Say No to Holiday Spending: 3 Ways to Give Without Being a Grinch

by Melanie Lockert · 15 comments

The holiday season is in full swing and with that comes the joyous music, sweet smells of delicious food, and precious family time. The holidays are a great time to relax and prepare for the New Year.

However, this time of year has also turned into a consumerist frenzy, with many people stressing about money, running around trying to find the perfect gifts, and some even going into further debt to pay for all holiday expenditures.

But there’s a better way! You can say “no” to holiday spending without being a grinch. I know this because of my personal experience.

Several years ago, after leaving my hometown to pursue graduate school in New York, I was faced with the option of buying expensive plane tickets to visit home during the holidays. At the time, they were over $600 and as a broke graduate student already mired in debt, I really couldn’t afford it.

I had to break the news to my family and friends that we’d be spending our very first holiday apart. It was tough, but I gave them advanced warning. In addition to saying no to expensive travel, I have completely rejected the idea of traditional gift giving during the holidays. I’ve decided to show my family and friends that I care in other more valuable ways.

If you’re feeling stretched thin during the holidays, here are some tips to show your family and friends you care without spending money.

1. Focus on Spending Time Not Money

The holidays are meant for being with the people that matter most. Instead of spending money you don’t have, or risk buying a gift someone doesn’t like, commit to spending time and not money.

When I go home for the holidays, I make sure to spend a fun day with my loved ones. Maybe we go out for coffee, dinner, or happy hour — or even have a cheap potluck — but we spend time together, in an inexpensive, low-pressure way. We catch up, share stories, and enjoy each other’s company.

It is possible to have a meaningful holiday season without going into debt or breaking the bank. I’m lucky in that I have a small family and my friends are mostly in similar situations as me financially. If you have a large family, or a family with a lot of kids, consider getting something for the kids and a just a simple card (or cheap gift) for the adults. You can get affordable used items, or use coupons to get something small.

Remember, the holidays are about spending time, not money. Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed or even worse, find yourself in debt because of the holidays.

2. Set Expectations Ahead of Time

One of the main reasons I stopped participating in holiday spending and gift giving is because I’m a minimalist. I personally don’t need anything else to clutter my home, and I don’t want to give items to someone they may or may not like.

I’m all about experiences and things we could do together, not stuff, which is why I prefer the getting together route. Several years ago when I decided I was going to go against the grain and not participate in holiday gift giving, I set expectations with my family and friends.

I made it clear that I wanted to spend time and not money on people. To make sure it wasn’t taken personally, I said that my current financial situation didn’t afford me much and that I valued our time together and conversation more. I planned something to do with them, rather than something in place of that.

In some cases, I sent handmade cards with heartfelt notes. It’s not that I don’t believe in the gesture of giving, it’s just that I prefer to do it in a minimalist, simple way that focuses on the essence of relationships. I think sending a handwritten card can be immensely powerful during the holidays.

If you’e creative, consider making or crafting something for the holidays. If you are good in the kitchen, then consider baking something for friends and family.

There are so many other things you can do during the holidays that require little to no money at all. Just be up-front with everyone, and set expectations head of time, if you have friends and family that are expecting something from you.

3. Remove the Guilt and Stay Strong

I remember the first holiday season that I received a gift and had nothing to give in return, I felt extremely guilty. It’s like some unwritten social code that if we receive a gift, that we should give one in return. But that’s not the point of this season is it?

A gift should come from the heart and should be given with no strings attached. If someone gives a gift to get a gift, it’s done in vain. I had to get over this guilty feeling and realize that if I was going to do things differently I’d have to accept all situations and stay strong — not give gifts because that’s what I thought I “should” do. Thinking about the times I’ve given gifts, I’ve never expected anything in return, so I realized my self-consciousness was purely manufactured.

In this case, though do always follow-up with a thank you card. Doing things differently can also make you feel uncomfortable or at the judgement of society. But if you feel strongly about not going into debt, or spending within a budget, then be strong and remember what the holidays are all about.

Say No to Buying and Spend Love Instead

In short, if you want to say “no” to holiday spending, or at least minimize it, here are some main takeaways:

  • Spend time, not money
  • Make something
  • Offer to buy coffee, or something small instead
  • Host a potluck
  • Set expectations with loved ones
  • Give thanks through words, cards, and services instead

My friend Stephanie, from the sums it up perfectly in this video.

There are many ways to give during the holidays, that don’t require any money. I know many people look forward to gifts, but if your financial situation does not afford it, try something different. Your real friends and family love you for you, not what gifts you give them.

In my opinion, the best gift we can give, that is so limited and precious, is the gift of time. Let your budget be your guide and remember that the holidays are about spending time, not money!

What’s one way you show your friends and family you care about them without spending money? Do you have a tip for limiting holiday spending?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Khaleef @ Fat Guy, Skinny Wallet says:

    This is such a great post! I hate how much stress holiday shopping causes for many people. For me, Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Christ, but for those who don’t celebrate that, it should still be about family and memories. Toys and expensive jewelry/gadgets can’t replace that!

  • Brian says:

    It’s been repeated so many times that it sounds like a trope, but it truly is the thought that counts– the amount of money you spend on a person during the holidays should be irrelevant and secondary. Great post.

  • Ronnie says:

    The new consumerist tradition of buying tons of gifts for everyone and everything for the holidays upsets me more and more every year. I see people without the means buying tons of unnecessary gifts because we have been taught to show our love in the holidays through them… personally, I love following what you pointed out above.. give time, not not money. Enjoy the family, do something fun with the kids. It’s not all about going overboard with pricey gifts.

    • Melanie says:

      It’s sad that we have equated love with gifts, when that is just not true. There is a better way and I think we can all spend less, give more, and make it more meaningful by spending time and love, rather than tons of money.

  • Dewald says:

    It is not just a great way to save money but I believe that every family should be doing this. It is a great way to spread love and bring friends and family closer together.

  • Kayla @ Everything Finance says:

    Great post Melanie! These are all amazing ideas for how to tone down the spending at Christmas time. I plan to have a talk with my family following the holiday this year to warn them ahead of time for next year – I want to change how we do gifts. It will mean less spending for all of us and it will mean less clutter and “stuff” to worry about.

    • Melanie says:

      That’s great, Kayla! Setting expectations and having a conversation with them this year, will make next year a breeze! Maybe suggest doing something as a family together, like hiking or camping?

  • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

    This is great advice! We do most of these things too–we’re just not into buying stuff for the sake of buying it. Our families are pretty frugal and they understand and respect our approach. We do give some gifts, but they’re usually on the practical side, which everyone appreciates. And, I completely agree with you on spending time instead–that’s what’s truly important.

  • Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom says:

    I think setting expectations is the big one. This year my sister and I decided to stop buying for each other and just get gifts for the kids. Works for me!

    • Melanie says:

      That’s a great way to save money! Setting expectations is key to communicating and making sure people are on the same page.

  • Joseph Hogue says:

    Great tips Melanie. We have always sent out a computer-made card with our family picture. A little cheesy maybe but saves a ton of money.

    I like the ‘spend time’ idea but you really have to make sure people understand that it is their ‘gift’ so they aren’t expecting something later.

    • Melanie says:

      Thanks, Joseph! I actually love e-cards! They are fun and save a ton of money. I think it’s all about how you present it. For example, “I’d like to invite you over for a potluck over the holidays.” or “I’d love to just spend time one-on-one for the holidays and catch up!” I know it can be tough, but I try to be clear and just enjoy each other’s company.

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