It’s no secret that the holidays send stress levels through the roof, especially with the pressure to visit loved ones and spend money on gifts. In fact, in 2017 a survey by Mr. Cooper, the nation’s largest nonbank mortgage service, found that 33 percent of Americans would “rather skip the holiday season” than use their paychecks on gifts. And that makes sense because, today, 41.2 percent of all households have some form of credit card debt, according to a study by Value Penguin.
But whether you have debt to pay or want to stay far away from commercialism, here’s how to help your family break the tradition of gift-giving and save a little money this holiday season.
Broach the Topic Well Before the Holidays
You shouldn’t spring a proposal on your family to stop gift-giving right before Christmas, said Phillip Christenson, a financial analyst with Phillip James Financial. For starters, some might have already purchased gifts.
Also, there needs to be ample time to discuss the issue with all family members to ensure that everyone is in agreement, Christenson said. It could take months to persuade those who truly enjoy or value the tradition to give it up.
Acknowledge Those Who Want to Keep Gift-Giving
It might be difficult to get family members to agree to stop giving gifts unless you explain why you no longer should. “I think the most important thing is to just be honest and start a dialogue,” said Nick Bradfield, head of business development at Worthy Financial, Inc.
Explain Your Reasoning for No Gifts
You could point out that everyone has a different financial situation and that buying several gifts could be putting a strain on some family members. Perhaps you might want to suggest that you’re trying to teach your kids that Christmas is about more than just presents and that a big family gift exchange contradicts that message. Or you could simply say that spending time shopping for gifts leaves less time for family.
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Offer to Do Something Charitable
A good way to get others to agree to a Christmas without gifts is to suggest an alternative. “Make sure you’re offering something of value because you’re taking away gifts,” Christenson said.
You could propose that your family share an experience during the holidays, such as caroling in your neighborhood or volunteering together at the local soup kitchen. “Sometimes the experience is worth a lot more than the gift,” Christenson said.
Make Plans to Spend Time With Family Instead of Money
Eliza Cross, who blogs about saving money at HappySimpleLiving.com, said that her family has replaced gift-giving with watching holiday movies together and making homemade ornaments.
Start a New Tradition Your Relatives Enjoy
Cathey Stamps, chief connection officer with goal-setting service Best Year Yet, said her relatives began a family cookbook for Christmas a few years ago, collecting recipes from one another. It’s online, so there are no printing costs, and they update each year. They’ve also looked into other low-cost gifts, such as group charitable giving to combine small contributions into more significant gifts. “These have all been feel-good alternatives to the massive bills of our prior gift-giving approach,” she said.
Plan a Family Vacation
If you want to get your immediate family to stop giving gifts, you might consider replacing physical items with a family trip — if it fits within your budget. A trip like this would get you all to have family time together while enjoying a new experience.
Set a Maximum Budget for Gifts
If some or all of your family members refuse to stop gift-giving, there are ways to eliminate the tradition over time — or at least limit the cost.
You could start by setting price caps on gift purchases, such as $10 or $20, Christenson said. Or you could suggest that family members draw names so that you’re buying presents for only one person rather than every aunt, uncle, niece and nephew. Another option is to ask everyone to just get gifts for young children in the family, Bradfield said.
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Make Your Own Gifts
Instituting a homemade gift policy is another way to keep the cost of the holiday down while also offering unique Christmas gifts.
“Not only do these gifts save immense money, but they’re much more appreciated than a traditional budget-busting present,” said Elle Kaplan, CEO and founder of wealth management firm LexION Capital.
Point Out the Benefits of No Gift-Giving
Although you might take some heat from some of your family members for not participating in gift-exchanging for the holidays, providing incentives for your family might soften their hearts to the idea. For instance, 62 percent of people reported that their stress level was “very or somewhat” elevated over the holidays, according to the Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute On the Brain Newsletter. This feeling of stress could be caused by the practice of gift-giving, which comes with high stakes, according to Psychology Today.
“For some of us, gift-giving is no simple matter,” Shawn M. Burn Ph.D. wrote for Psychology Today. “Not just because it’s challenging to find affordable, thoughtful gifts given our limited time or finances, but because we recognize that gifts are often wrapped in symbolic meaning and we obsess about it.”
Allow for Some Minor Exceptions
Finally, recognize that some family members might never agree to give up gift-giving.
“Some people are natural gift-givers,” said Trevor Ewen, who blogs about software development and investing at Medium. “It’s how they show love.” So, you might want to allow that person to break the rules — and let everyone else know that an exception has been made, he said.
More on Saving Money
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- Watch: How This Travel Blogger Saves Big During ‘Shoulder Season’
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Taylor Bell contributed to the reporting for this article.