Having a baby? Getting married? 10th anniversary? Adopting your first iguana? We’re led to believe that each of these milestone events is a requirement to spend money. In fact, there’s an entire cultural phenomenon built around the idea that in order to properly fete an occasion, we should buy stuff–and often, a whole lot of stuff. The media, advertisers, and society at large all trumpet the false assumption that money = celebration.

While these life landmarks are usually mandatory, the spending is optional. We’re manipulated into buying by both marketing and our own internal belief that we need to spend in order to convey our devotion and joy. I certainly used to believe this and I think most people outside of the frugal weirdo cohort do. It’s just what’s done. But why? When did we start equating spending with happiness and love?

Halloween: not a reason to spend money
Halloween: not a reason to spend money

How We’re Hoodwinked Into Spending

In many ways, I think this cultural norm becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We’re told that babies are expensive, ergo, we spend a lot on them. We’re taught that buying expensive gifts for our partners on anniversaries is socially acceptable, therefore, we do it year after year. The conflation of major life events and money is an ingrained trope made all the more poignant by the fact that there are underlying sentiments surrounding these occasions, most notably: fear, guilt, and excitement. That’s a lethal combination as far as our wallets are concerned. And those trying to sell us things are keenly aware of just how vulnerable we are at times of intense fear, excitement, or guilt.


Fear: perhaps the most powerful tool in a marketer’s reservoir. There are endless advertisements designed to prey upon this base human emotion. Is our car safe enough? Is our house secure enough? Do we have enough toilet paper??? Granted, these are serious concerns, but there’s a limit to just how much we can and ought to spend in service of them. Should we rush out and buy a new car every time a different safety feature is released? Nope. But we’re left with the lingering suspicion that perhaps we could buy our way to a better, happier life…

Me at 34 weeks pregnant! Not pictured: Frugal Hound, who walked out of the shot at the crucial moment.
Me at 34 weeks pregnant! Not pictured: Frugal Hound, who walked out of the shot at the crucial moment.

Fear is particularly front and center when new babies are on the scene. Ads all but say, “buy this product or your child won’t be safe/content.” As we prepare for Babywoods, the fear mongering directed at our demographic has reached levels of hysteria heretofore unknown by Mr. Frugalwoods and me. Fortunately, we’re steadfast in our commitment to accepting hand-me-downs and only buying used for her. We’re still clocking in at just $20 spent in preparation for her arrival and her entire nursery is outfitted.

But I’m completely sympathetic to the plight most new and prospective parents find themselves in. We are literally bombarded by every source imaginable–from childcare books to medical professionals to friends and family to the media–with the refrain that babies are expensive and we should be procuring a ton of material goods in order to ensure their safe passage through life. There’s a very real preoccupation with the concept of buying one’s way to good parenting.

With relation to milestones, there’s an abiding fear of missing out in some way on the most precious aspects of the event in question. If we don’t have doves, a string quartet, and custom-made bridesmaid dresses, our wedding won’t be the ideal we’ve dreamed of. And if we don’t shower our kids with expensive toys at Christmas, maybe they won’t love us quite as much or have quite as happy a holiday, which leads us to…


If we don’t buy things to demonstrate the depth of our emotions, how will people know we care for them? It sounds a bit sarcastic phrased as such, but I think it’s actually a very real concern for many of us. Anniversaries are a prime candidate for guilty spending. I used to labor over what to buy Mr. FW for our anniversary. I had no idea what to get him–probably because the man hates clutter and doesn’t want anything except for a used 1940’s John Deere Crawler tractor, which I’m obviously not going to source for him. He’s virtually impossible to shop for and so I’d end up getting him items he didn’t need or want (and which we’d usually later return or give away).

We'd much rather do this together than buy gifts
We’d much rather do this together than buy gifts

And lest you think I’m an ideal gift recipient, he never had a clue what to get me either since I similarly hate clutter, don’t need anything, and the stuff I do need is extremely specific and I want it used anyway. Hence, a totally futile period of stress and consumption all for naught!

We came to the mutual realization that giving gifts to each other wasn’t fulfilling the actual point of celebrating our anniversary. Gift giving was merely our capitulation to cultural norms and it had no bearing on how we live our lives. The important thing is for us to acknowledge our love for each other, spend quality time together, and reflect on our marriage. Nowhere in there is a gift necessary.

Thus, we don’t give each other gifts. Ever. And we couldn’t be happier. We encourage one another to get the things we need and want, but we don’t toil away trying to devise presents for one another. I much prefer that Mr. FW puts energy into cooking a delicious meal for us and spends time putting his thoughts about our relationship down on paper. And if you’ve ever seen his handwriting, then you know how difficult a task that is for him ;).

Aside from anniversaries, guilt fuels a fair amount of spending. It’s a simple balm for challenging situations or relationships in crises where we’d rather not confront the underlying issues. Jewelry and car commercials around the holidays seem like an especially egregious example. The blatant equation that diamonds = kisses is downright despicable when you think about it. Are we really so shallow that we’ll love our partner more for the things they buy us? No! Also, who actually buys a luxury car for someone else as a surprise gift? “Hey honey, get excited, I’ve just saddled us with a 10-year lease on this brand new car that we totally don’t need!” I personally don’t think that’s a wise way to someone’s heart, but it’s the bizarre image of an ideal relationship that society holds up for us to attain.


Weddings, babies, birthdays, reunions, and the like are thrilling and there’s a temptation to rush out and buy a bunch of stuff to mark the occasion. But why? In our culture, spending money is often the first outlet we think of for commemorating or denoting our pleasure. It’s an external signal that something exciting is happening in our lives.

I am a happy dog who does not require much. Although I do like these toys.
I am a happy dog who does not require much. Although I do like these toys.

Mr. FW and I definitely fell victim to excited overspending in the past. When we adopted Frugal Hound, we initially went way overboard on procuring doggie paraphernalia. We’d read all these books and articles about hound care and were convinced we needed 9,000 different products and supplies in order to adequately care for her dog-related needs. False. Totally false. Our anxiety about this experience fed into the marketing around getting a dog and suddenly we’d amassed a veritable mountain of stuff.

