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If you are trying to live a simpler and more frugal lifestyle, the holidays probably make you feel conflicted. The messages we get through the media, friends and family (especially if you have young kids!) is to spend, spend, spend, and buy everyone everything they want. You can beat this mindset, though, and give gifts that reflect your values.

holiday giving shopping list illustration

1. Shorten the list of recipients.

Keep gift giving to immediate family. We don’t need to buy for every co-worker, acquaintance, teacher, classmate and colleague. This is how Secret Santa got started years ago. Names go into a hat, you pick one, and you buy for that one person. This is good for schools and even family!

2. Make a list of what to buy.

This will keep you from impulse shopping, which always means unnecessary spending usually on worthless gifts. Know what each person wants or needs, and stick to that list.

3. Limit the number of gifts per person.

There is no need to buy everything someone wants. It’s a great lesson for kids to know they’re not going to get the whole list. They will get mad at you, and they’ll get mad at Santa, but in the long run, they will learn to appreciate what they did get.

4. Make a budget.

Decide how much you want to spend. Then make a budget for each person’s gift or gifts. Stay within your means. Consider starting a savings account at a bank or at home. Put away a small amount every pay day, and in the fall, you’ll have spending money. Instead of paying off credit cards all year, save a little regularly to avoid using them.

5. Buy quality, durable items.

I find that things available this time of year are not the quality you will find at other times. Sizes are wrong, toys fall apart, tools break. Durable and good quality items will last longer, which means your dollar goes farther. So instead of buying a stereo this year and replacing it next year, buy a stereo this year and ski boots next year.

6. Shop sales.

Aside from the insane sales on Thanksgiving weekend, you can find reduced price items online and in local shops. You can probably find discounts for locals. Shop ebay, Amazon, and other online stores (malls?!) for first quality items at reduced prices.

7. Take into consideration other expenses.

You are going to spend on decorations, food and maybe travel. Your holiday budget shouldn’t just include gifts! Stick to your budget for everything you need.

8. Make gifts.

There is nothing as appreciated as something made at home. If you have a crafty talent, put it to use! If you like to bake, do so! Even though we eat too much this time of year, you can make something that will go into the freezer. If you have a garden, next year plan to make jams, vinegars, breads, dried herb wreaths or flower arrangements, pickles, and many other things that will last more than a day.

9. Create traditions.

Instead of gifts, create new family traditions that everyone will remember for generations to come. Make a special dinner, go out to dinner, go to the theater, travel to a different town each year, or volunteer as a group at a local charity for a weekend. This would be a very special once-a-year gathering that will be remembered and passed down, unlike the Black Friday gift.

10. Donate to charity.

Instead of a present, make a tax deductible donation to someone’s favorite charity in their name. Alternatively, you can donate locally to the animal shelter, churches, food banks, a homeless shelter or any number of worthwhile causes right in your community.

Make meaning

When the holidays become less about consuming for the sake of consuming and more about giving thoughtful gifts, this time of year will have more meaning. The senseless and frantic shopping causes unnecessary stress.

If we can get away from the mindset of having to spend a lot of money to show our friends and family that we care, our bank accounts will be happier, we will be more relaxed, and memories will be cherished for years to come. Make it meaningful this year. You can do that on a budget!

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.