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9 Tricks to Cut Back on Holiday Gifts Without Being Grinchy

Presents, toys, presents, games. If you're a parent, you might be starting to feel like your life revolves around gifts these days. As Christmas gets closer, checking everyone off of your guest list may start to feel like an all-consuming task. Read on if you're exhausted by the materialism of the holidays.

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Set the tone for a less gift-centric holiday

Before the holidays arrive, start setting the tone for a Christmas that isn’t focused on getting or giving gifts. “Start by downplaying the ‘get presents’ aspect of the holidays,” advises author and parenting expert Silvana Clark. “Go to look at store window displays and holiday parades. Go for the experience and don’t point out the toys in stores and ask your child what they want. So often, kids are constantly asked, “And what do you want for Christmas?” Don’t even bring it up. They’ll let you know, but it won’t be because you are bringing up the topic.” If you plan to cut back on gift giving for your extended family members as well, start the conversation early. An honest talk about your plans for the holidays will allow them to prepare to receive fewer gifts and to adjust their gift giving is necessary. Here are some non-toy gifts your kids will love.

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Set a budget

For some, their budget is determined by the gifts they want to buy instead of using a budget to guide their gift buying. This year, sit down and decide how much you can afford to spend on Christmas presents. Be realistic, chose an amount that wont create added financial pressure for your family in the new year. Once you set a budget, make a specific plan for how you will give gifts to the people on your list without going over your limit. (Here are 24 cheap Christmas decorations that won’t bust your budget.)

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Organize a gift exchange

Cutting back on gifts doesn’t have to mean getting rid of presents altogether. Spend less money and time on purchasing gifts by organizing a gift exchange with your family. “We pick names at Thanksgiving,” Beth Fulbright shares. “We write names down on a piece of paper, toss them in a hat, and pick a name. It’s nice, you still get to do presents but it’s not as hard on the wallet.” It can help to set a spending limit of $20 so everyone’s gifts are in line with expectations.

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Host a Secret Santa exchange

Secret Santa is a fun twist on your average holiday gift exchange. Just like most gift swaps, everyone’s names are thrown into a hat and names are picked. The twist is that you buy the gift based on what you think that person might like and without a formal list or requests from the recipient. When the time comes to open gifts, each recipient is tasked with guessing who their Secret Santa is.

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Adopt a family

Consider asking your family members to join you in adopting a family. “Each year we ‘adopt’ a family in need,” said Kelly Burch, mom of one. “All of my siblings and parents chip in, so we spend less on gifts, but we still get the fun of shopping and wrapping gifts in a much more fulfilling way.” Programs like Operation Breakthrough can pair you with a low-income family without the means to celebrate Christmas. Shop together as a family and throw a gift wrapping party complete with yummy treats.

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Start a new family tradition

If your family time during the holidays revolves around the presents under the Christmas tree, this year might be the year to start a new holiday tradition that has nothing to do with gifts. Some families watch a Christmas movie together each year or get out of the house to go ice skating together during the holiday season. My own family recently started playing board games together at holiday get togethers, and it has really given us the opportunity to bond and catch up on each other’s lives in a low pressure environment. These are classic board games every family should own.

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Adopt the “Four Gift Challenge”

Many parents are making the Four Gift Christmas Challenge a part of their holidays. What is it? “Something to wear, something to read, something they want, something they need.” Instead of filling the space beneath the tree with countless toys, buy one meaningful and thoughtful gift in each category for you kids, and never go over the four gift limit.

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Give experiental gifts

Most people already have enough “stuff.” This year, give experiences instead of gifts for Christmas. For kids, consider giving them a gift certificate to learn to dance in the new year or tickets to their favorite amusement park. For adults, give the gift of tickets to a play or dinner out and a voucher for free babysitting. Experiential gifts are a great way to make the holiday season memorable for the people you love.

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Go on a trip

Skip presents altogether this year and ask your family members to funnel the money they normal spend on gifts to pay for a big family trip. Using services like AirBNB or VRBO, you can find large vacation rentals that are big enough to house everyone in your clan. Spending a weekend, or an entire week, cooking meals together, playing board games, and exploring your destination, is sure to be more memorable than anything that could fit under a tree.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest