My philosophy on Christmas and gift-giving is one that fits the true meaning of the holiday. If you're sick of consumerism, it might be the one for you!Christmas is near, and although I’ve shared my thoughts on the holiday and gift-giving on other sites, I haven’t really shared them here.

I wouldn’t consider myself a grinch, but I don’t enjoy Christmas for what it’s become. People are obsessed with buying the best presents and tend to forget why they’re giving them in the first place.

It’s sad that consumerism has taken most of the meaning away from holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. I was over it the second I heard a radio advertisement refer to it as a “Thanksavings sale.” Please.

As a result, I’ve found myself pushing back against this idea that the holidays need to revolve around shopping and spending and possibly going into debt.

I only (usually) buy presents for my parents and my grandma, because they’ve spoiled me throughout my life, and I like to give back (and not just on this occasion!). And even then, I’m fine with a $50-$100 budget per person, mostly because I try and buy them things they wouldn’t splurge on for themselves.

However, now that I’m celebrating Christmas with my boyfriend’s family, which is much, much bigger than mine, I find myself returning to this philosophy on Christmas and gift-giving: why isn’t it enough to simply enjoy each other’s company?

Getting Past Deeply Rooted Traditions

Every time I bring that up, someone always counters with, “You need something under the tree to unwrap!!” Anything else is unacceptable.

I get that many of us grew up experiencing Christmas joy that way, but the magic doesn’t last…or, more accurately, the magic changes.

As a child, you want nothing more than to discover the surprises that lay under the tree. But as an adult, you want nothing more than a drama-free celebration where you get away from some of the craziness of work for a few days.

I don’t know about you, but unless you have some young ones in your family, you stop seeing the point in making a huge presentation out of presents under the tree. It’s just not the same. So why do it at all?

It seems impossible for some people to move past this deeply rooted tradition of having gifts to unwrap. That’s not the meaning of Christmas to me, yet it’s the focal point of how most people picture spending the holiday.

I’ve all but given up on suggesting it – there have only been two people that seem to agree with me; everyone else insists on giving something.

So if you have to exchange presents with people, here are the alternatives I’ve come up with that still fit into the spirit of the holiday, other than buying them something you know without a doubt they’ll love.


The Gift of Time

Honestly, I would rather receive someone’s time and attention rather than a material gift.

Time is so valuable – no one has enough of it these days – and the fact that someone would spend their precious time doing something with me means a lot more than the fact they picked something out for me and wrapped it.

In the article I referenced at the beginning of this post, I wrote about how I used to help my grandma bake for the holidays. She used to go all out – dozens upon dozens of different cookies – all in one day. It’s a lot of work and a lot of time spent on your feet, and she always appreciated the help. Plus, it was fun for me, as I got first dibs on my favorite cookies. ;)

She has since scaled back her efforts, but when I asked her what she wanted for Christmas this year, she replied with the simple answer I usually do: just your company. 

That’s why I think it’s a fantastic idea to give back with your time rather than your money if you don’t have much of the latter.

I’m sure most of you have your shopping list done, but the next time you need to think of a gift for someone, why not think about an activity you can do together that means something to them?


Hand-Made Gifts

If I have to receive a present, this is probably my favorite. I absolutely love getting crafts from friends and family that they clearly put a lot of time (and creativity) into.

This was the route I chose to go this year. With so many people to buy for, I decided to do something fairly simple: make ornaments for people.

I bought glitter, ornament balls, paint, wood ornaments, and got to work. I created the ornaments based on favorite color or favorite sports team (lots of football fans in this family!).

It was a joint effort between my boyfriend and I, and it was a fairly inexpensive project considering the alternative. Plus, we got to get back in touch with our creative side. We had a lot of fun coming up with different color combinations, and each one seemed to get prettier and prettier. I mean, who doesn’t like glitter?!


Practical Gifts

My other favorite gift to both receive and give is a practical one, because it’s not thoughtless and it’s something the person can actually use.

I know many people receive gifts that they barely use – that end up in the trash or donated in another year – and it’s disappointing. I want to avoid that as much as possible, which is why hand-made gifts or practical gifts are awesome.

Most people appreciate hand-made gifts, and most people won’t splurge on practical items for themselves.

For example, going back to my grandma, I got her a set of phones a few years ago. She kept saying her old phones didn’t work well – there was a lot of static and people kept going in and out. She was thrilled to get the new phones, and we set them up for her that night. She’s used them ever since.

Another example – I got a dust buster for my mom a few years ago after her old one died. It’s in her kitchen right now.

A practical gift I received from my parents was an Xbox Live subscription – good for one year, so I wouldn’t have to worry about it. (I don’t recommend gifting recurring subscriptions.)

This year, I’ve found myself asking for things for the house – we want a new ceiling fan, more shelving, a new sink faucet, and an electric tea kettle.

Pay attention to what people say they wish they had, in terms of practical, everyday items. Maybe something is on its way out, or maybe certain clothes or shoes are getting worn out and need to be replaced. If the people in your life are hesitant to buy things for themselves, it makes for a great gift opportunity.



Finally, the last gift alternative I can recommend is gifting experiences.

This can be as elaborate as a trip somewhere, or as simple as – again – spending time with someone.

For example, creating a scavenger hunt for them, going to an escape room, doing a day or weekend trip, brewing them a drink and sharing it with them over a fire, baking them a treat, playing a game with them, etc.

This is great for couples that are working toward more important financial goals and don’t want to spend a ton on gifts for each other. Suggest to your partner that you partake in an experience together instead.

