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Home » Culture and Criticism

Support Local Biz: November 29, 2008

Submitted by on November 29, 2008 – 1:53 PM90 Comments

I worked with John Grady a few years ago when he played Captain Patterson in the FGM. You can catch him in the upcoming Ian McShane project Kings, and in a short called Doga that played at Tropfest this year.

I've also been following Ramit's personal-finance tips for the last few weeks — "following" as in "reading with interest," not as in "doing all of them" (although one of them led me to catch a major problem with my cell-phone service and saved me some major money). One of his tips,, got me thinking, because the fact is, I don't need anything, and the things you could say I "need," either I don't feel comfortable asking anyone to buy me because of the price (it's time for a new computer, I'd like a better bike, etc.), or I'd rather just buy for myself so I can control the specs (computer; bike), so if someone approached me with that idea, I wouldn't mind.

The holiday-gift social contract is so fraught as it is — what do you buy for a couple when you're really "more friends with" one spouse; how do you match the ugly pricey gewgaw your mother-in-law got you when you make 11K a year in grad school and didn't like said gewgaw anyway; how impersonal/cheap can you get with your business contacts; the list goes on and on, and in this economy, the resentment level is ratcheted up several notches because, on top of the emotional gift anxiety, you've got the dread of the January bills…and if the economy hasn't touched you up as badly as some, you worry about overspending for people who can't return the favor and may feel awkward about it even though you don't care. As Gen once aptly put it, "I know it's the thought that counts, I just have…too many thoughts."

Lisa's had a few entries of late on homemade gifts and how we view them, the Black Friday tradition, and so on, and I thought I'd open the floor — has anything changed for you guys this year vis-a-vis holiday shopping? Any dead weight get booted off your gift list? Any deal-making going on between siblings to the tune of "just get me X thing, here's the URL, do not spend any more than that"? Have you instituted a spending cap, total or per person?

This time last year, we vented about the post office; feel free to visit that entry and open a vein. This year, let's talk about holiday budgeting stress.

I'll start. A couple of people did get trimmed off the gift list; we do have some intra-family "let's pool our resources and get Y this big Z" dealing going on; my holiday-card list is going to see major downsizing (this is a time issue, primarily, and if I can't get an in-focus picture of the Hobe in novelty antlers in the next two days, it may not happen at all this year); a few people will get handwritten coupons for activities, not because I don't want to spend on them but because I would rather spend time with them.

December looms: how you doin'?

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  • Dona says:

    I just decided that all of my (girl) friends are getting homemade scarves for Christmas this year. I'm doing fine, money-wise, but some of them aren't and can't reciprocate presents. My family is a different matter, though. I still need to (and very much want to) shop for them.

  • Anne-Cara says:

    Oh man. I actually started Christmas shopping early so I could divide it up onto two different credit card statements, and at least one present has been bought since early October. The hardest thing for me is going to be figuring out what to get my boyfriend, since 1) I know I'm getting an engagement ring for Christmas, but 2) I don't possess anywhere close to the equivalent amount of money to spend on him, but 3) I feel as though I should get him something nicer than what he asked for ("You can get me an iron; I need one." "…seriously?").

  • autiger23 says:

    'a few people will get handwritten coupons for activities, not because I don't want to spend on them but because I would rather spend time with them.'

    Yeah, this is what I try to get across to several of my rather busy friends this time of the year. Let's just hang out and spend some time instead of money.

    About five years ago one of my best friends said that she had this deal with a couple of her other friends where they just got each other an annual gift instead of one for birthday and another for Christmas. And there was no limitation on when you had to give it- just whenever you happened to find the perfect thing (or a bunch of small things). It's AWESOME!! No pressure to find something good enough, we can wait and spend the money on each other when we aren't spending it on a bunch of other folks, etc. I told my other best friend about it and she thought it was a great idea, so now we do it, too.

    Other than that, my family has scaled back a lot over the years anyway. We only buy presents for my nieces and nephews instead of each other (I have two brothers, a sister, and five nieces and nephews) and they ask us not to spend much more than $30 on each kid. Even with that much limitation, they end up with so many gifts each year from the big families that they have to keep finding room in their houses.

    Our folks get mad is we each spend more than $50 a piece on each of them, so we tend to do gifts where we all chip in together and either get them stuff they really need, or just get them Home Depot gift cards if they've got a big project planned.

