Weekend Edition: Happy Mother’s Day

It’s a warm and sunny day here at the Money Mustache Compound, and my little boy and his Mum are outside planting some new plants in an area of the backyard known as the Mother’s Day Garden.

It all started one year when Mrs. M decided to tackle a certain back corner of the yard to make a private oasis. It was Mother’s Day, and as my gift to her I built some raised planter boxes and a curved brick path that winds through the garden. She shaped the land and planted an artistic array of desert-friendly plants which have since grown into a beautiful work of living art.

These are all things that we would have done anyway, since we like gardening, but by making it a Mother’s Day tradition, we bring fun and a feeling of tradition to the event – without necessarily actually buying anything.

This strange purchase-free celebration of holidays comes naturally to me, because I was raised in what I later learned is an odd family that very rarely exchanges gifts on any occasion. It’s a big family with four grown kids and both parents still out there, old and healthy, and we all love each other and get along wonderfully with no politics whatsoever. And yet somehow with all this love and respect, we are hard-pressed to even guess each other’s exact birthdays and we would have no idea what to buy each other if there were some requirement imposed on us to buy “gifts”.

Since nobody told me this was unusual, it became my idea of normal. And it wasn’t until I grew up, went through a few bachelor years, and eventually moved to the United States that I started learning about this interesting consumption/gift pattern that has sprung up around special occasions.

When you’re an alien, you can see the strangeness of a society better than its natives. And what I saw was people driving to a store, purchasing one or more plastic or polished mineral items that each represent destroying a small slice of our shared planet, and handing it to their loved ones at these pre-determined dates. Surprise! I love you! Here’s a part of the planet I wrecked for you, Hooray!!

The giving of these manufactured gifts also represents a sacrifice. The buyer typically puts herself deeper into a hole of debt, ensuring a longer and more precarious lifetime of trying to escape it. And the recipient sacrifices a bit of space in their house to store the usually-unnecessary item until it is eventually discarded.

It all sounds so sad, Mr. Money Mustache! Where has all the love gone? How can we get it back?

The answer lies in your smile and in your hands. From now on, you are officially freed from having to buy people gifts! You can start caring for people you love by making them artistic things from natural materials you find outside (carving, sanding, gathering, arranging). You can DO things for them, like surprising them with a big fancy dinner at home or a day together doing something outside. On your bikes or your feet. You can call them or write a really thoughtful email with lots of pictures, if you’re into writing.

But the bottom line is, you really, really do not have to buy things for people most of the time.

Hosting a birthday party for your little child should not be about having each guest’s parents purchase plastic things wrapped in additional layers of plastic from Target. It should be about giving them some time to run rampant with their friends, sharing some sugary cake, and letting the adults drink plenty of wine and have a good chuckle at their youngsters. Institute a No Gifts policy for your own kids’ birthday parties and encourage your friends to do the same!

At the big gift holidays like Christmas*, make a Gift Ceasefire agreement between all willing adults, and concentrate your efforts only on getting fun (but still thoughtful) presents for the kids, who still benefit a bit from Santa-type magic.

If you’re a wealthy grandparent or a fully grown Mustachian without debts, YOU can afford to buy people gifts, so use your power wisely to get them things that last a lifetime and actually enhance their lives. Like starting a university savings fund for their children or getting them a set of good bikes and a trailer so they can start building a happy bicycle lifestyle.

Don’t be shy. Don’t be afraid to break the consumer tradition. You know it’s the right thing to do, and your family will see the sincerity behind your new traditions and respect you even more for it. You’ll be getting closer to living a true and honest life where time is the greatest gift.

Which brings us back to Mother’s Day. Happy Mother’s Day Mum – we all love you!

 

* Christmas – I still call it that because I’m old-fashioned, even though I don’t know much about the actual religious figures behind the event and I believe in separation of Church and ‘Stash. But you can substitute your own name for the holiday season.

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18 Responses to “Weekend Edition: Happy Mother’s Day”

  1. Bakari Kafele June 2, 2011 at 9:16 pm #

    I tried a no gift policy at my last birthday party.

    In fact, it was capitalized, in bold, and underlined. I said in the invitation, “your gift to me is your presence and participation at my party”

    In addition to the fact that it uses up natural resources, costs my guests money, and is likely to be stuff I don’t really want anyway, I have the additional issue of not literally not having any space for more stuff, because I live in an RV.

    And do you suppose I got anything? Well, at least I’m sure it was a lot less than I would have gotten if I hadn’t said anything.

  2. Madison June 23, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

    Nice post! Hard topic to bring up with some people tho. My bio-dad ignored us growing up, but now try’s to make up for it by buying us huge gifts for birthdays. However, since he didn’t know anything about us, the gifts were laughably strange. I tried to tell him several times to not buy me anything, but he just got mad/offended.

