I was shocked last year while sipping coffee at Starbucks on a crisp October morning when I realized that Christmas music was playing. Already?
Then this year, in August, my daughter and I were school shopping when we found Christmas items already on display. It made Christmas in July seem almost timely.
Our spend-spend-spend, shop-till-you-drop mentality gets fueled by a bombardment of ads that toy with our emotions. According to recent polls, the average American spends about $800 on Christmas gifts. Of course, that doesn't count all of the money spent on travel, extra groceries, eating out, decorations, gifts for teachers, party gifts, etc. The true spirit of Christmas and the holidays has been drowned by the tsunami of materialism that makes us crave stuff we didn't know we needed.
Perhaps you want a break. Whether it's financial, spiritual or simply the desire to pull back from the holiday madness and stop letting retailers control you, here are a few ideas for nonmaterialistic gifts. Yes, FREE gifts!
*The Gift of Self
You have more to offer than you realize. These DIY gift certificates tend to last, be memorable and be appreciated.
1) Baby-sitting. What parents couldn't use a night out? How terrific to have a few baby-sitting coupons from a trusted friend or family member. Plus, you'll get to know the kids better.
2) Electronics repair service. Maybe you're a whiz in the digital world.
3) Handyman. Home painting, repairs, jobs around the house.
4) Dinners or desserts. Gourmet or just plain old homemade meals. My mother-in-law was recently in the hospital, and one of her sons had a birthday the day she was discharged. It's far, and my husband was heading there, so I quickly baked a cake and sent it with him. It was a box mix, and the frosting was right out of a can; nothing fancy, but it passed for homemade. They gobbled it down and thanked me over and over again. It was so simple yet incredibly appreciated.
5) Yardwork. Mowing, weeding, planting, trimming, raking, etc.
6) Car pool. This does not require a lot of talent, and it can be a huge relief for parents who are pulled in too many directions.
7) Make kids' lunches. A few years ago, a friend of mine had cancer. A group of friends organized meals. As her treatment progressed, we asked what else she needed. The one request was for us to make the kids' lunches. She was just that exhausted. It's a simple chore but such a relief when it's taken care of. It's also a treat for the kids, as there's a change of pace.
8) Carwash -- inside and/or out. A friend's 15-year-old son needed to earn money to help fly in his cousin for a special occasion. He meticulously detailed car interiors and raised the necessary cash.
9) Sewing repairs. School was starting, and I needed to get my daughter's uniform skirt to a seamstress to be taken in, as it was too big. My sister-in-law was visiting from out of state. She looked at it, thought and, before I knew it, had a needle and thread. She simply moved the button. The skirt fits beautifully. This was easy-peasy for her. But for me, it would have meant at least two trips to the seamstress, a couple of fittings and who knows how much cost.
10) Home cleaning or organizing. If a book about tidying can soar to the top of the New York Times best-seller list, a lot of people must share the desire to have a clean, organized home. "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," by Marie Kondo, has specific advice about getting rid of anything that is in the way or doesn't bring joy.
11) Tutoring. What subjects do you enjoy? Kids usually behave better for someone other than their parents, and professional tutors are very expensive.
12) A family recipe treasure-trove. Why not collect recipes from family members -- pictures, too -- and assemble a family cookbook? You can make them by hand or put together a digital collection. Of course, that does cost a few dollars, but it's mostly a labor of love.