Challenge Your Holiday Gifting Traditions

The holidays are fast approaching once again.  Typically, they are a time of tradition – doing things we were taught to do while growing up.  To have a wonderful holiday, we try to do what is expected and please everyone.  Why not challenge our gifting traditions this year?

When we were small we were taught that it is better to give than to receive; that we should smile and say thank you to Aunt Matilda (for the red and green polka dot pants that make us vomit just looking at them); that we should not ask for the things we really want; and that we should always give gifts to each of our family members and friends.

I say bosh and baloney!  Lets take a different approach to gifting this year.  Assuming you are struggling to make ends meet, want to save money but still want to stay on good terms with family, friends and cohorts – consider a few wacky, weird ways to celebrate the holiday gifting season.

Lasso the number of recipients.

When you are growing up, unless you are atypical, you are expected to give only to parents and siblings – plus maybe an optional friend or two.

Then you get married and suddenly you have two sets of parents and two sets of siblings for which to buy gifts .  Once you and your sibs start having kids, things really get out of hand.  But then, who doesn’t want the fun of buying a toy for a toddler or two.

Then your kids grow up and get married and have kids.  Your sibs kid’s grow up and get married and have kids.  Maybe you’ve lost grandparents, but the parents are still on the list too.  The holiday gifting list has now grown exponentially – Christmas gifting potentially requires a home equity loan!


  • Agree to buy only for the kids under college age.
  • Draw names.
  • Instead of a gift for the mailman, hair dresser and etc – write them a letter of commendation for their outstanding services to you.

Savor the gift opening.

Too often in America, Christmas morning has been an exercise in getting gifts opened as fast as possible.  Savoring the opening stretches out the joy of giving and allows us all to show appreciation.


  • Open gifts one person at a time – taking turns.  Pause after each person opens each gift to admire it and let the recipient express thanks and the giver tell the story of the gift.  We did this growing up.
  • Build excitement by having a scavenger hunt for one big gift per person.

The year we bought a weight set for our teenage son, we decided we didn’t want to heft it into the living room to put under the tree.  Instead, we hid clues around the house and the garage, eventually leading to the trunk of the car, where the weight set was tucked away.  He had a great time hunting the clues (and he didn’t find his present early the way he usually did!) and enjoyed the gift as well.

We did the same thing for both sons one year when we gave each of them a different musical instrument.

Cut the costs of the gifts you give.

It’s the thought that counts – after all – right?


  • Agree to give only personal service gifts

The computer engineer in the family gives two hours of time to someone to help address software issues.

The cook promises to supply catering services (but not the food) for that upcoming wedding shower.

The gardener promises to create a landscaping plan for the family member with a new bare yard.

The driver agrees to transport Grandma to the doctor once a month for the coming year.

The 5 year old in the family promises to pick up all of the gift wrap on Christmas day and disposed of it.

  • Agree to an asset exchange instead of a gift exchange.

We all (most of us anyway) have too much stuff.  You have enjoyed Great-Grandma Mary’s English Tea Set for years, maybe someone else in the family would love to enjoy it for awhile.  Have each person draw up a list – with pictures – of the stuff they have to exchange – then play a game.  Gather all of the items unwrapped (or pictures of them) into a pile.  Let everyone chose an item until all are taken.  Next, make groups out of the people.  Let the first group go around and grab the things they want – on a timer.  Once they are done, the next group gets to go grab what they want.  And on around.  One last grab session is a free for all with everyone.  At the end, you take home what you end up with.

  • Agree and enforce spending limits per recipient.

Keep it below a certain dollar amount, just do gag gifts with games or have an after Christmas gifting session to take advantage of after holiday sales.

Eliminate family gifting.

Instead of exchanging gifts with each other, try something new.


  • Instead of a family gift exchange, do a family performance.

Growing up, the tradition in our family was for everyone to make a performance related to Christmas, on Christmas Eve when the family gathered.  You could play a song on the piano, read a passage from the scriptures, put on a short play, write and read a poem and etc.  It gives everyone a chance to shine and show off special talents.

  • Gift others with a family service day.

Instead of giving gifts, get together and pick out a charitable activity in which all will volunteer for the same day/time slot.  This can be a real memory builder!

Get what you really want.

I don’t know about you, but we have closets full of stuff we got for Christmas, that has never been used.  We don’t want to hurt feelings by returning it, but then again, it is something we don’t want or need.  It just sits there taking up room.  If your family is going to exchange gifts anyway, why not find a way to help each other figure out what to give?


  • Start a tradition of putting up gift registries at various stores.

This would only work well if everyone knows about the registry and if everyone realizes that they have the option of using it or not.

  • Set up a Christmas gift account for yourself.

Let people know you could really use the cash this year.  If you get some, deposit it as savings in your gift account.  If you get gifts you don’t really need and do return, put the money from that return in your gift account.  It adds up over time.

  • Set up a family website and post wish lists.

Set up a free website with a password so only family members can access it.  Have everyone write their ‘letter to santa’ and post it. Once their letter is posted, set the site up so they can’t see it anymore – but everyone else can.  Gift givers access the list to see what recipients really want then mark that item off the list (anonymously).

There are a bunch of sites out there that offer free family websites – and you don’t have to be a techno nerd to put your own site together.  Most of them also allow password security – so only your family can see it. Here is a sampling:

  • Have a wish list item drawing.

Have everyone hand write their gift wish list one item per line with their name on each line.  At Thanksgiving do a drawing.  Cut up each list so there is one item per paper, then have a drawing.  Whoever draws that item, buys that gift for the person who wanted it.

  • Buy your own gift.

Have each person buy something they want, then give it to another family member.  That family member wraps it and gives it back on Christmas day.

  • If you are really brave – start a communal family fund.

Instead of giving gifts, contribute the value of the gifts that you would have given to a family fund. Participating family members each have a specified number of shares in the fund and the growing money gets allocated based on the number of shares.  This can be a way to pass money from generation to generation, start a family investment club or start a college fund for next gen students in the family.

Write an agreement with your Mom, Dad, Mother-in-law, Father-in-law, sons, daughters, grandkids, sisters, brothers – or whoever you want to include.  Agree to start a family fund.  Set it up as a separate legal entity – such as a limited liability corporation with members.  Instead of giving each other clothes that don’t fit, electronics that go out of date in 6 months or boxes of candy –  contribute to the llc.

Deposit the money in an interest bearing account.  Elect a treasurer from the family to handle it and a secretary to report on it to the members.  This could be the start of your family’s fortune!  If you are interested in this idea, be sure to consult a lawyer and accountant and be prepared to deal with potential dissension in the family ranks.  Money + Family can = Trouble.

Are you ready to start new holiday gifting traditions?  What is your family doing to deal with holiday gifting in these harsh economic times?


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7 thoughts on “Challenge Your Holiday Gifting Traditions

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