Holiday Spending with the Happy Hour Ladies


Holiday Spending with the Happy Hour Ladies

Today is the last Friday of the month and my regular listeners know that on the last Friday of the month, I host a happy hour on the podcast where I gather great friends with me to drink cheap drinks and talk about money topics.

We have been recording Happy Hours for over four years now, and for four years I’ve wanted to do an episode about holiday spending, but I have consistently thought about it after it was too late. Well not this year. This year as you’re preparing to change over your holiday thoughts from Halloween to Thanksgiving, the Happy Hour ladies and I can be in your ears helping you plan to have a happy and financially healthy holiday spending season. We share our thoughts on holiday spending and give you some practical advice for how not to get carried away this holiday season.

What are we drinking?

Melanie from Dear Debt and Lola Retreat — Pumpkin Beer

Tonya from Budget and the Beach and — Dearly Beloved I Thee Red from Trader Joe’s

Liz, Mrs. Frugalwoods, from — Bota Box Nighthawk Black Red Wine

Shannon —  Bota Box Malbec

Podcast Notes

  • This is the first holiday spending happy hour in four year of podcasting.
  • Every time Shannon thinks to record a holiday spending episode, it is November, but by the time they record and the show airs, it would be after Thanksgiving.
  • Shannon used to spend a lot on the holidays, but not anymore.
  • Gift giving and receiving is not Melanie’s love language.
  • Liz likes to spend money on the holidays, but she doesn’t regret it. The things Liz and her family love about the holidays aren’t that expensive. There are certain recipes they like to make. They always do hors d’oeuvre on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Several years ago, she and Nate decided not to exchange gifts.
  • Liz has a pre-lit, artificial Christmas tree that she bought for about $200. They use the same ornaments every year, and some are hand-me-downs from her parents and in-laws. Her mother-in-law bought them stockings for Christmas with their names embroidered on them.
  • Liz doesn’t buy anything new for decorations, and for their girls, they buy them used gifts. She goes to garage sales in the summer, and she intentionally looks for things she can give her girls as holiday gifts that she knows they will enjoy. She stores them in a box in the basement until she is ready to wrap them. She recently wrote a blog post about her garage sale finds.
  • Last year was the first year their oldest daughter really understood what Christmas was, and they gave her one gift every day of the Christmas week. Rather than her open the gifts all at once, it was really special. They created a little tradition around it and she would play with that toy all day long.
  • This year, Liz is going to buy her daughter a toy guitar, because she has been asking for one. Liz is planning to pay the $20 to buy it new.
  • The year they were engaged and the first year they were married, Liz and her husband exchanged gifts, but they both ended up returning them. He bought her a dress, but it didn’t fit well. She bought him a watch or something and he returned it.
  • They both have very specific likes and dislikes. Neither of them like wasting money and they don’t derive joy from gift giving.
  • Liz and her husband enjoy sharing experiences. Pre-kids, they went out for a nice meal or a special drink on Christmas Eve.
  • Their money is all joint and it didn’t make sense to buy each other something they didn’t want.
  • Melanie has not had a Christmas tree in years. The last time she had one, she was living with her ex in Portland and she was paying off her debt. Her ex got a Christmas tree from a lot on December 24, because the seller abandoned the trees.
  • Her cats would eat it and knock it down, so she doesn’t get one anymore.
  • When they were together, Melanie and her ex did not give each other gifts, they used that money toward travel. Sometimes they would go to the Oregon Coast or San Francisco during Thanksgiving.
  • Shannon was not like this at all. She didn’t grow up with a lot of things under the tree, it just looked like a lot because she was in a family of seven. There was maybe one or two things for each person.
  • Shannon wanted to have a big holiday experience. She bought into all of the things. The Christmas before they had Will, there were a lot of gifts under the tree. Gift giving was one of her love languages. She loved to do that. She didn’t buy things on sale and she overspent.
  • For most of her career in the finance industry, she would get a bonus every February. She would spend a lot of money during the holidays, put it on her credit card, and then pay it off with her bonus.
  • Until Will was five, Shannon overspent on him. Until kids are three or four, they are really clueless as to what the holidays should look like.
  • Your kids expect what you create for them. You as the parent are in charge and you get to choose which traditions you carry forward.
  • Liz’s older daughter remembers a brunch they went to with Santa, and it was really meaningful to her. They want to do that every year now.
  • Liz will not be going to Christmas Eve service with her children again.
  • You can always change the reality. Shannon had created a crazy Christmas reality, and once she started working toward getting more financially healthy, they started to change the conversation with Will.
  • Shannon limited her son to five things on his Christmas list. As he got older, they limited it to a budget.
  • Now that her son is older, they talk more about how much the tree and other things costs.
  • Liz buys evergreen boughs for her house for the scent.
  • Tonya has never been a big fan of Christmas. She likes Thanksgiving and then she can fast forward to New Year’s. She has come to appreciate little things like Christmas lights, fireworks, and holiday open houses where stores have cookies and free wine.
  • Growing up, it was just her and her brother. They were given a lot of gifts and were pretty spoiled. As Tonya got older Christmas became not her favorite. It depended on where she was living and who she was living with if she had a tree or not.
  • Tonya likes poinsettias, but they are poisonous for cats.
  • When Tonya was dating her long-term boyfriend, his family was really big on gift giving. They went to his family’s house near Yosemite and there was an expectation to get gifts.
  • The only presents she really spends on is the family she adopts through an organization. Tonya doesn’t really do anything or buy anything for Christmas.
  • Tonya’s parents give her money for Christmas. Last year, Tonya blew up some pictures for her mom to frame and gave them to her as a gift. It just depends on the year. She and her brother don’t exchange gifts.
