5 Steps to Stress-Free Holiday Gift Giving


What do you get when you mix a media-saturated society with easy credit and the biggest holiday of the year? Pure chaos. We talk a good game in this country about simplifying the holidays, returning to a less material-focused celebration, and reducing our holiday-induced stress and consumption habits. But around October of each year the same thing happens — advertisers ramp up their messaging, expectations slowly grow, the familiar frenzy builds, and before it’s all over we’re left with empty wallets, full closets, and a nervous twitch that lasts til June. (See also: 25 Gifts That Save Money)

There must be a better way. Maybe this year it’s time to draw a line in the sand and embrace a simpler idea of holiday gift-giving. Instead of racing to buy bigger, better, and more, we could reset our expectations, recalibrate our standards, and enjoy what we have more completely. If you’re ready to re-script your holiday, here are five steps to saner gift-giving. (See also: 10 Gift Ideas That Cost Almost Nothing)

1. Set Limits

Without real or self-imposed limits, it’s much easier to fall victim to the pull of advertising and marketing. The lights, the music, the sales, the legions of shoppers spending like a Kardashian — it’s enough to loosen the wallets of even the most frugal among us. Set reasonable quantity and price limits per person, and stick to them.

2. Promote the Idea of Primary and Secondary Gifts

Some kids have an amazing knack for choosing the priciest toys and gadgetry without understanding the six-figure salaries and second mortgages such annual levels of gift-giving would require. Set expectations with kids about price and allow for one primary gift and a few secondary (i.e., lower cost) gifts or stocking-stuffers.

3. Choose a Charity

Few things in life can take the wind out of our consumerist sails like seeing true need. Choose a charity and donate your time and money (or both) throughout the year. It will help make every gift seem precious and inoculate you against the worst of the holiday shopping madness. (See also: 31 Gifts That Keep On Giving)

4. Finish Early

To avoid the most stressful holiday logistics, finish shopping early. Pledge to enter a mall in December only if George Clooney is manning a kissing booth or you’ve won a sweepstakes and have to pick up your prize in person. Spend your mall-free time organizing, wrapping, or doing something completely off-the-wall (like taking a nap).

5. Do Things Instead of Buying Things

In our hectic lives, time is the most valuable gift we can give and one that, delivered without expectations, can make the biggest impact. Break out the board games, play charades, build a snowman, or take a weekend trip with the whole family. Time together (with the advertisers muted and mall nowhere in sight) can calm frazzled nerves and help busy families reconnect. (See also: 20 Great, Free Gift Ideas)

Holidays don’t have to be the most stressful time of year — and we don’t have to let December be open season on our wallets and our savings accounts. This year, maybe it’s time to choose simplicity over stress, moderation over excess, and cash over credit. This holiday season there’s still time to scale back and take a big step away from the mall…I mean, unless George Clooney is doing that kissing booth thing.

Have you scaled back your holiday shopping this year? What strategies do you use to keep holiday gift-giving in-check?

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Guest's picture

My mother's last gift to me was to die on Christmas Day. She fought her illness for many months but finally succumbed in the hours before dawn. That Christmas season, I did not decorate a tree or shop for gifts or bake cookies or send Christmas cards or do any of the traditional holiday "chores." No one expected me to. The fact that my own children were teens and understood the situation helped. The following season, I announced that I would not be "doing" Christmas, but I did ultimately decide to put up a small tree and make a batch of butter cookies. From that Christmas on, I dramatically downsized Christmas, doing only the things that I truly wanted to do. My holidays since have been a time for reflection and living in the joy of the moment. Not not a hectic spending spree. This makes for a no-stress holiday. Thanks, Mom.

Guest's picture

I'd like to add one more ways to reduce your stress - by increasing the good feeling you get by spending money on local and handmade items. Not only do they show that you cared enough to actually buy something (rather than a gift card), but you get to support the creative community, small business and a belief that it matters when we make things by hand, in a traditional, thoughtful way.

Guest's picture

These are all great bits of advice, but I LOVE that you included number 3. For the past four years I've been volunteering at various charity centers around the holidays and it has made my whole holiday experience much more rewarding. Amidst the chaos of shopping for expensive gifts, it's a great way to give to those who are less fortunate, and remind ourselves of what the holidays are truly about and all that we have to be thankful for.


Guest's picture

I have tried to focus my gift giving to feed small vices rather than big indulgences. For instance, giving wine or a manicure or a favorite candy rather than a tablet or a television.

Guest's picture


I think you gave some really great advice. It's so easy to get caught up in expectations and grandeur this time of year, thanks for reminding us how we can take it easy and truly make the most out of the holidays. I especially appreciate #s 3 and 5 -- very meaningful.

Guest's picture

Thank you for sharing this post to help us stay stress-free and enjoy the holiday season with family. Sometimes we get wrapped up in the holiday gift shopping that we forget to enjoy the most wonderful time of the year! We will be tweeting your tips to stay stress-free to our followers from our Twitter account, @OncorPML.

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