Two years ago, we tried something new. It was back before I started budgeting for Christmas gifts after Christmas of 2013. I had added up how much we spent on Christmas gifts that year and was depressed by the rather large number. Then I added that to the amount we spent on Birthday, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day gifts. I had just been telling Andy that I felt like the holiday’s had become too much about the gifts. It’s all about what you spend, how much you receive, and not the spirit of giving like it should be. Armed with this new financial data to back up my moral objection to all the gift buying, we decided came up with an idea. One of our goals for the next year became “no buying gifts.” We were going to celebrate Christmas, and all holidays, with alternative gifts.
We wanted to give people something, but we without spending so much. The gift needed to be more personal, more thoughtful, and less about just getting a gift. Half of the time, we would buy something and hope the recipient would like it or have a use for it. But without them actually telling us it was something they wanted, we weren’t really sure. I mean, how many things have you received over the years only to keep it in it’s package and sell it at a rummage sale three years later? Well meaning friends and relatives buy something they love, but it really isn’t your style. Or you don’t have space or use for it. What a waste of money for the buyer. An alternative gift, on the other hand, would be useful, memorable, and enjoyable.
Our plan was simple. Alternative gifts in the way of memories, time, and thought instead of just buying something from a store.We could spend money to buy components of the gifts, or on a gift that was intangible. The goal was to buy a gift for each person that would show some combination of three things and accomplish the plan of spending less on useless crap.
- Use extensive knowledge of the person.
- Spend time with them or provide them with entertainment.
- Offer a service or fill a need.
We did it for the entire year, not just Christmas. It was actually a lot of work because we constantly had to keep track of ideas and make plans in advance. Especially on some of the gifts that we made. But everyone loved their alternative gifts and it was so worth it.
It saved us money….in some cases.
Some of the gifts definitely came out more expensive. Other were cheaper and cost us only time or energy. We chose to spend more money on things that we knew the receiver would get more enjoyment out of. It’s a lot easier to justify spending extra that way. But we just as easily could have done it by spending very little on everyone. It was a judgement call on a person-by-person basis.
For Mother’s day that year, we took both my Mom and Mother-in-law on The Color Run. We do it every year and that year we paid for them to do it too. Since we signed up in advance with the special pre-sale prices, we only spent about $25 on each registration. Normally, we would have spent between $25-$50 on each of them, but on things they didn’t really need. Instead, we bought them the registration, and spent half of the day with them. My Mother-in-law didn’t end up enjoying it all that much, even though she’d said it sounded fun previously, but she did enjoy spending the day with us.
How to have your own “no gift buying” Christmas by giving alternative gifts
It’s really a simple concept. You can create your own rules, but here are the basics of what we did so you can implement the idea for your own holiday.
- No buying a gift. You can buy parts of a gift, but not something that you can just wrap and give.
- You can make the gift. In this case you would buy parts of the gift and then create something out of it.
- It can be purchased if it’s something like tickets to, or registration for, an event or outing of some kind.
- Use what you know about the person and try to get something that you know they could really use, benefit from, need, or have talked about being interested in.
- Be creative!
If you are trying to spend less money, it will definitely be a little more difficult. You might have great ideas that you’ll have to pass up because it doesn’t fit in with your idea of spending less. Just make sure that you think ahead for everyone and that you are always keeping your eyes and ears open, looking for possibilities.
Some ideas for alternative gifts for Christmas
Okay, so maybe at this point you’re thinking, “Great. Sounds like an awesome idea, but I have no idea what I’d get people.” It’s really hard at first, but once you get the creative juices flowing, you’ll realize the possibilities are endless. Here are some ideas to get you started. For some of these, you might want to check with the recipient’s spouse, parent, sibling, or someone else very close to them to see if they think it’s a good idea. Someone might love the idea of dance classes for example, but in reality be far too shy to ever want to actually do it!
- A handmade gift. Do you have an amazing talent like scrapbooking, photography, knitting or crocheting, painting, organizing, etc? Some of the people on your list might really benefit from your talent or love something you’ve made. One of the best gifts I’ve ever received was a painting my uncle did for Zachary’s nursery. He had my name for Christmas and I asked him for a painting since he’s so good at it. It cost him barely anything but his time; he already had the canvas I think and paint, but he may have bought some more. Offer to do a family portrait session. Crochet a blanket. Offer your organization skills to someone you know doesn’t have time and is always stressed about trying to keep their home organized. Take someone’s wedding photos and create a beautiful scrapbook for them if they’ve been putting it off (I’d love this gift myself!)
- An event. Concert tickets or registration to a 5K. Tickets to a play. Register them for a fun class that coincides with one of their interests. Get a couple dancing lessons.
- An outing. Some people like to spend time with others more than anything. Take them to a movie and dinner. Take them to a museum and out to lunch. Go on a long bike ride if they’re interested in biking. Go camping for the weekend. Bring kids to a water or amusement park for the day. Visit a paint-your-own pottery place and pay for both of you. Memories last a lot longer than whatever gift you could’ve bought and wrapped.
- An on-going gift. Offer to make them dinner once a month all year. Get them a subscription to a service they’d like (fruit of the month, gym membership, museum or zoo pass). Pay for a few months worth of a service they already use like Hulu or Netflix.
- A donation. In place of a gift for them, give a donation to a charity or organization that they care about. It could be something they advocate for or have a personal connection to. For our small cousin gifts one year, instead of buying a $10 gift for each of us, he donated $100 in each of our names to the ASPCA. None of us actually received anything, but we were all very happy with the fact that instead of something useless for us, $300 went to animals in need.
How to explain it to others
You’re going to get some weird looks. We definitely did. A lot of people didn’t really understand what we were doing at first. Some thought we just weren’t giving any gifts to anyone all year. Others thought we were just going to give cheap gifts. It’s amazing the impressions people have when you shake things up a bit and stop doing what’s conventionally done.
It’s easiest if you explain to them that you want your holiday to be more about the meaning and less about buying a gift. Eventually they’ll start to understand what it is you’re doing. You could also mention that it’s a way of simplifying life. That you have so much stuff, and so does everyone else, so you want to give more useful gifts, or gifts of memories, rather than more stuff.
Not everyone will love it. Like I said earlier, my Mother-in-law didn’t love The Color Run. But she did love spending the time with us. And even though it wasn’t her favorite thing ever, she has mentioned it over the years several times. It’s a memory she’ll always have. Unlike the three coffee presses she’s broken over the years!
Do you think a “no gift buying”, alternative gifts Christmas would work for you? What other ideas for alternative gifts can you think of?
-To your Better Life-