41 comments

Happy Thanksgiving – And Buy Nothing Day! (and Month?)

MMM-MMM!! I sure hope your Thanksgiving dinner was as delicious as mine. You can see my plate right over there for comparison. Well, to be honest, that was just my first of several plates of deliciousness.

Great food, great times with family, and… a trip out to the shopping mall the next day or even in the middle of the night!?

I’ll have to admit I only came across the concept of “Black Friday” and the associated shopping tradition fairly recently. So I was able to see it for the bizarre ritual that it is.

For those not steeped in this US tradition, the day after the Thanksgiving holiday is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year, and people drive to the stores in droves in hopes of buying themselves some things, hopefully at some sort of sale or discount price. The fad has become so extreme that it causes traffic jams, lineups outside of stores at 4:00 AM, and even stampedes and violence as people rush through the store entrance to get the limited-availability specials.

The shopping is partly caused by the approach of “Christmas” (a consumer/shopping event which happens to be named after a major religious holiday), and partly caused by its own existence (people hear that Black Friday is a big shopping day, so they go out and shop, which makes it an even bigger shopping day, which spreads the trend further).

As a reaction to this cultural phenomenon, a smaller movement has sprung up called “Buy Nothing Day”. The idea is that you deliberately stay home on the day after Thanksgiving, and don’t buy anything at all. This obviously works well for me – in fact, I’ve never personally been to ANY store on Black Friday.. because I usually have plenty of food in the house left over from Thanksgiving dinner and thus there is no reason to leave the house to visit a store. If I did happen to actually need something, like a new pair of socks or a frying pan, I would certainly not want to go to the store when everyone else was there, since it would be inefficient to deal with the crowd.

So I just thought we could all celebrate Buy Nothing Day together, and have a Leftover Turkey Sandwich and a cup of tea together today and tomorrow, while we reflect on how crowded the roads and stores must be for our less-fortunate countrymen.

In fact, if you are willing to get really extreme with me, you should consider this wise note that my Dad recently sent out to his four grown kids. Read carefully, for this man is effectively Grandpa Mustache to you:

Howdy all…

Since for me a simpler Christmas is a grander Christmas, I’m planning to follow this procedure:

No gifts given to adults or teens (for those who feel they simply must give to me, I suggest a small comestible – preferably home-made! Or a donation to a charity).

Grandpa will be giving to children under twelve.

This helps to avoid stressful shopping and allows folks to focus dollars where really needed.

The best present for me is getting together with you.

Merry (and simple) Christmas!

Dad

Isn’t that great? With just one simple email, a senior member of a family can start a chain-reaction of holiday relaxation, where everyone is relieved of the pressure of buying things for each other just because it happens to be a certain time of the year.

Some of you might love the holiday gift-buying tradition and not be ready to give it up.. but others might be carrying on just because of perceived social or family pressure. And many people act on this pressure even when they are drastically unqualified to be buying expensive things for other people – for example, folks who still have car or credit card or student loan debt that hasn’t been paid off.

My advice to everyone who is willing to try it is: try sending a Grandpa Money Mustache email of your own out this week. Let everyone off the hook for buying you gifts. You might find, as my Dad did, that everyone rushes back with a chorus of emails of agreement, and that they are happy to just spend time together, completely independent of buying and exchanging “gifts”.

Let’s shut down the entire retail sector for the holiday season. Leave the roads and the parking lots empty, and fill up the sidewalks and the public parks and the hiking paths instead. Make your holiday decorations out of branches from your own trees and gardens, and make a point of donating whatever time and money you can spare to help someone else.  I can guarantee most people won’t follow this advice, but those of us who do will have the best holiday season, all without the help of any markdowns or discounts or sales!

  • Gorm November 25, 2011, 4:32 am

    I just stumbled upon an article in the Danish news about Black Friday… and I’m appalled. I’m horrified! It’s gross. It’s mindless. It’s immoral. And it’s idiotic. I really feel disgusted by it.

    Love the email from your father though! What a role model.

    I’ll be celebrating xmas in India with my mother this year, so I’m definitely in on the buy nothing month. :-)

    Reply
    • Andy December 3, 2013, 2:29 am

      That is an epic letter from Grandpa MM! We’ve managed to negotiate a secret Santa in our family this year which reduces the amount of tat everyone has to buy and makes it much more likely you’ll get something you actually want (or even dare i say need?!)

