How The Millionaires Next Door Do Christmas With Gift Exchange Games!

parents, retirement, happy, the frugal gene, good family, savers, budgeting
What a lifetime of financial health and stealth looks like in retirement.

My own family composes of first-generation immigrants. The only thing I remember celebrating as a child was New Year’s – not the one on January 1st. Chinese people celebrate Chinese New Years in February. By celebrate, I meant we lit an incense and watched Chinese New Year TV specials for hours; we didn’t do anything besides that but symbolically it was important. We didn’t do birthdays or anniversaries either. Holidays are not made for the working poor. I remember my parents hoping for extra shifts during the holidays because it meant having a little more money.

How Most People Do Christmas

[This post may contain affiliate links at no additional cost to you. Please read my disclosures for more info.]

A friend of ours lamented once about how her family always goes all out for Christmas. They are extremely generous with gifts. It sounds like a great thing but naturally, they also expect great gifts in return. By “great” I mean nothing under $200 per person at Nordstrom (with at least 3-6 people expecting extravagant gifts). She’s annoyed about it but her anti-gift murmurs have gone on deaf ears. Her mother has a spending problem and her sisters enjoy being on the receiving end of their mother’s spending problem. Talk about frugal fails.

The highlight is there’s a sure-fire chance that she will get a new iPhone and the latest Coach bag. Except…she doesn’t necessarily need any of those as a debt carrying graduate student on a fixed income. Plus, she can’t exactly afford to gift the same but has no other choice (she’s not sure how her sisters are ponying up the pay either).

Isn’t that terrible?

So Christmas for her looks like a big fat bill instead of a joyous occasion for family and her family doesn’t take things seriously because they like their tradition of a flashy Christmas.

Bless my stars, I lucked out with Hubby’s family…

How Smart People Do Christmas

I finally understand why Christmas is the “most wonderful time” of the year after having the privilege of celebrating it with Hubby’s family. Not everyone’s as lucky as I believe we are. All we have to do is take a few buses, float in the air for about two hours on a metal bird, and in exchange – we get free room and food for a week. Kick arse!

A few things in the oven still!

We fly in before Christmas. Every Christmas Eve, we go to Hubby’s aunts (mother’s side) house for a big holiday potluck. Usually, they have to put 2 long dining tables together to fit everything. We just walk into the dining room, get a plate, and load up on as much food from the buffet line up as we want.

There’s lots of family time and a lot of food too. After the finger food is cleared off, they put out another dining table size worth of just desserts and fizzy drinks. The whole night is just eating, chatting and being merry. No one involves presents because we’re just there to enjoy family time.

Around 10 PM, Hubby forcibly rolls me out of his aunt and uncle’s house, back into the car and we drive home with the rest of the family. Me with two chicken wings in hand and a smile on my fat face.

Thank the blessed man who invented stretchy pants!

Less than 12 hours later, on Christmas Day, we wake up and eat again. This time is a layout brunch buffet at Hubby’s parent’s house (father side of the family). There’s holiday sausages, eggnog, homemade applesauce from the apple trees in the backyard etc.

We repeat the process of “comeeee and get it” with desserts for the last round while everybody catches up.

After all the guests leave, it’s just parents and Hubby’s siblings left. We eat some more, lounge around, clean up, nap. Somewhere during that time, my husband and I sneak into our room and wrap our Christmas gift.

A Frugal Christmas For Sensible Millionaires

This makes me so thankful I married into a frugal family. I could just hug them. There is a reason why I always say Hubby’s parents are ‘The Millionaires Next Door’ archetypes. For example, their kitchen cabinetry, although solid, looks like something from the 1970s (because it WAS from the 70s). But it’s fully functional. They did not spend money they do have to improve it. Sometimes, Hubby jokes that they’re bordering on cheap but I beg to differ.

“Who is going to care what my cabinets look like? I’m not spending $20,000 to get new cabinets when these work just fine.” – Father-in-law. (I remember that because that was one of the first signs that I saw his frugality. I was elated.)

They spend money conscientiously with forethought. They have the 3 big “Fs” – family, faith and friends that’s worth splurging.

Gifts During Full Nest

Whoop missed the other half of the desserts on the table T_T

My husband’s parents are currently living financially independent and proud of it. They live in one of the quiet suburbs of Marin, a little north of San Francisco. Their pretty blue house for the last 25 years is fully paid off. His father controls the finances, pensions, and manages his own investments.

When my husband was young, his family didn’t go out to eat (except fast food after Sunday school and Costco). They didn’t go on many vacations. His parents had two used, old cars and his father took the bus to downtown San Francisco to work every day. He was an engineer like Hubby.

Dad handled the finances and mom handled the holiday ham. They practiced what The Millionaire Next Door preached. Needlesstosay, they were just a nice, quiet suburban couple with 4 slightly chubby, towheaded children.

Related: What Is The REAL Cost Of Raising A Kid If Done Frugally?

Kid hubby with a guy who could use a shave.

Hubby tells me when they were children his parents were always frugal, except on Christmas. His parents went all out on Christmas. Every Christmas, all four children receive gifts totaling $1,000 between just them which was a feat from otherwise very frugal parents in the 80s and 90s. Hubby commented that he found it strange later on but I believe it was because his parents take Christmas (and faith) seriously. They believe that holidays were worth not cutting corners when they could afford it.

They spent on what meant a lot to them and much less on other things that didn’t matter to them.

The Deployment of White Elephant – Gift Exchange Game

After the kids grew up, it was less about Game Boys and Barbie dolls. During the kid’s college years, his parents gave out checks. That was a big hit with the kids. It was practical, being in college and all. Now the kids are all out of the house and settled into their lives, the parents decided to play the White Elephant gift exchange game as empty nesters.

They shifted their money habits with what was beneficial to their children by being considerate of their life.

The gift budget is now $25 or less per person. Each person/couple brings one gift and takes one gift. I’m loving the restraints because frugality is my favorite shopping game of ALL TIME. The gifts are piled under the Christmas tree and everyone who bought a gift has to grab another person’s gift. Then when everyone is done opening, you can choose to steal another person’s gift or keep the one you unwrapped.

With the remainder of the wrapping paper, we all humanly launch paper balls, like ammo, at each other in a festive holiday war. Last Christmas, Hubby’s brother launched a sneak attack and got me on the noggin with a paper ball. This year, I’ve decided to superglue his shoes to his socks.

There are a lot of practical gifts that fetches for under $25. I love that they give practical gifts and isn’t moved by anything that has to do with iPhones or Coach bags.

The first year I spent time with them, I gifted handmade craft soaps from Etsy. I thought it was super practical, I mean…how can you not use soap? Then there was the year of coloring books (because it was all the rage at the time.) This year, I got a box of bath bombs from Amazon.

We always leave California with a tub of homemade cookies.

My husband received a tactical hunting knife from his sister as part of White Elephant because “everybody needs one good knife.” She was right. We used that knife for a lot of things and I can’t imagine us tearing into any delivery box without a solid knife. We used the kitchen shears like a bunch of savages before.

Practicality before bling, get with the program you!

After the gifts are dispersed among the new owners, Hubby’s parents bring out a bunch of nic-nacks from the garage. Throughout the year, when they see something on a good sale like a growler, a carafe, a cookbook, dinnerware set etc, anything of interest for the young adult’s kitchen, they buy it and throw it in the box. The box is then passed around for the kids to pick out what they like or need before it’s given to the church donations bin. They stopped doing that last year, I think because they realized their kids are too shy to take anything more from their parents. Now it’s just White Elephant and some delicious stocking stuffers filled with candy and jerky.

With a spending limit and blind White Elephant gift exchange, no one breaks the bank or sinks too much into gifts that shouldn’t matter anyway. Revolutionary! I think that’s pretty genius!


How do you and your family spend the holidays? How do you guys handle the gift situation? Do you set aside money for that and how much? What are the last 3 gifts you’ve gifted?

21 thoughts on “How The Millionaires Next Door Do Christmas With Gift Exchange Games!”

  • Interesting how parents can be frugal all year but make an exception for Christmas, that is what I do too.Our Christmas used to be magical, I still try to keep it that way but it is a little harder now. The White Elephant gift exchange sounds like something I would do once my kids move out. Thanks for Sharing Lily and have a wonderful Christmas.
    Caroline recently posted…Not Frugal Enough To Shovel My Own Driveway!

  • Wow that sounds so much fun! I love the family gathering and the FOOD!