Our initial expressions of love for her were through the things we’d purchased, which she couldn’t care less about. All Frugal Hound wanted was a loving home with attentive parents, some food, and a bed. But we’d let our glee get the best of our wallets and overspent by a long shot. We’ve since returned or gifted away all of our unneeded and unused doggie ephemera, but it was a telling experience that made us realize just how susceptible we are to the thrall of consumption.

Here’s what I learned: don’t, for example, wander around a pet store aimlessly when you’re planning to get a dog. You’ll come out with $100 worth of junk, just like we did. I’ve taken my own advice here and haven’t set foot inside a single baby or maternity store for the entirety of my pregnancy. If I didn’t need it before I went into the store, then why browse?

External Perceptions

But what will people think if we don’t brandish our credit cards in service of a special event? Who knows and who cares. Frankly, I’d much rather achieve financial independence than impress other people. If society thinks it’s odd that Mr. FW and I don’t give each other gifts, than so be it. I’m comfortable with that trade-off and I see no reason to bend to external manipulation to purchase things.

A few of Babywoods' used onesies
A few of Babywoods’ used onesies

Case in point, taking the road less purchased for Babywoods has netted us a bit of criticism. Plenty of folks think it’s odd or gross or unusual that all of our items for baby are used. The crucial factor for us is that we don’t care. We know that a used onesies is just as good as a new one and that a hand-me-down crib will provide an equally satisfactory sleeping surface.

But it’s not always easy to buck the dominant trend and remain steadfast in your commitment to frugality. What helps me is the combination of: 1) thinking that new baby stuff is ridiculously over-priced, 2) talking with our awesome frugal friends who have kids, did the same thing we’re doing, and their kids are totally fine, 3) my hatred of waste, which is what most new stuff will become.

But What About The Gifts, Mrs. Frugalwoods?!?

While it’s all fine and dandy for Mr. FW and me to gladly abide by a no-gift clause, it’s not fair for us to impose this on our friends and family. Hence, we are gift givers. But we’re creative and savvy gift givers. Our chief frugal gift giving tactics are as follows: 1) homemade gifts, 2) gifts purchased with credit card rewards points, 3) gifts procured using gift cards.

Celebrating Frugal Hound's bday at home. No expensive gifts required.
Celebrating Frugal Hound’s bday at home. No expensive gifts required.

Homemade gifts are ideal for friends who live nearby. I enjoy baking tasty treats to give away and people seem to enjoy eating them. This is especially useful for holidays, birthdays, and thank-you presents.

We have the Amazon cash-back rewards credit card, which entitles us to free items from–you guessed it–Amazon. This is typically how we obtain Christmas gifts for our family members. I’m a huge advocate for leveraging credit card rewards points, provided you pay off said credit card in full every single month.

Strategic gift card deployment is frugal tactic #3. I save every gift card we receive and often utilize them for purchasing gifts for others. This is due to the fact that there’s not much we need and it seems to work well to translate these gifts into other gifts.

Gift card usage is particularly handy for wedding gifts. I’m a big believer in purchasing wedding gifts from a couple’s registry and I often have a stash of gift cards for typical wedding registry locales. Frugal pro tip: save all of your gift cards together in one place and pull them out anytime you need to obtain a gift. I keep ours in a highly technical location: inside a ziplock bag in our bottom kitchen cupboard. I have gift cards in there dating back to our wedding seven years ago, but hey, they still work!

Conflating Money With Emotion

When Mr. FW and I came to our decision of not giving gifts to one another, we made the discovery that gifts (and therefore money) served to mask our true feelings about our relationship and were more of a distraction than anything else. This isn’t to say that giving gifts is inherently bad–it’s certainly not and plenty of couples derive great satisfaction from the practice. It’s just to say that it’s not for everyone and it’s not a requirement for a happy relationshipA key lesson for us was to divorce the concept of love from stuff. Things do not connote love, actions do. And honestly, acquiring stuff is often a whole lot easier than putting in the time and sentimental effort to create a truly meaningful gesture for one’s partner, children, or friends.

Pumpkin breads I baked over the weekend: one for a dinner party and one for a friend
Pumpkin breads I baked over the weekend: one for a dinner party and one for friends who babysat Frugal Hound

My dad writes my mom a love poem for each of their anniversaries (48 thus far) and my mom often frames these notes. I’ve rarely seen my dad give my mom expensive jewelry or other “traditional” trappings of “love,” but the depth of their commitment to one another is evident in their daily life–not to mention the fact that they’ve been married for forty-eight years.

The poems my dad writes take time, thought, and effort. And they’re a whole lot more personal than something from a store. Poetry isn’t for everyone, but I think this is an emotive lesson on the power of employing one’s creativity in demonstrating love for another person.

This idea of homemade love is something we apply in many facets of our lives. We cook meals for our friends rather than go out to dinner with them. I bake breads for people as gestures of thanks rather than buying them things from stores. Mr. FW and I perform acts of kindness and respect for each other on a daily basis rather than bringing home flowers or chocolates. We also prioritize experiences together. We’re happy to spend a couple hundred bucks to stay at an AirBnB in Vermont for the weekend, for example, so that we can enjoy quality time together. Here again, we’re gifting our time and energy to one another.

Spending Money Is Fine When It’s A Conscious Choice

There’s nothing wrong with spending money when it’s warranted and needed. Plus, sometimes it’s downright unavoidable. But buying shouldn’t be our default modus operandi anytime something new or exciting is taking place. Dollar signs don’t need to accompany every momentous occasion. And buying isn’t a solution. Procuring a ton of expensive baby accoutrements wouldn’t make us better parents–it would make us poorer parents. With this approach, it’s about making a conscious choice to spend, not feeling like you have to.

Spending is often automatic in our culture. We’re taught that for every imaginable milestone, there are myriad opportunities for us to purchase things. But buying doesn’t proffer the stuff we actually crave. What we truly desire is the love, connection, community, assurance, and joy that such occasions bring. And none of that can be bought.

How do you celebrate milestone events?

Similar Posts


  1. As long as you’re willing to buy what you actually need, when you need it, I think you’ve got a great philosophy going on. True that babies are only as expensive as you make them. Our major baby expense is daycare followed by diapers. Even formula went okay since I committed to nursing at home and getting major discounts on formula. We had to use similac (baby girl was so picky), but I bought at Target only when they had nice sales going on, and I’d stack that with coupons from similac.

