Mr. Frugalwoods and I celebrated our 7th anniversary this week and I thought you might like to know what we got for each other. Try to contain yourself: it was nothing. Yep, that’s right, absolutely zilch. We’ve never been hot on gifts for one another and now that’s more true than ever as our relationship matures and frugality blissfully permeates our lives.
I know that gift giving is significant for some couples and, I certainly won’t judge if it’s meaningful to you. Early on in our relationship, identifying the root reason behind gift giving was eye-opening for us. We realized that we were giving gifts to each other mostly because we thought we should. We viewed gift-giving as a cultural norm and we were adhering to it without considering whether or not it was something we actually wanted to do. Calling into question every instance of “expected” spending has caused us to live much richer, fuller lives devoid of doing things just because everyone else does or because we think we should.
To us, there’s no point in buying things we don’t need in order to celebrate a day that’s about love and commitment–and not remotely about stuff. And it’s not just about the money we save, it’s also the time we save and the anxiety and stress we avoid. I can’t tell you how many people have told me they fret over what to buy their spouses/partners for every birthday, anniversary, and groundhog day. That pressure to find the perfect gift is absent from our lives, which is honestly quite liberating. It’s nice to know that Mr. FW isn’t waiting with baited breath for me to deliver an ideal trinket, and vice versa. I never want to be judged on my abilities as a consumer. First of all, I’m a poor one and second of all, what a waste!
It’s What You Do Every Day
For Mr. FW and me, buying each other gifts doesn’t even cross our minds anymore, but we discussed and agreed upon this approach years ago. We both came to the conclusion that we didn’t want the other person to throw away money on something we probably didn’t need in the first place.
I feel it’s prudent to point out that I don’t recommend entering into a gift-free zone unilaterally. You’ll want to ensure both members of the partnership are fully bought into the idea and looking forward to the prospect of not worrying about buying gifts.
The gestures of affection and respect that Mr. FW and I demonstrate for each other on a daily basis are far more valuable to us than a bouquet of flowers. I’d much rather have my wonderful Mr. FW cook me dinner every night and ensure that I have food for my lunches as opposed to some piece of jewelry he just went out and bought. It’s a lot more difficult to consistently commit acts of love than it is to fork over money for an object someone else made.
Sidenote About How I’m Not Anti-Gift
I’m not anti-gift (I swear!) and we do enjoy giving gifts to our family members. But for the two of us in our frugal love cocoon, gifts are as foreign and useless as a Rolex. I’ll also note that we frugalize our gift giving to family and friends by redeeming Amazon.com credit card rewards points for Amazon merchandise, re-gifting when appropriate, making homemade gifts (such as banana bread), and using gift cards we’ve received to buy gifts for other people.
By employing these methods, we spent a whopping $0 on gifts for 13 people last Christmas. It pays to save your gift cards! There’s very little that Mr. FW and I want for ourselves, so we’re happy to pass along gifts to people who will appreciate them rather than have them collect dust in our basement.
Celebrations Without Gifts (they’re possible)
This isn’t to say we don’t acknowledge and celebrate the joys of our anniversary and the milestone it marks, we just don’t see the need to spend money in order to do so. Our culture conflates money with emotion, power, success, and respect when in reality, it’s a completely abstract thing. Spending money doesn’t inherently indicate that we love each other, nor does it illustrate that we’ll care for one another or work together towards our mutual goals.
For us, money is an unemotional tool to be deployed when we need it: for food, shelter, Frugal Hound kibble, and the pursuit of our early retirement dreams. Money isn’t a substitute for a genuine, deep relationship and it won’t heal a fissure in a marriage. It’s a balm, and a poor one at that.
There’s No Gift Police (that I know of… )
There’s no law saying you need to give gifts for an anniversary–it’s merely a social convention. Recognizing the distinction between these two states–requirements vs. expectations–is a key milestone on the road to frugal weirdo status. Once we started spending money only on the things we actually care about, we started spending a whole lot less money. I guarantee you no one gives a fig whether or not we give each other gifts and, if they do, then I refer myself to my frugal weirdo rule #1: don’t waste time caring about what other people think.
Gifts are a status symbol and I know that for some folks, showing off the gifts they receive from their partner is a way of authenticating how much they’re loved. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just important to recognize it for what it is–an opportunity to impress others, not necessarily an opportunity to substantiate love.
For Mr. FW and me, it was beneficial to determine that spending money on gifts was serving as a stand-in for the more challenging daily compassion, attention, time, and hard work that a marriage necessitates.
It would probably be a whole lot easier to slap a bow on a handsaw* for Mr. FW and call it a day, rather than spending the time to dissect our innermost feelings. But, we do dissect those feelings for the betterment of our long-term relationship. And, that’s not to say that these actions are mutually exclusive–merely an observation that gifts can be used as proxy for true connection.
*When Mr. FW read this, he noted that he wouldn’t want me to buy him a handsaw because I wouldn’t pick out the right one. And he’s totally correct! It would be pointless (not to mention a waste of money) for me to try and select a handsaw for a man who researches used handsaws for fun.
To paraphrase the movie Fight Club (which I remain convinced is secretly about early retirement): stop working a job you hate, to buy things you don’t need, to impress people you don’t like. That pretty much sums up my entire Frugalwoods philosophy, but I think it applies particularly to the purchase of gifts, which are often inherently things we don’t need.