I can still remember my first holiday season as a new bride. My Christmas shopping list had gone from 10 people to more than 40 people in a single year. I felt pressure to make a good impression on my husband’s family, a fierce devotion to my own family, and a desperate desire to keep my sanity.
I was trying so hard to keep up appearances. I was buying stuff just to buy stuff. I wanted to be thoughtful, but that was hard because I didn’t know people very well. And then we began having kids and the gift-giving decisions got even tougher to make. It felt like there were never enough gifts. Or enough money.
It was around that time that the recession hit. Money got tighter for all our family members. That led to some major changes to the way our family celebrates holidays. Each year, we set a gift-giving plan.I know some of you frugal folks already have a gift-giving plan. You shop the sales year round and find the best bargains. You may already be done by now. And that’s great. But for those of us who struggle balancing our desire to do something nice for a large family with a small budget, I’m here with some ideas.
Instead of rushing around and wracking up credit card debt in December, start a conversation with your family members now. Talk about what kind of holiday season you want. Talk about how you want to celebrate. Sit down with your family members and map out a plan for how you’re going to handle gift exchanges this holiday season..
This heart-to-heart session needs to be open and honest. It’s important that everyone gets to offer their ideas. And then you need to set your gift-giving plan.
Here are a few gift exchange strategies you and your family members may want to consider:
The name draw. Each family member draws a name and buys a gift for that person. Every person buys one gift and gets one gift. You may want to simplify this even more by drawing just for the kids or drawing for family gifts. You could also do a Secret Santa gift exchange.
Homemade Christmas. Consider making a rule that any gifts you give to each other must be handmade. Gift ideas include hand-crafted items, framed family photos and artwork, gifts in a jar, or home-baked goodies.
Recycled Christmas. Instead of a handmade holiday, consider a recycled one. Anything you give to each other has to be either made from recycled items or come from a secondhand store, garage sale, or your own storage closet. This is a great way to celebrate a green Christmas while saving some green.
Make ’em laugh. Decide that instead of traditional gifts, you’ll exchange gag gifts. Remember to be funny, but tasteful. You don’t want to be the one who makes Aunt Edna cry with a mean-spirited joke gift. You may find great inspiration from the dollar store for these gifts, or using your computer to design funny fake magazine covers, family trading cards, etc.
Play a game. My husband’s large family has often had a Bingo game on Christmas. Everyone who wants to play has to bring a prize (which costs no more than $10). Once you’ve won a prize, you can still play but you can’t win any more prizes. We always have a blast and the family has gotten very creative with the prizes! We’ve also played the dice game, but be forewarned, this one can get crazy pretty quickly!
Share an activity together. Instead of buying gifts for your entire family, consider sharing an experience together. A friend of mine said he and about 20 of his relatives took a sleigh ride and went sledding instead of exchanging gifts. Others may go to a sporting event, a musical, or even dinner and a movie.
Consider helping a charity. Rather than exchange gifts with each other, some families will buy presents for other families in need. (Check with your Salvation Army chapter for ways you can help). Others will volunteer as a group at their local soup kitchen or homeless shelter. Joining together for a great cause can be a bonding experience, and can help the kids realize the true meaning of Christmas.
Don’t exchange gifts at all. Many people would be relieved at the idea of not having to buy a gift, or figure out what to do with an unwanted gift. What’s important is that you’re spending time with people you care about. Make a memory instead of a purchase this holiday season.
These are just some ideas for how to handle gift-giving this holiday season. Choose the one that makes the most sense for your family now and you’ll have a more frugal, more relaxed holiday season.
What is your gift-giving plan? Do you do one of these things or something else? Please share!