    They only spend about $75 each on us kids and that's fine with us. We're all adults that make a good living- we don't need our folks who are about to retire and have a fixed income spending a bunch of money on us. It's easier to just get myself what I need when I need it rather than waiting until Christmas so that my Mom has something she can wrap for me. She and I go shopping before Christmas (which she loves doing with me) and then she wraps up whatever we buy. That way she gets to spend time with me and I can say that I only really like the sweater that 40% off. Heh!

  • KTB says:

    I've also been reading, but not doing Ramit's list–he's got some good points, and I loved the comment storm after his post on buying cheap food for pets (which is why he doesn't have any pets). Awesome.

    My fam is definitely culling the gift list down to immediate family only, and my sister and I have already set our spending limits on each other, as she is a poor grad student. Also, I'm getting married in four months and am pretty sure we will be awash in stuff and will be writing thank you notes until our hands fall off. Hence, we're not really going big for Christmas.

    Although this is the first Christmas I'm spending with his family and thus shopping for them. Eek!

  • Phaedra392 says:

    My gift-giving pattern changed a few years ago, when I realized how insane the whole Christmas/wedding/shower phenomenon has become. A shower gift used to be a set of kitchen towels. Now it's fine china place settings and Waterford.

    No one needs anything in my family. I saw no point in getting my nieces their 408th sweater. It's not only ridiculous, it had no impact as one of dozens of expensive gifts they got.

    So starting a few years ago, I bought a heifer every year for Christmas from Heifer Project International in my family's name. This is a fabulous charity ( take a look at I sent cards to everyone announcing the gift and got a terrific response.

    The result has been a stress-free holiday season and a real feeling of satisfaction. I'm helping people who need it rather than heaping more "stuff" on people who already have everything. There are so many wonderful charities out there that can put your money to good use helping the unfortunate. And that's what Christmas should be about.

  • jane says:

    We just had a baby this year, so we were able to now strike deals with all of our siblings that we'd all just buy for the kiddos…big savings there and everyone is happier.

  • Maren says:

    I knit for people I know will be pleased by a knitted gift, usually ones who have commented on something I made (i.e. female relatives in my close family and some of my friends). Otherwise, I tend towards smaller gifts, and can get away with it because I'm finally out of law school at 27 and have been very poor my entire adult life. I also like to think I "get away with it" because my family's emphasis on gift-giving has really dwindled over the years, and now even my parents are only likely to give me one largish gift and a couple smaller ones. I also admit I only buy for people I know I'm going to see, which since I moved away and my family became more spread-out is a shrinking number, and I'm much more likely to buy birthday presents than Christmas presents for friends since they live farther away too.

    And the crazy commercialism is only suited to children's gifts, I think, and maybe not even then. I loved getting a Barbie house and a bike from Santa and a bunch of other toys when I was a kid, but my parents didn't go overboard (without all of today's electronics, there really wasn't all that much to go overboard with back then), and I want to be restrained when it comes to my own kids someday. The problem is others — my much-younger brothers already have friends who live in houses where each kid has their own game console(s) and this year it's iPhones for everyone. I don't understand the "Black Friday" mindset because nothing I plan to give anyone is the kind of thing you'll find at Wal-Mart anyhow.

    In conclusion: we're squeezed this year with my student loans coming due, but by planning ahead and keeping in with the low-key attitude in my gift-giving circle, we'll be all right.

  • Amie says:

    I feel weird asking for gifts at the holidays now. I'm nearly 30, but I'm the only unmarried/sans kids sibling, so my sisters and my mom still insist on asking me for a Christmas list so they can pick out gifts for me. But the things I want are unreasonable to ask for from them or I would rather just take care of myself. If I tell my family not to get me anything, I'm sure they'll still get me something, but it won't be something I'll want, and that is wasteful. They don't provide me with lists for things for THEM, though, even though I ask. And it is like pulling teeth to get them to give me ideas from their own kids' wishlists.

    Still, I like to *give* gifts at the holidays. We don't have any family rules or guidelines. My personal rule for myself is to try really hard to make it something thoughtful in some way (either something the person really wants, or would really get use out of, or has a personal meaning). Gifts just for the sake of giving feel like clutter to me, and wasteful, and that drives me nuts. This means sometimes I overspend because some years I come up with something totally meaningful or significant but there's a cost, or some years there's a lot of last minute creativity. But it is all worth it, ultimately.

