Smart Money Monday: Holiday Edition

Continuing our series that is published every other Monday called “Smart Money Monday,” the goal of this quick hit list is to drop some knowledge about a particular topic to kickstart your week and get you thinking about how to get closer to financial freedom. The topic of this week, naturally, is the holiday season.

How to get holidays right when you are a frugal person.

Yup. It’s that time of year. The time when we are able to pause, reflect, spend time with our loved ones and battle thousands of people at the mall while spending a metric $h*t ton of money on gifts. I am always a bit conflicted when it comes to purchasing gifts. On one hand, you have the ability to spend a few hundred or thousand dollars to make everyone around you a little bit happier. On the other hand, I see a holiday that is hijacked by companies trying to squeeze as much economic value out of the goodness in our hearts as they can. It’s a tough one.

This year, while I’ll still plan to embrace the spirit of giving and helping those around me to enjoy the holidays, I am taking a few steps to ensure that I’m doing this the right way while not breaking the bank. For me, this includes a few simple rules:

  • Try to give experiences over things
  • Don’t make a purchase JUST so I can check the box of giving a gift
  • Donate as much as possible to those in need
  • Focus on spending time and genuinely connecting with people rather than exchanging things or partaking in economy-driving rituals
  • Taking a moment to stop and embrace the values that the holidays are really all about
  • If I am buying a gift, never pay full retail prices

Money Quote of the Week

“The manner of giving is worth more than the gift.” – Pierre Corneille

Hip Hop Money Quote of the Week

“I don’t care how much money you have. Free stuff is always a good thing.” – Queen Latifah

Experiment of the week

This week’s experiment is helping me to take a slightly different approach to the holidays. My traditional approach to gift giving has been to create a list of the people that I need to buy things for and assign a certain amount (for instance, Brother: $50, Dad: $50, Wife: $100, Friend: $20, etc.). This year, I am focusing less on checking the boxes of spending the right dollar amount on the people who will be expecting it so that I can feel like I got “my shopping done” and focusing on how I can have the biggest total impact on people’s happiness. Here’s the approach that I’m taking:

    • Create a list of everyone that I could possibly make happy this holiday season
    • Think of a way to make them happy, in even the smallest way
    • Find something to do for them that will make their holiday better, even if it doesn’t require spending money
    • Measure the success of this by the number of people that I can reach, rather than the perceived happiness of those who I would traditionally buy presents for (which I previously measured in terms of money spent).

That’s it. For instance, leaving a note and a $5 Starbucks card for my mailman, sending letters or emails to five or six important friends and telling them what I appreciate about them. Bringing in the neighbors garbage cans and leaving them a note that says “Happy Holidays.” Donating what I can to charity. And on and on. Rather than going through the stress of making sure that I have spent the sufficient amount of money for family members and close friends, I will try to find ways to brighten anyone’s day that I come into contact with. I’ll write a blog post after Christmas detailing how this experience worked out for me.

Article of the Week

12-Plus Apps You Should Delete Before the New Year – Cale Guthrie Weissman

We all spend a lot of time thinking, reading and writing (as I do right below this) about what apps you should download. A simple Google Search for “must have apps” yields over 64 million results. While there are a lot of great apps out there that can make your life easier, more productive, more profitable and enjoyable, there are also apps that are a straight up waste of time, energy and focus. I thought that this was a really interesting article in that it flipped the script on most of the information out there about apps. It helps you to identify apps that no longer need to be taking up those precious megabytes on your phone. Your time is the most valuable commodity that you have, so don’t be afraid to cut out a few of those apps that are allowing you to waste it without noticing. That said…onto my next “must have app” of the holiday season 🙂

Smart Money App of the Week

Since I’ve been in holiday shopping mode lately, the app that I’ve been really loving lately is Ebates. It’s is an app and website that will give you cash back for shopping at over 2,000 affiliated retailers. You can get between 1 to 10% of your purchase back in the form of a check or Paypal payment. I’ve saved about $15 so far this holiday season with next to zero effort. You can check it out at or read my full review here.

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