      This combined with my strategy for saving up things that you need instead of buying them (as detailed here: http://thefirestarter.co.uk/frugal-christmas-presents-system-avoid-waste/ ) should avoid as much waste as possible. It does of course mean you sometimes end up with rather boring but needed presents (socks!)

      P.s. Hope you don’t mind me posting the link, but remove it from the comment if so.

      Happpy Xmas! :)

      Reply
  • rjack November 25, 2011, 6:03 am

    My parents used to compromise and just give every child a check for the same amount each year.

    Reply
  • Matt November 25, 2011, 8:25 am

    When I was biking around the neighborhood (near the mall) I saw a line of people that must have been close to 200-300 full of people… and it was only 8 pm (might have been earlier)!. If i have to stay up all night in the cold to save thirty bucks for an item I most likely don’t need, I’m out. If it’s something I really want I’ll pay the extra cash, or find it for an even better price online from the comfort of a lazy-boy with an Irish coffee in hand.

    Reply
  • poorplayer November 25, 2011, 8:41 am

    When the kids were youngsters we started saving in a Christmas Club account, and during Christmas we spent only what was in the account (cash only). Everything was simple and homemade items were treasured. One year we did a “service Christmas,” where we gave each other services on index cards (one backrub, two lawn mowings) to be redeemed when necessary. Now that the kids are grown, we limit exchanges from nothing to $25. And our Christmas Club account? Now it goes into the ‘stash! Happy Buy Nothing Day!

    Reply
  • Chris November 25, 2011, 9:50 am

    Like it. My in-laws send a box of random “stuff” every year for Christmas. I secretly cringe every time the box comes in the mail, because I know its mostly stuff I won’t use or keep and they just wasted money on us. While I deeply appreciate the thought, I’ve been telling family this year that I don’t want gifts for Christmas. Better yet, if they must give me something, make it homemade. How do we get away from this tradition of buying for eachother that has become so deeply ingrained in our society? Christmas, for most, seems to have become a stressfull and costly time of year, because of the gift buying. Happy Thanksgiving (belated) everyone!

    Reply
  • Stashette November 25, 2011, 10:16 am

    Only once have I gone shopping on Black Friday, around 10 in the morning, because my out of town guests really wanted to go shopping. I found some items that i wanted, but the check out line wrapped all the way around the store. It was a nightmare, so I left the store and have never gone shopping on Black Friday again.

    I’ve been pushing my family to go light on the gifts for years now, but to no success. Now our church is doing this thing called “Advent Conspiracy” which is trying to take the commercialism out of Christmas. Two of the tenets: Spend Less (on stuff) and Give More (more emotional value that is) can relate to Christmas even in more secular households.

    I hope this year will be different, with more time spent together and less STUFF.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Reply
  • Rita Vail November 25, 2011, 11:13 am

    My daughter has a small store that stocks clothing and gifts mead from natural materials, from free-trade artisans and local artists. I have other friends who are struggling with their small stores. And our little city depends on their taxes for basic services (fire, police, schools, recycling, water, etc).

    Shopping is a political act, not a crime.

    Reply
    • Jeff November 28, 2011, 11:39 am

      Why should schools and fire departments depend on people to buy crap they don’t need? What kind of politics is that?

      Reply
  • Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple November 25, 2011, 11:21 am

    I love that advice! And I hate Black Friday. I admit to not being a shopper.

    I’ve tried to get my mother to cut back on Christmas for years. She says she will and then doesn’t. As she’s gotten older and ill, she finally has cut way back because she doesn’t have the energy to shop.

    I have to admit, I will probably go to the grocery store today to buy a pumpkin pie. I have been craving one and did not get one for Thanksgiving.

    Having our families be far away is somewhat helpful for not buying too much. My parents are thrilled with a fruit/cheese/chocolate basket from Costco. I tried it out last year and my step-dad went CRAZY over the pears.

    Reply
  • Danielle November 25, 2011, 11:32 am

    My family has gone to the diy/activity route. My dad and I are making the frame for an ottoman, and my mom and will upholster it. I already wanted the ottoman for my apartment and will be getting rid of a coffee table (given to me by a coworker) that attracts clutter. For other gift-giving throughout the year my mom and I take turns buying tickets to plays or concerts we want to see.

