Forget presents — we spoke to couples who do the holidays differently

By: Vin Heney on December 23, 2016
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When I was a kid, Christmas was for spending large and getting even larger.

And I loved every second of it.

My part-time job, coupled with my complete lack of saving, meant that money was made for blowing. Plus, trekking through the mall with shopping list in hand, made me feel all grown up.

As for the “getting” part? Obviously I loved that, too. Being showered with pressies on that glorious morning was nothing short of a festivus miracle.

But oh, how the times have changed.

Now my wife and I don’t buy each other anything — instead we celebrate with family, buy a few things for the kiddos, and save for future trips.

While Santa is still synonymous with spending for many Canadians, there are lots of us who do things a bit differently around the holidays. We took the opportunity to chat with two couples who approach holiday spending in unconventional ways — here are their traditions.


“The Travellers”

Names: Julie Stolberg, Rich Cooper and (son) Gus Cooper

Occupations: Copywriters

City: Toronto

Holiday traditions: As a family we try to take advantage of the time off to travel. Near or far, we get out of the city. But first, we make time for family, and then we make time for adventure! This year we’ll be travelling to Montreal, to visit family and then Panama to play in the sand.

When did you start? Our tradition started when we met. Both Rich and I aren’t religious, we’re not big gift givers either, but we are experience-lovers. So instead of the classic Christmas, we hop in a car or a plane and take off for at least a week.

How much does it usually cost? Traveling in the country is the most economical, especially as we often have free places to stay. Our trips to Montreal or Muskoka can cost as little as $100, or up to $1,000, depending on meal and accommodation plans. On the other hand, when we leave the country, we try to fly with points and stay at Airbnbs. Costs vary, but we budget for around $5,000.

Are friends/family involved? For us, the holidays used to be Rich and I on our own travelling, but since our son Gus came into our lives, we’re much more family oriented. That means our holidays include our parents. The first half of the break is for one set of family and the back half (where we travel) includes another set of family. Travelling as a group has been a new idea that we have full heartedly embraced. As a group, we go deep-sea fishing, hiking, seashell collecting. It’s cool to see the world through your child’s eyes and his grandparents’, too.

What do people say when they hear about your tradition? When we tell people about our tradition, they love it and totally see how it fits our lives. We have a knack for maxing out our allotted vacation time—we get a lot of fun done!


“The Savers”

Names: Rebecca & Kelvin

Age: 24

Occupations: Content writer (Rebecca), client relationship manager (Kelvin)

Location: Markham (Rebecca), Pickering (Kelvin)

Holiday Traditions: We don’t really have a “holiday tradition” — every year we just do something different. We exchanged gifts as normal last year, but we usually try to keep our holiday spending (at least on each other) to a minimum. For example, one year, we set a budget. Another year, we made gifts for each other. This year, we cancelled gifts altogether, and we plan on putting that money towards a trip. We’d rather save up for experiences.

When did your tradition start?

R: In 2011. That was our second Christmas together, and we decided to set a limit of $60 because we knew money was tight.

K: Yeah. I actually blew that budget. I bought a lot of books for her.

How much does it usually cost?

Again, every year is different. This year, the answer’s $0.

Are friends/family involved?

K: My family adopted the “no Christmas” gift model years ago. They’re ahead of the times.

R: My family and I still exchange gifts. My brother’s gift-giving is actually pretty excessive, but I’m not complaining. And my friends and I have our own Christmas saving traditions: cookie swaps and clothing exchanges.

What do people say when they hear about your tradition?

R: Nothing, really. We usually just keep it between us. This year, I did tell my family that we’re not exchanging gifts and they liked the idea.

K: My family doesn’t really exchange gifts, so they’re used to it. It’s not a big deal.