How to Avoid Putting Christmas on a Credit Card

Several years ago, I was searching for the cheapest flights to visit my family for the holidays. We all lived in different states and the time. which meant that the majority of us had to pay for travel. Then presents.

Speaking with a co-worker, she said that she felt compelled to buy presents for her child’s teacher, her mail carrier, tip extra to her drive-through coffee barista…the list goes on. “I have a closet,” she confided.

“What do you mean you have a closet?” I asked.
“A gift closet. When I see there is a sale on nice candles or lotion, I buy them. The same with gift ideas for my son’s friends. I buy Lego sets or puzzles.”

This conversation swirled in my mind when I was looking at the expensive airplane tickets. I didn’t want to become that person who has a gift closet of impersonal gifts as an alternative to putting personalized gifts on a credit cards. Neither option sounds good.

I called my brother. “I can’t afford to do this all. Flight, rental car, gifts. I can’t do it this year.”

My brother is older and at the time was making much more than I was.

“It is expensive. I don’t even know what to get anyone.”

Then he mentioned something: Elfster. “It’s an online Secret Santa. I’ll put in our names and everyone has a deadline to respond. Then, it will assign one person you have to get a gift for. We’ll set a limit, like $25. And everyone will have to list things they genuinely want.”

Clearly, he’d been thinking about this. We’d made a plan and got everyone on board. We coordinated flights, so we could share a rental car and drive the four hours to and from the airport to our hometown. Everyone loved the idea, it was much more affordable, and less stressful.

Since then, I’ve overhauled my gift-giving. I no longer succumb to the pressure of giving gifts to everyone. For example, I found a beautiful pair of purple earrings for my friend one year and felt compelled to get them. Normally, I’d buy them and save them to give her for her birthday or Christmas. I bought them and sent them to her, for no reason other than that I knew she’d love them. I was right- she did. She also didn’t get upset that she didn’t get a Christmas present- she already got so many, and most of them were things she didn’t truly love.

Sometimes, I just invite a friend over for homemade dessert and spend time talking with them. That’s a wonderful gift.

We’ll gather in the “off season,” such as meeting before Thanksgiving or in January. Travel is cheaper.

Some other ideas:

  • An ornament exchange. This is a way to still give a present and have the joy of unwrapping something, but on a cheaper scale. Plus, it’s a gift that can be enjoyed annually.
  • Make homemade jalapeno jelly. Done in a huge batch, it is cost-saving. Who wouldn’t love a jar of homemade jelly tied with a pretty ribbon? Add in a box of crackers and some cream cheese and you have a sweet hostess gift.
  • Give a homemade cookie/fudge/dipped pretzel tin or pie. For several years, I spent a weekend making goodies and used flat-rate boxes to ship them to family and friends around the country. Everyone loved it and in the grand scheme, it was cheaper than buying gifts.
  • make a wreath or floral arrangement
  • offer to babysit so they can have a date night
  • a “coupon book”: the gift of massage, make your favorite breakfast, do a chore without complaining (this is great for spouses, or a fun ideas for children/parents, such as the chore without complaint)
  • Find coupons or cheaper ways to do things: Groupon for events, go to a local high school play as a date, see if your library has a cultural pass
  • Par down your gift-giving list (I had to add this)
  • Relieve the pressure of having another thing to do in a busy season and set a date to do something after the craziness of the holidays: this can be a coffee date, a walk in a nearby park, etc.
  • A gift-wrapping party! A friend was overwhelmed with having to wrap gifts for her family, so I offered to help. We made some delicious homemade drinks, put on music, and made it fun.
  • Family gifts! For families with younger children, I would make a movie night or game night box. Put in a movie, game or gift certificate. Add a bag of popcorn, candy, etc. It’s usually cheaper than buying for everyone individually (I have found brand-new games at garage sales) and provides the gift of family time
  • Shop the dollar stores. There are a lot of books, toys and activities to be found at these stores. For $5, you can buy crayons and some coloring book. They have word searches and craft ideas. One of my fondest memories as a young child was painting and baking a ceramic ornament with my aunt that I gave my parents for Christmas. I got to unwrap the white ornament and paint, we painted together, and then I got to wrap it to gift it.

What about you? What are some frugal gift-giving ideas?

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