    With friends, we’ll all do a potluck and skip gifts altogether.

    Reply
  • LadyMaier November 25, 2011, 11:32 am

    I hate black Friday. I hate the concept and all of the hoopla surrounding it. I huddle inside with my leftovers and enjoy hanging out with my family. Not only do I dig the Buy Nothing Day, I’m celebrating my own DO NOTHING Day: no shopping, cleaning, Christmas decorating, ZIPPY! At most I’ll reheat some leftovers in the microwave, and perhaps take a bike ride this afternoon to burn off the calories (61 degrees in DC!).

    This year we’ve set a budget for ourselves of $300 for anything having to do with Christmas: gifts for our kids, nieces and nephews, home-designed Christmas cards (which this year will be postcards – cheaper printing and postage), and homemade care packages (plus shipping) to our parents and extended family: cookies, fruitcake, nuts, and marmalade. I’m also determined to not buy any decorations, lights, wrapping paper, or bows this year….we have enough residuals from years past for the next 5 Christmases.

    I realize that $300 for all of Christmas is still quite substantial, but to me it feels reasonable, especially in comparison to our past shopping-crimes involving over-spending and credit cards . Progress is progress, and this year that $300 is all cash, and every nickel is being accounted for.

    Reply
  • Charles R November 25, 2011, 11:46 am

    People are nuts! I just saw this article on Yahoo:

    http://news.yahoo.com/woman-pepper-sprays-other-black-friday-shoppers-110009506.html

    So I’d stay home just for my own safety, even without the benefit of not wasting money on crap I don’t need…

    Reply
    • Kathy P. November 25, 2011, 1:13 pm

      Just wait for it…one year soon, I’m sure some moron will show up with a gun. Pepper spray is just so…Occupy.

      Reply
    • Gorm November 25, 2011, 1:55 pm

      hahaha what the hell? It seems so surreal to me. If I was studying anthropology I’d consider traveling to US just to witness this insanity.

      Reply
  • Mr. Frugal Toque November 25, 2011, 12:14 pm

    It’s worth pointing out that you’ll be avoiding the pepper spray from those “competitive shoppers”.
    When I was growing up, the cut-off age for receiving gifts was 16. Half the time, the stuff you got was clothes, so it was a way of (sort of) having the older people socialize the cost of the younger people’s children.
    We’ve been slowly modifying Christmas at home. The kids still gets gifts, but not so many. Most of my effort goes into the pounding of schnitzel, the manufacture of noodles and the laying out a complicated, age-appropriate treasure hunt for each kid.

    Reply
  • Valerie November 25, 2011, 12:46 pm

    Happy Buy Nothing Day, Mr MM and family!

    As you know, it’s Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) that we Canadians like to waste our money on, although this year the retailers have jumped on the Black Friday bandwagon as well.

    I have heard stories in the past from friends whose co-workers have driven to US border towns late at night to hit the stores that open at midnight for Black Friday. (In London we’re an hour from Michigan, and 2 hours or so to Buffalo.) Then they shop til 6am and drive home to be at work in the morning with no sleep. So, it’s not only American’s who’ve lost their retail minds!

    Years ago I eschewed the insanity of boxing day sales – long before I even recognized the wisdom of mustachian frugality. I had done it for a couple of years in my early twenties, but then quickly recognized the insanity and would politely bow out when friends and family invited me to go shop with them. I avoided the urge to call them morons, but I simply couldn’t imagine a worse way to spend a holiday! Fighting for a parking spot or circling the parking lot endlessly, all to fight my way through ransacked bins of shit that I really don’t need. Then stand in line for 20 minutes at each store to spend my hard earned money. Really?
    Dumb-asses.

    My extended family has always kept the gift-giving to a minimum. We draw names to buy for a niece or nephew, and pitch in to get something thoughtful (hopefully) for my parents and that was it. The adult gift exchange was cancelled many years ago through mutual agreement. Less stress. More enjoyment.

    Reply
    • MMM November 25, 2011, 4:53 pm

      Heheh.. I like your phrase “Ransacked bins of shit”… sounds like it would make an excellent Death Metal song.