    Now, I thank him for the gifts and promptly donate them or trade them with siblings for things I need. One year I gave my roommate most of my birthday gifts from him LOL

    Been able to convince everyone else to stop the gifts tho, except my mom, but I did finally convince her to give me gift certificates for grocery stores!

  3. Katie October 16, 2011 at 7:17 pm #

    You’d be surprised how difficult it is to stop participating in the culturally-imposed gifting orgy. People think you’re cheap if you don’t want to give gifts at calendar-appointed intervals, and ungrateful or not serious if you ask not to be given gifts.

    Hubby and I have started boycotting Xmas entirely, not just the gifting (I dislike the holiday in general, bah humbug), and people have looked at us like we strangle kittens for fun. My mother is still pissed, and a friend told me that avoiding Xmas is selfish. If selfishness is the price of sanity, then so be it.

    I love giving people gifts, don’t get me wrong. But I want to do it spontaneously, on my own schedule and inspiration. Doing it by the calendar just sucks the joy out of it. And I think it’s more fun to get surprise gifts sprinkled throughout the year than a twice yearly gift binge.

    I do try to give people experiences instead of stuff, or useful things like gift certificates or things that I know they actually need. The odd fun useless thing is ok but we all have too much useless crap in our lives.

  4. James January 11, 2012 at 11:10 am #

    We have fought back the gift disease over the last 8 years with the extended family, dropping from individual gift exchange to trading names, and then last year just dropping the gifts entirely. It is such a relief, and we are trying to work that into the rest of the events as well. It’s tough when our kids get a check every birthday from relatives and we send nothing to theirs, but they know our thoughts and we refuse to be bullied into sending checks just to keep “even”. Thanks for pointing out that we aren’t the odd ducks!

  5. CG January 24, 2012 at 10:33 am #

    I too think this way. I give nice little homemade things or secondhand items all year long to people as I think of things to make or find them at thrifts. I often skip a present on the actual birthday because I don’t like the pressure surrounding it and won’t give them something just for the sake of giving something. Often it seems like this happens because people don’t want to social stigma of arriving to an event without an offering. If a person feels like a relationship will be threatened by not bringing a gift, maybe that isn’t a relationship worth having.
    I personally feel that people who share their time to celebrate with me on my birthday, whether a call,a card or a visit, are giving me the best gift. I love to get presents on my birthday, but only if the person giving them truly put thought into something that they knew I’d appreciate, regardless of cost or state of newness. I’ve gotten my share of gifts that were never used and it is a sad thing! The intention was good but the gift actually hurts both the giver and the recipient.
    I don’t keep a list of people who didn’t fork over a gift to me. And I hope they don’t do the same to me. I never feel the need to gift to someone because they gifted to me. Gifts should be about spontaneity, meaning, meeting a need, and love. They should never be because you feel you have to.
    For everyone who wants to do it this way, just start doing it! You can even reference a spontaneous gift as an “early Christmas/birthday present”. When the actual event arrives and if comments are made you can point back to that gift. After a couple of years people will get your new style.

    • brenda from ar October 18, 2012 at 7:17 am #

      CG – like your spontaneity take.

      We used to do the whole gifty Christmas thing, though at a lower $ range than most folks. After discovering that my Stepmom was starting her shopping in July and paying off the credit card the following June, I started working on the family to nix that trend. It took a while. We worked it down to bringing a white elephant and exchanging through some crazy game which was pretty fun for a while. Now, we just show up with potluck food and some small something to send home with everyone – generally consumable: homemade toffee/fudge/nut brittles, pumpkin bread, homemade jam, something from the garden, craft items, copies of old photos, items to stick in the emergency kit, etc. Now the celebration is more about food and family. The shopping stress and financial stress is GONE! Yay!

      I used to date a guy that would take me hiking for Valentine’s Day – way more memorable than any store-bought gift ever.

  6. Jack Daniel Ciallella August 20, 2012 at 9:52 pm #

    Hey MMM,

    Really enjoying the blog – and thought I might throw this idea out there about gift purchases.

    When I was first born and for most of my life up until teen years, friends and family would purchase savings bonds for me and present them to my parents.

    When I got older, 18-ish, I was presented all these bonds to help with my college debt. It amounted to more than the face value of the bonds themselves and my family was able to purchase these all at a significant discount (50%).

    While I like the idea of setting up a college fund for someone in the future, I was in that particular situation and the “creators” of the fund were able to re-neg on the promise; causing a lot of anger. When you’re headed to a party though, having a bond (like giving cash) in hand is pretty great… I’ve always thought :)

    I’m curious to know if you are aware of any better types of “bonds” out there that are appropriate for gifts?

    - Jack

  7. LT September 14, 2012 at 8:40 am #

    Separation of church and ‘stash….love it!