    As for my friends, I never expect anything and wouldn't feel bad if we didn't exchange gifts, or if the gift-giving is one-sided once in a while. Some people just don't get things sometimes. Again, though, thoughtfulness counts, even if it is just an entertaining card or bargain book.

  • DT says:

    We'll (husband and I) will probably cut back a little on things for each other. Neither of us can think of a whole lot of stuff that we really want or need anyway, so it's an easy enough cut to make. My kids will probably get a little less — fewer clothes for my son because he doesn't really care about them anyway, and only a few toys for my daughter because she's only 1 and is just as happy to play with toys she hasn't seen in a while as she is brand new ones.

    Gifts to in-laws, parents, & siblings will stay pretty much the same, although they're not extravagant anyway. We're not traveling to see anyone this year, so we're saving money (and sanity) because of that.

    Of course, if either of us gets bad job news in the next few weeks, that'll all change, but for now we're not really cutting back a lot. The drastic drop in gas prices and heating oil prices is really helping.

  • Betsy says:

    The immediate family has agreed to do stockings only this year (candy, funny socks, etc.), no presents. Traveling to be together is the present this year.

    The extended family is all getting homemade jam, which we made this summer with free fruit from neighborhood fruit trees. Mind you, in July we didn't know the economy would be this bad. But we're happy we made as much jam as we did.

  • Jen S says:

    Ever since I heard about that poor employee who was TRAMPLED TO DEATH at a Wal-Mart I have been even less disposed than usual to look kindly on Black Friday.

    I haven't really bought physical gifts for family for a couple years now, since they all live at least one state away. Shipping the damn things costs as much or more than the actual gift. So here's what I do:

    Since gift cards are actually not recommended in this economy (if the store goes bust, your gift card is worthless) I go on the net and find specific things that I know said person would like in their area. For instance, my dad lives in Ashland, Oregon, and regularly attends the Shakespeare festival, and there are several other local theaters. I get him a ticket package he can use on any three shows, depending on his schedule. (Unless you know for certain someone wants to see/attend a one night only event and will definitely be free, try to keep the tickets flexible.) Or last year, I got him and his wife a day package to a local spa/retreat they could use anytime in the coming year. It's much more useful and tailored to the things he likes to do than more books/CDs etc that will end up in a pile somewhere. I buy my mom gift cards to her favorite craft store, my sister and her husband get online games, etc. The only people I really buy and ship for are my nieces and nephew.

    If your family is closer and you can get to them without major travel, maybe a night on the town at a favorite family restaurant, a special museum exhibit, or so on. The trick is to find those special bargains/package deals that are open ended enough that gathering the crowd doesn't induce an ulcer.

  • AngieFM says:

    Great topic. In light of yesterday's Black Friday casualty, I've been thinking about this a lot. I have small kids, and frankly I really love the Christmas morning wonder and delight of a spread of toys. That being said, you can actually make a lot of spectacle for a little kid without spending a huge amount.

    The real question for me has been the things you pointed out. My husband's family is large, and there is still an expectation that everyone will get everyone else a gift. Last year we made donations to DonorsChoose in their names and gave them socks or something and called it a day. We plan to do the same this year. My husband wanted a new mountain bike and I needed a new laptop, so we got those things and chalked it up to Christmas. We'll purchase one or two things to be unwrapped on the day, but we're basically done. For the first time this year, we're going to bake stuff for everyone else–co-workers, book club buddies, etc. And for really the first time, we're sticking to a budget. Desperate times and all that…

  • Deanna says:

    My family tries to operate on my aunt's creed regarding Valentine's Day and we've applied it to all holidays: "Candy rots your teeth, flowers die, cards are hard to recycle, and I don't wear jewelry. Time spent with my beloved is gift enough." That said, I have a brand new nephew and am pregnant myself, so my parents declared that my sister and I are getting cookies and that from now on the bulk of the budget will be spent on their grandson and grandchild-to-be. In return, all we have to do is keep them updated with formal portraits they can hang on the wall and use to brag about how good looking their kids and grandkids are. ;-D My sister and I basically breathed a huge sigh of relief when we heard that.

  • Amanda says:

    We cut down who gets gifts~instead of getting my mother a gift and my father a gift, for example, they get one gift for the two of them. My brothers and I agreed not to buy for each other this year.

