The Approach of Buy Nothing Day and the Reasonable Way to Buy Gifts

My oldest daughter did some art at the office on a large dry-erase board. I added my flair which is the drawing on the right. My daughter named our cat Marimar so I started to walk around the house saying, “Marry me, Marrimar!” What can I say? I’m a crazy accountant. She is very pink so I started calling her Pinky and the name stuck. So Pinky she is.

Once I reached the age of majority I discovered something I learned to really hate. Money was tight in those days. I didn’t have a reservoir to draw from for basic expenses. Buying my first home required the purchase of my first furniture. There were always extra expenses to waste money on.

It also seemed like society was intentionally trying to keep me poor like the farmer I grew up as. Farming was part of my history shortly after my 18th birthday, but income was thin and I refused to dip into reserves.

Then came holidays, birthdays and other events. It seemed like every time I turned around there was another event I was supposed to spend money on. Every month had at least one birthday or holiday where the media pressed hard on the weak minded to squander money they didn’t have on stuff people would soon neglect.

A financial crisis was a wedding or milestone anniversary. The budget was stretched to the breaking point when a wedding arrived requiring yet another monetary outlay.

Christmas was the worst! Here was a time of the year to celebrate love and hope and instead every free moment was squandered thinking about what gift to buy whom and then running around purchasing said gift. There was no time to reflect on love, hope or family. We were too busy assuring the profits margins of retailers.

The hardest part for me was age. The starry-eyed feel of the holidays made way for the reality of exploitation by large corporations brainwashing the masses into believing Christmas was really about spending money. They never advertised the greatest gift you can give is you. No money in that. To suggest something so insane was un-American. (So my non-American readers don’t feel left out, just replace your country’s name in the last sentence where you see American. It’s not an exclusively American sickness. It exists where you live, too.)

The bright lights and decorations of the autumn and winter holidays (spring and summer for my Southern Hemisphere readers) were overwhelming as a child. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day always had a special feel to them. And marketers wasted no time raping the consumer of their money.

Buy Nothing Day

Buy Nothing Day is traditionally held on the day after Thanksgiving in the States: Friday, November 24th this year. It is recognized as the busiest shopping day of the year. It amazes me we can spend a day giving thanks and the next pushing our neighbor to the floor screaming, “Get the f*ck out of the way! It’s mine!” Love and thanks evaporate into mindless demand for self in less than 24 hours. The good news is retailers open early now on Thanksgiving Day to get an early start on the selfishness.

Our family Christmas tree outside the holiday season.

And it all costs money! An electronic gizmo marked down 20% will cause normally sane people to spend what they don’t have. Thank God banks invented credit cards so you can deal with the fallout later. Of course, the marked down gizmo will be passé in a year or less, selling for nickels on the dollar in the remainder bin.

Last year I wrote about Buy Nothing Day on the actual day. This year I want to get a jump on the more important holiday of spending nothing before people are out the door and trampling old women and children early Friday after the day of thanks.

Now I know you are better than what I’m describing. All readers of this blog are. I attract the best readers in the blogosphere! Instead of trampling wild women with credit cards in outstretched hands, you casually shop Amazon or some other online source. If Friday doesn’t tickle your fancy, you can rob your employer by shopping at work the next Monday. (If business is going to benefit from crazy spending they encouraged, you should have the right to screw them back. Right? All in the holiday spirit, of course.)

And if you are serious about financial independence you either have stepped off this madness long ago or need to right now.

The Reasonable Way to Gift Give

I get it. Some of you think I’m acting like the Grinch who stole Christmas. All I have to say to you is, “Bah! Humbug!”

I didn’t steal Christmas, I promise. What I did do is develop some responsible gift giving policies in my household. Shortly you will see how my children demanded they give Mrs. Accountant and me a Christmas gift. Giving is very important.

I have nothing against gift giving. I don’t have anything against buying stuff for yourself, either. As long as your spending is responsible for your personal financial situation I am okay with it. My concern is overspending and over gift giving until the meaning of the holiday is lost. Holidays, birthday and other important life events are times to reflect, not digress into spending madness. Keep the occasion special is all I’m saying.

In my household gifts aren’t exchanged or given for any birthday or holiday, except Christmas (with exceptions). Weddings and anniversaries are one-time events (or should be) so a monetary gift is usually given.

We buy a small amount of candy for Easter (a very small amount). We decorate the home (and yard sometimes) for major holidays. We don’t go crazy on decorations either.

