The Fiscal Fitness Podcast, Episode 23: Holiday Traditions and Gift Giving Ideas that will Not Break the Bank - Archived

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Updated 11/16/20

How to Create Memories and Holiday Traditions that Won’t Break the Bank

It’s the beginning of the holiday season and the Christmas commercials have already been running for weeks. The holiday season hasn’t really even started and some people are already fed up with the constant consumerism of the holidays.  

In episode 23 of The Fiscal Fitness Podcast, we discuss:

  • the psychology of gift-giving
  • how research tells us people don’t really care about how much you spend on presents
  • how people are shifting their holiday traditions to make memories and personalize the family experience
  •  ideas for your family so you can start new fun traditions
  • gift ideas that will create memories without having to spend a lot of money

Did you know that the average American will spend $700 on holiday gifts and goodies this year, totaling more than $465 billion?  One study showed some 45% of Americans would prefer to skip Christmas altogether!

We don’t want you to feel like you need to skip Christmas in order to avoid buying too much. We want you to challenge your notions of gift-giving, not only during the holiday season but all year long.  You will probably get some funny looks and questions when you tell people you aren’t spending a lot of money on gifts or that you have a different gift-giving tradition.  But we think that by shifting away from materialism, most people will be impressed, proud of you, and probably a little jealous.

Maybe you are sick of the materialism of Christmas, maybe you want to just simplify your holidays, maybe you are on a budget and don’t want to feel awkward when you don’t spend as much money on others, or maybe you just want to start some new fun traditions and memories with your family.  This entire episode will give you a ton of ideas.  Enjoy!

The science and psychology of gift-giving.

Should you be “recipient-focused” or “giver-focused”?

In a series of studies, published this year, researchers found that people overwhelmingly think they prefer recipient-focused gifts. Most of the time, those are the kinds of gifts we buy for people, and those are the kinds of gifts we think we’d most like from other people.

Their studies revealed a surprising pattern, though. Even though people thought they preferred recipient-focused gifts, it was actually giver-focused gifts that brought people closer. It seems as though there’s greater meaning in a giver-focused gift. So the next time you’re gift shopping, try to find something that lets you share something of yourself with the person to whom you’re giving a gift.

Appreciation is not determined by the price of the gift or how much was spent.

So don’t worry about it! (This is especially true for kids or birthday parties). Invest in time and thoughtfulness rather than price.

It’s best to simply ask what someone wants.

Research shows that people appreciate a gift more when it’s something they explicitly asked for than if it’s something they didn’t ask for. This is one case of gift-givers and receivers not being on the same page. Givers assume that people will like requested and unrequested gifts about equally. Receivers show a clear preference for getting gifts that they asked for. So, when it’s time to buy a gift, check in to see what the other person actually wants first.

Gift cards are actually seen as more luxurious.

Helion and her colleagues’ research has found that when individuals receive a gift card, they are more likely to purchase hedonic items (luxury items that are meant to bring pleasure) versus using credit cards or cash for purchases. When individuals are given a gift card instead of cash, they feel a justification to buy something that’s out-of-the-ordinary. According to Helion, recipients use gift cards to “treat’ themselves to items they might not normally buy. “We find that this is because individuals experience less guilt when paying with a gift card, compared to credit cards or cash,” Helion says.

Buy American and buy local!

If each of us spent just $64 on American made goods during our holiday shopping, the result would be 200,000 new jobs. November 28th is Small Business Saturday.  Buy from farmer’s markets, craft fairs, antique stores, Etsy, and your local Main Street shops on Saturday but more importantly, throughout the holiday season and all year round.

How to be a good gift-giver

1. Try to tap into the personal values and needs of your recipient.

What you like won’t necessarily be what others like, so force yourself to see them (and you) in a realistic manner.

2. Examine your reasons for giving the gift.

Are you trying to make yourself look more successful by outspending everyone else, or are you motivated sincerely by altruistic instincts?

3. Think back on gifts that worked, and those that didn’t.

Maybe you crafted what you thought was a lovely needlepoint picture but it mysteriously never ended up on the walls of your recipient. Rather than feeling hurt or snubbed, recognize that not everyone has the room on their walls or preference for handmade gifts.

4. Join collaboratively with others in group gifts.

Don’t see every gift-giving occasion as an opportunity to beat out the others. If everyone is chipping in for a gift card, just go along with the gang, even if it means you won’t be getting individual recognition.

5. Don’t go overboard in expecting thanks.

If you become insulted at your recipient’s lack of gratitude (in your opinion), this will only create ill will at future gift-giving occasions. Check out our blog post on shopping for the holiday season without busting your budget here.