      Reply
  • firefighterjeff November 25, 2011, 2:01 pm

    Black Friday and mall shopping in general has to be a special category of hell reserved for people like us. The thought of standing in line for hours and having someone in your way constantly while you try to walk, after being tied up in a traffic jam to get there… I can’t think of a worse way to spend any day of the year.

    Reply
  • Berta November 25, 2011, 3:17 pm

    I might get tomatoes thrown at me but I did get a Black Friday item. Usually I am part of Buy Nothing Day. Costco had a much needed hard drive. I wanted to get it online but unavailable. So my husband went out golfing & I asked him to stop by if his life wasn’t in danger ;) He was able to get it, get out & go golf.

    Our family & old friends are on the other end of the state so we don’t see each other much. I consider getting together with them at Christmas the best present. I don’t like to receive stuff that will end up as clutter so I don’t like to give it either. I usually make toffee & cookies for everyone & they seem to love that. We don’t have kids & our nieces & nephews get enough stuff from their parents that they don’t even notice that we didn’t give them some toy they’ll break in a few days.

    Reply
  • Mr.CheapskateGoatee November 25, 2011, 3:28 pm

    Thank you everyone,

    Especially MMM for keeping the momentum of this lifestyle alive. (Also, thank you for this website!) It is this kind of Black Friday Consumer over-consumption that is what’s wrong with our country. However, with all of the minimalist changes I have been making to my life, I fear my wife thinks that I am now a Money Nazi. I am still working on her though and I feel she will come along eventually.

    I don’t think that many people can deny the happiness of a simple lifestyle based upon sound judgment and respect for knowledge and the environment. I also want to say Happy Holidays to all; and thank you for keeping the sanity, if only there were enough to go around ;)

    Reply
  • Betsy November 27, 2011, 10:45 am

    I definitely agree with your Dad’s Christmas practice — my family has been successfully following the rule of only buying gifts for the children for several years.
    And as far as Black Friday, I refuse to go anywhere near shopping areas the day after Thanksgiving.
    But I do wonder what boycotting all shopping, especially local small businesses…what is the impact to our economy and to people whose livelihood depends on selling their goods to us? I realize that eventually the market would have to shift away from useless items that no one needs to goods and services we need, but what happens to the hundreds of thousands of families in the meantime? This question isn’t causing me to run out and buy anything I don’t need, don’t me wrong. I’m just wondering about the effect on the economy and if anyone has any thoughts on that. Thanks for the great blogs MMM, I really enjoy them.

    Reply
  • Kevin M November 28, 2011, 8:51 am

    Your dad is wise…our family has been doing gifts for just the kids for a few years. We play rob your neighbor with small wrapped gifts so the adults can get their fix.

    I just don’t get why people continue going to the stores on BF. Most of the stuff is online for the same “low, low price”. A few years ago, I bought my TV online on Thanksgiving night (early on BF morning) while people froze their butts off camping out in front of Best Buy.

    Reply
  • CeridianMN November 28, 2011, 9:27 am

    I have to admit to my second Black Friday trip in around 15 years this year. I’ve been eying the Kindle 3G keyboard for almost a year and a hlaf now. I saw the Target Black Friday special for $85 and missed the Best Buy three days leading up to Black Friday for $90. (I would have spent $5 to skip BF.) I know my reading would be back up where I wish it was with an eReader, and the free 3G connectivity for the experimental browser is going to work well for me in some situations. (No smartphones here, we have an extra smart $40 a month of no dual data plans instead.) On Saturday I finally got my library card updated to the local area, instead of the one we lived near 6 years ago. Now I’ll be using the e-book lending from the library, and finally getting back into reading due to always having books with me. Of course, the ebook collection will probably take another 2+ years to build to where I’ll have a backlog.

    Outside of that I agree with the post. I went because I don’t mind the crowds and felt the time wasn’t wasted. I did some catch up magazine reading while waiting in lines. I would have been to bed about an hour earlier had I been home, maybe 1.5, I saved $50 over current prices for an item I have been itching to get for almost two years. Cost/benefit finally tipped for me on an item that has already been used for it’s intended purpose.

