Celebrating special occasions is important, Grownups—Mrs. Frugalwoods has suggestions for living it up while keeping costs down.

My husband and I celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary in June, but, we didn’t exchange gifts. What we’ve decided over the years is that gift giving, in a commercial sense, doesn’t truly celebrate our marriage or our commitment to one another. After all, it’s easy to buy some meaningless trinket and wrap it up. What’s far more difficult—but infinitely more meaningful—is finding ways to demonstrate our love and respect for each other every single day. Plus, we’d rather save the money we’d spend on gifts for our bigger, mutual aspirations.

The Cultural Trope of Spending

Our culture is awash with the notion that, to properly fete an occasion, we must spend money—and preferably a lot of it. We’re inundated with the message that spending equals celebration, and that spending is also equivalent to demonstrating our love. But over the years my husband and I have staked out an entirely different approach.

When we were first married, we readily jumped on the bandwagon of buying stuff for each other for every single holiday. We thought that giving gifts constituted what you’re “supposed to do” when you love someone. But we were only on this gift-giving path because we thought we should be. In essence, we were wasting our hard-earned money on junk that neither of us really wanted in the first place! As soon as we had this awakening, we recognized our folly: We weren’t buying gifts for each other—we were buying them to conform to a societal norm. And once we realized that, we made the decision to stop the inane practice.

Something that’s crucial about our decision to cease gift giving is that we made the choice together. This type of ban doesn’t work well in a relationship unless both partners are fully on board with the idea. And it’s definitely not something you want to spring on an unsuspecting partner on, say, Christmas morning! It’s wisest to discuss the idea well in advance of an upcoming holiday.

It’s Not Just About Money

In addition to the cash outlay for these gifts, my husband and I were both undergoing a fair amount of stress and strife in hustling around to buy this stuff. The pressure we both felt to find the perfect gift for each other was a pointless frustration we were imposing on ourselves. The very act of gift procurement took time and energy that we decided could be better spent on other pursuits. We’d both much rather take a hike together than waste time at the mall. (Perish the thought!)

Another element of our gift-less existence is that we’re working to simplify our lives—both in our actions and also in the things we own. Hence, buying just for the sake of buying (which is what gift giving so often is), doesn’t appeal to our quasi-minimalist approach.

It’s What You Do Every Day

It also seemed to us that store-bought gifts could be a crutch for papering over a suffering relationship. Interestingly, we noticed that we gave each other the most lavish gifts when our marriage was at its weakest moments. Conversely, not giving gifts appears correlated with our most connected, loving experiences.

Buying a gift isn’t a way to solve an underlying issue and often, it can serve to occlude a conversation about that deeper problem. By demonstrating acts of kindness for each other every day, we’ve mapped out a system of appreciating one another’s contributions in a real and tangible way without relying on the crutch of a gift.

What’s Meaningful To You?

After making the determination that we wouldn’t be exchanging gifts anymore, my husband and I discussed what would constitute a meaningful way to mark such things as birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmases. (Because going without gifts doesn’t mean skipping holidays altogether!) I adore all holidays and celebrating them in our own simple way is what brings us the most joy.

What we both always look forward to on special occasions are the meals and the quality time spent together. So, rather than inundate ourselves with consumerism, we instead focus on family bonding—and cooking delicious foods. We have a slew of traditional recipes that we look forward to preparing for each holiday and we love playing card games with our relatives.

Our daughter is too young to grasp the concept of gifts yet, but once she’s old enough, we plan to give her a few gifts for each holiday, without going overboard. While I want her to appreciate the joy and love of receiving a few gifts for her birthday or Christmas, I don’t want her to grow up expecting ever-larger piles of presents. Living a genuine, simple life is a value we intend to pass along to her.

Save for the Big Things Instead

Over the years, my husband and I have saved thousands of dollars by not buying gifts for each other. Instead, we’ve invested that money, which enabled us to bring to fruition our dream of leaving the city and moving to a 66-acre homestead in the woods of Vermont. I’m much happier with this huge life change than I would have been with jewelry or bouquets of flowers over the years.

In many ways, choosing not to give gifts is about focusing more on what we want out of life writ large than on what we want for a given day of the year. Once we had a dream destination for our money—our homestead—not buying gifts made all the more sense to us. Forgoing short-term pleasures for long-term gratification is a worthy trade-off as far as I’m concerned.

Don’t Be Concerned About What Other People Think

I’ve taken some flack over the years for our unusual approach to gift giving, but interestingly, it’s never been from my husband (the only person impacted)—it’s been from other people! Learning to be confident in our non-traditional approach to celebrations was liberating for me—I no longer worry about what other people might think about our family’s decision not to buy presents. Instead, I’m free to spend special occasions in meaningful and very inexpensive ways.

Bucking convention and eliminating gift giving has also brought my husband and me closer in our relationship. We focus on the substance of what comprises a happy partnership, not on the flash of fancy presents. Our unwavering commitment to our lifelong financial stability and independence is so much more important to us than a wrapped gift on an anniversary.

Mrs. Frugalwoods writes at www.frugalwoods.com 
about her journey to financial independence by age 33
and a homestead in the woods with her husband, daughter,
and greyhound Frugal Hound.

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