  8. Kim September 25, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    On the general “avoiding earth-killing gifts” subject, two ideas:
    1. For our son’s 4th birthday we requested guests bring 1 or 2 dollars for his piggy-bank so he could get one big gift. He then also gets the option of getting a used toy from a local consignment store so he gets more bang for his buck. We also did a used-book exchange instead of treat bags so that everyone went home with a book.
    2. For attending other kids parties, one of my favorite gifts is “cookie-in-a-jar”. It’s all the ingredients for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies layered in a mason jar with a nice ribbon on top. It looks nice and includes the bonus of time spent baking with his or her parents.

  9. PFgal December 25, 2012 at 9:40 am #

    While I never spent much money on gifts, several years ago I got frustrated with giving gifts that probably weren’t enjoyed, and that just added the clutter to people’s homes. Instead, I started donating to charities in people’s names. The gifts had extra meaning, because I made them specific to each person. I gave to a disease charity in the name of someone whose daughter suffered from that disease. I donated art supplies to a school in the name of a relative who’s an artist. Things like that. The response was amazing – everyone loved it! This way, my gifts help people, without adding to the clutter or making people feel any sense of obligation. Also, I can give as much or as little as I want – a $10 donation still results in someone getting a card in the mail with info about the donation. As someone who used to work at a nonprofit, I know what a difference it makes when people do this.

  10. Asimov4 January 2, 2013 at 9:46 pm #

    In O. Henry’s classic Christmas story The Gift of the Magi, Della Young sells her most prized possession, her long, beautiful hair, in order to buy her husband, Jim, a Christmas present. The present she chooses is a chain for Jim’s heirloom pocket watch, the only valuable thing he owns. When she presents her gift to Jim, she discovers that he has sold his watch in order to buy a set of ornate combs for her beautiful hair.

  11. Pat February 24, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

    My Dad’s birthday and my step-mom’s birthday were both at the end of May. My birthday present to them each year was to spend the day refurbishing the flower gardens at their town house. My step-Mom and I would visit the local garden center for that year’s annuals, and then it was planting and weeding time. We had a good visit, and once the garden was set up the maintenance was minimal for them the rest of the summer. Much nicer for all of us than just shopping for something they didn’t need.

    • Tyler August 23, 2013 at 10:17 am #

      Great idea, Pat. I did something very similar on Father’s day this year – I went out with my dad to buy vegatable plants for his garden and helped him get the beds ready and planted. It’s something he was going to have to do on his own anyway, so he appreciated the help and company, as well as not having to buy the plants on his own.

  12. Laurie March 2, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

    My family is all about hard core gift giving, even the pets give gifts. They all write Christmas lists for themselves too, (yes, even the grandparents) so there isn’t even any surprise. Booooring! I’m the black sheep because I never look at the lists, never provide a list (they give me gift cards to walmart because no one actually knows what i like), and i buy or make only ONE inexpensive gift per person. Though they all think I’m a cheap skate, I’m happy to report that my one gift almost always ends up being the favorite.

    Now that I have a new son, I’m determined to abandon this gift giving train entirely. No way in hell am I letting him be that materialistic.

  13. Weedy Acres December 19, 2013 at 8:35 am #

    We rotate Christmas gift-giving with my 9 siblings. My husband and I give them the gift of service. We come and visit them for a long weekend and do whatever they need done. We have installed a new vinyl kitchen floor, executed 32 items on a honey-do list, planted a garden, and installed a basement bathroom, among other things. This year we’ll be cleaning out my brother’s basement and replacing his garage door.

    My siblings (and parents) appreciate it much more than buying meaningless trinkets. And we get to spend time with them, which benefits both parties, as we’re spread out all over the country.

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 19, 2013 at 11:17 am #

      Very nice! I love the gift of service.. and I would also like to inquire about getting onto your list of siblings so you can make a stop at my place? :-)

      • Allison December 20, 2013 at 6:45 pm #

        We’ll stop at your place if you stop at ours. :-) Here’s our current project: littlebeau.weebly.com.

  14. Oh Yonghao April 1, 2014 at 3:50 pm #

    Sometimes we use our birthdays or holidays for excuses to spend extra on an item that the other has wanted but hasn’t been able to save up completely, such as the upgrade to a computer, or the sewing machine she’s wanted. Since growing our money mustaches even more we find that there are fewer things which we feel that we need.

    My wife and I have found it harder and harder each year to give each other gifts. The problem is we find no meaning in useless gifts, and generally during the year we get anything that we need when we need it, after a good amount of shopping around, thinking if we need it, and saving up our allowance. This has led us to what we decided for my birthday this year, going out and having sushi. I lived in Taiwan for 6 years and love sushi, you can get $6 all you can eat sushi there. Living in the states I rarely go out for sushi because 1) it’s not as good 2) it’s fucking expensive. As a gift we get to go out on one of these rare occasions and spend time together eating something that reminds us of our future retirement location.

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