How to Enjoy the Holidays WITHOUT Overspending

November 9, 2020

“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.” 

- Will Rogers

Here’s an unsurprising statistic—consumer spending around the holidays, particularly in the United States, has risen steadily since 2008

We’re so used to seeing images of a frenzied mob on Black Friday that they don’t even startle us anymore.

In 2019, 37% of Americans expected to spend $1,000 or more on gifts, and actual spending exceeded estimates for nearly every spending bracket.

Think about how many things you’d be willing to invest $1,000 in. 

My guess is, if someone told you that you’d have to spend $1,000 on fixing your car, it would feel like a burdensome expense.

So why do we drop that kind of cash (or credit, as the case may be) around the holidays, without blinking an eye?

Because the amount of money you spend on gifts shows people how much you care, right?

With all the churn in our economy right now, overspending will likely mean something different in 2020 than it did last year.

When it comes to money, it’s all relative.

To overspend means spending more money than you have, but I’d add to that definition. 

Even if you have money in the bank, spending money without knowing WHY you’re doing it qualifies as overspending, too.

To enjoy the holidays—and beyond—this year, be mindful of money in the same way you’re mindful of time

Pay close attention to how you spend it first so you don’t end up wondering where it all went later.


I’m speaking from a Judeo-Christian perspective here, but most religions around the world have a holiday season that works in much the same way.

Advertisers and retail outlets make it a priority every year to wrap the holidays and gift giving in family, friends and “‘tis the season …”

But for all the trappings, they really just want us to buy, buy, buy and so these year-end holidays become the perfect trojan horse.

And of course, the real purpose has nothing to do with spending. Major holidays like Christmas and Hanukkah are about gratitude, appreciation, thoughtfulness and awe.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever rushed around stores in December, trying desperately to find gifts for people simply because they’re on your list of people to shop for. 

Or even better, you’re participating in a secret Santa or other gift exchange and are shopping for a stranger.

If you’ve done either of these, it’s likely you ended up with an item that didn’t really fit the person—like a gift set of lotion and bath salts in a scent they may not love ... 

Do they even have a bathtub?!

The point is, there’s no deep thoughtfulness that goes into those kinds of gifts. You’re buying out of obligation, not consideration.

You spend needless money on something they don’t even want, and everyone comes away worse off than when they started.

In the same way that I suggest distinguishing urgent from important by considering that often urgent is someone else’s agenda and important is yours, gift giving based on year-end economic projects is definitely not YOUR agenda.


What’s free, and has more value than anything you can buy? 

Your TIME.

If the entire purpose behind gift-giving is to show someone that you care about them and are thinking of them, you can do both simply by investing your time.

This could mean actually spending time with them, if that’s a possibility for you this year given the limitations of geography and COVID.

Or it could mean spending time creating something for them: a batch of cookies, a home cooked meal, or a hand-knitted scarf ... 

Putting the time and energy into a hand-crafted item means a lot more than a scarf you pick up at Nordstrom, anyway. 

And if crafts aren’t your thing, write them a story or sing them a song. Take the time to create a YouTube playlist of videos you know they’ll love. 

Or maybe scan some photos and create a slideshow of favorite memories on a digital picture frame—there are plenty of ways you can show you care.

Play to your strengths here. The point is to put time and energynot dollars—behind your holiday gifting wherever you can.


I know you might be thinking, “Andrew, that’s all well and good for some people. But you don’t understand—I HAVE to give gifts.”

I get it. Some people love the act of gift-giving, from buying to wrapping. Gift-giving is even one of the five love languages

To those people, I say: there is STILL a way to give physical gifts without breaking the bank.

First off, look around you. What could you repurpose?

Giving someone a used item has a bad rap, but it shouldn’t. 

Have you ever spontaneously made a gift of a precious item or garment that someone admired? I have and I’ve also been the recipient of this form of generosity. 

This is even more powerful with something like a musical instrument or a piece of art. It would be impossible for someone to buy and it costs you nothing to give.

Giving away something you love is an excellent gift, particularly if it’s one of a kind and you know they’ll love it.

For more tips and suggestions along these lines, check out 10 Ways to Save Money and Time During the Holidays.


Don’t let holiday marketing fool you—you don’t have to spend money to celebrate the holidays, and you don’t have to spend money to show people that they’re in your thoughts.

Think of it as a challenge—how creative can you get with your gifts this holiday season?

Also, be honest. Do you spend money most years because it’s quicker and easier than spending time? 

And if so, is this the best way to show people that you love and appreciate them?

If you aren’t willing to spend time on certain people, maybe it isn’t worth getting them a gift at all. Perhaps a simple “thank you” would suffice. 

Gratitude costs you nothing, but you’d be surprised how much it’s worth.
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