Tips to Pare Down Your Christmas List Without Looking Cheap

You don’t have to look like Scrooge to save a buck or two on holiday gift-giving. Here’s how to narrow down your gift list, spend less, and 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 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.

Following are five tips for doing this successfully.

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 neighbors who moved in 2008 and are your Facebook friends now? They don’t need a gift either.

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.

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.

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

Gift-giving expectations run the gamut during family and office parties. 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 you have a co-worker or cousin living on a tight budget, he or she could be your ally.

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 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

You may like some people, yet don’t interact with them on a regular basis — 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. Then 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 very 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.”

More Money Talks News


  • 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” .

  • 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.

  • Nancy

    Afraid of looking cheap is not a good reason to give gifts in the first place. When gifts become obligations, they are no longer gifts. Our solution has been to be direct. We’ve told everyone involved that we only give gifts to the children in the family. We have asked everyone to respect our wishes and not give us gifts either, but to use the money instead for a purpose that would please them. That’s our gift to them. If people judge us to be cheap, so be it, I can live with that.

  • LagunaLady27

    I am single and have family members who are not. For years I gave each person a gift and received one small gift from each family. I ended up ticked off.

    I spent hundreds on gifts, but did not receive anything that was thoughtful or similar in value. This would be fine if they had less money than I, but in each case, they made much more.

    I no longer participate in this disgusting ritual. I give to kids and not the greedy, thoughtless adults.

  • Nick in Mass

    I wanted to end the gifting madness in my family but some family members were not on board so I said I’ll buy small presents for the little ones and then everyone will get something special “later” . Of course they were perplexed and curious. I gave each family a Christmas card and inside was an invitation to a new holiday idea. After the holidays in January, I would be hosting a family dinner at our favorite restaurant, a totally win-win for me , the family and for the restaurant since January is typically a slow month for them and we could expect better than average service and accommodations. At the restaurant before dinner I presented all the ladies with flowers and chocolates for everyone as well as scratch tickets, and the kids got little toys to keep them occupied. Dinner was awesome and everyone had a great time. This has become a new tradition and a way to bring family together stress free after the hectic pace beforehand. Doing this is so much more gratifying to me and I avoid gifts that I don’t need/want.

    • Nancy

      Wonderful idea.

Check Out Our Hottest Deals!

We're always adding new deals and coupons that'll save you big bucks. See the deals to the right and hundreds more in our Deals section.

Click here to explore 2,020 more deals!