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Cashless For The Holidays?

It’s December, which means it’s officially okay to play holiday music now. I’m listening to Trans-Siberian Orchestra as inspiration for this post. It kind of stresses me out but whatever. If you’ve been playing it since Halloween, we’re no longer friends. If you’ve been playing it since your last bite of turkey on Thanksgiving, we might be able to salvage this relationship with some therapy. But that’s beside the point. I want to talk a little bit about the holidays when you’re in debt, cash strapped, etc.

There’s a ton of pressure around this time of year. As if trying to remain sane when your entire family is back under the same roof and hoping you won’t be judged for your epic wine pours isn’t enough, you’re expected to get everyone gifts. If you’re like me and have what feels like NO MONEY, you’re not sure what to do. You either take the hit to your bank account and buy the gifts or you take the hit to your self-esteem and admit you can’t really afford them. Personally, I’m taking the self-esteem hit. People (family especially) are generally understanding about this stuff so long as you let them know. Don’t show up empty-handed without an explanation.

Note: If you’re an irresponsible spender, this doesn’t apply to you. Knock it off this month and buy your family / friends some effing gifts. Eat at home, avoid bars, etc. You can scrape together the cash in no time.


Here are a couple ideas I suggest if you’re in the same situation I am.

Cook the Meal
This requires that you know how to cook a little bit. You should, since you’re an adult. If you don’t, learn. This is one of the single greatest money saving tips I can give you for any time of year, but it just so happens to work really well for the holidays. Anybody who has cooked a holiday meal can tell you it’s a pain in the ass. It takes time and attention. There’s an expectation that it will be somehow special. You use that table in your parents’ house that only gets used once a year. Place settings. Centerpiece. All that nonsense. Anyway, taking that responsibility off of someone’s plate is a pretty decent gift. The cooking, the cleaning, all of it. Let the person who normally does this enjoy the day for once. I did this for my mother’s birthday recently, and it was easily the most well-received gift I’ve given in years. I don’t imagine winning the lottery between now and Christmas, so I’ll probably be giving this gift again.
Meaningful Letters from Friends and Loved Ones
There was a viral social post a few years ago about someone who requested advice for their birthday. The recipient asked people in their life that were older to write a letter to themselves at this particular birthday age (i.e. write a letter to yourself at 25). In the letter, the writer was to include anything they thought would be important to know in the coming years, anything they wish they had known at that age. Being the social culture whore that I am, I ripped the idea off for one of the birthdays in my mid-20s.

I had no idea what to expect. I was a typical, selfish twenty something who really couldn’t imagine sitting down to write this letter to someone in the first place. What I got was beyond my expectations. I received about 20 letters from a wide variety of family members and friends. The letters were revealing and thought provoking. They exposed a depth of thought and introspection in people that I didn’t even know they had. I read. I laughed. I cried. I thought. I still have all the letters. When I run across them during one spring cleaning or another, I sit down and read them all over again. They are the most impactful gift I’ve ever received, and they cost nothing but time.

You can easily do this for someone in your life, and it doesn’t have to be advice. A nice, handwritten, thoughtful letter is a relic of a bygone era that has impact for that reason alone. Although the time is short, I have faith in your ability to get it done. Whoever you want to gift this to, reach out to their parents, friends, and colleagues. If you succeed, I guarantee you’ll give one of the most memorable gifts the person has ever received.


Here’s the point, you don’t have to spend money to give a meaningful gift that’s not a handwritten coupon “good for one free car wash.” Put a little thought or effort into it, and you can get out of this holiday season for $0. Well, $0 plus the cost of the new sweatpants you need to accommodate your expanded waistline.