    Your post did remind me that I’m looking for a new sleep sack for our now toddler. She kicks off blankets, so her sleep sack keeps her warm. I’m going to ask some friends with older kids before going to buy one, but that’s an example of a necessity I’m willing to buy new if I can’t find a used one. It’s a bit of a niche thing at her age, but we’ve found it is invaluable for our quality of life.

    Last bit (man, I should blog at my own blog): smart philosophy with not browsing for baby stuff. I tell my new parent friends that Target will still be there once the baby is born. You will find there are items you desperately need to make life better and items your kid could care less about. Our kid was so not into the swing or those on the floor bouncy seat things (glad to have those hand me down), but the boppy, sleep sack, and ergo still continue to see regular use. And she would only sleep in her rock n play (note: not advised by safety experts) for the first two months. If any of those broke/got lost, I would purchase it new in a heart beat to keep the good life going. You’ll find out what those items are for your kid. Or maybe you will have the best “make due” baby 🙂 I look forward to hearing all about her soon!

    1. Sleep sacks were a necessity for one of my kids too. I found some deals on the Amazon warehouse website. Woot.com is having a really good sale on halo sleep sacks right now.

    2. I second the sleep sack! When I came into my baby’s room and saw her with the blanket over her face (that I thought I had placed correctly tucked under her armpits and back), I freaked! So, no blankets in cribs!!
      And I am all for used baby stuff, except when safety is needed, as in a new care seat, bike helmets, etc. For the rest, furniture, clothes, stroller, etc, used is the way to go!

  2. I love this philosophy. One of the greatest gifts you can give is the gift of time. Whether its gardening for an elderly friend, driving a carless friend, or babysitting for a toddler-ful friend, these types of gifts are more thoughtful and more special than a blender or a package of store bought treats.

  3. Wonderful thoughts on the consumer trappings of special occasions. As we approach our 10th anniversary, we’re considering backpacking as our getaway (we’ve never done anniversary gifts). I’m glad to know I’m not the only who stashes gift cards to buy gifts!

  4. After having 3 children, you betcha there are a TON of items that are marketed for fear. All 3 of ours have been just fine without a wipe warmer, bottle warmer, changing station, diaper cream, etc. The only new clothes we ever put on one of our children were gifts (and people ALWAYS give baby clothes) or special outfits (for Christmas and such). Mostly we buy consignment or thrift shop clothes for them. They grow too fast to spend $20 for each piece of an outfit. I would suggest investing in cloth diapers (I think you can find them used on eBay and as long as they are stain-free, I’d go for it) and a bucket for soaking them, a swing (personally all 3 of ours loved a swing and couldn’t stand a bouncer) and a carrier. I’ve used the same bottles for all 3, we used the same swing for all 3, the same high chair for all 3 (a space saver one that straps into a chair and cost about $30), etc. The only way #3 (and the second girl) got anything NEW was if 1) it was broken and we had to replace it (and we generally went to a thrift store for that), 2) we had a gift card to a store (work gave me a $200 gift card for a baby store) or 3) someone gifted it to us. Friends always have clothes that theirs had outgrown – so just about everything is already used, and most of it is free. For whatever reason, people have equated love with spending money, but there are so many other ways (that are usually more important) to show love and affection. My children love it when we spend time together – just doing anything. We can bake, go to the library, take a nature walk, or even just watch a movie at home together. Hubby and I do go out about once a week, more to have quiet time without falling asleep than anything else, and we leave the kids with a babysitter (family, so it’s free). Please feel free to ask any questions (my oldest is 8 and my youngest is 16 months). I will be happy to help you out – I know about having that first one and the fear (especially once they let you take them home!). 🙂 Mostly, just cuddle and love that little bundle of joy for all you’re worth. They grow up almost overnight.

  5. Our ten-year wedding anniversary is coming up, and I doubt we’ll buy each other anything spectacular. So far, I’ve told my husband I want a ramekin set for our kitchen =) I will probably buy him an Amazon gift card for his Kindle. Fancy.

  6. I am an old skool mom. My kids were born in the 60’s. I heartily agree with your philosophy – I had used everything, handed down from cousins, sisters-in-law, neighbors. I raised my kids before the advent of disposable diapers, so I used the old cloth ones given to me by others. They were soft, white, and a great recycle. The diapers that got too old and thin became burp rags. I don’t recall burp accessories being available – we all used the old diapers. I think you are amazing! I am looking at all the blogs, tv show, magazines and store decor that imply “YOU ARE A LOSER” if you don’t buy $150 worth of pumpkins for your mantle and front porch, or you don’t love your child if you can’t purchase a $40 costume from the party. store. Thank you for this blog, it is changing how I look at things in my retirement.

  7. Excellent post & lots of excellent suggestions. Congrats on only spending $20 on baby thus far. We have a 4 month old & took all the hand me downs we could (benefits of extended family with little children) but still made some small purchases as needed. My money-saving tip from this was the wife’s family had a baby shower where we got several clothing duplicates. We exchanged the unneeded items (we kept some duplicates for future babies) at Walmart for Store Credit that we used to purchase things instead.

    1. Hahaha yup Mrs. Frugalwoods does seem to be a big proponent for doggie outfits 🙂

      But I think they are all real people clothes. So make sure.Mr.SCC uses what’s on hand

  8. I wish I had found your blog when I was younger and my girls were babies. I was one of those folks who bought all of the newest things that my daughter, which she did not need or care if she had-and which I couldn’t afford. You are smarter than all of those who think buying second hand or taking advantage of friends hand me downs are gross. Your family will be content and stress free in the future because you will have security! Luckily, my daughter is smarter than I was at her age and the majority of her son’s clothes and toys are passed onto her from her friends and also my friends with kids. She hasn’t bought a toy for him yet and he is a year old, but he has 2 toyboxes full of toys that he loves to play with. Congratulations on your frugal journey!

  9. You are so right, we are “pressured” into purchases. I too have bought everything for my dogs. I have bought all kinds of fancy bedding etc. Know what there favourite bed is? The $4 comforter from the thrift store. Yep. So that will be our new dog bed source! My husband and I have given up giving each other birthday gifts, we are doing experiences. I tried so hard to get him to give up Christmas, but he wouldn’t. But we set a low strict limit. I usually buy him 1 “fun” little thing and then exciting things like new socks. Although this year, I am creating a photo book from a recent trip. I think he will love it, plus it gives us prints of the pictures we took! We will keep fighting against consumerism!

