Putting the brakes on excessive gift giving


Are you feeling the anxiety of gift giving season before Thanksgiving’s turkey is even out of the oven? You’re far from alone. The pressure to spend beyond your budget is a year long challenge, which only intensifies during the months of November and December.

Last year’s average holiday shopper planned $861 for their gift giving, and I’m guessing that 2015’s strong economy will prompt an even higher number. $861 is a lot of money, certainly more than I’ve ever spent on gifts, although it’s certainly less than others will spend. If you have $861 set aside for giving, then great, go for it! But what if you don’t? Or what if you have the money, but don’t welcome the rote exchange of obligatory gifts that crowd our homes with unwanted tchotchkes?

Are you working so hard to make everyone else happy that you’re ending up miserable? You might be surprised that your family members are laying awake at night with the very same struggles. Guess what? You can choose to be the person in your family who starts a conversation about simplifying the holidays. Unsure how to broach the subject? Here are a few alternative gift giving ideas to share with your friends and family.

Draw names with a spending limit

This gift giving structure works well for large families. Have each adult draw a name of another family member, which brings each person’s gift-giving commitment down to just one person. Make sure to include a spending limit that works for all income levels.

Limit gifts to homemade items or consumables

Great Aunt Ethel’s signature crocheted toilet paper cozies might have you running for the hills, but not everything made by hand is necessarily so cringe-worthy. With Pinterest and the Internet at large, homemade doesn’t have to be synonymous with tacky. Give family members the option to choose between homemade or consumable, and there’ll surely be an option for everyone.

Read more: How to save 100% this Black Friday!

Propose a gift theme

Whether you choose books or consumables, (yes, I’m repeating an idea, because who doesn’t like to receive edible treats?!) a defined theme helps keep gift giving at a reasonable level. Other ideas that might click with your family include Christmas ornaments, socks, art supplies, home canned goods or silly gifts.

Give experiences instead of things

The trend towards experiential gifts has become more popular in recent years, as research has shown that we’d be happier spending our money on experiences instead of things. People can mistake this as an expensive option, (and it certainly can be) but an experiential gift can be as simple as a pair of movie tickets or a shared picnic. I transitioned to experiential gifts for my teenage sons a few years ago, and it’s been a huge hit. Experiences are shared, and can be both looked forward to and fondly remembered. Certainly better than a Snuggie or Chia Pet!

White elephant gift exchange

Whether you call it a Yankee swap or a white elephant gift exchange, the idea is the same. Everybody brings a single inexpensive wrapped present or gag gift, and then everyone sits in a circle opening one gift at a time. You can either keep what you open, or steal from someone else’s opened gift. Hilarity ensues and no one goes into debt.

Not give gifts

This idea isn’t for everybody, but it should be part of the conversation. Most people are on a budget, and buying even modest gifts for every co-worker, neighbor and extended family member gets out of control fast. Have the conversation about whether gift exchanges need to be continued. Yes, it’ll likely be awkward, but it might turn out to be welcome to all parties involved. My family no longer exchanges holiday gifts among the adult siblings, which has been a relief for all of us.


Whether you give a couple gifts to a few loved ones or to everyone in your circle, do it thoughtfully and deliberately. Make sure your gift giving traditions take into account people’s limitations and wishes. Traditions may go back generations, but there’s always room for improvement and change.

Read more: Where to donate used toys and goods this holiday season

For more money-saving advice, see our Money section.

Clark Deals
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