It’s that wonderful time of the year again, Christmas is here! Today, Christmas is a ménage a trois of consumerism, materialism and shopaholic madness; many of us have long lost the true spirit of Christmas. Credit cards have made Christmas go from great to beyond extravagant, but at what expense? Sadly, it is our futures that are mortgaged to the bank for Christmases past; and dreams of retiring on an island are traded for shiny new flat screen TVs during the holidays.
The Best Christmas Gift Ever
In my continuing series of “This is my Frugal Dad”, I asked him what his “best Christmas ever” was and you’ll be shocked at the stark contrast of his story compared to most Christmases people have today.
Let’s head back to the 1960’s for a moment, say 1962, to my dad’s “best” Christmas at 12 years old (or somewhere thereabouts, he mentioned he might have been 10). My dad was the only boy in a family of four kids and this particular Christmas his dad was without work, being laid off seasonally as a carpenter. All the kids were warned ahead of time, “Santa won’t have much this year to give.” Of course, my dad the smart cookie he is, knew by this time that Santa meant his own mom and dad had to scrimp to make Christmas happen.
This year, each child received one gift and a stocking with an apple, an orange and some candies. If it were a better year, maybe even some toothpaste or a pair of socks would be in their stockings. Not this year.
What made this Christmas extra special? It was the electric train set he was able to open on Christmas morning, with an amazing amount of track that allowed him to run the train the length of their hallway and back again. The extra awesome thing? It was a complete train with steam engine, a few cars and a caboose!
And guess what?
It was used. It was a used train set thrifted from a flea market. To my dad, it was the best Christmas ever to get something as special as a train and it probably cost around $15-20. Imagine, a $15 train set made my dad’s Christmas. Definitely a stark contrast to what some people spend now and an even bigger contrast to people’s expectations of what a gift should be.
A frugal dad with a frugal dad: “My dad did not believe in putting Christmas on credit or borrowing to put gifts under the tree. Christmas was a luxury.”
“Christmas has become materialistic; we’ve lost the Christmas spirit. The true, real meaning of Christmas has been replaced with stuff.”
What about Christmas dinner? It was a shared family event, spent with the Grandparents and was a potluck; each household would bring a dish to complete the meal. That was the only nice dinner at Christmastime.
Did family buy presents for everyone? “No. It wasn’t as extravagant as it is nowadays. Presents for extended family were unheard of. Cousins never received gifts from aunts and uncles.”
My Christmases with my Frugal Dad
Christmases were abundant for me as a child. My dad attributes this to a well-paying job and buying a small house, “only what we needed”. As a child, an only child, I received three or four gifts. My parents didn’t believe in buying dozens of presents.
“Christmases were not a problem for us because we had a frugal house, we didn’t buy extravagant, the house was a 900 sqft post war house. It was $55,000 new in 1975. We had a $35,000 mortgage at 11.25% and I was able to put $20,000 cash down. I didn’t want a huge mortgage because of the interest rates.”
The real priority for my dad? Pay down the mortgage over having an extravagant Christmas. If the mortgage went the full 25 year term at 11.25%, the $55K purchase price would have multiplied to over $102K with $67K paid in interest. Yikes!!
My dad never once borrowed to buy Christmas presents.
Frugal Dad’s advice for Christmas?
Do not spoil your kids. Don’t give them everything they want. Live within your means and you’ll be teaching your kids a good financial lesson.
Do not borrow to buy Christmas.
Christmas giving is a luxury, and the nice meal is a luxury.
What was your most frugal Christmas? What was your best Christmas ever?
Did you miss Epsiode #1 of This is My Frugal Dad? Read it here.