The financial perks of not celebrating Christmas
Several Christmases ago, Mike Catania and his brother sat in the kitchen unwrapping a heap of Christmas gifts. "Doesn't this feel like a job?" his brother asked.
"We laughed about it," says Catania, who is chief technology officer at Promotion Code, a coupon site. But the conversation quickly turned serious.
"We were trying to think of ways that we could either meet or exceed some sort of [familial] togetherness without having to buy crap," he says. From that conversation came the idea to skip the classic Christmas and travel together as a family each winter. And thus, a new Catania family tradition was born.
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Since 2013, Catania and his family have swapped the Christmas celebration for a family trip. One year, they took a coach tour through Europe. Another year involved a drive along the California coast. This year's vacation is a Scandinavian cruise, which will include Catania's girlfriend, brother, sister-in-law and parents. Best of all: The cruise, scheduled for February, will cost Catania about what a traditional Christmas would have cost.
"It's right in the middle of what we were spending before," Catania says.
Between the crowded malls, overwrought consumerism and stressful travel days, it's no wonder that some Americans are choosing to dodge Christmas entirely. Some people, such as practicing Jews, don't celebrate the holiday for religious reasons. Others prefer to disengage from family drama and stress. And some are looking to save money.
"Christmas traditions can be pricey, and if you're currently saving up for a big purchase or trying to pay down debts, the holidays can be a major disruption," says Shannyn Allan, a blogger at FrugalBeautiful.com in San Antonio in an email.
Those who skip Christmas blissfully avoid the mad holiday shopping season and get to pocket the nearly $600 that Americans will spend on holiday gifts in 2016. Plus, they can take the opportunity to travel wherever they want, since flying on Christmas day itself offers rock-bottom fare prices, according to CheapAir. And with their wallets still full after the holiday, Christmas-dodgers can cash in on post-Christmas sales, when the malls are less crowded and where the big deals really are.
Another Christmas-dodger is Kim Palacios, executive director of The Give Black Foundation, who chose to avoid the holiday last year. She estimates that she saved thousands of dollars by opting not to fly from San Francisco back home to the East Coast. Those savings included $3,000 in plane tickets for her, her husband and two children, $700 saved on a rental car and $500 saved on other travel-related expenses.
"My kids already have enough stuff. And they don't need more," Palacios wrote in an email. "Kids like opening a bunch of presents but ultimately they are kept happy by playing with very few and very simple toys."
Skipping Christmas, however, didn't mean that Palacios' children woke up on Christmas morning with a lump of coal on their pillows. "On Christmas morning, there were no presents under the tree – there was a note from Santa thanking the kids for being good listeners and telling them he had packed the car and they could go to Disneyland." The family then drove to Southern California for the holiday.
So, if Christmas has you muttering "Bah humbug," here's how to skip out on Santa.
Start small. If the consumerism is what's getting you down on Christmas, talk to friends and family about simply scaling back on gifts. That way, you can tamp down on spending without skipping the holiday traditions.
"This year, my best friend and I agreed on skipping our Christmas gifts (which can get expensive!) and instead, opted to put the cash towards a trip to see each other," wrote Allan of FrugalBeautiful.com. "We live thousands of miles apart, and we're already looking forward to a hiking trip when airfare is cheaper and we don't have to split our time amongst everyone else who needs to catch up during the holidays!"
Talk it over with your family. "Some people have families that wouldn't even care," says Sarah Dale, who is traveling to Thailand this year with her husband instead of celebrating Christmas with her family. "Others would think you were ruining Christmas. You have to decide how to work with your own family."
For Christmas, Dale and her husband, who is a disabled veteran and has trouble sleeping, take the time to relax, rejuvenate and reset. "We need to make decisions to be the healthiest people we can be, and that's the highest priority over pleasing our family members," Dale says.
Just do it. When Christmas is busting your budget and fraying your nerves, it's up to you to start your new holiday tradition.
Says Catania: "A lot of the roadblocks are ones we put on ourselves."