    Christmas in general is being done with homemade gift baskets this year. We are giving different jars of foodstuffs, layered recapies for soups and desserts mostly. One side of the family has stopped doing extended family giving as of two years back, the other side never really did. We’ve toyed with trying to get the brothers & sisters to agree to dropping gift giving, but have run into trouble with compliance. Multiple people in both families express their love by gift giving and have not found another way yet to do so. We have seen everything toned down though, so that’s good. We’re always telling people how much our kids do not need toys, and this year they only got 2 toys each. (It has been as high as 6-8 within the last three years.)

    On a side note, how many people do you think are buying gifts for others during these mad Black Friday sales? This time around I wasn’t, but last time (7 years ago?) I was. From hearing conversations around me most people were trying to get the deals for themselves, not others.

    Reply
  • Sarah November 28, 2011, 5:08 pm

    I am curious what everyone’s definition of “children” includes? My extended family and I have a “gifts for children only” rule as well (which works out awesome for them because I’m the only with no kids, but whatever). My oldest nephew is now married, in college, and expecting his first child… everyone else in the family still treats him (and his wife) like kids, but I think if you’re old enough to procreate you’re too old for me to have to subsidize your life. Thoughts?

    Reply
  • Jane December 1, 2011, 12:46 pm

    My family has always celebrated xmas and given gifts, but the emphasis is always spending time together as a family, not on the loot. We often find really thoughtful small gifts that fit perfectly with the recipient. Rarely bought are big expensive “anonymous” type gifts, of the sort that are generally sought after on Black Friday. I have no desire to engage in that madness, but if I do take the time to do some shopping in the weekend after TG, I try to do it at small local businesses so that at least I’m putting my money where it will most benefit my community. Certainly my approach is not extreme, but at least I feel it’s relatively sane.

    Reply
  • CG December 6, 2011, 12:49 pm

    Our family doesn’t celebrate Christmas but my hubby usually does go out on BF. Not everyone buys junk they don’t need on BF. This year my hubby came home with a down alternative comforter and stainless steel pans that were 90% off. Those two items had been on my list for over two years as I waited for a deal and made do with actual junk pans and a too thin, holey quilt.
    Even though we don’t participate in the seasonal festivities, I absolutely agree with the sentiment of getting the holiday back to enjoying the day and the people and not about all the stuff you’re giving and getting.
    The very fact that, to be well mannered, you have to send an announcement out that you aren’t giving out gifts is a testament to how far gone the season is. No one should ever assume they’re getting a gift from anyone or be offended when they don’t get one. A gift is free, given out of love and with no strings or need for reciprocity required.

    Reply
  • Des December 7, 2011, 5:04 pm

    I don’t get the “only buy gifts for kids” thing. If you’re not into giving gifts, cool, but then why do so for the kids? Aren’t you just teaching them that xmas is about getting stuff? Or, is it just because kids are easier to buy for?

    I would totally be down for a “buy nothing” Christmas with my family, but I can’t think of any logical reason the children shouldn’t be included in that. Are we placating them with presents because no one wants to hear the whining that would occur without them? Something seems off…

    Reply
    • Mrs. Money Mustache December 9, 2011, 9:12 am

      Great question! I started writing a response and it turned into an entire post, so I think I will write something up about this… stay tuned!

      Reply
      • Heath May 17, 2012, 8:38 am

        I would love to read that post Mrs. Money Mustache! I always enjoy your articles, as they give me a good source of ‘persuasive material’ to share with my wife :-)

        Gift-giving on very specific holidays always seemed ridiculous to me (even as a kid). But my wife is VERY into the whole Christmas and birthday rituals. I think that this year, I will appeal to the highest authorities (i.e. grandparents) and see if I can’t convince THEM to disseminate a letter similar to MMM’s dad! I think that might be more effective, and have less potential backlash.

        Reply
  • e November 17, 2012, 3:06 pm

    Ok, so I admit I shop on Black Friday, but I do it circa 1600. My family has the tradition of heading to our local Renaissance Faire on that day. It is so empty! (maybe everyone is at the mall?) We get great discounts, don’t have to fight crowds, support small artisans and get small, unique gifts for the kids all while having a great time. We’ve scaled back Christmas to a small game of man/woman gifts, but I think this year is the first the whole family will go completely gift free, except for small children. Instead we will be donating to local organizations the price of what we would have spent.