    And for those "they're friends, but I'm broke!" people, I made Christmas ornaments~cornstarch dough, cookies cutters, and some paint, and we've got Merry Christmas 2008 ornaments.

  • Nik says:

    My sisters and I decided to skip gifts for each other and go out for a nice meal. We are all scattered and living busy lives so we are looking forward to a few hours of good eats, drinks and sister-bonding.

    My extended fam on Mom's side does the "Sneaky Santa" and my dad's side does a grab bag so you only buy for one person.

    We only have one couple who we exchange gifts with and they have WAY more disposable income than us….their gifts are always very extravagant (they bought my husband Wii Rock Band for his birthday :o :o ) so we always feel the need to go all out with them :-\ It's especially weird because we dont even see them very often socially–they are just old friends and it feels to uncomfortable to bring it up.

  • Cherylyn says:

    Much like Sars, there's nothing that I really need this year…and nothing that anyone in my family really needs either (my sister's prego, and we're all making a conscious effort not to buy too much baby stuff)…anyhow. I'm buying everyone World Vision stuff. You can buy an agricultural set for a family, some ducks, school supplies, clothes…and so on.

    I figure if there's nothing that WE need, why not give the same money that I would have spent on everyone to someone who DOES need something?

    It also stops me from overspending on one person, and feeling like I have to make it up to someone else.

    And only my family are getting 'presents'. I'm buying stacks of cards for everyone else, and my close girl friends and I celebrate Christmas in May (aka Maymas) since Chirstmas is always so expensive for each of us.

  • FloridaErin says:

    We're definitely cutting back considerably this year, even on immediate family. I'll get my sister something, since she's broke and doesn't always buy things for herself. My parents/in-laws are probably getting cookies or the like. The husband and I decided to get something mutual for ourselves instead of buying individual presents and just do stockings. Other than that, we're really not doing anything for anyone, which sounds horrible but I'm in graduate school and we already have enough credit card dept so . . . nope. Our love for them will have to be enough.

    As far as people asking us what we want, I'm being honest and telling family that if the feel the need, send money, which I will use for either a) text books or b) a bike. My dad is already all over helping me get a bike, so I'm hoping he'll get my family on his side in on the deal. I don't want my sister buying me anything, and knowing my mother, she'll get me the stuff she wants to get me and be offended if I ask for anything I actually want, so I'm just not even going there. The in-laws are completely strapped and have already warned us that we're just getting a collection of gift cards (enough for a dinner at Macaroni Grill, Target for odds and ends, etc), which is more than I would have even asked from them so I'm greatful.

    I don't even want to talk about Black Friday. I work for Best Buy, so shopping is out of the question even if I wanted to, which I do not. Ever. If you watched last year's Chuck episode, that's pretty accurate.

  • dimestore lipstick says:

    My family has changed the gift set-up. We used to do it like this: my generation drew names, but everyone bought for the grandparents and kids–and my parents bought for everyone.

    This year, it's one big drawing, with kids, kids-in-law, grandkids, grandkids-in-law, and grandpa and grandma, all in one big pool. A big savings for everyone–it will cut my gift-buying down from nine presents to a single one for that gathering.

    And when Mom, who drew my name, asked what I wanted? I told her a gift certificate for a particualer store, so I can put it toward a piece of furniture I need to get. (Kmart isn't in trouble, is it?)

    Oh, and we're keeping the future day of reckioning down by using layaway instead of plastic. Thank goodness there's still a couple of places that have it.

  • Rinaldo says:

    Our family group, all nephews, etc. included, is about 10 total, so pretty manageable and we don't get giant gifts for each other. I imagine we're sticking to the usual format.

    Partly, I unexpectedly find myself with a somewhat Victorian (as in "provide work for the servant classes," ahem) attitude. The way things are now, the stores need our patronage more than ever. This is the time of year that puts them into profit, and I wonder how that will work out this time.

  • Sandy says:

    We don't buy gifts for each other at all anymore in my family And we're OK with that. I just quit my job last year and went back to school full-time, so my sisters are totally OK with my not buying for their kids; they get so much stuff anyhow. Even before the economy crapped out, we weren't doing gifts, we just adopted a family from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch 100 Neediest Cases list. Unfortunately, no one can afford to do that this year, but in the past, it's been totally awesome. The paper sends you a list of everything the family needs, and stuff they want. My family went to a Chinese restaurant for lunch, passed around an envelope, and put in as much as we could afford. I normally hate Wal-Mart, but in such a situation, we were able to buy our families TONS of stuff. We learned the hard way that wrapping was to be done on a separate day, because after three days wrangling three shopping carts around the 'Mart, there was a significant amount of crying and throwing down over Scotch tape and name tags.

