Friday, August 23, 2019

Christmas and Birthdays and Family Vacations-Oh My!

I'm part of a couple retirement boards and a couple frugal boards on Facebook. Both have had some discussion threads lately on how to deal with gifts, birthdays and family get togethers in retirement. Since I am doing rough Christmas planning now (remember I travel and I make a large number a gifts that require early shopping and such) I'm sharing my own experiences, as it were-which makes this post a little long, thruth be told.

Admittedly this topic can be a toughie, and not just because of finances. Financial and gift giving expectations vary from family to family and from parent to kid. And sometimes its not just the gift giving. It's the going out to dinner as a family, vacationing together and the like. All are fraught with the "who pays and how much" issue as well as other family dynamic things.

For myself, I come from a family history of mainly spending moderation, even when more could have been afforded. Both in terms of my husband and myself and the two sets of grandparents. My kids got a fair amount of Christmas gifts growing up, but at least half of those were of the "winter clothing replenishment type" rather than toys. Both my in laws and parents generally got my kids one or two gifts. Some years an aunt or uncle might send a gift, others not, and it all worked out (we almost always lived in different places than the rest of the family and rarely could travel at Christmas because of my husband's job). If they wanted to, and were able to spend more money, they did it in other ways. Like when my parents  paid for my kids to fly down to them during the summers. Or the year my in laws paid for two condos so the greater family could ski (and also announced there would be no Christmas gifts).

Which I guess is my way of saying that if you always do things in moderation, it's much easier to adjust expectations. I would imagine that if you were a parent or grandparent who gave at will, and then changed how you did things (for moral or financial or downsizing or whatever reasons) it could be more difficult to make that adjustment. If that makes any sense. And I say that as someone who considers gift giving their love language and would NEVER suggest giving up gifts or only giving to the young ones as such.

When it comes to family, in my world we have two gift giving traditions.  On my husband's side for years we exchanged gifts with fourteen people every year. Often small gifts but gifts nonetheless. As the cousins got to college age, they got together and suggested a gift exchange with a small value. So now, every year the greater group draws names (in such a way that the person you draw is not in your immediate family-so I would never pick my son, son-in-law or daughter). Because some of us are of that "gift giving is my love language" persuasion, we occasionally  send very small, almost token gifts to all of the 14. But some of us don't and that is fine. And some of us do so one year and not the next and that is fine. One year a sister in law gave out five dollar Starbucks GC to all the adults. I've made handmade soaps and given one to each person. But it's an as you want to do kind of thing. 

To be real here, I think if one of the adults had suggested said exchange, we might have gone on talking about it for a few years. But since all the kids entered college at the same time, and presented it from their perspective and we wanted them to be comfortable, it worked right away-and we now can't imagine anything else.

On my side of the family equation we always have and always do give gifts. But the gifts are not equal (we have everything from my sister in law's mother who is 90 and on a very fixed income with a reverse mortgage to a sibling who makes six figures to retirees to kids in college and high school). One year everyone got together and got me a two hundred dollar serger. The same year, my sister got my brother and orchid plant or two. Gifts are usually moderate and vary. Which is why my choice to do moderate experiences, consumables and handmade gifts as mentioned yesterday, will fit right in, and honestly not be a major shift in the family dynamic. In fact, I do try and do an experience gift with myself and my sister in law and sister every few years. Sometimes it's more expensive (high tea at a castle) and sometimes it's not.

When it comes to gift giving in the immediate family, again, it depends on the family. I have, admittedly cut down on what I used to give my kids when they were younger, and my gift giving between the two siblings is uneven-or has been. Before my daughter entered her masters program and stopped work for three years, she and my son and law were making more than I did, and yet my son has been struggling.  They often have different needs. And this has never been a problem and the kids have never worried or thought much about the "equality" thing.

 Three years ago my daughter set maximum a limit on our small family of four for gifts of 75 dollars.  I do that, and contribute to stockings. But I don't have grand kids to also gift, just grand puppies. And if someone needs to spend less, it all works out, at least in my little family. I also try and do something small for each kid each month when I can-often just going to their wish lists on Amazon and checking it out. My daughter loves succulents and one month I got her succulent earrings and a zip bag with them painted on. I have also made small things and gifted them or sent. 

If you haven't guessed, I am not a fan of concentrating gifts on holidays. I could talk about setting expectations or ruining the reason for the season but the bottom line is whether we are kids, adults or in between most of us can simply take in only so much with being overloaded.

As adults, kids and son in law get a check for the amount of years, and a small gift on their birthdays. When they were at home, they got smaller gifts and a party or a big gift. Usually their choice. And most of their parties were at home, not at a party place. I am very much not a fan of the "spend a couple hundred bucks on a wall climbing party for twenty kids" lifestyle and hope that if my son ever has a grandchild he never does such a thing.

So there you have it. My personal experience on gift giving in retirement.

When it comes to travel, it has been a very long time since my kids went on a vacation with me-since we got back from Europe actually. Schedules and occasional finances have prevented us from going to the beach for a week, for example. The last time we went on vacation my daughter was still single, came to me in Europe after her dad died, and we took a two week vacation to Venice and Florence on my dime-but my daughter was in between employment and and my son was a full time student.

We do go to Texas as a family and celebrate Christmas for a week in my daughter's house. My son in law was eager to take over the celebration and I was happy to let it go. I contribute to the groceries and it works for us. But we are a small family and when my mother and father in law were still doing the Christmas thing, they got the prime rib and everyone else brought something, and helped clean up.

