With the holiday season just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking seriously about your gift-giving budget. One common problem is that, over time, your gift-giving obligations have a tendency to grow to the point that you’re actually taking a substantial financial hit every time the holidays roll around…
While it all starts innocently enough with gifts exchanged mainly between you, your siblings, and your parents, as you make your way up the ladder of life, your gift-giving circle has a tendency to swell to include a significant other, kids, in-laws, nieces and nephews, etc. There may even be step-parents and step-siblings mixed in for good measure. Not surprisingly, all of this generosity can get quite expensive.
Consider the case of a family with three kids, each of whom marries and has three kids. Suddenly, the gift giving sphere of one of those original kids has expanded from a couple of siblings and their parents to include three kids of their own, six nieces/nephews, a couple of sibling-in-laws. While I’m hugely in favor of being generous with loved ones, things can eventually get to be overwhelming. So if you’re stretched for time and/or money, how can you combat the gift-giving madness?
One tried and true method of reigning in holiday spending is to do draw names to determine who gives a gift to whom. This is most easily done at a preceding get together (perhaps Thanksgiving), and results in everyone giving and receiving a single gift. No fuss, no muss, and no feelings get hurt. That is, unless stingy Uncle Bob draws your name and re-gifts some apricot-colored towels from his wedding 30 years ago.
If you’re not getting together in advance of the holidays, you can always do the drawing remotely (though that’s not nearly as much fun). There are even online services that offer to draw names out of a virtual ‘hat’ and manage your wish lists.
Another alternative is to establish limits on who gives gifts to whom. We did this a few years back in our family, and it’s worked out great. In short, My parents still give gifts to everyone, and we all give gifts to them — that’s the way they want it, and we respect our elders. But when it comes to siblings, neither my wife nor I exchange gifts with our brothers and sisters. Rather, we just buy gifts for our nieces and nephews, and our siblings do the same.
In the end, the kids get their gifts, and the adults don’t have to go crazy thinking up (and paying for) gifts for each other. It’s a win-win. The main challenge here is that this system can create some inequities if, for example, someone doesn’t have kids, or one family is considerably larger than another. But the rules are up to you, so you should be able to work around these difficulties.
Make it a game
Another alternative would be to make the gift giving a game, wherein everyone brings one gift to put under the tree. Recipients then draw numbers to detemine the order in which they get to choose and unwrap gifts. The game then starts with whoever drew #1 choosing a gift from under the tree and unwrapping it. Later ‘players’ then get to choose another gift from under the tree, or they can opt to ’steal’ one of the unwrapped gifts from a preceding player. Known as ‘Dirty Santa‘ or ‘Yankee Swap‘, this is a fairly popular office Christmas party game that could easily be adapted to a family setting.
The downside to a gift-swapping game is that it might be tough to implement when it comes to kids, as there are bound to be some hurt feelings if several kids are going after the same gift. But it might not be a bad idea if you take a hybrid approach. For example, you could do standard gift-giving with the kids, while the adults play a round of Dirty Santa. My final word of warning is that you should probably establish some sort of limits on how many times a particular gift can be stolen, otherwise you could be there all night.
Be a grinch
Yet another possibility would be to just thumb your nose at the whole gift-giving ritual and focus on the holidays as an opportunity to spend time with family. While this might be disappointing to kids, you might consider establishing a Christmas “firewall” in which you exchange gifts within your household (and possibly with grandparents), but not with extended family. If you don’t do huge gift exchanges in the first place, your kids won’t learn to expect it.
Bite the bullet
A final possibility would be to just suck it up and give gifts like there’s no tomorrow. While this might be a difficult option if you’re strapped for cash, sometimes family relationships are more important than saving a few bucks. If someone in your family has exceptionally strong feelings about maintaining the status quo, then the best course of action might be to acquiesce. Either that, or suggest a trial period during which you phase in some limitations. If it works out, great. If not, you can regroup and reconsider your options in the future.
If you have suggestions of your own, please don’t hesitate to share them in the comments.