  • camelama says:

    I'm cutting *waaaay* back this year, both from a general sense of "meh", and because of months of unemployment (WAH!) leave me purty near flat broke. Parents, siblings and nieces/nephs are getting hand-embroidered dishtowels (which I already had from buying a bunch of blank ones for myself last year). A couple friends are getting some handmade stationary I saw a few months ago, made by a friend. And that's all I'm doing.

    My cards are at the same level because my list is pretty short to start with and I found some cards I'd never used before, stashed in a desk drawer. Yay, pack-rat-itis!

  • Cyntada says:

    I have a super small social circle anyway, which includes parents who have everything and my budget which has nothing, so my partner and I have been doing the no-gifts thing for years. Of course my parents still send me some cash, like it or not, but I finally got it through my head that when they say "We don't want anything for Christmas" they actually mean it.

    It was a little hard and weird to get used to, but it's actually very freeing. Being an artist (professionally and hobby-wise) helps with the homeade gift concerns if I feel a need to give someone a tangible thing, but for the most part: Merry Christmas. 'Nuff said.

    And by the way? Followed links from above and ended up here:
    And must say that site absolutely rocks.

  • Kathryn says:

    Ever since driving 12 hours to my parents place only to find that my mother had gotten my younger sister the EXACT same gift that I had (Mom ended up returning hers on Christmas Eve. 'Cause I was tired.) my family has done the "Christmas List" via e-mail every year. Everybody sends out a general list of what would be nice to have, and the family members trade e-mails back and forth verifying what everybody is getting for everybody else. It sounds like you'd need a spreadsheet to keep track, but it works pretty well, and so far there have only been one or two frantic phone calls of "Don't open that last e-mail, I just told you what you're getting!!"

    It's also a good way to keep spending on an even keel. If Sis Three is getting Sis Two a pair of earrings and some socks, and then Sis Two sends an e-mail saying "I'm getting Sis Three the box sets for Season four AND five of "ER"!", then the rest of the family can hint to Sis Two that she can maybe cut that back a tad.

    Note to Sis Two and Sis Three: those are NOT your gifts this year. Obviously.

  • Tygemo says:

    I agree with the other posters….the cost of postage is starting to be as high as the cost of the gifts themselves. My extended family are doing "experiences" this year instead of gifts, mostly to save on postage (I live in California, they live in New York). My parents visited us earlier this month and we took them out for a nice dinner one night as our early-holiday gift to them, and then they took us out another night as their gift to us (and the few extra stuff that they wanted to get for my son they bought while they were here and I just will hide them until Christmas). Then my sister and I made plans where on December 26th she takes her family to her local zoo as a gift from us, and I take my family to our local zoo as a gift from them (we won't be together, but we hope that it will still work out nicely).

    My son will be getting a few store-bought gifts, and then I am planning a family camping weekend and doing homemade stuff (food, knitting, ect) for the rest of the family gifts.

  • Jaime says:

    My immediate family's gift-giving philosophy has always been on finding the right gift for the recipient. The "right" gift could be something you found for five bucks on Etsy, or something you splurged on just this once because you knew how much the person would love it. I'm really, really good at finding this kind of present, and I can usually do it on a budget. (I'm a pro at making people cry with gladness over their presents, without spending a lot of cash.)

    My mom got laid off last month, and she is demanding that we not spend any money on them for presents. I'm not going to be able to restrict myself quite that much, but we're keeping things minimal and we're open to other strategies. For instance, my dad's been wittering on about an iPod for a while now. I was thinking out loud about getting him a smallish one when my husband pointed out that his old one is in perfect condition, and that he even still has the packaging. I loaded it up with my dad's favorite music and splashed out for a cheap car transmitter — bingo! Perfect present.