Kids are different than adults. We bought our girls Christmas and birthday gifts when they were younger. They received their gift on Christmas. We don’t do that now that the girls are older.

When our girls need something during the year we may buy it for them and indicate it is for their birthday and/or Christmas. This year my oldest daughter had her college tuition paid and my youngest has a cell phone courtesy of mom and dad. No large boxes of regretful spending will grace the space below out Christmas tree.

We decorate a fern we affectionately call Fronds for Christmas. Our Christmas tree costs nothing and stays green all season long.

My girls were aghast when Mrs. Accountant and I pleaded they don’t buy us gifts this year. Their response, “You mean we can’t make you something?” Oh, my God, girls. No! Of course you can make us something. The cost of making us a gift is really small compared to a retail purchase. And more important, giving mom and dad a piece of you is more important than any gift available in stores. Yes, you can make us something. My girls are artistic and I value every piece they give us. A gift filled with thought is the only gift that counts.

Mom and dad also have a different form of gift giving. I can gift my girls money. ($14,000 this year; $15,000 next.) If they have earned income and spend every penny, I can still gift them money to fill a Roth IRA up to their earned income limit. Also, remember, tuition paid for children doesn’t count toward the gift limit.

I think a gift that keeps giving a steady and increasing stream of dividends is better than the latest over-priced gizmo.

My parents are the only holdout. Holiday gift giving has decreased to zero. Mrs. Accountant and I stopped exchanging gifts decades ago. The gift giving thing died almost before it began between us. Our relationship is built on something more solid than trinkets.

My parents still give my brother and me gifts at Christmas. It is an awkward moment as we want for nothing. We have all we want and hunger only for intimate family time during the holidays. We have the family time, but my parents still believe in the traditional Christmas where gifts are given. I apologize to my non-Christian friends, but God gave his Son out of love. That is the real meaning of Christmas. That is the only gift that counts. The gift of hope.

Gifts will still exchange at my parent’s home Christmas Eve. This year we have an electronic gizmo I’ll use as this year’s gift. I don’t know what else to give. I received the gizmo as a gift and will re-gift. (I have no problem with re-gifting.) I’ll never use the gizmo. Contrary to popular wisdom, I’m not much into technology. I’m always a little late, if ever, adopting new products. The gift value is around $50. I see no reason to spend more on gifts for people who have everything they could want. My real gift this year? The ladies in my house will accompany me for some quality time with family sharing stories and a warm cider.

Final Advice

Please don’t read this and try to follow my advice to the letter. It takes time to get people to adjust to less gift-giving. Maybe you enjoy giving gifts and have plenty of money to do so. Then gift give!

What I will ask of you is this. Keep it simple and personal. A gift should be a part of you. You can create your gifts. They mean more. If you lack talent (as I do) you can buy a gift or re-gift. But it should have meaning. Fewer gifts with thought are worth more than a room piled to the ceiling with gifts given out of obligation.

The best gift of all. Mrs. Accountant and I share time together often. It costs nothing, but lasts a lifetime.

My gift to you is this blog. My words come from the heart. I pray every day you find value and meaning in my work. Your satisfaction is the greatest gift I can receive from you.

You can give me another gift. Leave your words in the comments section below. I know it’s become so passé to say that in YouTube videos and blogs. I don’t ask often, but this one time, humor me, even if it is only to say “Merry Christmas”, Happy Hanukah”, Happy Holidays” or “May peace be with you, my friend.”

If you still want to buy loved ones a physical gift, go ahead. It’s not wrong as long as you are not trying to buy love.

If crowded stores of crazed people pushing each other to save a few bucks doesn’t appeal to you, you can shop online. If you buy from Amazon you can use the link here. It doesn’t cost you a penny more and it supports my work. (Humor me.  This blog is a business and a profit does thrill me. All I ask for is responsible spending. I don’t need the money and this blog will survive regardless.)

I’ve neglected to tell you what I get Mrs. Accountant for Christmas. I’m sorry, but that’s none of your business. But like I said, the best gift is to give a part of yourself.

Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to every one of you, kind readers. May you find the perfect gift.

Keith Taxguy


  1. Mike @ Balanced Dividends on November 15, 2017 at 7:51 am

    “It amazes me we can spend a day giving thanks and the next pushing our neighbor to the floor screaming, “Get the f*ck out of the way! It’s mine!”

