Simplify Gifts for the Holidays–Save Money and Have More Fun!

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It is all too easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of the holiday season and go shopping for gifts, leaving you with a big credit card bill in January. Instead, what if, this year, you had the most beautiful, fun-filled joyous holiday season without the stress and excessive shopping and spending? 

Here are my tips to simplify gifts for the holiday season:

1. Focus on what’s truly important to you and your family.

Sometimes, we inherit traditions without ever questioning them. Take some time before the holidays to ask your family what they like most about the season. Do they like caroling, baking cookies together, getting a tree, wrapping presents, lights or decorations? You might be surprised to find out that some traditions aren’t that important and could be dropped or changed.

2. Eliminate the stressors.

Maybe no one likes to cook or maybe making a big dinner is too stressful. So, instead you can decide to eat out or do a pot luck dinner. We would always stress about getting the lights on the tree just right. Now, our new rule is one person volunteers to do it and NO ONE gets to criticize the results. Another option might be to forgo the lights.

3. Rethink family traditions.

You might also create new traditions that are simpler, more fun or environmentally friendly. When I was 8 years old we moved from Wisconsin to Arizona. My father thought that it was silly to buy a fir tree for Christmas when we needed to landscape our yard. So, instead, every year we picked out a potted large cactus or yucca tree and decorated it. After Christmas, we planted it in the garden to enjoy. This became our new Arizona tradition!  You could buy a small, potted living pine tree and then plant it afterwards.

4. Spend less on gifts and have more fun.

If you have a large family or a group of people to get gifts for, instead of doing the standard Secret Santa gift, play the Grinch Game instead. It’s much more fun! Be sure to set a dollar limit that is affordable for everyone (i.e., $5-$25). Then, everyone buys and wraps a gift and brings it without a gift tag or name and puts it under the tree. Next, place numbered slips of paper in an opaque container (note: one number for each person playing). Then everyone draws a piece of paper. The person who drew number 1 gets to pick first from all the wrapped gifts and opens their gift for everyone to see. Then number 2 can either pick the unwrapped gift that number 1 opened or any of the wrapped gifts from under the tree. If number 2 picked number 1’s opened gift, then number 1 gets to pick a new wrapped gift from under the tree. Then number 3 can pick any of the opened gifts or a wrapped gift from under the tree. If number 3 picks an opened gift, say from number 1, that person, now without a gift, gets to pick a gift from under the tree or they could take the gift from number 2. And on it goes.

The game ends when the last wrapped gift is picked from under the tree. The more “stealing,” the more fun! You can’t take back from someone who just took a gift from you, but you can take from any other person. We did this for a neighborhood block party and someone brought a very old bottle of scotch whiskey that was worth way more than the $15 limit we had imposed. So, it was a big favorite among the men and was “stolen” multiple times. You could put an eco-friendly spin on this theme by suggesting that everyone do their shopping at a second-hand store or that everyone shops their own home for a treasure of that same value. This works for all age groups. The key to making it work with mixed ages is to make sure you bring a gift that you’d like to take home yourself. That way, a five-year old might bring a teddy bear and a fifty-five year old might bring that bottle of wine. In the unlikely event the five-year old somehow ends up with the wine, swap afterwards! 

5. Stop giving ‘things.’

Given the popularity of Marie Kondo and other decluttering shows, it is obvious that most of us already have too much stuff. Instead of giving things, give an experience that won’t end up in a landfill or charity shop later. You could give a massage, dinner out, home-cooked lasagna, concert tickets, or movie tickets. Instead of more toys for kids, you could give them an experience, too. Think of taking them on a camping trip, to a sporting event, pottery lessons, painting classes, cooking classes, or similar. If you want them to have something to open, put the certificate in a box and wrap it. 

6. Just say no.

You don’t have to go to every event or party of the season. Make sure you leave some white space in your calendar to give yourself some breathing room. 

7. Do a Secret Santa for stockings.

Instead of doing all the shopping yourself, get the kids involved (this works for kids 7 years and older). Set a strict dollar limit ($5 or $7) to make sure it is affordable for the little kids. Don’t let anyone overspend as it won’t be fair. Then, draw names from a hat and keep those names a secret. Next, head to the dollar store or charity shop and buy items for your person without revealing your purchases. It is great fun trying to avoid getting seen as you find items for the stocking. Then, you have to surreptitiously stuff and hang the stocking without letting the person know—another fun challenge! My kids are now 15 and 18 and still like this game.

8. Simplify the gift wrapping.

You could wrap things in scarves or fabric remnants the way the Japanese do for a beautiful gift without wasting paper. I like to use the same gift bags every year until they are worn out. It’s not only better for the environment but also saves me time since I don’t have to wrap the presents!

9. Gift your own unique talent or time.

Instead of buying stuff, you could do something instead. If you love baking, then you could bake a cake or cookies or make a homemade marmalade or jam. Or if you are a keen gardener, then you could gift a day of weeding, trimming, or planting. Alternatively, if you are handy, then you could offer to repair all the nagging tolerations.  

10. Do something for charity.

Volunteer at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter. My husband doesn’t like stuff so we buy a goat for someone in Africa on his behalf (Oxfam is the charity that does this). One of the best ways to feel abundant is to give to someone else.

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