    I feel like I want to try everything on the table, including the wings you mentioned haha. Jared’s parents and his family are so practical and wonderful. As I was reading your post, I was also starting to picture the family gatherings and all the gifts 😉

    Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and Jared! xoxo
    Ms. Frugal Asian Finance recently posted…5 Surprising Facts About Hubby (That I Learned Through Blogging)

  • Thanks for sharing your family’s traditions! My husband’s family is amazing too. We just had a lovely Christmas dinner with turkey and roast beef and it was so warm. Then going over again for Christmas brunch. I love being fed!
    Wow $1000 presents! Jared must have loved Christmas.

    I have done the white elephant exchange
    Merry Christmas! But with friends.

    Happy holidays Lily!
    GYM recently posted…How Maternity Leave is Like a Mini-Retirement

  • Thanks for sharing your holiday festivities with us. For Christmas, my wife and I head to my mother-in-law’s home for a little light gifting (we’ve managed to cut it back considerably) and lots of food and family. While I’m not especially religious, I do feel like focusing too much on the gifts takes a bit away from the season. I’d rather focus on the family and friends…and the food, of course the food! haha

    I hope you and your family have a merry Christmas and a happy new year!
    Gary @ Super Saving Tips recently posted…What to Do in 2018: Your Monthly Guide to Personal Finance

  • It’s crazy how everyone celebrates the holidays differently. We even follow different rules for my husbands & my side of the family for Christmas.

    I couldn’t agree more that Christmas shouldn’t break the bank. I also value time with family more so than presents these days. I love that you’re a practical gift giver to. I’m not big on gifts, but I definitely appreciate practical things I will use.

    Thanks for posting!

  • The holidays are a wonderful time of year. Your in-laws house sounds like my house. I have done some remodeling, but refuse to spend $20k on cabinets. Our Christmas is spent visiting both of our families. There is an abundance of food and good company. The gifts are mostly for the children. It is always a costly day for me because my wife’s birthday is also on December 25th. I make sure to get her separate gifts and take her out the day after Christmas.
    Dave recently posted…2017: Year in Review

  • Merry Christmas! It sounds like you’ll have a great holidays. Enjoy!
    We’re not going down to CA this year. Mrs. RB40 traveled a lot for work so she wants to stay home. That’s fine. We normally gift the kids some toys, under $50. For the adults, usually chocolate or something yummy snacks.
    Christmas isn’t a big deal for me because I’m an immigrant. Mrs. RB40 is much more into Christmas.
    Joe @ Retire by 40 recently posted…Updating My Christmas Bucket List

  • So I’m from Venezuela and I can relate to some of the traditions you’ve highlighted especially the food part. Anyways, back in the day I remember gifts flying around from left to right because our economy was good but after a while the system had us adjust to a more frugal celebration where faith and family was all we needed. Secret Santa became the way with white elephant being the latest theme. In my own family I’ve asked my wife not to give me anything and I say the same thing to relatives that want to give us stuff. It’s kind of a sensitive thing because you don’t want to make people feel bad. However, I’ve come to realize stuff during Xmas doesn’t make me any happier. Yes, I cannot expect everyone to be the same way I am but we’ll see how these holidays go. Merry Xmas and High five to the stretchy pants!
    A Journey to FI recently posted…Wake Up from Your Identity Crisis

  • The holidays sounds so much fun to spend with your husband’s family. We go to both sides of our family for Christmas. We head to my parents house on Christmas Eve and the next night on Christmas we go to Mother with Cents’ parents house. It practically the same in both houses, we chow down on some food, mingle and watch the kids open their gifts since it’s mainly for them. That’s what the holidays should be all about, spending time with family.
    Happy Holidays to you and your family Lily and enjoy your time back here in the Bay!!
    Kris recently posted…How Do We Spend (or Not Spend) on Our Holiday Shopping

  • My family usually gives gifts because my sisters are much younger than me I feel like it’d be cruel to not give gifts. Even so, we generally ask each other what they want (does this just destroy the gift giving spirit?). Good thing my sisters want for nothing…one of them could not think of anything and asked for a large tube of white paint. LOL

    I usually splurge on the boy for the holidays and I do have to roll over months of shopping budgets to cover that one, but it’s generally one nice item + an practical/fun experience (the expensive portion is basically having to get 2 tickets instead of 1).
    Jing recently posted…Money Diaries: Boyfriend Edition!

Leave a Reply

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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.