Tips to Pare Down Your Christmas List Without Looking Cheap


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You don't have to come off as Scrooge to save a buck or two on holiday gift-giving. Here's how to save money, yet still look and feel generous.

The holidays can be a social landmine. There are so many emotions and expectations tied up in gift-giving. Rather than risk offending someone, we often go overboard and end up with a gift list nearly as long as Santa’s.

Whether your budget is stretched thin or you are fed up with Christmas commercialism, there are simple ways to reduce the number of gifts you give without looking like a skinflint.

Following are five tips for doing this successfully.

1. Eliminate casual acquaintances from your list

The nephew you haven’t seen in three years who never says thank you for the holiday check? Cross him off your list. The neighbors who moved in 2008 and are your Facebook friends now? They don’t need a gift either.

People who fall into the “casual acquaintance” category probably aren’t expecting a gift and won’t even notice if you stop mailing them the annual fruitcake.

Have a couple of relatively inexpensive, but nicely presented, gifts at the ready in case you get a present from someone who has disappeared from your list. Examples of such gifts include:

  • Soap beautifully wrapped with a sparkly bow
  • A bottle of wine in a gift bag
  • Goodies such as jam or candies

For more inspiration on how to use holiday deals to buy discounted presents for the entire year, check out “Tips to Score a Year’s Worth of Gifts at Rock Bottom Prices.” You can also find cheap gift ideas on our Deals page.

2. Stop giving at family and office Christmas parties

Gift-giving expectations run the gamut during family and office parties. Some parties might not include any gift exchange.

At other parties, everyone is expected to give gifts to everyone else. That’s madness, and it is time to rein it in.

The key is to find like-minded people — such as a co-worker or cousin living on a tight budget — who will be allies. Once you find a couple of people who are ready for a change, approach the person in charge of the party and propose an alternative arrangement.

Emphasize to the host  that you have loved past parties, but budgets are tight this year. Or, explain that your kids simply have too much stuff. Then, propose something different, such as “Secret Santa” arrangements or the “white elephant” game.

3. Consider the creative use of cards

We all know people we like, but don’t count as close friends — the postman, co-workers the next department over or the custodial staff at your kids’ school.

Rather than eliminate them completely, move them from the “gift” category to the “card” category. Read “The 20-Cent Greeting Card” for ideas on making something that’s both inexpensive and impressive.

If you’re short on time, hit your local craft shows to find some handmade cards. In my area, you can regularly find crafters selling cards for $1-$2 each. Write a heartfelt note and attach a piece of candy to the outside.

4. Use charitable donations with caution

Giving charitable donations in someone’s name can come across as either thoughtful or very cheap.

Typically, I only recommend this strategy if you know of a cause that is particularly dear to the recipient. For example, if Grandpa Joe died of cancer this year, you could make a donation to the American Cancer Society or a hospice in the name of the “Smith Family.”

5. Keep it real with those who understand

Finally, don’t be afraid to be open and honest with good friends and close relatives. Tell them you love the holidays but hate the commercialism. Or remind them that you lost your job and are flat broke this December. Perhaps you simply have too much stuff.

Whatever the reason, ask if you can skip the traditional gift exchange. You could suggest going to the Christmas concert, seeing the latest blockbuster, or maybe even ordering pizza and hanging out for the night instead.

Have you cut back on your holiday spending? Who got the boot and did they notice? Tell us about it by commenting below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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