Friday, November 11, 2011

Cutting Back on Christmas Spending

The approaching Christmas season is enough to strike fear in the hearts of anyone struggling with money.  There is such an air of expectation among the children.  What parent wants Santa to let them down by not getting them exactly what they want.  Who doesn't want to buy their mother/father/sister/niece the "perfect" gift that will make them squeal with delight?  Unfortunately all this costs money.

In my husband's family we exchange presents with everyone.  "Everyone" currently includes: Mom and dad, two sisters, two brothers-in-law, four nieces & nephews, an uncle and the uncle's significant other.  That's twelve people just on his side of the family.  The present push starts on Thanksgiving when we all need to come with a list of what we want so the Black Friday shoppers can get prepared.  Christmas morning the living room is a maze of stacked presents.  Presents are taken over to my in-laws on Christmas eve so everything can be arranged prior to us arriving.  We are given assigned seats and our presents are stacked around our seat.  It's not unusual for the piles to be 2-3 feet high and only a small path to our seats.

The kids absolutely love it.  As an adult, it strikes fear in my heart.  Fear of the money it takes to buy the presents, fear of the time it takes to shop and wrap all those presents as well as fear of what to do with all the stuff once it's opened.  When our kids were young there were a couple of years that we needed to make two trips to get all of the stuff home.

This may sound like I'm complaining but I'm really not (except for maybe those years it took us two trips to make it home).  What I am saying is that it may be a little excessive.  With all the hustle and bustle to get ready for Christmas I feel like the reason for Christmas gets forgotten.  I think it's still possible to have a nice Christmas without all the materialistic trappings. 

Here are some ideas on cutting down on the work and/or financial strain of gift giving.

  1. Stop exchanging.  This hasn't necessarily gone over very well when I've brought this up in the past (hence the fact that we are still exchanging) but I do think it's a valid point.  If you or someone in your family is truly struggling with finances this would lift the gift giving burden immensely.  No one wants to admit to financial struggles so I would encourage anyone who isn't struggling to be the one to suggest the change.  Think of what a relief it would be for your struggling family member to have someone else make the suggestion to change the status quo. We've done this with my family and it has actually made the get together more enjoyable.
  2. Limit gift giving to children under 18
  3. Exchange names and only buy for the one person each of you have drawn
  4. Have a white elephant exchange.  Go through your house and give away something old or hideous (just make sure it wasn't the sweater you sister-in-law gave you the year before).  Everyone gets to purge an item from their house and open a gift.  There will be no emotional attachment to the gift you receive so it will be easy for you to give it away.
  5. Host a gift grab.  Everyone brings one gift (with a $ limit).  Everyone draws a number.  When it's your turn you can either "steal" a present from someone else or grab one of the unopened presents
  6. Have a homemade Christmas.  Limit all gift giving to homemade gifts. 
  7. Have a themed Christmas.  One year a friend of mine had a "Wisconsin" Christmas.  Everything purchased had to be made in or representative of Wisconsin. 
  8. Instead of exchanging gifts put the money towards a get away weekend.  Book a condo/house with the extended family for a weekend at the beach, skiing, etc.
  9. Go on a family excursion.  To cut down on the amount of "stuff" and make my shopping a little easier I've started giving theater tickets to our local performing arts center.  I'm not saving money but I am making my shopping a little easier and not adding to the amount of "stuff" my sister-in-law needs to take home.  Last year we had so much fun that my nieces begged me to do it again this year.  The best part is I get the tickets at a discount through my employer.
If Christmas is overwhelming for you I would encourage you to sit down, make a list of what is overwhelming and brainstorm how you can solve it.  We should be enjoying Christmas and celebrating what it's really about, not getting stressed and crabby.

How have you cut down on gift giving?

I'll be linking this up over at Life as Mom



  1. it got overwhelming for us too...I finally convinced others in our family to 1. Only buy for kids(and even then they had a limit) and 2. we put the adults names in a hat then everyone drew one. I was so less stressful and we even had fun trying to figure out who bought the gift!

  2. Those are great suggestions, I can't imagine buying for that many people!

  3. We don't buy for my husband's side of the family (it's around 85 people). They have started wanting to do a gift exchange, though, the last couple of years (Depsite several famiy members seriously hurting financially) and we've just opted out. They usually do it at the end of the night (and so late that it's after our children's bedtimes) so we just leave earlier.

  4. We do 'family gift exchange' for my brother & I. Trying to buy individual gifts was too difficult & expensive. So we opted to make it a Family Gift. We offer movie suggestions (since so many new family movies come out near Christmas) & pick from that - then usually I add in 'movie food' - popcorn, swedish fish, goobers, jr. mints, etc. & a 6 pack of soda.

    As for our kids, we limit gifts to 3 Wise Men Gifts (3 major gifts) and then $5-10 gifts to exchange with siblings/parents.

    When they were little we found stuff still unplayed with about a month later & it was wasteful & unappreciated. So we cut back - telling them a whole year in advance that there were only going to be 3 gifts. They could put all they wanted on their wish lists, but they would only get 3 presents from Santa.

  5. While we still exchange with my husband's family we did stop exchanging with my sister's family. I still buy for my niece but that's pretty much it. I like the idea of a family gift.

    I agree with you about the over abundance of stuff. It has gotten better over the years but there have been times that we've brought stuff home and immediately put it in the donate pile. That always makes me feel bad.

    We do give our kids more than 3 presents but we buy a lot of semi-necessities. I'll take my 21 year old clothes shopping and give him gift certificates for gas & food.

  6. This year we are desperatly trying to save money to correct a big mistake we made almost a year ago... Moving from Maine to Texas. Now we start saving to get our butts back up there ASAP!! With plans to make the move in early March the thought of spending hundreds on Christmas is killing me. We have 4 kids and that's a lot to buy for, and then move!! So I started buying early. Using coupon deals, shopping clearance sections everytime I go to a store ect. The kids are all under 6 so there aren't any "Big Gift" requests... Yet! When you spend maybe $10 at a time ovre months, that stuff adds up! And I had the time to really get the stuff they would LOVE (when it went on clearance) instead of feeling rushed to buy just ANYTHING!! To top it off, I'm Black Friday Shopping for PJ's, Clothes, and a few more toys. I'll be keeping it under $200 and the kids will still wake up to just as big a Christmas as they have in the past.
    As far as buying for family, we only buy for kids in the immidiate family. Nieces and nephews make the cut. Everyone else gets a hug and an "I Love You..."

  7. Oh and a lot of the stuff we buy is also needed items. Stockings always have and always will hold Shampoo, body wash, new wash clothes (kid ones of course), socks, undies, brushes, ponytail holders ect. Usually they get Suave brand everything (or whatever I get with coupons) so for Christmas I spent the extra $1 to get them the fun Disney Character stuff. They get so excited just at having something different than the everyday thing, and I feel good about buying things I KNOW will get used!!

  8. This post inspired one on my blog. I back linked to you, of course. It won't be up until 9AM EST Friday, November 18th if you want to check it out.

  9. ooo! I like the idea of spending just a dollar more for the name brand at Christmas time. That is a good idea. It's a consumable, so YOU KNOW it's gonna get used! LOVE! Great idea, thanks,!