The holiday shopping season is around the corner and you are probably already starting to have anxiety attacks about what to gift to your loved ones. You’re wrecking your brain trying to come up with the perfect gift for each person. If you know someone for less time, you may still have some unique ideas. However, if you’ve known someone for a while, chances are that you already used up all of your creative gift ideas years ago.
Now the panic sets in, and you’re dreading the upcoming hours spent at the mall and online shopping for materialistic stuff for those you care about. But, you’re missing the bigger picture–the most precious commodity we all have in our mortal lives is time. So for every hour you spend shopping, you are giving up time that you could have enjoyed with the very same loved ones.
The holiday season used to have a very different purpose before. If you were religious, it was a time to celebrate the birth of baby Jesus. If you weren’t, it was a good time to get together with family and friends, and spend some quality time together. Somewhere along the way, came the era of Hallmark and created the Santa Claus story, and the associated present-giving activities. Of course, at some point, each child learns that Santa isn’t real, cries for a while, and moves on with one’s life.
However, for some reason, the act of giving presents remains. The retailers out there made sure that you continue to associate present-giving with showing that you care. In truth, it may have the reverse effect, because not every present is needed or a perfect fit, so you may cause the receivers to have to deal with unloading the gift.
Whether you like the gift or not is not the main point though. As a society of consumers, we have been programmed to buy, buy, buy. The issue is that exchanging material goods with our loved ones does not increase the amount of happiness we or they truly feel. For a few moments, sure, but then we are back to normal. If, along the way, you’re also getting into debt to buy presents, which many people do every year, you completely screw yourself as a bonus.
Holidays, The Enchumbao Way
We wanted to end this cycle of stuff-giving, so we took the path less traveled. Mr. Enchumbao and I stopped exchanging gifts amongst ourselves about two years after we started dating. This, not coincidentally, was also when we discovered the concept of reaching financial independence and got on the bandwagon. Instead, our goal was to spend more quality time together around the holidays, so we spent money on experiences instead.
These experiences included things like getting away for a weekend in a bed & breakfast, going out to a nice restaurant, or simply spending time with each other, instead of wasting our life’s energy on shopping malls. Now, if we go to the mall, it’s only to get a chance to walk more, since it’s too cold in Philly to walk outside in December. Seeing the other stressed out shoppers there, however, makes us feel sad for the unknowing consumers. They think that they don’t have a choice in the matter of holiday shopping, when they do.
As we started our mindset shift to spending on experiences instead of gifts. We shared our non-traditional ways with friends and family. Like with anything new to market, there were some early adopters in our circle, who were more than happy to opt out of exchanging gifts. Instead, we’d get together in a nice BYOB restaurant or someone’s home around the holidays, and enjoy the good food and company.
Friends and family join in on the fun
As the years went on, more and more of our friends and family joined the Enchumbao way of celebrating the holidays. We now spend the month of December and January seeing our loved ones in relaxing and memorable settings. This method is also great for those around you who are financially-strained. When you give someone a nice gift, they feel the pressure to return the favor, and may end up having to keep a balance on their credit card just to repay the favor.
One exception to the “no gift-exchanging movement” is shopping for kids. We still get the kids in our circle something for the holidays and birthdays, preferably a book, a toy for development or some cash for their future FI fund. 🙂
Birthdays and Anniversaries, The Enchumbao Way
Over time, we also extended the same approach to other key celebrations, like birthdays and anniversaries. For our wedding anniversary, we take an annual trip to the Dominican Republic. While there, we enjoy sipping Presidente beer and piña coladas on the gorgeous beaches the island has to offer. We also visit Mr. Enchumbao’s family in the same trip, so it kills two birds with one stone.
For birthdays, we try to do thoughtful gifts for each other, like putting together photo books, or creating coupon books for each other. The coupon books is free, but redeeming the perks within is priceless!
This year, we finally converted all of our friends and family to the Enchumbao Experiences Way for birthdays. For example, my sisters and I all get together for our birthdays. The group treats the birthday girl to activities of her choice (favorite restaurant, movies, etc.), and we enjoy a good time together. No gifts are exchanged, at all. Then, we pay it forward to the next birthday girl in line. I do the same with my friends. There are several sub-groups as a result, but I’d want to spend time with each of them anyway. So it works out well.
If you are hesitant to switch to the Enchumbao Experiences way cold-turkey, start out gradually. Offer this approach to a few of your friends or family members, and see if there are any takers. If you offer to change now, you’ll save yourself and the other person time this holiday season.
The other option, that’s FI-friendly and reduces amount of time you spend on shopping, is organizing gift-exchange parties with a group of friends and family. You can find some fun ideas here.
So, what do you say? Are you ready to break free from the herd at the mall and pave your own road to true happiness with your family and friends?