Is it wrong to be frugal when spending for the holidays?

Will Rogers, the American humorist and screen legend once said, “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.” We think this observation is a good one, especially when it comes to evaluating your credit card debt this holiday season. Let’s be real: sometimes holiday spending is excessive. So is it wrong to be frugal for the holidays?

Avoid social pressure

Spending money you don’t have during the holidays is never a good idea. But extravagance can be particularly troublesome if social pressure is compelling you to ignore the one gift you should be giving yourself every year: an honest holiday budget that can get you through the season debt-free.

According to 61 per cent of Canadians, the holiday season is “the most stressful time of year financially.” Feeling the stress of what other people think of you and the gifts you buy can only make things worse. We liken this to what Shannon Lee Simmons, author of Worry-Free Money, calls “unhappy spending” and the endless comparing yourself to others, “the Beyoncé factor”. Unhealthy comparisons and feelings of failure are especially true during the holiday season.

It’s no secret that gift giving can be a social contest. Are you buying presents for people at work? Your kids’ teachers? Your neighbours who live three doors down? These can be very nice gestures. But ask yourself: who are you really buying for? Them or yourself? If you had to give the gift anonymously, would you still be buying it?

For an interesting point of view on gift etiquette, here’s one on “gracious gift giving” from

Rather than thinking about what other people are doing, try to do the best you can with your own holiday budget.

Don’t be cheap, be frugal!

One common misconception is that being frugal is the same as being cheap. Nothing could be further from the truth. Frugality isn’t just about your wallet. Believe it or not, you can find joy and freedom in living a frugal lifestyle. lists seven hidden benefits of frugality that go beyond living a debt-free lifestyle.

But this doesn’t change the fact that frugality isn’t often associated with the generosity of the holiday season. So let’s be clear: frugality isn’t about seeking the lowest possible price, at whatever the cost to your friends, family or sanity. It’s about getting the most out of your money by doing your homework, and being fully conscious of what, how and why you are spending your money. This means that every gift should undergo a process: comparison shop, read customer reviews and take advantage of a store’s price matching policies.

Have you heard some of these tips before? That’s because it’s called mindful spending. Read our blog post about “mindful money” for a list of helpful spending tips to keep in mind throughout the year.

If things are particularly tight this year, don’t be afraid to open up to your friends and family about your worries.

If you aren’t able to meet certain expectations, share your concerns. Secret Santas, buying gifts only for the kids, contributing to the inevitable holiday feast are all affordable ways you can give without piling on credit card debt. Chances are you are not the only one with holiday spending stress!

Know who you are buying for

Being frugal means making informed decisions. One of the quickest ways to increase holiday spending stress is by going to the mall (parking is a nightmare), wandering around aimlessly (in a heavy winter coat), not knowing what you want to buy. The sheer misery of this scenario is enough to push the most rational spender into buying whatever, at whatever the cost. Don’t do it!

Instead, take the time to think about what the recipient would truly appreciate. Brainstorm within a set budget amount. Your holiday budget should include a column for a variety of ideas that you can mull over.

Once you have a good idea of what you want to buy, internet shopping can be a lifesaver — a very modern way for reducing stress. If you’re making a trip to the store, do an inventory check to make sure the item is in stock or call ahead.

Still stuck? If you’re wondering what gifts to get for your kids, or your friends’ kids, try discussing the popular “4 gift rule”. gives a variety of variations on the “4 gift rule” for kids of different ages to avoid overspending.

Gifts of time and charity

Are you buying for someone who already has lots of stuff in their life? Giving the gift of time can be a very thoughtful and affordable way to help them out. Time is precious: if you have a friend who is moving, in need of a babysitter, or who is simply over-worked and over-stressed, write them a card and make your time official. Make them an amazing meal one evening. Organize a get-together with your friends. The ideas are endless.

For more inspiration about gifting experiences instead of stuff, read this post full of ideas at

Another idea we love is giving your friends and family the opportunity to participate in an act of charity. But be careful. It’s important the charity speaks to the recipient and their values. Again, do your research to best match the organization with what they really care about. Ideally, it should be a cause or an organization that’s already on their radar. If you’re able to hone in on your loved ones’ sense of humanity, this is a wonderful thing.

We are always interested in tips and advice for frugal spending, especially during the holidays. Connect with us on Twitter and Facebook #HolidaySpending #LeaveDebtBehind