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.”

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