5 Tips to Pare Down Your Christmas List Without Looking Cheap

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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 have had it up to here with Christmas commercialism, there are simple ways to reduce the number of gifts you’re giving without looking like a skinflint.

Let’s start with a video about sticking to a holiday budget.

Now for more tips.

1. Start with the low-hanging fruit

I’m talking about the people you give to out of habit or obligation. The nephew you haven’t seen in three years who never says thank you for the holiday check? Cross him off the list. The neighbor who moved in 2008 and is your Facebook friend now? They don’t need a gift either.

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Likely, many of the people who fall into the casual acquaintance category aren’t expecting a gift and won’t even notice if you stop mailing them the annual fruitcake. Well, your nephew might notice there is no check, but that’s his fault.

In the event you do get caught off guard with a present from someone you crossed off your list, it is always a good idea to have a couple of relatively inexpensive, but nicely presented, gifts at the ready. For example, soap that is beautifully wrapped with a sparkly bow, a bottle of wine in a gift bag or goodies such as jam or candies can make great presents.

If you don’t need them for Christmas, you can repurpose them for other occasions later in the year. 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. Tackle the family and office Christmas party

Now let’s move on to the family and office parties. The gift-giving expectations run the gamut during these events. Some parties may not include any gift exchange while others operate under the expectation everyone will be gifting to everyone else.

If yours falls into the latter category, it’s time to rein in the madness. The key is to find a couple of like-minded people on your side. If have a co-worker living on a tight budget, they could be your ally. The cousins with three or four kids each could also be looking for a way to pare down their lists.

Once you have a couple of people who are ready for a change, approach the person in charge to propose an alternative. It could be your boss, the HR director or the grandma who hosts the holiday party each year.

Be sure to stress you have loved past parties but budgets are really tight this year (or your kids have too much stuff) and would it be possible to do something different. Secret Santa arrangements are one option, but my favorite is a gift exchange such a white elephant game. Not only does every participant only need to bring one inexpensive gift, it also gives the family/office something to do rather than talk about the weather for two hours.

3. Consider the creative use of cards

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Comments & discussion

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  • ModernMode

    What’s the White Elephant game?

    • MoneyManic

      It’s a gift exchange game that can be played several ways, but the gist is everyone brings a wrapped gift. In my family we set a price, such as the gift should be $20-25. All the gifts are placed in the center of the room and everyone draws a number. The person with #1 chooses and opens a gift. #2 can pick a gift from the center or take #1’s gift, then #1 chooses again. We limit the # of times the gift can be “stolen” .

  • http://www.valpak.com/blog/author/mhickman/ Marie Hickman

    I am all for gift cards. It may be uninspired but everyone I know loves the chance to get what they want, when they want. Some may really just need grocery money and can’t bring themselves to ask for it; this is a graceful way to give it to them.

  • Y2KJillian

    I HATE the White Elephant game when it’s played with the “stolen” aspect. It can also be played in a way that no one can “buy” a gift, but brings something strange, weird, unwanted (literally, a “white elephant”) from home, wrapped, and you all open your gifts, and then you have a choice to “regift” them or not before anyone else can grab it. You can include the aspect that it must be something so odd that people have to make guesses as to what it’s for…regifting by itself is a good strategy, if you let everyone know that’s what you’re planning, and is described nicely in The Hobgit as the traditional giving of Mathoms, that is, old gifts you never used or wanted and so are passing on.

  • Nancy

    In 2000, my mother was in hospice care and died on Christmas Day. I took months off work to be her round the clock caregiver. Needless to say, I didn’t have the time, the money, or the desire to celebrate Christmas as we had done in the past. From that time on, I let it be known to everyone who mattered that my husband and I would not be buying gifts, except for the children in our close family for reasons that money is tight for us on the verge of retirement and that we are withdrawing from the commercialism of the holiday. I now thank my mother for this final gift to me–a changed relationship to the holidays.

  • Nick in Mass

    I started dreading holiday shopping some years back because it was no longer fun, it was expensive and everyone I was buying for didn’t need another “thing” to clutter up their life with. My solution ? I declared to everyone I was no longer buying presents for everyone save the little kids. It didn’t go over too well at first with some of the family members. However, I also told them I was starting a new tradition. Rather than presents for everyone for Christmas, I would be treating all the family members to dinner at our favorite family restaurant and it would take place in mid to late January. Why then ? Think about it. The restaurants at that time of year are traditionally experiencing a slow time and the service will be top notch with fewer patrons to wait on and the holiday rush would be over. All the ladies in my party get a rose and candy and the guys get chocolate or some other treat. Everyone gets a holiday card stuffed with lottery tickets to scratch before dinner. The kids get coloring books and crayons or some other fun thing they can enjoy at the table. If I have time , I’ll make up boxes of homemade cookies for everyone to take home. After the first dinner, everyone was all on board for my new tradition. The best part was of a wonderful family memory. Another sweater doesn’t compare.

    • Jenny

      Good advice!

      1) Shop online. Walmart, Amazon, etc. has everything you could possibly want with free shipping. Plus, you get to avoid holiday traffic.
      2) Use coupon sites like retail me not.
      3) Give gift cards or cash. Most physical gifts will go unused.
      4) Cut back spending in other parts of your life. Don’t limit it to just Christmas. Examples – $20/month cell phone from Tmobile, $24/month car insurance from 4AutoInsuranceQuote, $15/month gym from Planet Fitness.
      5) Re-Gift old presents that you never used. Don’t just throw them away!

  • bigpinch

    I have a pretty limited budget for everything and, other than my church and its programs, my gift-giving takes place pretty close to home. Even then, it can be a problem. I have family members who are 1%’ers and who have been very generous to me and my wife. I want to express my gratitude other than verbally, but what do you get someone who has everything?
    Make it personal. Food can say an awful lot. Not only can you make gifts using your favorite recipes, pulling together a few of your favorite, special, foods and/or beverages from various grocers can make a nice Christmas gift as well. It isn’t necessarily cheap but it is a personal thing and you’ll get more bang for the buck than if you try to buy a luxury item.

  • Senya

    WHO on earth gives gifts to co workers and postmen and “custodial staff at the kids’ school”? How bizarre. I make a big batch of BBQ sauce for friends and family, get a collection of dollar store toys and candy for Christmas stockings for the little kids in the family, and let go of it. I don’t do the tree, the ornaments, Christmas cards, lights, Santa hats, none of it. It’s not so much that money is tight, but that I don’t like to be made a fool of by retailers who have taken over the holidays and retooled them as a way to relieve me of my disposable income. Bah, Humbug, indeed.

  • Crystina Pyper

    I am a huge fan of going in on gifts together. My husband and I do this all the time. One year we gave each other a piece of art. We had a sketch made of my wedding dress and his suit. Given the fact that my dress is in a box and after some time wedding photos get replaced with other photos this was ideal. Going in on gifts saves a lot of money and scrambling around just buying for the sake of it.