‘Tis the season for frantically searching Amazon — or running around the mall — in a last-minute shopping blitz.
But some millennials are opting out of the consumer scramble. They’re staying in, crafting home-made gifts or roasting chestnuts over an open FIRE. That stands for financial independence, retire early, and adherents of the burgeoning FIRE movement didn’t scrimp and save their way to financial freedom by their 40s (or sooner) only to go out and blow their budgets on wireless headphones or instant pots for everyone on their list.
MONEY checked in with some FIRE followers, both those who have quit their careers and those who are still working toward that goal, to see how they approach holiday gift giving. Here are their answers, in their own words.
Lily He, 27, blogger at merryformoney.com.
Our family keeps it under $25 and it’s a “bring one, take one” scenario. Because it has to be a good general gift for about eight different people ages 27 to 70, we have to go with things like soap, knives, cutting boards, local cheese, socks etc. Things that people will need to use. Not something that lays around.
My husband talked me out of toilet paper this year but I honestly wanted to give Charmin as a joke. My husband has a laid back, frugal family. I know his dad was totally going to get a kick out of it.
Grant Sabatier, 33, founder of Millennial Money and author of Financial Freedom (Penguin Random House, early 2019)
I’m a big fan of giving experiences and/or learning opportunities, or an antique/vintage gifts. I rarely buy new gifts. I’m a big art fan, so I often give an annual membership to my favorite art museum in their city. Last year I gave two memberships to the Art Institute and two to the Getty in L.A. This year I’m gifting cooking lessons, an oyster tasting class (my best friend loves oysters!), a one day wine class, concert tickets (to Elton John’s farewell tour), a signed vintage copy of Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends And Influence People (that I found for $20!), as well as a vintage Pendleton blanket I found at an antique market for $30. Antique markets are the BEST places to find affordable gifts that are both personal and unique.
Bianca DiValerio, 40, a flight attendant who blogs at missmazuma.com:
In my opinion, when giving gifts, you can’t go wrong with food or booze. I once made limoncello for my entire family and packaged it in those cute glass bottles that come with stoppers attached that I purchased from Dollar Tree. Not only was it frugal and fun to make, but the bottle was reusable afterward. I even got a few bottles back asking for refills for the next Christmas! As for the type of gifts I want to receive, I always prefer experiences over tangible items. For example, my sisters and I no longer exchange gifts but we get together for bunch or drinks instead (no kids or spouses allowed)! Nothing beats time with family and friends.
Liz Gendreau, 38, an IT program manager who blogs at Chief Mom Officer and is a mom to three boys, 15, 11 and 3.
As a parent, it’s always tricky to balance your children’s wants (bottomless) and your wallet (not bottomless). Seeking financial freedom doesn’t mean you don’t spend any money and sit at home in the dark on holidays. It means that you spend in alignment with your values, spend wisely, and spend on the things that really matter to you – instead of what other people and advertising say should matter to you.
For the holidays, I keep in mind the “gift fulfillment curve” I first read about in The Tightwad Gazette when my oldest son, now 15, was a toddler. As kids receive their first gift of Christmas morning, they’re ecstatically excited. For a while each additional gift makes them happier, but eventually that plateaus. Each additional gift beyond the plateau makes them less happy. I try to hit the peak of the curve where the kids are still happy, joyful, and appreciative about what they receive.
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We also put a lot of value in having fun as a family, rather than things, during the holiday season. Creating Nintendo Christmas World for our front yard, seeing holiday lights in various towns, decorating our house, making gingerbread houses, and baking cookies are all on our holiday agenda. Especially with an older teen, spending quality family time together during the holidays is very important to us. That’s what really matters to us.
Tanja Hester, 39, blogger at Our Next Life and author of Work Optional (Hachette, early 2019):
We try to go giftless as much as possible and focus on time together with family and friends instead. Though it’s not because we’re cheap — it’s because most people we know have more than enough stuff already and are fighting clutter, so a gift of a physical thing would only add a decluttering burden down the road.
When we do give presents, they always fall into one of three categories: 1) something consumable and preferably homemade, like jam or lemon curd, 2) something off the person’s wish list, so we know they want it and will use it, and 3) charitable donations in someone’s honor. One year I made lavender sugar scrub for everyone on our list, and people loved it! Plus they had a pretty jar at the end that they could reuse forever. Other years we’ve donated to Feeding America or our local Humane Society in honor of our loved ones, and gave cards reflecting that donation.