Years ago, I asked my extended family to put an end to our annual holiday gift exchange — but not because I’m a Grinch. In fact, I love getting presents.
But I didn’t like how my aunts, uncles, cousins and I were having to spend time and money buying gifts for each other that we really didn’t need or, in some cases, want. Plus, we were spending Christmas Eve — one of the few times of the year I saw some of my relatives — watching each other open gifts rather than actually enjoying our time together. If you want to persuade your family to stop exchanging gifts, here’s how to approach the topic.
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.
Explain Your Reasoning for No Gifts
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, founder of Divvy Investments.
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.
Offer Alternatives to Exchanging Gifts
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. 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.
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.
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. This is a joint holiday gift idea my husband and I plan to do when our three children get a little older.
Ease Your Family Into a New Tradition
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.
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.
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 personal finance at Pear of the Week. “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.