    But I've always felt like my husband's family puts more emphasis on quantity and prestige-status than on the present itself. The bigger and glitzier the present, the better, in their eyes. Recycled presents, previously-owned DVDs, or consignment shop stuff (all of which I'd consider for my fam) just won't fly, and they're pretty skeptical about the fair trade items we've favored lately. Oh, yeah, and there are seven young nieces and nephews to buy for on that side. I just spent 10 years in grad school, so we don't have a whole lot of money to blow on Christmas presents. We've tried to cut back over the past couple of years, and specifically to move toward non-material gifts for the grown-ups. We've done the Heifer / World Vision stuff (which, frankly, went over much better than I was expecting). We set a strict budget for the kids' presents, and stuck to it. (5 Below, people — best discovery ever! Cranium Games for under $5 bucks!) And we're doing a lot of homemade presents. I just spent the last year scanning his family's entire stash of photographs. We'll give every family member a DVD montage of the pictures, plus all the individual files. His sibs will get separate DVDs with just their own kids (I figure, if I'm gonna spend all the time to scan them, a little extra sorting and burning won't hurt).

    My friends are getting "I am" boxes — wooden boxes from the craft store filled with slips of paper with positive, uplifting words on them. The idea is for the recipient to think "I am" and then draw a slip of paper: beautiful, witty, a bibliophile, watched over by angels, etc.

  • Erin says:

    My family are actually the first ones cut, for many reasons. My whole family lives on the opposite coast from me, so the shipping would pretty much double the cost of anything I might get them. Also, I never know what to get them, and coupons are really sort of useless when the recipients are no where near you.

    Also, my brothers took several years off getting presents when they entered Student Loan Repayment for my expensive private university, which is where I am, on a receptionist's salary. This taking years off from gifts thing is not new to my family.

    My family will get their gifts in the spring, and my friends will get a listening party with dinner in the week between Christmas and New Year's.

  • AmyNewman says:

    I vote to skip straight from day after Thanksgiving (can't miss turkey sandwiches with stuffing and cranberry sauce!) to January 2nd. Call me Scrooge, but I despise the whole season. I do not want one more tangible good in my home. My family is crazy; my husband's family is crazy; every person gets a present from every other person. No one remembers who gave what to whom in the frenzy. And they all think I'm the one who is nuts for trying to put the brakes on the madness.

  • Alexis says:

    I'm definitely giving cards to a few more people this year, and thinking hard about how to keep gifts within a lower budget. My family is small (we don't do gifts outside the immediate family of four of us) and everyone loves books, so it's never been a big production there. My parents always ask for a list and I made my list smaller this year too. I really don't need much, but there are a few things I'd love that I won't buy for myself because they're expensive and 'for fun'. Mostly books. :)

  • Caitlin says:

    I used to buy presents for friends, but last year only did my immediate family, and this year I probably won't even be doing that. I'm a college student so everyone generally expects me to be broke anyway, but my car just crapped out on me for the last time and I need to get a new one. There goes my entire bank account, and I won't be able to go back to work for the winter until after Christmas.

  • Jen P says:

    Maymas! Love it! Ha!

    I've always been an economizer — since becoming a solvent adult, my Christmas spending has settled around $250-350 total, depending on how many gifts I need to buy. I'm a TJ Maxx/Marshalls shopper, which helps a LOT.

    I usually try to put a few bucks away out of each paycheck starting in November, or earn a bit more before the holiday. This year, I was doing really well with that — I got invited to participate in a focus group that paid $250 (!!), and that was going to be my Christmas-shopping money! Unfortunately, an unexpected trip to the vet Hoovered up that cash (that cat is lucky that I like him! AND the diagnosis was diabetes, so he's going to KEEP costing me), so I'm back where I started.


    My oldest friend gets a huge homemade batch of her favorite treat, my sister gets an item of clothing (she usually looks homeless, so she needs clothes), Dad gets an item of clothing and maybe a cute little item, Mom gets a couple of cute little items and a larger item (both parents commented independently that they wished they had an Obama yard sign, so I bought a couple on eBay for $10 and will wrap them up as their cute little items). Kids get books.

    For other friends, I pick something off their Amazon wish list or try to make a note of something they say they want or need over the course of the year. Sometimes I have fabulous inspiration and everyone gets the same great item — last year it was Not Soap Radio bath gel (normally bath gel is too generic, but these are different and were a big hit) — the single-and-looking girls got the pheromone-activation gel that is supposed to help you hook a man, and everyone else got one that suited their personality.

    I am, however, too lazy to do cards. Sometimes I send Valentine cards, but never Christmas cards.

