Radical Holiday Savings

Guest: Max Wong

Guest: Max Wong

Ten years ago Max Wong's extended family took a radical approach to the holidays, saving them thousands of dollars and a great deal of stress in the process. Learn how going cold turkey on holiday spending worked for them, and find out whether this approach can work for you. This episode aired live December 22, 2012.

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Excerpt from this interview

Gerri: What would you do if you had to totally change your approach to the holidays? My next guest, Max Wong, her family did just that. They took a really radical approach to Christmas. Max is a blogger for wisebread.com and she also has a personal blog MyRomanApartment.com. Max, tell us what you and your family did to change how you approached the holidays?

Max: Hi Gerri. Thank you for having me first of all. About ten years ago, my family decided to stop giving Christmas presents to everybody in the family including the kids. And we did that because hoarding and OCD behavior runs in my family and it was a pre-intervention step because a lot of us looked around our houses and said, we don’t want to be that little old lady that has to be dug out from underneath her pile of National Geographics. My cousin Carolyn called one year and said I’ve decided that we're not going to exchange Christmas presents so please don’t send us any presents.

Gerri: Tell me about your family. Is this a pretty large family? Were there a lot of kids involved? What are you talking about here?

Max: I have a really, really large extended Asian family. My cousin’s actually is my second cousin and so a lot of people I refer to as my cousin, or my niece, or what have you are actually my second and third cousins and we’re just really close. And that’s one of the great things about my family is I actually really like them, and we all get along.

Gerri: Okay. So Carolyn proposed this, what was the reaction she got?

Max: We all really liked it because we all instantly saw where she was coming from. But of course, all of us were so used to giving each other presents that we immediately started cheating in generally the stupidest possible ways

Gerri: Tell me one.

Max: This was something I did. I found the entire series of Lemony Snicket books for sale at a garage sale and they were in pristine condition for $7. And my niece is a really good reader and these books are fantastic, I actually work as a book scout, and so I bought them for $7, I packaged them individually so they were all really cute and she had all these little presents to open. And I shipped them off via Media Mail so I saved money even on the shipping to her, and thought what’s more perfect than a great book at Christmas, saved money, time and space.

Of course, I get a phone call from her mother who FYI is a librarian. What were you thinking? I am a librarian. Any book that you find, that you like, I can get. So next time dummy, just send the title and the author of the book that you want her to read, and I will check it out from the library for her and say that you referred this book for her.

I still give gifts of books to the younger kids in my family, actually everybody in my family not just kids, so we’ll call each other, we’ll say, I read the best book. You should read this book. And then we do a family read-along, and part of the gift is the experience of reading but part of the gift for the kids is also being able to call that adult relative back and have like an hour long conversation about what they thought about the book or if they live close, I’ll take them out to coffee and that’s sort of an adult treat too and we can discuss the book.

Gerri: I love this this idea. Let's talk more about the kids because that seems like it would be the biggest hurdle to an approach like this. And were some of the kids just really devastated by it?

Max: Actually, no. And it’s funny because we initially thought that that was going to be the really hard thing, that was going to be the sticking point and that's actually the first question that most people ask when they hear that we do this. What about the children? Like they’re living some detention, horrible, deprived life.

And the reality is that even though we don’t give Christmas presents, the loophole is that we still give graduation presents, we still give birthday presents. It's not like they never get a present ever from anybody. It’s just the Christmas.

And instead of giving hard Christmas presents or actual gifts that they unravel under the tree, instead we try and give experiences so we still go Christmas caroling, we still go looking at lights, we still go to the pound every year and pet the dogs.

We bake cookies, we let the kids stay in their pajamas all day, watch television with impunity. They can stay up all night. All the things that they normally don’t get to do, we let them do. And so that holiday rules makes up for the fact that they don’t get gifts. We thought we’re going to get a lot of complaints and we’ve gotten none.

Listen to the rest of the interview

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