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Cancel Christmas

This might sound a bit bah humbug, but have you considered canceling Christmas this year?

No, I'm not suggesting that you use your evergreen wreath as kindling or pretend you're not home when the extended family arrives on your doorstep dressed in their holiday finery. But think about it: What would it be like if you didn't shop 'til you drop this holiday season?

Whether you kiss off Kwanzaa or say sayonara to your menorah or farewell to Festivus, saying "no thank you" to the holiday push may just save your finances -- and your sanity.

What rhymes with jingle bells?
Canceling Christmas is not just my way of getting out of mall gridlock this year. In fact, it's not even my idea.

The group called Adbusters has promoted "Buy Nothing Day" for more than a decade to counter the idea that shopping is our patriotic duty. Adbusters.org calls attention to the country's overconsumption, high debt, and the effect our shopaholism has on other parts of the world.

A former Adbusters employee streamlined the message and started Buynothingchristmas.org in 2001 to de-commercialize the holiday and emphasize alternative ways of giving.

No, they're not selling sock puppets and handmade lint dolls on their website. But they are a creative sort.

Each year a group of volunteers heads to the mall around the holidays to serenade patrons with some unusual carols. This one is sung to the tune of "God Bless Ye Merry Gentlemen":

Slow down ye frantic shoppers for there's something we must say,
If you would spare a moment all the stores would go away,
Big business has been telling us what Christmas means today,
Now it's time we decided for ourselves, for ourselves,
Yes, it's time we decided for ourselves .

The ellipsis isn't because I got bored typing the lyrics. It's because that's usually the point in the tune when the carolers are escorted from the mall by less-than-cheerful security personnel.

Frankly, you don't need to make up words to holiday jingles to get the point across. Just put on that Pearl Bailey CD:

Hey, Santa Claus
Youwant to make me happy this year?
Listen to me, honey.
Give Pearl something that'll be of some use to me,
Like a five-pound box of money ...

Or the cheeky Barenaked Ladies anthem about the sport of shopping:

It's never enough
Until you've got all the stuff
When the going gets rough
Just shop with somebody tough ...

Now I know who to call to get the cheap laptops they're supposedly selling at the crack of dawn at Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) .

Owe, owe, owe -- Merry Christmas!
From a strictly financial point of view, the cancel Christmas idea might just be the thing to bring financial cheer back to your family balance sheet.

Americans are expected to spend $435 billion on holiday cheer, according to the National Retail Federation. Its annual holiday spending survey found that the average consumer plans to shell out $738.11 this season, a 5.1% increase over last year.

Cue holiday dream sequence.

Had the cancel-Christmas idea come to you in the year 2000, instead of spending $738.11 on a Tickle Me Elmo, a Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) PlayStation 2 and a Razor scooter, your shopping might have included one of the following:

  • A five-year certificate of deposit (ING's were at 4.85%). Had you put the dough in one, you'd have $935.33.

  • An S&P 500 index mutual fund. If that lump sum had been committed to one, you'd be out $13.33.

  • The Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund. If you had picked it, you'd have fared a bit better with $779.57.

  • Target (NYSE: TGT  ) . If you had avoided the crowds there and instead zipped online and bought shares in the company, today you'd have $1,439.16.

  • Best Buy (NYSE: BBY  ) shares instead of the PlayStation. You could have really bummed out your teenager and bought the shares, but the kids probably wouldn't be pouting over the $2,295.21 the investment morphed into five years later.

Although none of these investments were complete lumps of coal, obviously some brought more glee than others five years later.

One thing's for sure, though, you could have done worse. A lot worse.

Instead of earning interest (or even losing a tinge due to the S&P's lackluster five-year performance), let's say your $738.11 sat on your credit card while you whittled away at the balance.

What would you have five years later to show for your holiday hijinks? You'd still owe nearly $320. On a credit card that charges 14% interest, if you made only the minimum payments due each month, it would take you 100 months to pay off the balance. And it would cost you $438 in interest along the way.

"Merry Christmas 2008, honey! We finally paid off Christmas 2000!"

Think outside the big box
It's not too late for nearly one-quarter of you reading this to change your holiday tune. NRF's research reveals that around 22% of consumers surveyed planned to begin their holiday hunting and gathering in December. (One-third said they would start shopping in November, and 18.5% of those organized types were at the mall in October. About 15% who have already picked out the cute candy-cane striped wrapping paper and peppermint-scented gift cards grabbed up all the good stuff at Best Buy before September.)

From an emotional perspective, celebrating a buy-nothing Christmas may not play so well on Dec. 25. "Thanks for the big box of nothin', gramps!" isn't exactly the kind of sentiment families want to remember years hence.

But you can do things to dampen the holiday damage.

Separate the meaningful from the meaningless. Take a step back. Pause for a moment. Start from scratch. What would it be like to spend more time with family and less time at the mall? What would really happen if you had fewer gifts under the tree? Mentally remove all the things that cost money -- the travel, parties, new clothes, fake frost on the windows -- and then one by one add back in the parts that really matter to you and your family. What is it that you remember about last year's holiday? What toys are your kids still playing with? What items do you still enjoy?

Make a payback pact. If you've already done your shopping or it's too late to change your travel plans, take an evening to figure out how to pay off the holiday spending as fast as you can after the holidays. Write down what sacrifices you are willing to make in the early months of 2006 (e.g., eat out less, no in-theater movies) and make a spreadsheet to track your Visa bill attack plan. If you're going to go all out in December, realize that it will require a few trade-offs -- unless you've reserved a page in your family memory book for your credit card bill.

Put Santa on hold. The calendars may all say that Dec. 25 is the day. But what if, say, you put off the holidays for another day or week? Those with jobs that require them to be away for the holidays know that the most important part of the celebration is not the datebook, but who's in attendance. The bonus for those willing to wait is the deep discounts at the stores.

Remember, good tidings don't have to come with a gift receipt. Try something different for the holidays this year.

Hey, if it doesn't work out, at least everything you wanted will be on sale in January.

More Foolish cheer:

Best Buy is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick.

If you're looking for an alternative to giving tons of presents to friends and family this holiday season, consider giving to others. Check out the newly announced five recipients of ourFoolanthropy 2005 campaign.

Dayana Yochim has considered joining the pro shopping circuit but could not stick the parallel parking requirement. She owns none of the companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is a bargain at twice the price.


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