Currently I’m running an experiment here at Growing a Green Family. Can the average family of four save $50,000 in five years simply by living green? With this in mind, I decided to see how much you can save by celebrating a less consumer Christmas.
Can you really spend just $250 on Christmas?
That’s a good question. Technically yeah, you can even have a $0 Christmas. It all depends on what you want. A better question to start with is how much do American families REALLY spend on the holiday season?
Most resources and studies I’ve found only factor in the cost of gifts. For example, one source I found says, “In the United States the average American will spend about $750 dollars on gifts and accessories.” Another source says the average American will spend an average of $658 for gifts.
But that’s just gifts. People also spend cash on holiday decor, the tree, food and likely, I’m guessing, nonsense goods they wouldn’t buy in the first place, but do buy, because they happen to be at the store more often. Overall, if I had to take a stab, based on figures I’ve seen, I’d assume that on average, individual American adults spend about $700-$1000 for Christmas (figuring in everything).
There’s no way on earth I’m spending $700 on Christmas.
Spending less does mean planning:
If you celebrate Christmas, or another consumer driven winter holiday, you’ll need to do some planning to spend less. As noted before, I’m not all that on board with most holiday stuff, mostly because a lot of it seems super consumer driven to me. At my house, we tried, really hard to come up with an alternative holiday plan this year. We sat down and had a family meeting about Christmas. It didn’t go great, because people were at semi-odds. In my household, here’s where we ended up:
What I want – a Christmas that’s fun, eco-friendly and not focused on consumerism.
What Dave (the live-in boyfriend) wants – a Christmas that’s fun, not focused on consumerism and that has some focus on the real meaning of Christmas, which for Dave means religious stuff.
What our kids want – Our two youngest kids (aged 9 and 12) said they want a fun Christmas, want to see some family, don’t want to drive around and claim to not want too many gifts. I think they do want some gifts, but are playing it down because Dave and I are playing that aspect down. Still, overall they seem to be on board with fewer gifts and more family activity instead.
The oldest kid in the house is the only household member who wants a consumer Christmas. It’s a much longer story, but to sum up, the stuff aspect of Christmas is all she’s discussed with us and I’m guessing it’s because it’s always been that way for her. It’s habit.
With the above in mind, here’s what we’re doing for Christmas:
During Christmas break we’re having a cookie making day and will do other general hang-out stuff like playing game, going on walks, etc. We’re also getting together with some family for lunch. Nothing spectacular, but fun stuff. On Christmas day, we’re staying at home, some friends are coming over and we’ll likely make a meal of some sort. Maybe Dave will read something from the bible – or discuss it? I’m not very clear on this aspect yet.
As for gifts:
Since no one but the oldest kid in the house wanted a super consumer Christmas, we’re doing very few gifts. We talked to adult family and friends and said NO GIFTS PLEASE for adults. We’ve asked this before and had family agree to it, but they still get us gifts. I’m hoping this year everyone will follow through. We’re giving gifts to the kids, but we’re sort of doing our own planning on this one. For example, Cedar’s dad and I have our own ideas, while Dave and the girls mom have theirs.
MY CHRISTMAS SPENDING PLAN:
Because I wanted a less consumer holiday, and because we were unable to come up with a set ideal about gifts in this house, I made up my own set of ideals, which is…
- I’ll get gifts for the kids in the family. I’m not getting a gift for any adult except Dave and we agreed on a very low price limit.
- Everything I’m getting for folks (minus one gift) follows a reduce, reuse, recycle slant. Meaning, I decided to get gifts for people this year ONLY if they have the following qualities – you can get a lot of use out of the gift, the gift is eco-friendly plus safe and the gift can be either eventually recycled or totally used up.
- I refuse to spend a lot of money on Christmas. The average (as noted above) is $700-$1,000, which in my opinion is 100% insane and doesn’t really equal the less consumer holiday I’m interested in.
Here’s my $250 plan:
The bulk of my money, no surprise, is going toward my son Cedar, who is the only person getting a non-eco gift. He really wanted a specific Lego set, which I did get him (don’t worry, he doesn’t read this blog, so it’ll still be a surprise).
So Cedar is getting one bigger gift, plus a couple smaller, eco-friendly items and some stocking stuffers. As for everyone else, I got eco-friendly gifts for Dave + gifts for six other kids. My total cost for all gifts was $178.
We’re also making a holiday meal, but splitting the costs, potluck style, with the folks who are coming over. So even though we’re getting organic food, my total costs should fall at $30 or less (a figure I’m basing on how much Thanksgiving food cost me). The last thing I’m buying this season are some organic baking goods. I’ve got some baking goods, but am running low, and wouldn’t be buying more right now if it wasn’t for cookie making day, so I’ll figure in about $20.
Gifts = $178
Food + baking goods = $50
Get together – we’re not getting together with all our family on Christmas day, so we’re meeting some for lunch before hand. I’m factoring this in at about $30 for gas and food, because we’re meeting for pizza (inexpensive) and splitting the costs.
Total = $258
OVERALL: Money saved over five years if you celebrate a less consumer holiday:
I’m getting gifts for one adult and 7 kids. I’m also feeding a houseful of people on Christmas day, holding a baking day and getting together with some other family before hand. My total costs will be about $258.
The average American spends $700-$1,000 on the holidays, which is an average of $850.
IF I can manage to spend around $258 each year for the holidays, I’ll save $592 per year or $2,960 over five years.
Of course this is VERY abstract thinking, and based on how many people are in your house. But the averages stay the same. If you plan to spend less, your average from the previous year will go down, no matter what you spent. If you work at it, you should be able to save thousands over five years.
What we’ve saved:
So far, in my quest to save $50,000 by living green we’ve saved a total of…
- $1,000+ by switching from paper towels to cloth.
- $1,354 by switching from paper napkins to cloth napkins.
- $6,180 by switching to tap water vs. bottled.
- $835 by switching to reusable baby wipes.
- $2,960 by having a less consumer Christmas (or other winter holiday).
We’ve saved a total of $12,329 and have $37,671 left to save. Not too bad. Coming up some ideas that can help you save money on your holiday celebration and I’ll tell you how I spent under $200 for gifts. Cutting down that $850 average isn’t as hard as you might think.