books (and pretty little at that) because grandparents on both sides go a little crazy. I am always asking them to scale back, but it hasn't worked yet. Maybe they feel they need to contribute so much because I'm so frugal:) The kids and I go through our toys and clothes right after Thanksgiving and do a big donate cycle to share our things with charities and make room for the new. My husband and I usually do a big gift that is house related, like this year: a new dish washer, and last year: a new house when we moved! We are having trouble making friends, as it is hard to meet people that value a simple life, at least we have not found many yet! We do presents for our parents who do so much for us, and 5 cousins, which does get knixed any year things are tight, but its been a good couple of years. I'm a big regifter and thrift store shopper.


Wednesday 29th of November 2017

Thank you for writing this blog. I enjoy reading it and hearing your perspective on tax issues and responsible spending. My husband and I stopped giving gifts to each other years ago. There was no point since we are financially able to buy what we want when we want it. We stopped giving gifts to the kids a few years ago but do still give gifts to the grandkids - although it actually involves me asking their parents what the kids want and please just send me the link on Amazon. I also shop for clothes for the grandkids as each season changes. I justify it by thinking that the hours I spend shopping are hours that the parents don't need to spend on that activity and can spend with their young children instead. We also put some money in 529s . All in all, a small "transfer of wealth" to the next generation while we're still alive to enjoy seeing how they grow up.


Friday 17th of November 2017

I've been observing Buy Nothing Day, by that name, for years. I'm so glad to see others celebrating it. Some years I don't buy a thing beyond groceries between Thanksgiving and New Years, to make up for some of my more consumption-oriented neighbors.

Thank you for your time and dedication to this blog. I first stopped by perhaps a year ago (from MMM) and particularly enjoy your obscure tax strategies, especially the April Fool's tax planning. Keep up the good work and enjoy your Buy Nothing Day!

Keith Schroeder

Friday 17th of November 2017

Tax humor is awesome, Ian! Glad I entertained and informed.

May you and your family have a joyous holiday season.

Mark Feltz, CPA

Friday 17th of November 2017

Keith, you're the Man! Thank you for a wonderful year of wise advice and meaningful entertainment. My family has benefited greatly from your counsel and my clients have reaped dividends from what I've passed on to them from WA. By extension, I believe my community will be a better place thanks to your generosity! Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas!

Keith Schroeder

Friday 17th of November 2017

The same to you, your family, clients and community, Mark. Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas.


Friday 17th of November 2017

I found your blog through Mr. Money Mustache, and will admit that both of your heads would spin at my family's lifestyle (we have cable! And cell service with a big name carrier! And the thermostat is set on 70!). But I will thank you both for making me much more thoughtful about our spending and matching our spending with our life priorities. Our youngest car is a 10 year-old base model minivan with almost 200,000 miles on it, but the oldest child will graduate debt free (from an excellent state university) in 2019. For the holidays, we emphasis activities together over gifts (family movie night at the bargain theater followed by a long walk to look at holiday lights), and the gifts we give are limited to practical, needed things (socks and SAT study guides). It is a family joke now about the gifts, and we enjoy each other's company immensely with few money worries. Happy holidays to you and yours.

Keith Schroeder

Friday 17th of November 2017

Pete's head might spin, Kendra, but I have no problem with your lifestyle. It's your life; your choice. My goal is to inform. You pick the parts that work for you and we are good. It makes it easy for both of us to keep up our end of the deal.

For the record, my office is warmer than my home.

Thanks for stopping by, Kendra. Merry Christmas and Happy Thanksgiving.