Scaling down holiday gift-giving

Katrina shares how her family pared down the holiday gift exchange:

We’ve simplified our holidays greatly by informing our kids that Santa only brings one present to them.  They only ask for one present from Santa and it is well thought out.  They know that Santa still fills their stockings and they get a few small gifts from us, but the one gift from Santa makes our holiday season so much more relaxed and enjoyable.  This is all they have ever known.  Earlier this year someone was asking them about what Santa brought them and after my son told him the one gift, they said, "and what else"  and my son looked at him and said "Santa only brings one gift". 

We’ve also stopped giving gifts to my parents (except for photos of our kids and something that the kids make for them) and my siblings and I have evolved from exchanging names and requiring gifts be purely consumable, to just spending time with each other without a dollar amount hanging over our heads. 

This year, we’re having a re-gifting party with my family.  All the gifts that we’ve received in past years and have not used, get wrapped up and given to others.  I’m thrilled because the granite-looking speakers I thought my parents would enjoy years ago will hopefully come home with me.

Do you have any suggestions for keeping the gift-giving reasonable in scale and budget?


  1. Meva says

    I’m insanely jealous of a friends family gift giving plan. Each year they draw names well in advance and for that year they may either make something from scratch or give the person something they get for free… this can be a gift card they won at work, or a sundry of things collected with buy one get one free sales, where the “free” items go to the giftee. My friend has done a basket of laundry essentials, office supplies, small tools that she did with rebates. It’s fun and it’s free, and it’s thoughtful. I love this idea.

  2. Matt T. says

    Not that we do this, but a good idea for children’s Christmas gifts that I read once was:

    Something they need
    Something to read
    Something to wear
    Something they want

  3. says

    We do a draw for one part of my family. Every Thanksgiving we put all the adults names in one bowl and all the kids in another. Then each person draws a name. You can’t get your spouse, and your kids can’t get their sibling.

    That way the day after the girls all get together and go shopping. We find out way before then who has who…were bad at keeping secrets, lol. That way we all get ideas from each other about the gift we’ve got to purchase.

    Can’t spend more than $30 and we usually have an ornament swap as well. The ornament has to be handmade. It really helps since its only a portion of the gifts I have to buy and it means I only have to buy 4 for that side of the family compared to the 16 it would be normally!

    I like it not only for the budget reason but because it means we spend less time on the “gift opening” portion of our time together.

  4. says

    My side of the family has been told that they are getting one thing per family from us: a framed photo of the baby. They have also been told that we don’t want anything from them in return. We keep talking about doing name swaps, but just have never gotten around to it.

    The “kids” (my generation) on my wife’s side of the family are conspiring toward low-cost Christmas gifting. We probably would have eliminated it this year altogether except that my Sister-In-Law got gifts on a trip this summer to distribute at Christmas!

    I think that Kids should get gifts, and that adults should let it be at that. In my family we’re mostly adults (our daughter is the first child in 18 years) and when something comes up that we want/need, we tend to buy it anyway. No need to put extra stress on one day of the year.

    I’m glad to read about what folks with older children are doing for limits! Thanks all!

  5. Katie says

    In our Catholic family I started the three gift rule. Baby Jesus received three gifts from the wisemen so our children (5 and 2.5) get three gifts. Right now it is 2 from Santa and one from us. For our parents each year we make a Shutterfly calendar. For my siblings and their spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend we exchange names and limit the cost to $20 encouraging gift cards to keep shipping costs low.

  6. Leslie says

    I’m with Katie. We do the three gifts rule. Our kids are little (1 and 2 1/2), so I don’t know how easy it will always be. But for now, it’s three gifts plus small stuff in their stockings. We usually don’t buy for extended family. It’s just way too expensive once you count all the people you would have to buy for.

  7. says

    I’m loving these ideas, but I have so many questions! What about the grandparents — how many gifts are they allowed to give the kids? What about the friends whom you simply cannot convince to skip the holiday gift-giving?

  8. says

    I use frequent flyer miles (from those airlines we fly every so often) & credit card reward programs as a Christmas club savings plan every year. It helps keep cash expenditures lower.

    At our house, kids get two or three toys from Santa and a book from us. All the other stuff under the tree is stuff they need: socks, a new backpack to replace the torn one, a new dress. Stuff we’d buy anyway, in other words.

  9. says

    To answer the question about grandparents. I haven’t gotten the other areas of the family on board with the drawing a name bit.

    I really wish they would go with it in some ways…but I do love shopping for different people. Especially since I pleged to go handmade this year ^-^.

    On the side that does the gift draw the grandparents do the stocking. That way they get to buy what ever fits into the stocking that they want to get the kids.

  10. says

    On my side of the family, we had long ago dispensed with gift-giving among family members. This year, my husband and I decided to extend this to all of our friends, as well. Instead, I invited my best girlfriends over for cookie decorating. The others will get personal hand-written cards.

    While it was daunting to broach the subject at first, trading in gifts for fun time together was embraced enthusiastically by my friends. I must say, this month has been completely stress-free and expectation-free, which is ultimately better for my family, anyway. We’ve completely unplugged from the holiday buying madness and it’s such a relief! Our 14 month old son will get one nice gift from us, plus one nice gift from my parents. My girlfriends contributed to his education fund, and other family members will likely send him some gifts, too. As he gets older, we’ll have to decide how to talk about this. I like the idea of one gift from Santa, and maybe one or two gifts plus stocking-stuffers from us. Great idea to keep the consuming to a minimum!

    Thanks everyone for the great ideas!

  11. says

    My immediate family has agreed to exchange handmade gifts with each other, and we’ve pretty much stuck to this over the past four years. My husband and I usually choose one gift to buy together (something we want/need as a family). Our sons are small, and so we don’t get them anything, but let our families fill in the blanks… we’ll revise that once they get a little older, but the one to three gifts per year sounds about right.

  12. says

    I blogged about the online service Ponoko – being a designer in the past, my idea is wy not take a look at what you have in your garage and make the present yourself? Anotehr present I will be giving to my 13-year old daughter is a card whcih says “Entitled to spending one entire day with your mom!” Being a busy mompreneur starting the business this is the most expensive gift I could give her – and she doesn’t get to see me often! Ksenia

  13. Sue says

    We learned about the same 3 gifts for Jesus, thus 3 gifts for each child this year – our kids are 4 1/2 and 18 months. To sort of ease the way in, we said it’s 3 from Santa only, but they may get a few additional presents from the rest of the family. For the 18-month-old, we’re wrapping old toys that were the 4 1/2 year old’s that he’s outgrown. Really, at 18 months, he’ll play with the paper more than anything.

  14. says

    In our family, you are only allowed to give gifts to the generations younger than you. So grandparents get to give to everyone. Parents only give to the kids. It cuts down on all the gift buying and giving of needless presents. Of course, there is always the “I thought you had to have it” gift that breaks the rules, and that’s just fine!