  10. We love to celebrate milestones! And we love to save money. Sometimes, the two seem at odds with each other, but I have found that it definitely doesn’t have to be that way. With 6 children, it would be easy to spend a ton of money on celebrating birthdays, Christmases, etc. Thankfully, our children have grown up with our ideals and so aren’t very demanding. My two older girls told me on Sunday that what they really want for Christmas is for me to make them more paper dolls like I did for Easter two years ago. My 5 year old son wants broken electronics that he can tear apart and remake into his many “inventions”. None of these things will cost much (and we will fill in with one or two more impressive gifts…that they’ll forget about with in days lol) but will encourage them to use their imaginations and will bring a light to their eyes that we love to see!

    For anniversaries and birthdays for each other, my husband and I tend to go out to eat…without our children. There’s something about being out away from home that allows us to focus on each other instead of our to-do list.

    We use credit card reward points, coupons, and lots of creativity to gift things to our extended families. And we are blessed that they are much like us and used books, etc. are greatly appreciated gifts, so we can get away with spending much less than others might with the large extended families we have.

    When we do spend larger sums of money, it tends to be on experiences. A lot of our favorite places are a fair drive away. We love to spend time at state parks, but there is a gas cost and usually a food cost associated with those.

  11. Babies can be expensive. You’re lucky in that you have a Buy Nothing group in your area. I started a Buy Nothing group but not enough interest in my area (we just moved into our house so we don’t know many people yet) so we haven’t been able to get enough interest in group members.

    While we’re trying to get as much used as we can, we do have to buy a new car seat (but are buying the Evenflo Symphony Elite convertible one that’ll last through booster seat to save money) due to the fact that we don’t know anyone recently who has a car-crash free car seat to buy from (I don’t trust Craigslist finds for car seats).

    We’re also going the cloth diaper route and I will try to get as many prefolds used as I can but we may end up spending a bit at Green Mountain’s website to stock up since used prefolds on Ebay are nearly the same price as new on Green Mountain so they seem to hold their value. I don’t know if cloth is the route you’re going (it’s not for everyone) but after calculating the cost, it is significantly cheaper overall, so long as your water usage/dryer costs aren’t expensive.

    Lastly I’d rather get a new pump if I have to pay for it. That’s a personal preference but I just can’t pay for used, especially from a stranger. The pump has too much soft plastic tiny tubes that IMHO can be difficult to clean, especially if previous owner wasn’t meticulous.

    But outside of a few essentials, there is so much you can get used. I can’t imagine ever purchasing new clothing for our kid until they’re old enough to ask for something in particular, and even then, we’d try to limit as much as possible! And crib bedding doesn’t need to be new either. Also, strollers and baby bjorns all are things that you can get used easily so we’ll definitely be trying to get as much for low priced as possible. Plus you know you’re going to get free clothing and other random items from family and friends so my motto is to pay for the essentials and enjoy the freebies you get along the way. 🙂

  12. Thanks for hitting the nail on the head! We were (frugally) prepared for our new baby…this was 2 years ago…but after she was born our budget really, really fell apart for a while! I know you guys will definitely be better about this, but even after baby these spending triggers are right on!

  13. One of my husband’s sisters has always been super-frugal and DIY when it comes to gifts: home-made jams, knit scarves, books from the “free store” on Cortes Island where she lives part-time (yes, there is a “free store” – what an awesome concept). Instead of using wrapping paper and tape, she wraps gifts in usable fabrics (like tea towels and scarves – also acquired from the free store) or fabric remnants.

    On a frugal blog the other day (and I’m sad that I can’t remember which one to give credit), I saw another great idea for a frugal, long-distance gift: a webpage with information and resources for the gift recipient. This blogger had built a “welcome to the city” page for her sister who had just moved to a new city. The giver researched the city and pulled together links and resources for her sister to use when exploring her new home.

    1. Oh wow I really like the idea of using fabrics for gift wrapping. That will cut down on so much waste.

      Also I just read that article as well it was on Rockstar Finance and it was called the crazy side of paying down debt.

  14. Here’s what I shared to my Facebook friends with a link to today’s article:
    “When did we start equating spending with happiness and love?” This is my new favorite blog. Each article delivered to my inbox feels like a special treat. This young couple saves more than 70% of their income and apparently has a great time doing so. I love encouragement to live a frugal, simple, yet bountiful life and this blog gives me plenty of that through well-written and thought provoking articles. Perhaps some of my Facebook friends will enjoy it too!
    I really appreciate your writing! I love living this same type of life and am thankful for your encouragement and the online community your blog and others like it provides. Thanks for taking the time to share!

  15. Yep, this post pretty much sums up our philosophy on buying things, gifts, and special occasions. Our entire gift budget for the year is often less than what some people spend on a single gift (like an iPad). Special occasions mean spending time with special people and doing something together, not expensive nicknacks to collect more dust next to our other expensive tchotchkes that we never use.

    We did go crazy and buy 2 huge pumpkins for halloween and a pumpkin carving kit ($10 total at Aldi). We’ll probably eat some or most of the pumpkin (after carving it) and the carving kit is reusable, so it’s not exactly a huge waste of money. Our kids chose to buy halloween costumes this year, but hey, that’s their money so they can do what they want! Halloween is the spendiest holiday in our household, so $5-10 per year is about all we spend on holiday stuff (other than food for our annual 30+ person Thanksgiving blowout and sometimes a similar Christmas fiesta).

  16. I’m intrigued that you and your husband don’t buy gifts for each other. My hubby always tells me not to buy him anything and like a good wife, I completely ignore him. Perhaps it’s time to re-examine this idea. I like the idea of taking gift money and putting it towards a weekend away together (and with three kids, Lord knows we could use one!).

  17. I’m very close to convincing my family to try a gift free Christmas this year. Why? We’ve realized spending time together is what matters most. And none of us really need anything. My boyfriend and I mostly skip gifts for each other, too. We’d rather use the extra money to plan a trip together.

  18. “Literally bombarded”?! Yikes!! Now that provokes fear! Kidding aside, I couldn’t agree more with these sentiments, fellow frugal weirdos 🙂

  19. For our ten year anniversary I made a photo book of our first ten years together. It was really fun to make and is fun to look through. My fiance really likes giving gifts and I could not convince him I didn’t need anything, so I told him to give me flowers. They were beautiful while they lasted and didn’t produce any clutter.

