Tackling Holiday Gift Giving Stress Once And For All

If holiday budgets and shopping blues get you down year after year, then it is time to tackle the holiday shopping frenzy once and for all. 

As a kid, and even up to my college years, home made gifts were enough to get me by over the holiday season. Then expectations from others, and more importantly, expectations for gift giving that I put on myself, stressed my post-grad budget and my holidays. Every year I would flounder trying to find the perfect gifts and still be able to afford my rent on January first. Thankfully, I never fell into the credit card trap, but I know many great people who have. 

With a family as large as mine, I felt the pressure to give everyone a gift. When friends gave me unexpected gifts, I felt terrible if I did not have something for them and would often run out at a later time to return the favor. I played the “how much should I spend on so-and-so” game based on how much I knew that they most likely spent on me. Then came the after Christmas clean up, trying to find space in my small apartment for all my new stuff. No wonder why many adults always find the holidays stressful. Without a plan of action, holiday shopping can be the most stressful activity you will participate in this holiday season. But it doesn’t have to be. 

Come up with an annual game plan that you stick to year-after-year, making small changes when necessary. Here is how to get started:

If you have a large family to shop for. . .  Don’t! Agree ahead of time to only shop for a certain number of people, split the list by using a secret Santa, assigned giving, or shopping for the kids only. Any way that works for you and your family. 

Do . . . For a long list of relatives and friends, skip gifts for everyone and create an annual gift instead, something that they will look forward to every year, but won’t break your bank. The mother of a friend of mine makes homemade peanut brittle every year and gifts it wrapped in ribbons to every family member and friend. For my large family, I give everyone a DVD of home movies and pictures from previous years. Each year has new photos or videos to enjoy. It takes a lot of time, but it is an affordable and meaningful family tradition that people now look forward to every year. 

Don’t. . . worry about how much you need to spend on someone in case they spend more on you. The holidays are no place for one-upmanship and if someone is mad that they spent more than you did or if the only thing they care about this season is getting a gift from you, then they’re not really a great friend to begin with. 

Do. . . create a shopping list and budget and stick to it. 

Do. . . Set a limit to the number of gifts and money spent per person. Sometimes it is easy to go overboard. Often, less is more. Focus on giving meaningful gifts instead of a bunch of junk to make it look like you gave much more. Remember quality over quantity. 

Do. . . set expectations early. If too much stuff stresses you out or you often get gifts you dislike or don’t need, don’t be afraid to tell people what you want this year or ask for experiences instead of things. Also, don’t be afraid to tell people that you are on a tight budget this year and won’t be exchanging gifts if that is your wish. 

Don’t. . . shop for every person you know including all of your friends and coworkers. If stress is crashing your holiday because you can’t afford gifts for all of your friends, chances are they are stressed about the same thing. Do. . . reassure them that you don’t need anything this year. Send a holiday card to show them that you are thinking about them this year and offer a more meaningful experience-based gift to closer friends, such as a lunch together after the holidays or babysitting so they can go out with their spouse. 

Do. . . gift experiences instead of things. 

Do. . . gift donations to meaningful charities in someone’s name instead of a material gift. 

Don’t. . . wait for Black Friday deals or last minute shopping. Do. . . search for deals early and get your shopping done before the holiday rush. 

Do. . . boycott Black Friday: save your budget and your sanity this year. 

Do. . . Repeat the process year after year to prevent holiday stress and make changes as new people are added or taken away from your shopping list. 


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