    Reply
  • Laura@ LifeWeLive4 November 18, 2012, 2:36 pm

    FYI I have become obsessed slightly with your blog. Reading every entry from the start. I love that I came to this post today. The whole Fam swiftly got a text linked to your post = no adult gifts this year. Thank you for the swift kick in the butt to be frugally awesome!
    Laura @ LifeWeLive4

    Reply
  • Rob aka Captain and Mrs Slow March 29, 2013, 2:25 pm

    For me the very best gift is a home made card, store boughten cards get thrown out after a day two, on the other hand I keep my hand made cards for years!!!!!!

    Nothing makes my day like a hand made gift

    Reply
  • Tara October 23, 2013, 12:43 pm

    Have you heard of Reverend Billy? He does a big parade on Black Friday in NYC every year. They did a documentary about it called What Would Jesus Buy which is interesting.

    Reply
  • Elaine December 2, 2013, 8:20 am

    Those are some nice looking sweet potato fries you’ve got there.

    Reply
  • Abbie June 9, 2014, 1:13 am

    My Mum’s side of the family have had a “Recycled Christmas” for the last 5 years or so. We have a $10 limit to spend on each person, and presents can be bought from thrift shops, yard sales. or re-gifted unwanted presents that you have received. Or homemade presents. I love it, as even at the young age of 26 I am sick of how commercial Christmas is, and having that pressure to try and buy things that other people like, and trying to look happy with some of the presents that you receive. With our Recycled Christmas you can often buy some great things for $10, but it doesn’t even matter if people don’t like their presents – me and my brother typically buy each other joke presents anyway, and then you can sell what you don’t want at a yard sale or donate it back to a thrift shop. So there is no waste anyway, and we all have a lot of fun and end up with some great stuff for no money at all! And besides, it’s a great excuse to go to yard sales every weekend leading up to Christmas!

    Reply
  • Josh June 15, 2014, 9:52 pm

    This past thanksgiving i found myself alone at night when the black Friday rush was about to start. My wife had to work. I decided to go out and experience it for the first time. I didn’t buy any gifts or items for myself. I bought a few videogames marked down very low and then i sold all of them on Amazon for a nice profit that i used to buy a nice simple gift for my wife.

    Reply
  • MJB November 17, 2014, 11:25 am

    I’m wondering a couple of things: 1.) How to deal with birthdays outside the immediate family, for kids especially (e.g., nephews and nieces). and 2.) Did Mrs. MM ever post on the idea behind including kids in gift-giving holidays, as the exception? We’ve chosen to give our kids 3 gifts each for x-mas this year: one non-plastic, pre-used toy, one book, and one article of lightly-used clothing.

    Reply
  • John G December 2, 2014, 2:34 pm

    I started following this blog about 3 months ago and feel like I had a great Black Friday/weekend shopping experience! What did I buy? On Thursday, a lawnmower from Sears (online) at $200 off for our condo association, to replace the $4,000 per year landscaping charge. We can mow our own grass, thank you. On Friday morning, we bought $300 worth of Target gift cards for $270, since that’s where we’ve started doing much of our grocery shopping, saving about $50-100 per week and now a bonus Black-Friday 10% more off. On Saturday, I bought a bike lock that dropped to $35 on Amazon so I can bike more places, including Target. (Now I’ve got to look into the trailer.) And on cyber Monday, I made my best purchase yet–a $160 early cancellation fee from DirecTV to get out of contract. Now that we’ve acquired a Roku and the $8/month Netflix subscription, that’s a savings of over $100 per month going forward! All in all, a successful “shopping” weekend. Thanks for all the great advice on this blog–it really helps.

    Reply
  • Greg C December 7, 2014, 11:06 pm

    It’s crazy that not spending shitloads of money for Christmas is a novel and fun idea! I’m totally on board with this craziness. My lady and I went to the craft store this weekend and bought the fixings to make some bags & tags that will be stuffed with homemade banana bread, baked nuts and other goodies. The bags came out really awesome, lots of fun drawings and stenciling and stuff. She’s an ICU nurse and I’m a mortgage banker, so we can definitely afford to make our loved ones’ retail dreams come true this year, but instead we’re going to learn some new skills and bake delicious stuff for the next few weeks till the fat man comes down the chimney. Looking forward to a homemade Christmas this year and a ton of great quality time for the two of us in the meantime.

    Reply

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