    So sad but true (and, perhaps, a little funny as I nearly choked on my cereal when reading this part). The stores become a minefield of morons (admittedly, I am sometimes one of them but not at 3:00am or lining up for hours).

    Overall, a number of great points, Keith. As you mentioned, the holidays (whether year-end or birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) can become quite stressful. To alleviate some of that stress, my family began purchasing a single gift for one person (“Secret Santa”) for Christmas two years ago. This will be the third year in a row we’re doing it, but it’s been such a relief not only financially but emotionally. It felt like blasphemy to even bring up the idea with my parents, but I’m glad we did. For birthdays, my sister and I also now donate a fixed amount toward our respective favorite charities. It just makes things easier – and more meaningful.

    Thanks again for the post.

    Balanced Dividends Recently Posted:

    • Keith Schroeder on November 15, 2017 at 8:23 am

      Sorry about the cereal, Mike. I hope I entertained while I educated. It is a tough issue so I tried my best to NOT come across preachy.

      Like the link, too. I need to periodically list a bunch of posts around the blogosphere I enjoy. My worry is I’ll leave someone out and hurt feelings.

  2. Mitchell Walker on November 15, 2017 at 8:00 am

    Great thoughts! And I agree the movement to less gifts is really tough in some families. Here are a couple of ideas that we’ve used that may help make that translation a little less awkward.

    Put $ limit on gift price.
    Draw names instead of giving each person an individual gift.
    Everyone brings one gift, then play some sort of gift “stealing” game. This is a blast, has become our new family tradition, and we look forward to the “best” gifts being regifted every year.

    • Keith Schroeder on November 15, 2017 at 8:19 am

      Great idea, Mitchell. Anything to keep gift giving reasonable for all involved, even those working toward financial independence.

  3. Jason@WinningPersonalFinance on November 15, 2017 at 8:34 am

    Gift giving is a real problem. It’s easier to handle within the home but harder outside. We have kids birthday parties almost every weekend and need to bring a gift to each of them. These kids gifts essentially become extra toys and clothes that are not needed but it’s customary to bring a gift so we do. Don’t get me wrong, we put our friends in the same position with our kid’s parties. It’s a never-ending cycle with a lot of waste.

    Side note – Can we expect a post from you before YE on any tax optimization techniques in response to the proposed tax bill? I’m trying to figure out if it makes sense to prepay property taxes and such to maximize my itemized deductions this year when I might not get them next year. I’m sure there are a whole list of tips and tricks along that line that would help your audience.

    • Keith Schroeder on November 15, 2017 at 8:51 am

      I understand the difficulty with gifts, Jason. It takes time to get people on board and some will never agree.

      As for a YE review of the PROPOSED tax bill, I’ll publish a post once something is passed. Right now it’s all wish list. The House and Senate have different bills and the end product may be radically different or we may only get a Band-aide as Congress pushes the tough choices down the road.

  4. Daniel Weaver, CPA on November 15, 2017 at 9:08 am

    My family is quite large, so we moved to a Christmas “white elephant” type game with a $25 limit per gift to keep the focus on time together rather than on breaking the bank. Kids too young to understand the game often get their own gifts from the grandparents.

    Have enjoyed the fact that the FIRE community does a good job of pointing out that money doesn’t buy happiness. Always a good reminder.

    Hope you have a wonderful and blessed holiday season!

    • Keith Schroeder on November 15, 2017 at 9:19 am

      A warm welcome to you this season, Mr. Weaver. Thank you for sharing your way of handling gift giving.

  5. Justin on November 15, 2017 at 9:54 am

    I’m still working on my in-laws and their gift-giving habit. My child has the privilege of being the only grandchild of my in-laws and they feel it is their “right” to spoil the kid with ice cream, candy, and “stuff” they’ve found on clearance. That’s their justification. “It was 50% off!” I don’t think they realize it does more harm than good. I drop hints and try to lead by example, but I haven’t had the heart to sit down with them and talk about it directly. But if it comes to that, I’ll probably start the conversation with a question, “Who do you think benefits here? You or the kid.”

    Happy Thanksgiving and thanks for the excellent post.

    • Keith Schroeder on November 15, 2017 at 10:01 am

      Justin, getting parents and grandparents on board is harder than the kids. Rather than questions, try explaining your financial philosophy. It might work, but it can be hard. Good luck and Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family as well.

  6. Jared on November 15, 2017 at 10:16 am

    Of all the knowledge and wisdom that you have imparted on us, via this blog, this is by far the most valuable to me. Thank you for the reminder! Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas from my family to yours.

    • Keith Schroeder on November 15, 2017 at 10:19 am

      Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas to you and your family, Jared.

  7. Mary on November 15, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    Both my son and daughter are grown adults with their own homes. My husband and I decided instead of giving them Stuff, we make a trip to the bank once a year, where they have their mortgage and make a payment on the principal. As for our grandchildren they get a nice amount of cash towards their college education every year and we also bought them the gift to be able to enjoy fishing and hunting with a lifetime liscense for Minnesota.

    • Keith Schroeder on November 15, 2017 at 12:13 pm

      Excellent gifts, Mary. Gifts that will last a lifetime.

  8. Darb on November 16, 2017 at 1:11 am

    I like to gift beer to friends
    Thanks for the entertainment Keith 👍🍻

  9. Joanne C on November 16, 2017 at 6:37 am

    Hi Keith! With young girls, we try to redirect attention from “what gift do you want for Christmas” to “who needs gifts more than we do”. By refocusing on how we can help others it discourages them from the self-centered attitude that is prevalent around the holidays. Think Ronald McDonald House, or another kid-centric charity.

    When we were childless, we watched in horror as a colleague’s 4 year old son ripped open 20+ presents with a ferocity approaching the Mongol horde. He didn’t even care about the presents! He would move on quickly from present to present. We vowed never to rob our children of the delight in a thoughtful, single gift by overwhelming with useless junk. And to focus on Christ as focal point.

    Merry Christmas! From your loyal (and persistently annoying) client in Rhode Island

    • Keith Schroeder on November 16, 2017 at 7:38 am

      What an awesome way to approach Christmas and gift giving, Joanna!

      Loyal: yes; annoying: never.

  10. Mike on November 16, 2017 at 9:08 am

    I have been saying the same thing for years. I am glad to see someone agrees with me. My sister and law thinks I’m a Grinch because I don’t participate in the madness. Her husband is an MD who has made $500,000+ for years and has little to show for it other than a big mortgage and car payments. I would estimate our net worth is quadruple theirs with them making quadruple our income.

    • Keith Schroeder on November 16, 2017 at 9:14 am

      Define madness, Mike. What is more mad? stepping off the hamster wheel and having an enjoyable life or earning massive amounts of money and spending like crazy so you can never really retire or at least live the path you desire most? You’re not a Grinch, just sane. The dividing line is thinner than I ever imagined.

  11. Pat kuennen on November 16, 2017 at 6:29 pm

    I just signed up for your blog 2 weeks ago. I do find your info/stories very interesting. I enjoy the variety of topics. Your work here is worthwhile. Pat in Minnesota.

  12. Amy on November 17, 2017 at 6:09 am

    WA, from my family to yours, we hope you are blessed with good health and true joy in the season ahead!

    As for my mini-saga on presents/ material celebrations, we passed on all the nights on the town and weddings with accompanying gifts, one-time bridesmaid dresses, one-time shoes, etc., right from the beginning. The stance broke my mother’s heart as she feels we were/are rejecting tradition.

    I share this because it launched this whole full-wallet empty-social calendar thing we’ve had going ever since. We declined enough invitations and gift exchanges to get labeled party-poopers. I really hate this ’cause I loves me a good time, but I don’t equate that with trading my first-born and an arm for fancy birthday/holiday drinks at a pricey club that has the same sticky on its floor when the lights come on as the cheaper places. If we cared about them, the friends say, we wouldn’t focus on costs and rain on their parades. Yes, well, while “friends” were metaphorically stamping their feet and pouting, asking how we could be so selfish, we needed things like a washing machine and rainy day fund.

    What’s so interesting about it is that worrying and complaining about the costs of birthday, wedding, whatever presents is common, an acceptable small-talk bonding topic at said event, and is now incorporated as part of the ritual…a topic to discuss, but for heaven’s sake! No one actually ACTS on these little bonding fusses….how gauche. How dare we think we could actually “get out of it”…

    Sadly, I don’t think we actually know frugal people. Finding friends and family who share this core value with us would be like spotting a rare beast in the wild. Oh, there’s lip service about saving money on gifts this year, hey lets all just visit at each others’ homes, blah blah blah. But all the promises for frugal, thoughtful events disappear as they get sucked into the brightly lit shopping temples and bring their shiny offerings to the POS altar to receive the benediction of societal approval…it’s festive(!), don’t you know, and in the ‘Spirit of Christmas’.

