It’s a well-known fact that the holidays can quickly turn into the most expensive time of year. The pressure can be high to feel like you have to give everyone a gift, but the truth is, you certainly do not. A few alternative approaches can release us from gift-giving guilt and support our financial health during a challenging season.
Set Expectations with Family and Friends
This can be helpful to do before the season gets underway, but is definitely still possible at this stage. Have a quick call with family and friends before a major party or event and talk through gift planning to help for set expectations for what you’re planning on doing this year around gift giving. This can be especially helpful if you’re making the shift from always being a very present-forward gift giver to a different type of giving (your time, hosting, giving to a charity that’s important to you, etc.)
The key to this conversation going well is usually that it happens outside of an event, and is completely separate from any other holiday merriment. You don’t want to show up at the family gift swap and just then start telling people you’re passing on gift giving this year!
In my case, I had a call with a few family members to discuss what our overall holiday plans were — including events we wanted to attend, who we might be sending cards to, etc. That chat also included my suggestion that given our individual holiday budgets, both in time and financial resources, that this might be a good year to skip out on gift giving in favor of us finding other ways to celebrate. You might be surprised to find they are actually relieved the possibility, and had felt the same way. (Pssst! This is also a great opportunity to start being transparent with your friends about your financial goals and share ideas and tips with each other.)
Celebrating Without Gifting
Speaking of gatherings, hosting a cocktails and canapés event for your friends, neighbors, or others that you’d typically give gifts to is another way to get more mileage out of your holiday budget. You can even get creative in framing the invites! Since the most valuable thing we can give to each other is our time, you can let guests know that instead of any gift exchanges, this year you’d most appreciate them sharing an evening or morning with you to enjoy each other’s company.
Reconsider Your Tipping Patterns
The places my holiday budget always seems to burst is tipping service providers. Doormen, hairstylists, dog walkers — all of these add up quickly, and I seem to have an unexpected influx of everyone to consider tipping in the holiday season. While it is harder to do mid-season, I have tried to spread out or shift some of these larger “lump sum” annual tips to a different season when it is easier on my wallet, and can have even more impact to demonstrate thoughtfulness.
For example, my amazing dog walker takes exceptional care of my little dog in the summer, when it’s crazy hot for both of them to be outside and boiling in the city. I let her know after a card and tip last Christmas that this next year, I’d plan on paying her “bonus” in the summer instead of the winter, as a measure of my appreciation for how much extra care she gives our dog that time of year. Now, I package a tip with some other fun summer goodies around June, and just give her a nice New Year’s card around this time of year. My earlier heads up set a different expectation, and made it easier for me to actually be more generous with my budget and annual gift by shifting to tipping at a different time of year.
Limit Reciprocation and Receive with Grace
Another area we can feel compelled to go overboard with gift giving is when we unexpectedly receive a gift from a colleague or acquaintance. We’ve all been there. Kim goes outside of the office white elephant exchange and sets adorably packaged candle, cozy socks, and $25 hot chocolate on your desk “just as a little holiday cheer!” And there we are the next day at Anthropologie trying to cobble together an equivalent gift and somehow not make it completely obvious that Kim was definitely not on our original nice list.
We all know, however, that we’re almost never fooling someone when this happens. Instead, it’s just fine to receive someone’s generous and thoughtful gift with grace and sincerely express your gratitude. What these moments can also tell us is that someone might be trying to reach out and build a better relationship with us. Instead of a hurried obligation of a reciprocal gift, you might consider returning a thank you card or suggesting a coffee date after the New Year gets underway.
Cards are King — Not Cash
The holidays are an important time for reflecting on our year and setting ourselves up for what’s ahead. In that way, one of the most important things you can do for future you is not overspend during the holidays, or take on debt (eek!) to satisfy some unspoken gift-giving obligation.
If you want to surprise someone, sit down with a beautiful holiday card and actually write up a few memories, words of encouragement, or reasons you’ve appreciated this person’s contributions to your life this year. Chances are, you’d be hanging on to this note long after the fuzzy socks have been donated.
How do you manage gift-giving guilt?