One of my goals in the New Year is to have said family vacation in a beach location. I plan to rent a big enough condo or Airbnb house with rooms for all, assist son with transportation if needed, and let everyone share in the expense from there. But again, we are a small family with no human grandchildren, only canines. So the money, and the logistics, are different.

There you have it-the way the frugal retiree does holidays, gift giving and the like. Just one person's thought's for the day. I don't know for sure what I would do with grandchildren. But I am in general big on experiences and one on one time. So I THINK that I would give each kid one or two small or a single needed gift and then do a one on one day with each kid, be it making cookies, going to a museum or whatever. But that's just me, and obviously ttheoretical.

I should also talk about weddings, or my daughter's wedding while I'm writing on this topic I suppose. They are indepenent adults paying for their own wedding, which is by choice a small one with mainly family at a moderate venue (an outdoor location with an indoor chapel nearby as needed), and an at home brunch the next day where everyone is invited. Both dads are no longer living and both moms are widows on pension, but both feel the need to contribute, needed or not. I plan to pay for the food and the reception and since there is no rehearsal dinner the other mom is paying for the dresses of the five family flower girls and another meal in the rotation of days. It's affordable for both of us, and makes us part of the process. And I cannot wait for the ceremony. 

and so it goes..


  1. You have arrived at a good way of gift giving with your family. My family is smaller, for gifts it is mainly my two sons and I, so everything is easy peasey. I like the plans for an uncomplicated wedding, my kind of celebration.

  2. I think the most fun my family ever had for gift giving at Christmas was the year part of them were out of work and we set a limit that you couldn't spend more than $1.25 on a gift for each person which at the time as eight of us. You could make something or write something or re-gift something you already had, just so you didn't spend more than $1.25. That was the year we discovered that my brother was a poet. We laughed a lot and even cried some at the thoughtfulness that went into things. It was really fun!

    1. That sounds like it was a wonderful Christmas!

    2. How cool. When I was growint up my mom was the "cebrate every holiday type" with green eggs and ham on St Patricks day and we all, terrible artists as most of us were, made our own cards. Always.

  3. This is my first Christmas post-retirement; I did spoil my kids and grandson last Christmas but warned them this year would be different. I've set a budget and so far, I'm keeping to it. I do get gifts for my brother's family and a couple of friends. This year I'm working on a few homemade items to keep those costs down.

    I do have a tendency to buy small gifts throughout the year but birthdays are usually just a meal (either in or out - birthday person's choice).

    1. I also try and do things throughout the year. I only do gifts for the two kids and then everyy where else we do a meal.

  4. Harvey's family always did the draw the name for a gift for years, then we went to the women buy a women's gift, men buy a men's gift and we drew numbers ("stealing" someone's gift if you didn't want to pick one. Now I think we are not going to do that anymore either. I think I might just make everyone a little gift (probably not costing more than a dollar or two to make) from now on.

    We give our sons money and I usually make them a few gifts to put under the tree.

    God bless.

    1. My daughter is one of those people who doesnt want gift cards and cash and wants real things. I do try and make most people gifts. We do the stealing thing for my quilting group and other groups.

  5. All that gift giving sounds complicated, and still, a bit pricey. Both sides of our family kept gift giving to mostly immediate family.Get togethers mean food,cookies,shared meals, but mostly we only got presents for our own kids, we did not need to gift all the nephews,nieces,aunts,etc.. so life was easier.Now, my husband and I have very little extended family around, and between us and our grown son,we just do "experiences" at the holidays--splurge on some fun tickets and meals..we do decorate and enjoy the holidays, just,I don't spend time shopping!!!!!

    1. I know many people who do that. As I say, I am a gift giver, and now that the side with fourteen people is taken care if it is not so pricey at all. Everything but my kids are getting makes or occasionally consumables. except for my brother who I have decided I am going to give a one time gift of a subscription box called coffee and a classic!! Because I know he will love it. Heck, I want one.

  6. Both daughters and my mom have August birthdays, which makes that month a real killer, finance-wise. I've taken to getting any presents early -- and if I find a real bargain, they all get the same thing. It's been especially difficult this month because our house-for-sale is still in limbo; the contract's signed, but closing isn't until Sept. 17. Which means we limp along on an extremely tight budget until it does close.
    That meant a birthday supper at Daughter #1's house, instead of going out. It meant staying here and mailing a small pkg of presents, versus going to Michigan for The Mama's birthday. And because it had to be (and the people we love recognized things were tight for us), it was ok.

    1. We have two intense areas. I have two kids and a sister and a brother who all have birthdays within a three week period in February/March. The rest of us are in the end of September/October. I do either shop or make gifts year around. I am so glad you finally have a buyer and you are heading towards your closing. Its always one thing or the other-we sold our house and they wanted a ten day closing.

  7. My five siblings and I no longer draw a name for a gift. My sister and I usually do a gift but it is getting harder and harder. Christmas here at home needs to be cut back ... I'm the worst offender. We honestly do NOT have room for anything else so my brain is in thinking mode. One year I have a family gift of a Zoo membership and an OMSI membership. They didn't go enough to make that financially feasible. The past 2-3 years I have provided the "santa" gift but I'm going to let the kidults know that is now THEIR job.

    I love searching for just the right gifts ... on a budget!

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Thanks for stopping by! I love to hear from others, and I also love to hear all points of view.. Just leave the profanity and insults at home, OK? Thanks!!