  20. Great idea to use gift cards and credit card rewards points for gifts! I’ve done that it the past and it worked really well. I have a lot of weddings and other events coming up, so maybe its time to trade some of those CC rewards points for Pottery Barn gift cards!

  21. I wish I had read something like this when my children were young. I remember when my elder daughter was about nine months old: one of my child care books listed developmently appropriate toys for a one year old. I went to the toy store and bought every single toy on the list!!! While she liked her toys, she was just as happy playing with plastic food storage containers, cloth napkins and, of course, the empty boxes all her new stuff was packaged in.

  22. My husband celebrates his annual bonus by spending money. Ha! Ah well, you win some, you lose some.

    We sometimes get each other something. But honestly, we’ve been married 19 years now, and have a 9 year old and a 3 year old. What do you do after 19 years? We don’t really need anything, why give something, just because?

    We were thinking about going on a fabulous trip to Hawaii for our 20th next year. But then this past summer we spent 2 weeks at home with family on the East Coast (pretty frugal because we got the 4 plane tickets on miles. Now we have no more miles.) My older son loved it SOOO much that we started talking about sending him out on his own next summer. So the tentative plan is…have my MIL come visit us for a week. When she goes home, send her with our big boy. Let him spend a few weeks with his farmor/ aunt/ uncle/ big cousins (they’ll be 18 and 16) swimming in the lake.

    Then…? Well, instead of Hawaii, we are thinking that maybe we just fly out to get him and spend a few days, and drive out to see Niagara falls. I’ve never been, and I think it might be cool.

    I will never understand why people are grossed out by used things. I mean seriously, how wasteful is it to throw stuff away.

    I have to say that with the holidays coming, this is a timely post. The Halloween decorations!! Craziness. Now, I’m all about a good pumpkin (we got 2 from our CSA and bought 2 more), but who does’t love homemade roasted pumpkin seeds??

  23. Seems my children are always outgrowing their clothes well before they are worn out. I think hand me downs are great. I have given and received bags full of clothes, especially baby and toddler sizes where they were given as gifts and may have only been used a couple times. They is nothing bad about it, I know there is the constant barrage of marketing to convince people to buy. I saw a lot of expensive NFL cable and satellite TV packages on the Sunday night football game I watched with my guy on his tv over the free antenna broadcast. Does that make me want to pay hundreds a month to get them? NO! It just reminds me what a smart choice we made, NOT wasting our money on them. If we miss a game that is not broadcast in our area, so what? We can check the score later, I have a lot of things to do and parking in front of the tv all weekend is not in my plans. I like doing the home made gifts of jam, nuts, dried fruit, etc. because I know they are appreciated, they will be used and won’t clutter up someone’s home.
    Yesterday I had a friend stop by during the time that we doing haircuts on my children. She has three boys who she gives haircuts to each month, clippers only at a set number all over for each. She wasn’t interested in how my guy does my children’s hair, comparing notes, I guess. She mentioned her boys squirm a lot because of the hair down their neck. My guy showed her how he puts a towel around their shoulders, then uses the nylon cape with the neck strips to prevent that. She was still using a plastic cape that came with the kit she bought. She liked the peanut razor he uses to do the neck line, sideburns and touch ups around the ears. She used the full size clipper and felt it was a little unwieldy doing the detailed portion of the haircut. So she took note to update her equipment technique. She figured she would be spending over $600 a year at the barbershop if she wasn’t doing haircuts at home, so it is worth it to spend a little to do a better job. She mentioned it was great for the boys, but she still had to go to the salon and spend over $150 to get hers cut and highlights. And they always cut it too short, and she doesn’t look good with it so short, she hates it. Well my guy explained how he trimmed mine every couple months, the techniques and doing the S&D on my split ends. He showed her the scissors he used and handed her them to demonstrate how she could nip off the damaged ends without losing her length. She didn’t him to give her a trim and he didn’t offer. I don’t want my guy giving haircuts to all my friends that stop by. If she had gotten a bad haircut, I would have asked him to help out and fix it for her. He does an excellent job on mine, so I know they would be happy with the results. I hope it doesn’t sound selfish, but I don’t want friends just stopping by turning the house into a walk in salon. My friend did tell me I was lucky to have such an awesome guy that not only cuts my children’s hair but cuts and colors mine as well. It was nice to get the compliment. It was nice to hear that the jar of jam I gave her a month ago of the batch of raspberry I did was devoured by her boys, she barely got any. So I know my home canning projects are a hit as well, that are enjoyed by those I give them to.

  24. I absolutely agree. My husband and I do not exchange gifts. If there is something I truly need, when my birthday or Christmas is approaching, I ask my husband for it, point-blank. I mostly give DIY gifts at Christmas to our family members, friends and to my children’s teachers and coaches. This helps me to keep spending to a minimum, and it costs more time than money. To our children, we love to give the gift of a special experience (a special trip or admission to a museum), but paradoxically, those tend to be more expensive than a set of Star Wars Lego, which is what they would put at the top of their wish list.

  25. I just want you to know how very much I enjoy your blog! I am inspired by your writing and carry it with me throughout my day. I really look forward to your new posts. And I just have to say, you look fabulous! How exciting! And I love to see Frugal Hound in your posts too! 🙂

  26. We have a new baby (1 month today!) and already are telling the grandparents to forgo presents this Christmas and just contribute to his 529. I’m a minimalist at heart at can’t stand the thought of drowning in plastic, noisy, baby toys.

  27. My husband is an incredibly thoughtful gift-giver, which I do love. However, he’s more wedded to the concept of gift-giving, than I am. Recent case in point: we just celebrated our 10-year anniversary, with a weekend in Lake Placid. We spent two nights at a hotel, and enjoyed two very nice restaurant dinners. Since it was a fairly costly weekend, I assumed we weren’t also exchanging gifts. But our first night there, my husband surprised me with something he knew I wanted – a FitBit – as a present. I love his thoughtfulness, but (1) I’ve been saving gift cards to get it for free, (2) I felt like an inconsiderate jerk for being empty-handed, and (3) I really wish he hadn’t spent the money. (But I do like my FitBit – even if it’s showing me just how inactive I really am!)

