If you’ve decided not to give gifts this holiday season, make sure you clearly communicate with your loved ones. What are other ways you can celebrate instead?

Each year, I sit down to work on my holiday gift list, thinking it’s going to be pretty straightforward.

It never is.

Despite careful planning, my recipient list seems to get longer and more involved every year, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. After all, gift giving isn’t just committing to more spending, it also takes a lot of time. Many Grownups have extended family, friends, and even colleagues on the list, but let’s be honest. Does everyone really need to get a gift?

If your answer is no, here’s how to approach holiday gifts in ways that are more meaningful and friendlier to your budget.

Have the “No Gifts” Conversation

You can’t change your holiday spending habits in a vacuum, especially if you exchange gifts within a group of friends and/or family. It’s important to share your concerns and come up with alternative strategies so everyone can be on the same page.

Talk Early About Spending Limits

If you’re like me, you hate to think about holiday shopping until after Thanksgiving, but it’s important to lay the groundwork early so people can plan. Many like to shop early; to get them on board, it’s helpful to plan ahead.

Be Transparent

I know, it’s tough to talk to friends and family about money. It’s something we all struggle with. As a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional, I’ve talked to many people who believe their peers have it more figured out than they do—all because people are afraid to talk about their finances. And being mum about money contributes to overspending, especially during the holidays.

Once Grownups start having the money conversation, though, they find more common ground than they originally believed, and there’s a real sense of relief once money is discussed openly and honestly.

Come Together as a Group to Find a Solution for Everyone

Whether you exchange gifts with family, friends, or coworkers, talk to each other to find out what they find meaningful, while also covering budget constraints.

Understand that some Grownups really enjoy giving. Can you exchange gifts that aren’t expensive, but still bring joy to the givers?

Maybe the group will decide there’s no need to add one more thing to everyone’s gift list and will instead decide to have a group outing or get-together.

Agree on Alternatives to Holiday Gifts

Find an experience in lieu of gifts

Sharing an experience can often be far more meaningful—and fun—than exchanging gifts. We tend to remember experiences better and more fondly than things, plus it’s an opportunity to bond and create memories together.

One Christmas, my extended family chose to go to a ski lodge instead of exchanging gifts. We found a “Charlie Brown” tree to decorate with simple decorations and spent our holiday focused on playing and eating together. We didn’t save any money, but we didn’t really spend more either. Instead, we gained time, sanity, and joy.

Planning a celebratory meal or attending a holiday event together can be less expensive, more accessible, and a lot of fun.

Organize a group gift exchange

Will a Secret Santa or Yankee Swap/White Elephant idea work for your group? This is a great way to still exchange gifts, but can be as fun or meaningful as the group wants. It also typically includes a spending limit. Usually, people will pair a group gift exchange with a party.

Consider Your Gift Recipients

Prioritize your holiday list

Prioritizing my gift shopping is a lot like cleaning out my closet or rotating my seasonal clothes, in that I have limited resources (e.g., an old house with minimal closet and storage space). In terms of holiday giving, I have a limited budget, time, and energy for heavy-duty shopping. This is the time to think about who gets a gift, and who gets a more creative solution.

Consider saving into a holiday fund all year long  

Surprise spending always crops up at the holidays. If your list is hefty, consider creating a dedicated savings account for holiday shopping. Determine a budget for yourself for next year based on what you spent this year and what seems comfortable to you. Then save enough each month, beginning as soon as you can, so that come November or December, you’ll have enough set aside so you won’t have to rely on credit cards or disrupting your cash flow.

Go DIY for Gifts

A great way to manage gift costs is to make your own. In the early years of my marriage, we made homemade jams and sauces from produce picked at a farm. One Grownup makes her own natural lotions for the women on her gift list. Projects like these may seem time-consuming, but when you factor in the cost savings and the time you might otherwise spend shopping, your time and effort are worth so much.

You can take control of how you choose to spend for holiday gifts. It’s easy to feel obligated to get everyone exactly the right thing and, as a result, overspend. Remember, your friends and family don’t want you overextended. You can still enjoy the sharing that comes with the season, while being true to your own financial plan.

Rachel is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ who believes that financial planning can be a positive and powerful tool for changing lives.

Any third-party resources or websites referenced above are not under Society of Grownups control. Society of Grownups cannot guarantee and are not responsible for the accuracy of the resources, websites, or any products or services available through such resources or websites.

While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner.

Let's take action, Grownup.

Check out our courses to start taking action on your goals any time.

Take a course

Let's stay in touch, Grownup.