If travel is one of your goals, plan a trip somewhere! As a bonus, if you can get away with it, ask for cash or gift cards to your favorite airline to fund your trip.

Find the Meaning in Christmas

Whatever you choose to do, try to do it in the spirit of the holidays. Don’t get caught up in one-upping someone’s gift, picking out any old present “that will do” because you have to, or being a total grinch and refusing to participate in anything.

There are so many ways to get in the holiday spirit without stepping foot inside a crazy store with equally crazy sales (that probably aren’t that good to begin with). Seek out those alternatives, and I think you’ll find yourself a little happier this holiday season.

What’s your philosophy on Christmas and gift-giving? Do you try and get people in on alternative gifts, or no gift-giving? 



  1. Steven Goodwin December 19, 2016 at 4:41 PM

    Some awesome tips here! We love giving experiences and our time to others! It’s a win-win because time is the most valuable thing that you can give since you can’t get back any more of it. Plus, you can never go wrong with spending time with people creating memories that will last a lifetime. I think you hit the nail on the head with the practical things as well. Since we have little ones, we do buy a few things for them, but the bulk of our Christmas experience goes into our traditions and our vacations that we plan out. We usually get them something to wear, something to read, something fun and something they need. Then, we take the rest of the money and use it to plan our family vacations. Besides, with them being so little, we know that all the grandparents are going to get them stuff and they will already have a ton of stuff for the Christmas experience.

    We try to teach them to share time with others too. And they do get to make crafts and really do enjoy giving them to family and friends as well!

    1. Erin M. December 20, 2016 at 6:07 PM

      Hi Steve! I’m glad to see someone else shares a similar philosophy. I like the “4 gift rule” when it comes to kids – it keeps it simple! And yes, when they’re little, they’re almost guaranteed to get spoiled by the grandparents. =) Thanks for sharing what your family does!

  2. Andrew@LivingRichCheaply December 20, 2016 at 11:20 AM

    I’m lucky that my family is not that big on gift giving. It’s mainly for the kids. Even with the kids, we don’t go crazy like many other parents. With my wife, we usually get something small and practical. My co-workers probably think I’m a horrible husband…they say I should go to Tiffany’s to get her gifts. But I wouldn’t spend that much without talking to her anyways so that would ruin the surprise…plus she’s frugal too and wouldn’t want me to spend that much.

    1. Erin M. December 20, 2016 at 6:09 PM

      What?!!? Is that really their default gift idea? Tiffany’s is ridiculously expensive … I’m on the same page as your wife there, haha. I’d be furious if I received something like that without talking about it. I’m also not a big jewelry person. I really don’t like that people equate the types of gifts you give with what kind of person you are (i.e. a “horrible” husband). So silly.

  3. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer December 21, 2016 at 10:19 AM

    LOVE this, Erin!!! Especially love your idea about giving the gift of time. Every year my kids and I bake cookies with my mom and it is such a joyful time for all of us. Rick and I share practical gifts too that are something we need and would’ve bought anyway – we just use Christmas as an excuse to buy it. For instance, this year I got him a drill he’s going to need this spring for a project, and he got me some much needed new everyday dishes for the house. We do get gifts for our kids and our parents, but we spend very little compared to what I hear others are spending, and I hope all of our family is happy with keeping it that way. I hear you on losing the meaning behind these holidays too. The very worst ad I heard this year was for “Thanksgetting”. I thought that was horrible! Here’s to a thoughtful and joyful Christmas, Erin!

    1. Erin M. December 22, 2016 at 8:50 AM

      Baking cookies is such a fun family activity – you really can’t go wrong with it. I agree with using Christmas as an excuse to buy things you were going to get anyway and gifting it. That’s basically our plan!

      Wow…well, I think Thanksgetting is worse than Thanksavings, but the fact that those ads exist is awful. At least we’re doing our part to get away from it!

  4. James December 24, 2016 at 5:38 AM

    Good strategies, Erin. I love gift giving and live the its spirit as much as possible. I spend a lot of time planning and buying gifts and even started three months before Christmas to prepare. I all do it for the real Christmas spirit. Merry Christmas!

  5. Melissa January 2, 2017 at 11:27 PM

    Ugh, I can’t get out of getting gifts for my husband’s family! And while there is a kid in the family (so getting gifts for him is fun!), everyone else isn’t a child yet still wants “something.” It’s kind of sad… Christmas with his family is just a round-robin exchange of gift cards (aka just money) amongst everyone. And the gift cards are usually for things we don’t use, like restaurants we don’t like or one year subscriptions for things we don’t use/like.

    Obviously we’re gracious and always thankful that people think of us, but my family is… how to put this nicely… a little more practical, like what you say here :) My Mom wanted the gift of my time for Christmas, so we got together before the holiday and cooked and ate and TALKED, my Dad wanted me to hook up the Roku to his TV (and socks. He can never get enough socks!) and my grandmother wanted this sweet, glittery make up clutch to match one I bought for myself earlier in the year. Easy, and everyone loved their gifts!

    I wish more Christmases were like that – spending time with family, or making crafts, or getting them practical stuff! My husband and I will be making traditions like that in our family :)

    1. Erin M. January 3, 2017 at 11:12 AM

      Christmas with your family does sound better! I wish more people would understand that time is more valuable. I basically had three places to go last year – my grandma’s, my boyfriend’s grandma’s, and his aunt’s, and we’re still going to his mom’s for another exchange. It’s just too crazy for me. I enjoyed seeing everyone, but there was hardly enough time to fully appreciate it.


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