  28. This hits so close to our house, LOL. I’ll be 50 in a couple of months and my hubby wants to know what I “want.” Uh… same thing I wanted the last 16 of my bdays we’ve been together – for you to bake me an apple pie. That’s all. But it’s a milestone, says he. So make it a BIG pie, I guess. There’s nothing I need and right now nothing I can think of that I want. We don’t do anniversary gifts either. We do bday gifts for the kids but they’re usually based on an interest, 2 yrs ago our girl wanted a violin and now she’s a wonderful violinist so when this year she started asking her teacher how hard guitar might be, it was an easy decision. As for all the available baby stuff out there, it’s a miracle, isn’t it, that in so many parts of the world children thrive without having their disposable hiney wipes warmed. For that matter, without disposable hiney wipes! And in so many places, not even a crib. The cultural contrasts are interesting, what we consider the norm so many folk would shake their heads at thinking we’ve lost our marbles, LOL.

  29. Our rescue puppy’s favorite toy is Rob’s old (clean) undershirt, twisted with a knot in the middle. It goes quite far during fetch, she loves to thwack herself in the head with it, and it’s great for tug of war, and she even snuggles up to it in her crate. Best tip I ever got was to put away most of your dog’s toys for a month or so then bring them back out one at a time. Most dogs will react with “WOW! New toy!!” and stay engaged with it for a long time.

    1. Hahah, Frugal Hound reacts that way every day to her toys! It’s like she’s never seen them before… sometimes I wonder about that dog, but it’s pretty cute. And, you’re totally right about old t-shirts, they’re super durable and hold up to dog fangs really well.

  30. Our anniversary is this week and instead of buying each other gifts, one of us is planning a date for the other, since we are new parents and haven’t experienced alone time in forever. Money and things aren’t the important things. We bought most of our baby things used and completely ignored 90% of the things people told us we needed and…Surprise!…our daughter is doing just fine without a baby wipes warmer (seriously?). We are working to transition our families to easing up on the gifts for Christmas and trying to just make it more about spending time together but I think we are going to run into a lot of resistance on that one since they don’t think the same away about this stuff as we do.

  31. Great post I totally agree with. The only things new my kids had as babies were gifts and I even returned some of those because there was no way they would be able to wear them all before they outgrew them? I don’t think my kids received gifts at Christmas from us that were in their original packages until they were several years old either. I also gave used gifts at Christmas. They didn’t care. I figured I could give them more variety by paying less for things I found at garage sales and auctions than if I bought new. They had a lot of toys, but I hadn’t spent a lot of money on them. Of course, “a lot” of toys to me and them was no where near the amount some kids have that were all purchased new.
    Point is, they grew up with used clothes, supplies and toys and they’re just as well, in fact, I think, better (because they’re not spoiled) than any other kid.

  32. I absolutely love this post- and I am now inspired to try and cut frivolous spending surrounding holidays even more! One thing my family does already that I love is we adopt a holiday family. Rather than buying gifts for ourselves, we buy gifts for a needy family through a charity organization such as the Salvation Army. Another thing my husband and I have taken on is baking Christmas cookies and other treats, and making a donation to a different charity each year (Humane Society, food bank, our local universities) in the honor of whoever we are giving the gift to. But I am inspired to cut spending with my husband entirely, and instead spend the money on vacations and travel, which is what we both really love!!

  33. Having lived in an orphanage during a critical time of my growing up years, Christmas is my HUGE trigger. It’s unavoidable. I know it comes every year. I am addicted. Nothing will change. There is something deep inside me that keeps going back to those years when there really was nothing…when there really was no one who cared. Then, when someone cared – a gift was given. BUT, gifts are, and can be strange and wonderful things…the man I loved more than anyone in my entire life did not give me a diamond ring – I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before. My engagement ring was a cigar band which I still have. He really was my greatest gift…HE…. He died way too soon, but his gift is lasting and I don’t feel alone anymore.

  34. I wish your post could be in the email boxes of everyone in consumer-trapped societies.
    You are a gifted writer with an important message.
    I love this term, ‘homemade love’. Have you coined this phrase?

  35. I grew up with a certain amount of tension around Christmas. My mother would buy us rather a lot of presents (my dad would buy one each), but we were expected to show up every Christmas afternoon at my (paternal) grandmother’s house for dinner and another, larger round of presents. There were ten grandchildren and wrapping paper everywhere–it was insane. Still is, as everyone in driving distance is expected to show up with their significant others and any progeny they may have produced.

    This year, we have decided to stay in Colorado for Christmas and I’m sad about not being with family–for the first time ever–but also really looking forward to a lower-key holiday. I didn’t like how last year, the few things we bought for the boys were overshadowed by a whole bunch of stuff from their grandmas and great-grandmas.*

    We do not buy presents for each other usually and we get a few, carefully selected presents for our boys. For Big Brother’s fourth birthday, we bought him… a water bottle. A nice big-boy Klean Kanteen one, so he wouldn’t have to bring a sippy cup to school. I was thinking of following the “rule of four” for Christmas, by which you buy each child something they need, something they want, something to wear, and something to read. (Except I probably will NOT buy them any books as they already own a whooooole bunch and Grandma and Gran are both likely to send more.)

    *Mr FP’s grandmother passed away this year. I hope it goes without saying, but I would happily wrestle with the giant bag of age-inappropriate toys for the chance to visit with her again.

  36. Just want to concur about kids not costing piles of money we didn’t spend only $20 and the cost has surely gone up as Minnie is still in diapers ( I’m sure your fed up with advice but I recommend you try cloth diapers) we have a few but not enough to not purchase disposables. Specially if you have environmental concerns.

    Anyways its no where near the thousands of dollars main stream media says you’ll spend on a child each year.

    One question I do have to ask if why its not fair to practice your beliefs with friends and family. Specially when it comes to weddings/ Christmas? I’d also like to know is the a dollar limit you feel you need to spend on the wedding occasion?

    I’m curious because I definitely feel like weddings have become a huge materialistic thing and so I’m curious with the stance. Everyone does stuff different but I was nodding my head in agreement and then I got to that section and I was like wait what?

    I know personally for me its a guilt thing so maybe I’m projecting, but I don’t think I need to gift people present at their wedding to show them love. actually I believe what you were saying before which is your time is a gift. It’s a gift we find this event a priority enough to attend. Why is it wrong to practice the belief during these occasions that need grounding the most?

