Ah, the holidays. The air is crisp, the mood is jolly, and the eggnog is flowing. There’s a lot to love about this time of year, but it’s also filled with the stress of finding that perfect gift for everyone on your list. Santa, you make this look easy.
Forget just finding those gifts — you also have to pay for them! There is so much pressure to make the holidays magical, especially for parents of young children. According to the recent “Parents, Kids & Money” survey conducted by T. Rowe Price, more than half of parents with kids between the ages of 8 and 14 said they spent too much on gifts last year. A small minority even tapped into their retirement or emergency savings for holiday purchases! Spoiler alert: Don’t ever do that. There is no “it” toy that’s worth sacrificing your family’s financial security.
Thankfully, there are lots of low-cost ways to have a fun gift exchange with family and friends. If the thought of preparing for the holidays fills you with dread, read on.
I’m Dreaming of a White Elephant Christmas
Introduce some fun surprises into your gift exchange with a Secret Santa or White Elephant gift exchange. For a Secret Santa, everyone draws another person’s name out of a hat and buys them a gift. White Elephant exchanges, on the other hand, get a bit more competitive. Everyone brings one wrapped gift. The first player picks a gift and opens it. The next player can either open a new gift, or steal the first person’s gift. Everyone takes a turn, and by the end, everyone has one gift.
Both of these games make it easier for everyone, since you only need to purchase one gift in order to participate.
Homemade for the Holidays
A homemade gift takes more time, but it’s a great way to give a meaningful present for less money. Give out delicious baked goods, make a 30-minute knit scarf with no knitting experience, upcycle a plain picture frame or serving tray, or hand-decorate a Christmas ornament. Capitalize on the never-ending Mason jar trend by giving out jars of pre-mixed ingredients for cookies or hot cocoa, or decorate jars to create fancy-looking candle holders. The possibilities are endless for beautiful gifts that only cost a few dollars to make.
Time is Money
You might be short on cash, but you’re probably not short on helpful skills that can make great gifts. Are you a whiz with home repairs? A great cook? Do you have an eye for interior decorating? Can you be counted on to help people find the perfect outfit for a special occasion? Give out coupon books redeemable for free services that many people pay a lot for. Offer a friend free pet-sitting, teach your grandma how to use her new smartphone, or help your college-aged cousin write their resume. Odds are, the gift of your time will be better than any physical gift would have been.
The Gift of Helping Others
You can also give your time to charitable causes. This is the perfect time of year to get involved in a volunteer project, and volunteering is something you can do with your family and friends. Spend part of the holidays wrapping gifts for children in need, or serving meals at a homeless shelter. You have the power to bring joy to so many people beyond your immediate circle!
You can also donate to charitable causes that mean a lot to you, either by giving money or appreciated stock. If you’d like to donate stock, you can only use shares you’ve held for more than a year. Neither you nor the organization you’re donating to have to pay capital-gains taxes. If you donate money, you’ll receive a tax deduction if you itemize your taxes.
Memories Are Priceless
Some of the most meaningful gifts are ones that create or celebrate memories. Any kind of experience gift, like concert tickets, movie passes, or a travel voucher, will bring your family and friends a lot of happiness (studies back this up!).
Board games make great gifts, and will create lots of fun memories as the gift recipient plays the game with friends over the years. For a really low-cost gift, frame a special photo — your parents and grandparents will especially love this.
Have Yourself a More Affordable Little Christmas
Ignore your friends’ social media posts about the mountains of gifts they bought for their families, and make this year about giving gifts from the heart that won’t put you in debt. Enlist your relatives’ help to change the holiday culture in your family and scale back the pressure to overspend. You’ll still have plenty of fun while sparing yourself the massive money hangover in January, putting you in the perfect position to make financial New Year’s resolutions!