    Spirit, thy name is poverty.

    • Keith Schroeder on November 17, 2017 at 8:24 am

      There are few truly frugal people anymore, Amy.

      You can sum it up this way: Blessed are those who are happy without spending.

      Merry Christmas, Amy and family. Thank you for sharing your story.

  13. Shannon on November 17, 2017 at 8:45 am

    Thanks for the reminder. Merry month and a week before Christmas.

  14. kendra on November 17, 2017 at 9:36 am

    I found your blog through Mr. Money Mustache, and will admit that both of your heads would spin at my family’s lifestyle (we have cable! And cell service with a big name carrier! And the thermostat is set on 70!). But I will thank you both for making me much more thoughtful about our spending and matching our spending with our life priorities. Our youngest car is a 10 year-old base model minivan with almost 200,000 miles on it, but the oldest child will graduate debt free (from an excellent state university) in 2019. For the holidays, we emphasis activities together over gifts (family movie night at the bargain theater followed by a long walk to look at holiday lights), and the gifts we give are limited to practical, needed things (socks and SAT study guides). It is a family joke now about the gifts, and we enjoy each other’s company immensely with few money worries. Happy holidays to you and yours.

    • Keith Schroeder on November 17, 2017 at 9:50 am

      Pete’s head might spin, Kendra, but I have no problem with your lifestyle. It’s your life; your choice. My goal is to inform. You pick the parts that work for you and we are good. It makes it easy for both of us to keep up our end of the deal.

      For the record, my office is warmer than my home.

      Thanks for stopping by, Kendra. Merry Christmas and Happy Thanksgiving.

  15. Mark Feltz, CPA on November 17, 2017 at 9:52 am

    Keith, you’re the Man! Thank you for a wonderful year of wise advice and meaningful entertainment. My family has benefited greatly from your counsel and my clients have reaped dividends from what I’ve passed on to them from WA. By extension, I believe my community will be a better place thanks to your generosity! Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas!

    • Keith Schroeder on November 17, 2017 at 9:55 am

      The same to you, your family, clients and community, Mark. Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas.

  16. Ian on November 17, 2017 at 11:12 am

    I’ve been observing Buy Nothing Day, by that name, for years. I’m so glad to see others celebrating it. Some years I don’t buy a thing beyond groceries between Thanksgiving and New Years, to make up for some of my more consumption-oriented neighbors.

    Thank you for your time and dedication to this blog. I first stopped by perhaps a year ago (from MMM) and particularly enjoy your obscure tax strategies, especially the April Fool’s tax planning. Keep up the good work and enjoy your Buy Nothing Day!

    • Keith Schroeder on November 17, 2017 at 11:17 am

      Tax humor is awesome, Ian! Glad I entertained and informed.

      May you and your family have a joyous holiday season.

  17. Leslie on November 29, 2017 at 2:42 pm

    Thank you for writing this blog. I enjoy reading it and hearing your perspective on tax issues and responsible spending. My husband and I stopped giving gifts to each other years ago. There was no point since we are financially able to buy what we want when we want it. We stopped giving gifts to the kids a few years ago but do still give gifts to the grandkids – although it actually involves me asking their parents what the kids want and please just send me the link on Amazon. I also shop for clothes for the grandkids as each season changes. I justify it by thinking that the hours I spend shopping are hours that the parents don’t need to spend on that activity and can spend with their young children instead. We also put some money in 529s . All in all, a small “transfer of wealth” to the next generation while we’re still alive to enjoy seeing how they grow up.

  18. Deb on November 30, 2017 at 6:32 pm

    Merry Christmas! Thanks for the motivation. I am the only one in my family that wants to dial it light for Christmas, but not quite as light as you. We have 5 kids, and I usually limit my buying to clothes, art supplies, and books (and pretty little at that) because grandparents on both sides go a little crazy. I am always asking them to scale back, but it hasn’t worked yet. Maybe they feel they need to contribute so much because I’m so frugal:) The kids and I go through our toys and clothes right after Thanksgiving and do a big donate cycle to share our things with charities and make room for the new. My husband and I usually do a big gift that is house related, like this year: a new dish washer, and last year: a new house when we moved! We are having trouble making friends, as it is hard to meet people that value a simple life, at least we have not found many yet! We do presents for our parents who do so much for us, and 5 cousins, which does get knixed any year things are tight, but its been a good couple of years. I’m a big regifter and thrift store shopper.

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