  37. My hubby and I enjoy perusing the card aisle and show each other our favorite picks for anniversaries and birthdays. We would much rather spend money on a vacation.

  38. “The road less purchased”. Wonderful. I may have to quote you on that (with attribute).

    Mrs Groovy and I celebrate occasions with drives down scenic highways, walking on greenway trails, etc. Occasionally we go nuts and spring for Dairy Queen.

    When you feel free because your mind and heart feel light, and there’s no Debt Monkey on your back, every day is cause for celebration. Spending money isn’t even a factor.

    Keep up the good work!

  39. This sounds like a much more eloquent version of our dinnertime conversation about Sweetest Day tonight. I’m all for making time to do thoughtful things for others, but money doesn’t have to be part of the equation. If it is, and it’s deliberate and thoughtful, that’s great, too. But I’ve made the hubs reaffirm his oath that he will not buy me a $9 card (or any card for that matter) this weekend because the fine people at Walgreens try to compel him to do so.

  40. With my first kid I bought everything in the world, and carried most of it in my diaper bag. By the time I had my third, I was down to two diapers and a small wetwipe kit in my regular purse. We also rarely give big gifts. We just had our 12th anniversary and I gave him a pair of New York Jets socks.

  41. I was pretty frugal with my little guy. I got bags of hand me downs and wad planning on sourcing some second hand furniture but my in laws purchased new for us. The real expense was the formula. My milk never came in and my little one lost way too much weight and became jaundice from lack of nutrients, so the pediatrician made me start him on formula. I sourced as many coupons and deals as I could that first year. Switching him over to milk once he was old enough was a real money saver.

    I tallied up my expenses for my now nearly three year old’s wardrobe for fall, and including the new tennis shoes I bought for him, I spent under $15. (My family has a history of foot issues and my little one has wide width feet, so shoes I buy new, but on sale and usually with a coupon.)

    My hubby and I have never exchanged anniversary gifts, and have cancelled Christmas exchanges in the past. We started exchanging small things once we had our child because we would have homemade items from our little one. Our gifts are often practical though…new socks or tennis shoes…or this year I want a composter for my garden.

  42. Love it! I wanted to take the kids to get a pumpkin patch photo….without buying a pumpkin. I know, I’m weird. The pumpkins were huge and they were charging $7 per person to go into the pumpkin patch. I didn’t want to pay that so we walked around a little bit and found a photo op the farm had set up with a few pumpkins in the background and hay etc. All I wanted was a picture! So we got our picture and spent 45 minutes at the farm showing the kids the animals etc and spent $0. I was happy with that!

  43. Love this post! Actually, I love all of your posts and I really enjoy reading through all the comments, too. I definitely do not understand how people can find used or hand-me-down stuff gross or weird. I remember as a kid, I would get a big bag of hand me down’s from some older girls that were close family friends. I idolized them and just loved getting “new” stuff from them! Now as an adult, my fashionable aunt who lives to shop recently gifted me with several bags of like new (and some new with tags!) clothes that didn’t fit her – I was so happy, I didn’t need to buy one thing for this past summer. To me, that stuff is like hitting the lottery!

  44. I’m lucky that my husband, family (and in-laws) are not big gift givers. Only kids get gifts now. I treat my parents for dinner and sometimes get a little something extra. Not only does this save a lot of money, it saves a lot of time, too! There are a few times that my husband and I “splurge” on each other’s gifts but we always call it a combo birthday/christmas gift!

  45. Excellent post – that’s all I can say. I wholeheartedly agree that the cultural norm can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We consider ourselves to be pretty frugal and don’t exchange gifts or buy a lot of new things just to buy them, but at the same time we try to take advantage of experiences like camping and travel where we can create memories instead. We’re learning to be a little pickier on our travel plans as well to shave off money where we can without making the trip less fun.

  46. The one area that I have a hard time navigating is spending on children’s gifts for birthday parties. We are invited to these parties and feel socially pressured to buy gifts for children who have way too much and don’t need anything. It makes me sick to my stomach to buy another NEW plastic toy on Amazon. I buy used for my kiddo, for me, and my husband, but it’s hard to buy used for other people’s kids. Anyone else with this problem? What do you do? Mrs. Frugal – just wait to your little baby is older and you are constantly put in these weird places.

    BTW there is nothing wrong with used in my opinion. I’m expecting baby No. 2 and my maternity wardrobe, which happens to be great, has been bought second hand off ebay. $5 dress, yes, please, and thank you!

    1. I totally hear you on this I have a 7 yr old and a 2 year old.

      Personally I think about stuff from the kids perspective. Parents can judge me all they want and if they choose not to invite me back that’s fine with me. But I totally feel the pressure and guilt to buy stuff. It a battle and I don’t always hold steadfast to my convictions. But it takes practice so you kind of just have to start.

      Myself like I said I think of the kid. I’ve given 1 container of playdough, I’ve given folded creations( easy to recycle) and if I ever give money I give an amount that’s for the kid not for parents to buy something. Like $1 -$3.

      Also be fair I guess by not expecting or requesting big gifts for your kids on their birthdays. I tried a no birthday gift birthday. Again it takes practice the 1st was not successful in that most people still brought stuff.

    2. Oh forgot to say, I 100% believe most kids these days don’t need anything ( materialistic) they may want for everything ( trained by parents and media) but they don’t need extra stuff as you pointed out yourself.

      I have shown up empty handed ( nothing other then a home made card no cash included) because really my expectations is that this is a time for the kids to play. Which sometimes doesn’t even happen at which point I’ll make a note because if my kids aren’t having fun then really is there a point to going at all?

      Maybe that’s too extreme but just like many of us are blazing frugal weirdo financial trails , there are other areas where out of the norm trails also need to be blazed.

      1. Hi Roamer! Thanks for your comments and advice. Glad I’m not alone. I’m sure as my son gets older I will get better at this. My son loves playing in cardboard boxes so that’s what we do around the house. He also likes my hair brush. : )

        Sometimes I think it is easier to bring nothing at all as well. I certainly expect nothing for him at his birthdays and keep the guest list very small. It’s easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing, but maybe one day what we frugal people are doing will be the norm; I sure hope so.

  47. This rings very true for me, and I look back on the amount of money that either I or my husband spent on some of my milestones (a wedding and engagement ring come to mind) and shudder a little.

