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How will your holidays be affected by the economic crisis?

By Isabel Kallman

By Alice Bradley
Historically, my family goes a little nuts over Christmas. Actually my mom goes nuts, and the rest of us follow suit. My mother spends weeks purchasing more gifts than one person should ever purchase in her lifetime, and we all try to approximate what she’s done. Mostly we do this out of shame, because now that we’re adults, we don’t feel right, being given more than we’re giving. Unfortunately it is almost impossible to match her prodigious efforts. Anyway, we’ve wanted to cut things back for a long time, but until recently she wouldn’t hear of it, and we struggled with how we could curb the holiday spending. Gift-giving is one of my mom’s favorite pastimes; we didn’t want to begrudge her this thing that she loves. Not to mention, she gives amazing gifts. On the other hand, the ensuing guilt just didn’t seem worth it anymore.
This year, finally, we convinced her to cut back—way back. Instead of lavishing her generosity on every member of the family, she (and the rest of us) will be assigned one family member on whom she can spend her money. We agreed on a reasonable price limit, and if all goes according to plan (my mother has promised to comply, but you never know with her) we should have a much leaner, much more sensible Christmas.
It’s about time. Even beyond the current financial crisis, which has definitely affected every member of my family, our Christmas gift-giving had hurtled out of control. We all spent way too much money, often with very little clue about what people actually wanted. We spent the week before Christmas running out at the last minute to purchase just one more gift for some member of the family might feel shortchanged. It was stressful and expensive, and not the message we wanted to send Henry about the purpose of the season.
Clearly, we’re not going to be the only people cutting back this Christmas. With jobless claims at a 16-year high and and consumer confidence at an all-time low, this Christmas will be one of the leanest for most Americans. My family’s lucky: no one’s lost his or her job (yet); we all still have our homes. We’re all on financially shaky ground, but who isn’t?
I’m not happy about the economy, needless to say, but I’m really looking forward to this year’s Christmas. I think we’re going to benefit from restricting ourselves. Fewer presents means more time to hang out, argue about politics, drink frighteningly strong cocktails. We won’t be exhausted from the weeks of shopping and wrapping and planning and fighting holiday crowds. We won’t be buried under mountains of presents, but we’ll be together, and that’s pretty great.
What do you think your holidays are going to be like? Have you made any changes to your plans because of the economy?


Published November 21, 2008. Last updated August 21, 2013.
Isabel Kallman
About the Author

Isabel Kallman

Isabel Kallman is the founding mom of

Feel free to send nice emails to isabel[at]alphamom[dot]com.


Isabel Kallman is the founding mom of

Feel free to send nice emails to isabel[at]alphamom[dot]com.

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  • jean

    November 21, 2008 at 10:43 am

    I’ve set budgets for everyone and I’m sticking to them. Especially my son. His grandparents are still going crazy buying him stuff so I’ve decided to just get a few things and then let them lavish him with the rest. I’m looking forward to not having mounds of stuff to open, tons of wrapping paper to throw out and more time to focus on family, eating and drinking 🙂

  • liz

    November 21, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    My family agreed to each get assigned one family member as well, except for spouses and the kids. Honestly, I feel like it’s a gift to ourselves as much as anything else — I’m having a great time really thinking about what to get my one person, instead of running around just trying to get “enough” stuff to put under the tree. Now if I could just get my in-laws on this program……..QVC considers my MIL to be one of their most valued customers, and I’m not kidding — they just shipped her some free steaks.

  • P&P

    November 21, 2008 at 9:25 pm

    I think we all agree that Christmas has gotten out of hand. My folks are depression babies who, although they believed in giving gifts, were very careful as to how much the both spent and gave.
    I’m frightened by the amount of “stuff” that we get each other and the children in our families. Most of it is never used or is forgotten by President’s Day. I think this current economic downturn can be used as a teaching tool for all of us to look at not only how much we spend on gifts but also WHY we give them in the first place.

  • RLJ

    November 23, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    You have a president’s day? Or is it presidents’ day? I’ve never heard of that. Is it like Boxing day / St Steven’s day?
    Anyway, back to topic: for the last 3 years, my parents and my sister and I have only exchanged gifts for charity; so, we buy clean water, goats, gardening tools, etc. that go where they are needed. I’m sure they exist through U.S. churches but OXFAM (huge UK charity) and CAFOD (huge international catholic charity) do them. My mum and sister still spoil the kids rotten, which also means we don’t buy them much; the elder is 3 and gets more excitement opening the packages than anything else. The little one is a baby and hasn’t a scoobydo (which means more unwrapping for the elder!).
    I think the picking one person idea is really good: might try that in future.

  • mallory

    November 23, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    I like RLJ’s method!
    My ex-husband’s family is Polish. Having grown up in post-WWII, communist Poland, no one had anything to give. Small gift exchanges were considered normal, and large gifts were considered garrish and ostentatious. Instead everyone focused on being together, creating memories, and sharing their faith.
    They continue this practice today, even though their financial circumstances are much better. Even though I’m not in their family any longer, I’ve absorbed this custom and taken it with me.

  • amy

    November 24, 2008 at 9:41 am

    my husband and i are not giving gifts to each other instead we are gifting ourselves wit a new bathtub. Ho Ho Ho. I am trying ( as I have done for past couple years) to limit sheer amount of toys. We are still giving- but less and with more thought to things I think.

  • Emily

    November 25, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    We are participating in Advent Conspiracy this year. you can check out the cool little video at Basically, we are spending less, giving more relational gifts and sending some of the money we save to help build wells in Africa where children die every day just because they don’t have water that is safe to drink. It’s a huge reminder to me that while we are in the same boat as most Americans, we are still so much more well off than most of the world.

  • CJ

    December 2, 2008 at 2:58 pm

    We are doing as many secondhand presents as possible for our 3 year old, since he doesn’t know or care if they are new. We only do stockings among adults, and everyone contributes a few small items. This way we still have the Christmas morning magic for the kids coming down the stairs to see what Santa left, but we can focus most of our giving on charity, and focus most of our joy into family together-time.

  • mire

    December 2, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    Actually this year more then any year I am ALL about shopping! A. because I think it’s the ‘patriotic’ thing to do. B. because I have found an online ‘shopping mall’ ( which gives a percent of your every sale to your favorite nonprofit group.
    So this year ALL my splurging for my family and friends is fundraising for my favorite nonprofit at the same time!
    I have downloaded their widget from the site: and now I don’t even have to remember the URL.
    Now all my shopping automatically benefits Children’s Miracle Network!
    I just think that’s awesome and even though I’m generally not a huge fan of xmas or consumption… this really got me into the giving spirit.

  • Sleepless Mama

    December 5, 2008 at 10:03 pm

    For many years my side of the family has focused on giving gifts to the kids and omitting the adults–apart from something small, but meaningful, for our parents. My husband’s side of the family has always gone WILDDDD with the gift giving. This year, however, they are actually modifying tradition, to my husband’s relief. Since we’re newlyweds AND have a new baby AND are on a budget, the news was welcome. His side of the family have a limit of $10 (!!!) for the adults and $25-$50 for the kids. I’m thinking this is going to lead to some creative gift giving this year–and a few laughs. Like the Total Xstream Speed Disc Shooter my husband is giving his brother (who is 50 yrs old). Ho, ho, ho!