  • When Shannon and Bill got married, they had a big spreadsheet to track family gift purchases. It was getting out of control and they were all just exchanging $50 gift cards. Then they decided to only buy gifts for the kids.
  • Why does the gift exchange between adult siblings still happen? About 78 percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Why are we forcing them to buy gifts?
  • Liz’s sister has three kids and they have an iron clad agreement that they will only buy one gift for each kid for Christmas. Liz likes to buy her nieces and nephews a gift and she asks her sister what they would like, so they can enjoy it. It has to be something they really want.
  • Last year, Melanie took her mom to Paso Robles for a wine trip. She used some credit card points for a free hotel and she bought some wine. She likes gifting experiences.
  • Something on Cyber Monday can be a deal, if it is something you have been planning or saving to buy and if you have been watching the price. Buying something just because it is on sale is a big waste of money.
  • Liz tracks what she needs to buy all year long and then will buy big ticket items if it is the lowest price during the holidays. It is still cheaper to buy it used or second hand or not buy it at all.
  • Melanie doesn’t succumb to spending a lot of money on gifts, but she is weak when it comes to anything pumpkin or peppermint. It is seasonal and only one time a year, but she doesn’t need to buy something every time she goes out.
  • Shannon used to have a lot of holiday decor. She downsized and now doesn’t have room for it. She ended up throwing a lot of it out when she got divorced and sold her house.
  • Tonya recommends looking in the area you live for holiday strolls or neighborhoods with lights.
  • Liz buys decor at garage sales. If you have the desire to decorate, or over decorate, for the holidays, go to a garage sale. You can find this stuff at second hand stores from people who have downsized. It is usually barely used, because it only comes out once a year.
  • If holiday decor is important to you, and you need that in your home, budget for it. Try to find a better way to find it cheaper. There is a lot of holiday decor you can buy between Halloween and Christmas. Try to commit to using the stuff year after year.
  • Liz loves watching Christmas movies and reading Christmas books with her kids, but she screens out the ones that focus on gifts.
  • Like Tonya, Liz’s family adopts a family every year and they buy new items for them. She is trying to teach her children generosity and take the focus off the gifts.
  • You set the tone for your kids. Prior to your kids being five years old, you have 100 percent control over their experience of the holidays. They are not going to be upset one way or the other of how it goes down.
  • Allowing your children to have hundreds of dollars of gifts on their lists and not have a conversation is irresponsible. It is unbelievable how quickly kids cycle out of the gifts they wanted so badly.
  • Manage your kids’ expectations. Shannon had a “Santa has a budget” conversation with her son when he was young. She now follows something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read.
  • The want is one big gift worth $200 split between Shannon and Bill. The need is usually underwear, shampoos, deodorant, etc. The wear is usually a sweater or something, and the read is usually a couple of books.
  • It sets a really bad precedent for your kids, if you are getting them everything they want. There is so much that goes into building resilience.
  • Liz’s daughter was given a guitar for Christmas last year, and she broke it because she wasn’t careful. She has to wait until this Christmas to get another one, and to a young child, that is a long time.
  • Not fulfilling their every desire is hard as parents, especially when all of the other kids have $150 shoes, but it sets them up for life later. You cannot control the decisions other parents make for their kids.
  • The answer is not to match your neighbors’ gift giving for your kid, especially if it is going to put you in a financially challenging place. It will set your kids up for keeping up with the Jones’.
  • Shannon and her ex spend Christmas Day as a family with their son. They go into the city for Children’s Church, because Will still likes it. They then go out for dinner. They have a tradition they keep and they like it.
  • Time with your kids is the greatest gift. Being focused and present is what they will remember when they are older.
  • Stop overspending on things when you don’t have the money. Shannon has been on the spending side and the spending less side and she feels more joy when there are less gifts, because she knows they are not sitting on her credit card.
  • Find creative ways to enjoy the holidays without spending money. There are so many other things happening around the holidays that you can focus your time and energy on.
  • Try to avoid debt and know that time is the most precious gift we can give people. If you need to buy something, look at coupons online or Ebates (now called Rakuten) and try to start the year without debt.
  • Have a cash budget and make it work. Save money every month into a holiday fund, if that is what you value. Spend your money on the things you value.
  • The beginning of the year is when a lot of layoffs happen. Another reason to avoid debt is job security. Spend responsibly, because it is the best gift you can give yourself this holiday season.
  • Liz sends Christmas cards every year. She takes the pictures herself and she gets a business postcard, not the Christmas postcard, from Vistaprint. Remove all of the sale language. There is no envelope and the postage is less expensive. Remember that people will eventually put this in the trash.
  • Shannon saves money by not sending Christmas cards.

TAKEAWAY: My biggest takeaway, as a recovering holiday spender, is that truly the greatest gift of the holiday season is quality time with your loved ones. Focusing on each other and not the gifts, will help you prioritize your spending this holiday season.

If you want to work with my team at the Financial Gym and learn more about how you can prepare and plan for your holiday spending, remember that Martinis and Your Money Listeners get 15% off Financial Gym services. My financial trainers have seen it all. No matter where you’re starting, we have the tools and resources to get you where you want to go. So head over to, or send friends to,

If you have any topics you would like for us to talk about during happy hour, please feel free to email me at or tweet to me at blonde_finance or join the private martinis and your money Facebook group and let us know. Until next time, take care!!

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