    One thing I’m curious about: for the past few summers we’ve been invited to a sh*t ton of weddings (almost all of which require a plane trip), each of which comes with a gift registry. We, of course, subjected our friends to the same thing (plane ticket and registry, although we gave them all the food they could eat and booze they could drink in return!), so it only seems fair to return the favor. But this really adds up when we’re flying and buying gifts for upwards of five weddings a year! And once the wedding tide dies down, the baby showers and their attendant registries start. I feel so lucky to have so many people that I love in my life and I WANT to celebrate them, but there must be a happy medium. What do you guys do about registries, etc.?

    1. I think the wedding and baby registries have gotten out of control. Have you noticed that the KitchenAid Stand Mixer has become the norm? Does anyone ever bake that much? If the bride and groom enjoy wine or beverages, I typically go that route and avoid the registry altogether. Baby gifts I don’t buy off the registry and normally get a baby book at Half Priced Books. No one else is buying books for the baby and these will actually get used. Presentation counts for these little gifts so I make it more cute with curling ribbon. It’s hard when your friends are really materialistic.

  48. Just found your blog and I love it! Couldn’t agree more with this post. I’m nearly 35 weeks pregnant. We are probably due around the same time :).

  49. This is not me but I really enjoyed this post totally recommend you check it out.
    “In addition, for a few of the weddings that I did actually attend, I declined participation in the gift registries. Honestly, I don’t like this convention. It doesn’t make sense to me. Let people buy what they really want. Why get involved?

    I didn’t expect presents from others for our own wedding — we did not have a gift registry, and we limited attendance to about 30 people, close family, only the best of friends. Why should others expect them from me?……One of my closest friends almost “broke up” with me as a result of my views here. ……….Just because our culture says that it’s ‘normal’ to do something doesn’t mean I’m a bad person when I say no to these arbitrarily defined conventions.”
    This post is a boom but I highly recommend it and if you want to just skim to the section where he talks about this its under messy personal stories. Good luck !!!!

  50. So true! Love this post. I was shamed by my co-workers when I told them that my wife and I weren’t exchanging gifts for Christmas. They thought I was a horrible husband and demanded that I immediately go to Tiffany’s. In the end, I do think my wife wants some token gift for certain occasions just to show that I remembered or care (You need to know your spouse’s “Love Language”) But my wife definitely doesn’t want me to waste money at Tiffany’s.

  51. Mr. Mandalay bought me an Instant Pot for my recent birthday–it’s the biggest gift I’ve gotten from him in quite a while. We haven’t exchanged Christmas presents in a long time either. We got our cats used from the Humane Society. Life is good. 😀

  52. This post is spot- on!
    I think used items ( or pre loved as I like to call them) have more history and are the way to go.

    Shortly after we came home with our son I made my first ever trip to Babies R Us so that I could use gift cards we received for baby gates and pull-ups. I was so overwhelmed and the expense and excess. I had to leave the store, take several deep breaths, then I went directly to the things I needed and booked the heck out of there!!
    I’ve never been back since.

  53. I bought into “wanting the best for my kids” hook, line and sinker. They needed the best sports club with the best equipment, the best school system which required a house I couldn’t really afford, plus all of the clothes and activities that go along with that lifestyle.

    I could have certainly given my kids the best – the best of ME – if I wasn’t so busy teaching them to be materialistic. I’m trying to mend my wicked ways by living life now the way I should have been living life for the last 25 years. I’m confident that they’ll still learn the lessons…although it might take a long time to unlearn our family’s bad habits and see the value of new, better habits.

    Stick to your guns and your plans and teach your daughter the values we all are learning from you. I hope you keep blogging through the years so we can watch someone tackle those fears head-on and win the battle!

  54. I really enjoy reading your blog! One of the sources I use in my neighborhood is the Facebook page of Buy Nothing Project.org. Go to the website, find your country, state, city, and zip code. I’m downsizing and love gifting freely to others. I’m thinking of Leah
    who is looking for a sleep sack for her toddler. Hope it’s ok to post the website info! Shirley K.

    1. Oh yes, thank you for sharing! I’m a huge fan of the Buy Nothing Project and an active member of my local group. I think it’s one of the greatest ideas ever! Thank you for reading and for commenting 🙂

  55. I prefer home made gifts as well! Anything from the heart and made by hand is good in my book! I don’t understand the constant need for new things. We got some funny looks as well for our baby raising choices. Both of my children have really only had used clothes or clothes that were given to us as gifts. We even bought used cloth diapers to diaper our kids.

  56. I always say that when you combine emotions with financial choices, you end up overspending and typically milestone events are wrought with emotion. I was the worst with overspending when my son was born. For the first few years, I wanted him to have everything I never had, then I realized at some point that I never had these things and turned out fine. Before he became a complete spoiled brat, we changed our ways and now I love when I hear my son say things like “if there’s room in the budget can we…”

  57. I have a tough time convincing my family of this very notion. They are relatively frugal, but have little restraint when it comes to meals for special occasions. A $500 Birthday dinner (for about 8-9) at a fancy steakhouse is all too common even when I can cook up a great steaks at home for much, much less. As long as they pay the bill, I don’t argue too hard!

  58. My daughter just turned a year old and when I was pregnant I wasn’t in the position to spend loads, I got her pram cot and a car seat second hand and was given loads of clothes. I breast fed so that cut out any costs on formula so the only real expense was nappies and I just didn’t buy the big branded ones . I actually found she wasn’t all that expensive – she wasn’t even interested in toys until she was about 4 or 5 months. I didn’t feel all that pressured when she was a baby to spend but now she is a year old and Christmas approaching, I find that compared to a lot of the other Mothers I have met I don’t spend very much – I buy her a few toys but most of those are second hand and a few books from thrift stores. I don’t want her to over value stuff and I actually think at such a young age it would be detrimental to their concentration span

  59. Hi Mrs. FW! Your blog has been my obsession since I found it a few days ago. So comforting to hear of another couple navigating frugality in the Boston area (we’re based near your old stomping grounds in Watertown, MA.) I have a question: you mention the Amazon rewards points credit card. I’m wondering, with your buying habits, what types of items do you buy on Amazon vs. what do you thrift, look for donated, etc.? I’d love to know how Amazon works into your monthly or yearly spending.

    All the best!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *