It may be only October, but it’s important to figure out how you are going to approach this upcoming holiday season before it’s actually upon us. Kristi is sharing some awesome tips with us today on how to approach the topic of declining unwanted gift exchanges with friends and family this year. Enjoy! XO Christina
How to tactfully decline a gift exchange this holiday season:
The holiday season is quickly approaching, and I will be the first to admit that I am dreading the annual gift exchange with friends and family. I hate having to pretend to be excited about yet another sweater or a piece of jewelry which will never get worn, a toy which my kids will never play with, or another kitchen gadget which will just sit and collect dust. Especially when you have made the conscious effort to simplify and own less stuff, a gift exchange just goes against everything you have worked hard to accomplish within your life and living space.
If you already feel overwhelmed with “things” this year, try to give your loved ones a heads-up about your situation, and explain why you would rather not exchange gifts this year. Give them an honest explanation for why you would rather not, citing reasons about trying to minimalize, saving money, and focusing instead on spending quality time with family, instead of focusing on things.
A not so subtle, “Sorry, but we don’t need any more useless crap” will most likely end up hurting feelings though. No matter how much truth is behind that sentiment, it’s best to not burn bridges with well-meaning relatives, friends, and neighbors that way. Try saying something along the lines of, “We would love to join you for (insert activity here) instead of exchanging gifts. We want to teach our kids that the focus of the holidays is on family and friends, not on things. We would rather spend our money building a memory with you instead.” By delicately declining a gift exchange, most people will be 100% on board with your reasoning.
If you have pushy gift givers who won’t take no for an answer though, suggest one of the following ideas, which will help you to tactfully decline any new “things” but still embrace the spirit of giving, which seems to come hand in hand with the holiday season.
Alternative gift exchange ideas:
1. Cookie swap
Cookie swaps are a fun way to share your love with friends and family, and spend some quality time together during the holidays. With a cookie swap, each family bakes one recipe and brings enough cookies for each family to take home a dozen cookies. By the end of the party, each family goes home with 4-6 dozen cookies, and you are completely covered on the holiday cookie front. The cookies will get eaten, or frozen for later, and you won’t have the lingering effect of a gift exchange.
2. Experience exchange
The cookie swap works really well for younger kids, but sometimes old habits die hard with older kids and grandparents. If you have family that won’t take no for an answer, suggest that you swap experiences instead of gifts this year. Put all participating names in a hat so that each person only has to buy a gift for one person.
Since your resources are streamlined into just one gift for one person, your gift will be able to be more focused and meaningful. For example, instead of buying ten $10 Starbucks gift cards, you’ll be able to buy one $100 concert ticket for your Mom instead. Put a limit on the gift exchange and tell them that the gift has to be an experience. It could be passes to play putt-putt, tickets to a movie, a gift certificate for a massage, or tickets to a dinner cruise.
Be creative and think about what experiences would be fulfilling and joyful opportunities for the gift recipient. Encourage your family to think outside the box and give each other the gift of memories and experiences instead.
3. Book exchange
For the nerdier and/or academically inclined families out there, suggest having a book exchange in lieu of a gift exchange. Books are a great gift for any age, they don’t take up too much space, and they have more value than any other typical gift. Once you or your family member is done reading the book, they can donate it to the local library, exchange it for another book at a free book swap, or sell it back to Amazon for credits for another book. A book is a gift that keeps on giving.
Embrace the spirit of the holidays
I know how hard my friends and family work for their money, and I hate to see them buy gifts which will essentially waste their hard-earned money. It’s not that we don’t appreciate the thought and gesture behind “things” given, but this year, we are going to try our hardest to tactfully decline any gift exchanges. If we are going to exchange anything, it’s going to be memories, experiences, or food.
The things that matter the most during the holidays are the intangible things: time spent together and beautiful memories being made. If you openly and honestly explain your reasoning behind your anti-gifts policy, most friends and family will be completely supportive and even excited to try something new this year.
Do you have a no “things” gift policy? Have you ever tried something different in lieu of a traditional gift exchange?
Kristi Muse is a family finance freelance writer who loves writing about strategies to save money, get out of debt, and live a frugal life. She shares her experiences about debt and parenthood on her blog Moderate Muse. You can also follow her on Twitter.
Reelika @Financially Wise On Heels says
Wonderful idea! We only make gifts for the children already last two years and it has been totally worth it. It is more important to just spend time together and instead to do things together. Honestly, my life is less cluttered if I don’t get random gifts that I may not even like.
I love making gifts as well! Anything that is useful, homemade, or truly from the heart is an okay gift in our house =]
Alexandra @ My Urban Family says
I love this post! My family started this concept last year and it was AMAZING. We still give small stockings full of candy, silly little gifts, and an ornament to each other. But if it can’t fit in a stocking, it’s a no go. And then we try to pick at least one fun experience to go out and all do together.
I love that, Alexandra! I am a big fan of stocking-stuffers. It’s amazing how much fun and useful stuff can fit into a stocking. It’s an inexpensive way to treat each other to favorite things, like candy and a new magazine.
Daisy @ Simplicity Relished says
YES! Gift exchanges can be so tricky– I remember doing them in school and I’d always end up with something that didn’t interest me. I think if it’s a group of close friends we can swap things that we all love– plants, jewelry, something small and useful! I also love giving away jars of mulling spices for the winter!
Can I be your friend!? I love mulling spices!
I love this! Sometimes you just can’t afford to do those kinds of things, and I love the idea behind still exchanging SOMETHING, but having it be budget friendly and still meaningful. Great suggestions 🙂
I agree! I do love giving gifts to people, but I like whatever we give to be thoughtful and not just the best thing we could find in a store. A five dollar gift given out of love is 1000x better than something given because of routine.
Kara @ The Daily Whisk says
Great tips! We stopped exchanging gifts w/ siblings a few years ago, and instead have a fun Christmas party with lots of fun food. I look forward to our party much more than I would buying and exchanging presents.
Nothing says I love you quite like home made food!
Linda Sand says
When we were a broke young couple my mother-in-law decided it was time to change the focus of their family gift exchange. Each person was asked to provide a gift for each other person but nothing could cost more than $1 plus tax and free was better. It was a memorable Christmas. One son brought warm cinnamon rolls. One daughter gave our toddler a plastic accordion with whistles in the handle then gave me a pair of earplugs. I gave a free Hallmark datebook to the teenage socialite. Someone gave my MIL a set of jacks and we all spent the afternoon sitting on the kitchen floor playing jacks. It really only worked that one year, though, as families quickly started cheating by pooling their money to buy more expensive things. But I will always remember that one exchange that took place 45 years ago.
I love your idea of exchanging books! I might have to suggest that one… One of our more memorable Christmas’s was when we all brought “white elephant” gifts, and played a game. With each round of the game, someone picked a gift from the pile, or from another person. (I can’t remember exactly how it went.) It was hilarious and a lot of fun!
Anna E. Lee - Interior Design says
While I still plan on giving gifts this holiday season, my husband and I are planning on being much more intentional with our gifts than in years past. I have always enjoyed giving gifts however over the years, I’ve come to feel that my gift-giving has become a bit skewed. I’ve started to spend more than I can afford to on gifts; adding a good deal of stress and anxiety to my holiday season, as well as the proceeding months. While I know my gifts cannot buy my family’s happiness, I’ve almost come to believe that the more I spend on them, the more I’m showing them how much I love and appreciate them. I’m changing it up this holiday season by giving gifts that are thoughtful (i.e. experiences) and that I can afford.
kay ~ the barefoot minimalist says
I think it’s been about 10 years since we stopped the gift exchange. Our son didn’t want gifts anymore, and so we didn’t want him to feel obligated to get us gifts either. Then we expanded it to extended family. What a relief it is to just enjoy Christmas as Jesus’ birthday rather than a stressful time of running round trying to find what’s “just right” for everyone. I wish we’d done it much MUCH sooner. Great post Kristi! I believe most minimalists would agree. 🙂
Such great ideas! I get frustrated at this time of year both with giving and receiving sometimes. I feel so guilty when I receive presents that are essentially useless crap and just end up slyly donating and hoping they never ask about. As for giving, for the past 3 years I’ve done homemade gifts for people, but even with that I’m now starting to feel like I’m limited to just giving things that I can make which they don’t necessarily even want. These options, especially the experiences, provide a much better solution.
I’ve done a re-gift exchange with my work colleagues and not only is it free for everyone but it so much fun! Expect bouts of rib aching laughs!
Christina Tiplea says
That’s awesome Martha!
Rather than buying gifts, we all choose a charity that’s important to us and make a donation in memory of my grandparents who were both extremely generous with their time and money. Donations can be anything that each person can afford, so for younger people it might be $5 or $10, for the adults, anywhere from $25 to $100. Sometimes family members will donate together to make a bigger impact. My parents and I and combine our resources to I donate to $300 our wonderful local animal shelter every year, as we are huge animal lovers and so were my grandparents. It feels good to know we’re making Christmas a little brighter for homeless dogs, cats, birds, small animals and farm animals!
Christina Tiplea says
Aw I LOVE that tradition you have with your family Melly! What a wonderful way to help brighten Christmas for the animals!
Last Christmas we only had stocking presents. The kids are all teenagers and it seems silly to exchange presents when everybody has too much stuff. But this Christmas we had a Secret Santa thing, and that was fine too. Each person got one present.
Christina Tiplea says
The secret santa gift exchange sounds like fun Shannon! And it’s funny, stockings were actually always a big hit with my brother and I as teenagers 🙂 it’s fun!
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