Written by our friend, Kim Demarest, Financial Coach and Founder of Be Knot Afraid

Santa was very scary for me when I was unemployed during the Great Recession. Every jolly figure was turned in my mind’s eye to the grim reaper. I had several years of January hangovers where I would vow to start saving in January for the following December. But that year it was even worse.  How was I supposed to come up with presents for all of those whom I loved in my life? It was especially difficult as my “love language” is definitely gift giving and, more importantly, receiving!

Who am I kidding? Honestly, it didn’t matter if it was the Great Recession.…every year I went through the same money pinch. The stress would always begin around Thanksgiving week when I could no longer ignore the holiday spiced coffee at my favorite coffee shop. As I was buying spiced coffee, Black Friday was looming in the back of my mind as the day that I was supposed to spend my entire paycheck.

Each day that I made the “wise” financial decision to get another $3 coffee over saving up money to buy those gifts, the stress would build.  I personally wanted to give a stern talking to the financial guru telling me to give up my daily coffee habit.  Whoever came up with that advice was simply someone for whom coffee had not touched their lives like it has touched mine.  I was seriously thinking of changing my love language from gifts to simply coffee.  Maybe that could be the only gift I would give this year…coffee? My family members with young kids might have a problem with Aunt Kim giving the gift of caffeine…probably should go back to the drawing board.

Fast forward to 2010, the first year being employed after the Great Recession. I had spent that year getting on a plan for my money and was slowly digging out of debt.  Also, I picked up a friend for the journey (my now husband) who was super supportive AND not a spender!  Where my love language was gifts, his was spending quality time. Hmmmm… quality time is cheap and I don’t have to give up my coffee…maybe that is an idea!! I ran with it and even now, when we have been debt free for so long, pretty much every year my family gets some sort of experience. In fact, this year my sister and brother-in-law sent out a text to only give their kids experiences for gifts.

Experience Gift Ideas:

  • Annual memberships to museums
  • Comedy show tickets
  • Aquariums
  • Organized camping trips
  • Photography classes
  • Custom wine making events
  • Birdhouse building workshops
  • Family game night
  • Hot chocolate and snowshoeing or sledding
  • Wine tasting events
  • Local swimming pool summer passes
  • Homemade diabetes friendly hot cocoa mix.

This list goes on! One year I combined a bike ride and wine tasting.  Purchased tickets to a local outdoor treasure hunt where there was real treasure involved.

Planning an experience just seems like too much work?  Here are some tips to rein in spending this holiday season:

  • Come up with a plan for how much you want to spend on each person.
  • Ask family to do just “kids” gifts this year or draw names.
  • Take out cash – My clients save an average of 38% by using cash at physical retail locations for purchases. The typical response after going one month with cash- unbelief that they saved so much money. You can also do this with online purchases. Take out the cash at the beginning of the season and as you purchase online, move the money from that envelope to an envelope that you deposit back into the bank. Seems a bit extreme but you will spend less. Lowest savings experienced by my clients was 8%. The highest savings was 58%.
  • Do not bring any credit cards with you. My clients report that they always spend more with credit cards. I have seen people spend 50% more than they would have otherwise. Credit cards cause the least amount of pain in the brain according to Carnegie Melon, Stanford and MIT.[1] Which means one is not aware of how much is being spent.
  • If single ask a friend who is good with money to hold you accountable. Reporting to someone else helps to avoid overspending.


Kim Demarest is a Financial Coach, and founder of Be Knot Afraid. You can find more information on her website www.BeKnotAfraid.net or you can reach out to her via email Kim@BeKnotAfraid.com

[1] https://www.cmu.edu/homepage/practical/2007/winter/spending-til-it-hurts.shtml