As the holiday season begins, families across the country will launch into another round of classic traditions—from braving mall crowds at 4 A.M. on Black Friday to humoring dad as he sings off-key carols.
In a joint survey conducted by LearnVest and Chase Blueprint®, we found that families actually value tradition more than ever these days … right down to the little things. Case in point: 80% of those polled said that sitting down for dinner as a family was very important when they were growing up—and 70% of them make an effort to re-create that ritual with their own families.
The truth is that we take comfort in what we know, and for some families, the traditions that they most appreciate center on teaching future generations the right money values.
So just in time for the holiday season, we asked seven people to reveal their family’s most-prized financial tradition—whether it’s concealing coins under the tree to illustrate the difference between wants versus needs or using Christmas stockings to impart a valuable lesson about budgeting.
Counting Christmas Coins
There’s nothing quite like finding a pile of presents under the Christmas tree—except maybe finding a giant pile of shiny change.
“My dad would save all of his loose change every year, and at Christmas, he would put a big can of coins under our tree,” says Nancy Harr, 40, of Atlanta. “My sister and I almost didn’t care about our gifts—we just wanted to count and roll the change. And $100 in change was a lot for us! It was a tradition that we continued until college.”
Harr believes that her father wanted to teach them about wants versus needs. “As we got older, my dad would advise us to spend the money on something that we needed—not just wanted. If we didn’t ‘need’ anything, we were supposed to save it toward something special, like a family vacation, instead of blowing it on a pair of expensive jeans,” she explains. “It was nice to have him give us that perspective, because at that age, it was all about instant gratification.”
Harr and her husband plan to continue the tradition with their two sons. Since the boys are too young to count and roll coins, their parents deposit the money into individual 529 college funds at Christmas. “Once they’re old enough to appreciate money,” Harr says, “we’ll put the coins under the tree.”
Putting a Smart Price on Stockings
Aubrey Westgate, 27, of York, PA, learned about budgeting early on, thanks to her family’s tradition of doing “$15 stockings” every Christmas.
“Over Thanksgiving, we would take names out of a hat, and whatever name you pulled, you’d fill that family member’s Christmas stocking with $15 worth of presents,” says Westgate. “It was a great way for the younger kids to get involved, as well as learn about budgeting and managing money. It also taught us to get creative when we were nearing the $15 mark. When we opened the stockings, we took turns guessing who had filled them. And although it doesn’t sound like a lot, those stockings were always bursting with gifts!”
Spreading Some (Financial) Holiday Cheer
For Carly Fauth, 35, her husband and their four-year-old son, the holiday season presents an opportunity to have a little feel-good fun. “Every year, we set aside $50 for anonymous random acts of kindness,” explains the Milford, MA, resident. They use the money—broken into smaller denominations—to surprise unsuspecting passerby with a little holiday cheer by stashing the cash in unexpected places.
“In the past, we’ve hidden $5 bills behind produce in the supermarket, stuck $10 bills on car windshields and asked grocery store checkout workers to put $5 or $10 toward the bills of people behind us in line,” Fauth says. “It’s so much fun—and it brings back the true meaning of the holidays.”
Fauth is particularly proud of how the tradition has impacted her son. “Last year, our gas station attendant was filling our tank, and he wasn’t smiling, so my son asked if he was sad,” remembers Fauth. “When I said that I wasn’t sure, he asked if we could give the attendant some of the money to make him smile.”
The Family That Vacations Together …
Money Crashers financial expert David Bakke, 47, of Atlanta, knows a thing or two about saving money—and spending it meaningfully. A treasured tradition in his family is to put aside a certain amount every month—contributions are based on each person’s income—toward some much-needed R&R.
“We all have automatic deposits made to a family vacation fund,” says the single dad.
“When it comes time for the family to meet up each year, we normally have about $1,000 between us in ‘extra’ money to play with.” One Christmas, the family used the money to visit the Biltmore Estate, a mansion built by the illustrious Vanderbilt family in Asheville, NC. Another year, that $1,000 helped fund a trip to Atlantic City, NJ.
And Bakke is quick to give credit where it’s due: The family vacation fund tradition, which has been going strong for the past ten years, “was my mother’s great idea.”
Giving More Than You Get
Charitable donations aren’t just a holiday tradition for 48-year-old Katerine Nastopka, who lives in San Diego with her 16-year-old son. They are a year-round project.
“My son, who has an after-school job, and I each give 10% of our paychecks to various charities,” she says, noting that some of her favorite charities include Rescue Children From Human Trafficking Foundation and the International Justice Mission, a nonprofit that fights for victims of human rights abuses.
For the holidays, Nastopka ups the ante: “In December we donate more than 10% to purchase gifts for disadvantaged families overseas,” she explains. “Last year, we purchased a goat and four ducks through the World Vision catalog for a family in Israel.”
Getting Crafty at Christmastime
For Stamford, C., resident Melissa Malinovsky, 31, and her two sisters, giving something homemade for the holidays in lieu of spending a lot of money on gifts is a tradition that began in elementary school.
“My parents got divorced when I was eight, and my two sisters and I wanted to make sure that we had a gift to open at each parent’s house because we celebrated Christmas twice,” recalls Malinovsky. “In order to save money, we decided to buy gifts for one house, and make a craft for the other.”
To this day, the sisters still create handmade gifts, keeping the price cap at less than $10. “One year, it was Christmas ornaments, another it was CDs, and one year it centered on pictures. Now that we’re older, it’s about more than just the money—everyone loves to see the crafts.”
Adopting A(nother) Family
For their annual family money tradition, Audrey McLaughlin, her husband and their two young daughters “adopt” another family for the holiday season. “We work with a charity called the Lake Cities Spirit of Christmas, which serves local people in need,” explains the Lake Dallas, TX, resident. “We feed the families at Thanksgiving, and they give us a wish list for the children that includes two complete outfits, socks and undies, plus two toys each.”
The family completes the list together and then wraps the gifts at a party that the charity holds two weeks before Christmas. In addition to bringing holiday cheer to those who need it most, McLaughlin says the tradition has also had a positive effect on her own children. Recently, her older daughter asked why Santa didn’t come to these kids’ homes. “After much discussion, our answer was that Santa does come to their houses,” she says. “We’re just helping the parents give their gifts, just like you might get presents from Santa, as well as your parents.”
By Marisa Torrieri
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