Fun traditions with your immediate family you can start this year:

Extended family and friends party and gift and tradition ideas:

  • Write what you’re thankful for on paper placemats.  Go around and write what you’re thankful for on everyone’s placemat.
  • Homemade food swap
  • Recipe exchange
  • Ornament exchange
  • Share an experience – everyone pitches in money. Private chef/ catering, in-home wine tasting
  • Potluck
  • Game night
  • Make crafts, ornaments.
  • Make holiday treats for neighbors and deliver them.
  • Create a family history scrapbook
  • Framed picture
  • Music or sports lessons or other lessons
  • Give the gift of time: babysitting, home-cooked meal, monthly lunch date, donate to charity in their name
  • Make or give homemade goodies: Cookies, bread, homemade bbq rub, infused booze
  • Exchange: Each person draws one name and the budget is the same for everyone. Variations: each gift has to be handmade or the gifts aren’t labeled so the gift has to reflect the person so well people can tell who it’s for.
  • White Elephant: This is probably best with the gifts are all gift cards with an equal denomination or limited to $5.  Some people just aren’t good at it…
  • Secret Santa: Each person fills out a form on what they want/ like/ need and one person buys for the person they chose.  Variation: Don’t label the present and make each person open a random gift, then everyone has to guess who it’s for.
  • LCR Game for gift cards: Each person buys 1 gift card and it goes in the pot.  The first person to win gets first choice, next to win gets the second choice of a gift card and so on.  If you don’t like LCR then choose another game.  Random/ no skill games are best rather than skill or trivia.
  • Gifts that are more about experiences than items or things – this has been proven to lead to improving relationship strength. Relationship improves when the gift is played out not when the gift is received initially. Groupon or Living Social is a great place to start.
  • Spend time together as a family
  • Offer acts of service: babysitting, cooking, cleaning as a gift
  • Give to charity or donate time to a cause together. Adopt a family from a giving tree together.

  • The Buy Nothing Project, a grassroots “gift economy” group that focuses on circulating goods through a community rather than buying new, had just one 400-member group 16 months ago. Today, the organization boasts more than 350 groups in nine countries and more than 80,000 members.
  • Buy nice sheets for someone so they have some comfy sheets

Ideas and inspiration from our Facebook group members:

Cheyenne: About 5 years ago we had a huge family Christmas and we’re heading over to my parents when my kids started talking about what else they wanted. Right then and there I told them that from now on Santa was only bringing them each one gift each year and that mom and dad only would get them 1 gift each too. It helped with the budget when they were younger and now that they are older it makes it possible to buy them nicer gifts.

Krista: Going to the house on 40th and camelback. The guy does the house up ridiculously each year and seeing the kids and even the adults enjoy is awesome. Can’t wait to take finny boy this year.

Shanna: We made a video from old “super-8” tapes from when we were growing up. We did this about 15 years ago and many of the videos were of holidays. We used to watch it with mom and dad every year. About 6 years ago I “lost” the last remaining DVD. I “found” it safely tucked away in our wedding album when we moved! I’m so looking forward to watching this again with mom and dad! No cost at all!!

Jeff: We used to drive through different neighborhoods and look at the decorations and lights. Also, my wife and MIL crocheted blankets for friends and family. Good times.

Sarah: I like to make presents for people (year-round). That stems from when I was little and couldn’t buy anything so I made things out of whatever was available. As I got older I graduated to constructing things out of items from the dollar store. Now I get most of my materials/decor from Michaels – after Christmas when it’s 90% off. However, I will never underestimate the power of a good find at the Dollar Tree that could be beautified with a little imagination and a lot of TLC.

Sarah: We are going on our 14th year of the annual Thanksgiving beer tasting tradition! Each person brings 2 bottles (or a mixed 6 pack) of something fun to taste, and we pour tiny tastes of each one. It takes two bottles to make sure everyone participating gets a taste. Then we line up all the bottles on the deck railing and take a family photo in front of it – silly, I know, and definitely not classy, but a priceless tradition that is dirt cheap!

Chris: I did a year of holiday memories…  Every month I had a family event that I plan that we all do together…   hiking, top golf, weekend trip, family dinner, etc.   I created a flyer that I wrapped for everyone that said what each month’s “theme” was then I had a group chat where we planned the date, etc.  They ranged from inexpensive stuff to a little weekend….

Dimitra: For Christmas, with 3 kids Santa brings one big gift and fills their stockings. But from mom and dad, we get one fun gift (a toy that they have been asking for), something practical or learning item (science kit for example), and something to build memories with as a family like a special Christmas book or movie. For our oldest we started a tradition when he started kindergarten… we order a photo book with pictures of his friends and family and fun times for him to look back on that he experienced for the year.

Now that you have all these great ideas how do you implement them without feeling guilty, cheap or rushed?

  1. You have to do it early because people start shopping early.  If someone is a year-long shopper they might have bought gifts for others already but that’s ok. 
  2. Some good conversation starters and wording to communicate this with family: “This year we were thinking it’d be nice to…” “We really want to contribute to a more giving spirit in our family and for our kids…” “We’re all so blessed and don’t want for anything, there’s nothing we need our family to buy us…”
  3. Set ground rules: Be honest, Set limit to how much we spend per person, share what the limit is with everyone and stick to it.  Some people really love to give gifts and that’s ok.  If they know what the plan is or what the ground rules are, they won’t be offended.
  4. You’ve got to sell it! There are people who LOVE to shop, and they may want to scale back on the gift-buying slowly.
  5. It’s about starting a new tradition as opposed to stopping another (make it about trying something new, not the fact that you disliked the old way or that it wasn’t working)
  6. Be confident and assertive
  7. The first year is the most difficult.  With every year people will get on board more and will love the tradition and freedom from spending.
  8. Most people say they really appreciate it and like it more than the old way of spend, spend, spend.
  9. Compromise and flexibility are paramount, and a sense of humor doesn’t hurt either.

Need more ideas or a way to tie this all to your budget. Read this related blog post: How to Tackle the Holiday Season without Busting Your Budget.

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