As the holiday gift-giving season approaches, we often are filled with a sense of dread: How will we ever find the perfect gift for everyone on our list, the time to finish our shopping and the money to pay for all the stuff we need to buy? Some Americans are saving money and sanity by changing their gift-giving traditions and, in some cases, taking the surprising step of eliminating gift-giving entirely.
“I just gave up altogether,” says Sandy Smith, a human resources professional in New York City who blogs at Yes, I Am Cheap. Several years ago, after realizing she had blown a substantial bonus on gifts people had long forgotten, she told her parents, brother and sister that she was no longer going to buy Christmas gifts for them, and she didn’t want them to buy her anything, either.
Instead, she would take the family out to dinner at her expense. Her brother has since joined her in financing the outing, which the family looks forward to every year.
Check out: Thoughtful holiday gifts on a budget
Holiday traditions are important to many people, but you may find that your relatives are happy to stop exchanging Christmas gifts, especially as the family grows. Buying 11 or 12 gifts, plus another handful for friends, didn’t seem so bad. The gifts weren’t expensive. The year my brother was seven, he wrapped up a bag of M&Ms for me.
But, as time passed, my sisters and brother married and had children, and suddenly we had 37 people coming for Christmas. Add in a few more holiday birthdays, children’s teachers, co-workers and friends, and we were headed for the poorhouse, not to mention spending way too much time in stores.
The truth is, no one in my family needs 37 gifts. Our solution was to draw names. Now each person buys just ONE gift. Some buy gifts for children and spouses and some don’t. We also gave up exchanging birthday gifts, unless we find something that’s just perfect.
Someone has to take the initiative and suggest a change in holiday traditions. Talk to your friends and family about gift-giving and see if they agree it’s time for a change. Most will be relieved and consider the time saved an even more valuable gift. Consider alternatives to buying Christmas presents, or at least setting a spending limit.
“It’s all about time, money and energy,” says Stefanie O’Connell, founder of the personal finance blog The Broke and Beautiful Life. “I think that the gift-giving process is a toll on all three of those things.”
She suggested to her four siblings several years ago that they quit giving each other holiday gifts and concentrate on their parents and older relatives. Not only did she save money, she discovered that she had more time available to spend with her family since she wasn’t out shopping. Her friends draw names for a Secret Santa exchange, and they have the added bonus of enjoying the get-together where they exchange the gifts.
Some families find it easy to limit gift-giving among adults but still want to make their children’s holidays magical. But buying fewer things may be better for your children, says Andrea Deckard, a mother of three boys in Cincinnati and author at Savings Lifestyle.
She and her husband decided several years ago that they would buy each of their three boys only four gifts every year: Something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read. They coordinate with grandparents and other relatives, so that if someone else in the family is buying one of the boys a jacket, for example, the parents will get him socks or underwear.
“We want to make sure they’re not getting too much junk,” Deckard says. How do the kids react to receiving fewer gifts? “It’s not as much of an issue as some people might think it is,” she says, adding that her sons, who are now 8, 11 and 16, have learned from the experience. “Our kids now realize that it’s stuff and we don’t really need all this stuff this time of year.”
Getting off the gift-giving merry-go-round starts with a frank discussion with friends and family.
Smith, whose blog chronicles her journey of paying off $120,000 in debt from student loans and a failed business venture, has been vocal in recent years about her less stuff, more time philosophy. She believes it frees her friends from worrying about whether they need to buy her something because she’s buying them something.
“It turns into this crazy thing where they’re not really giving you a gift because they want to but because it’s a pre-emptive strike,” Smith says. “When you put it out there, it makes things easier for everyone. I think a lot of people want to go back to simpler things. I don’t think people will protest much.”
For some great tips on how to spend less and celebrate more, CLICK HERE.