  • Tipp says:

    My family have been doing a Secret Santa for a good few years now. There's seven of us (me and parents and four siblings) so everyone getting gifts for everyone else was getting ridiculous, both headache and money-wise. We've always had a limit, because when it started some of us were still students, and we've just never lifted it. We all pool together for our grandmother and, aside from that, the only family presents given and received are from godparents.

  • Imogene says:

    I'm an agency temp employee, and the office for which I work closes down over the holidays, so I'm going to be technically unemployed over xmas. Right now, all my money is going toward saving some buffer funds for that period, and I haven't even touched on presents yet. This scenario is further complicated by the toothache that popped up last night – the last of my credit will likely go to fixing that, which is HORRIBLE timing. Consequently, I'm on the verge of telling everyone that their presents from me will be late this year. Like, late-January late. And this makes me feel terrible. It's not that I think anyone will necessarily mind, but the vision I'm having of spending xmas day receiving without giving is mortifying. But I can't think what else to do.

  • It'sJessMe says:

    About 2 years ago, my 2 adults sisters and I started a holiday tradition that is really personal and saves a lot of money. Each year, we give each other access to all our photos (snapfish, etc.) and use the software to create a family calendar, ostensibly for our parents but we get copies for all of us. We put small pictures at each person's birthday or anniversary and large ones on the opposite pages. Each year we've added – we now have all our grandparents' birth and death dates there, as well as other family milestones (e.g. the date my parents sold the house we grew up in, which my dad had also grown up in.)

    Each year one of us is in charge of the calendar and the other two pay for it. We rotate who puts it together, although based on schedules (and my older sister's inability even to turn on a computer!) it's not a strict rotation. We no longer buy other holiday gifts for each other, our husbands or our parents, but we do buy them for the 8 members of the younger generation. Since we live in 3 different cities, the cousins (our kids) don't see each other much so the calendar is a great way to keep them connected.

  • Karen says:

    Boyfriend's extended family has been doing "everyone gets one person's name" at Thanksgiving for a few years, so that helps. Having my first niece born this year whom I love to death and have very little willpower where spoiling her is concerned…does not help :)

    Since I've been baking with increasing skill for a few years now and my got a KitchenAid stand mixer for my birthday this year, friends are getting baked goods, which is I think is actually kind of thoughtful 'cause I have a lot of friends who have dietary restrictions and can't eat the normal holiday treats.

    My immediate family made this rule that we can each buy each other one present and as many stocking stuffers as we want. This rule kind of irritates me. I wish we could all just agree to scale it back without putting a such a strict "rule" on it, but everybody agreed to it so now I have to live with it.

    My main holiday gripe is that my family is notorious for not making their wishlists known until late in the season, forcing me into holiday shopping madness. Whaddya gonna do?

  • rayvyn2k says:

    I still plan on giving gifts to my family, in-laws and close friends. My husband and I are very fortunate in that we have good jobs and are pretty safe from layoffs or downsizing due to the nature of our work.

    I really don't mind if I don't receive something from everyone I'm giving to because for me, it's about the giving. I love searching (usually online) until I find the perfect gift for someone I love and then wrapping it and especially seeing them open it. Nothing makes me feel better than seeing the expression on their faces.

    Since I bought my cards during last year's after the holiday sales, I am good to go in that department, too.

  • Jenn says:

    My family (myself, parents, three brothers, their wives, and soon to be five grandkids) does Amazon wish lists. This way we don't have to ask what everyone wants, but there's still a small element of surprise in that you don't know exactly what you'll be getting.

    In the future (probably starting as early as next Christmas) I think we'll forgo presents among the adults and just buy for the kids. We're all at the age where we can buy what we want when we want it. And it's more fun to watch the kids open their presents anyway.

  • Mimi says:

    The gift-giving in my family has always been pretty limited, fortunately, so I don't think this year will change much in that regard. My mother wants music from iTunes, my dad will probably get a fun t-shirt for running and pottering around in on weekends (they both have a tendency to simply buy themselves the things they really want, which doesn't leave me many options), and I'll probably make my sister another piece of jewelry. Last year I made earrings for all my girlfriends, and I may do that again or just spend some time baking.

    My sister has for years been putting together calendars of favorite photos she's taken–it's such a great idea, I wish I'd thougt of it first!

  • Jess says:

    We're terrible at the card thing; my family never did cards anyway, and the husband never remembers until it's too late. I have a ton of cards somewhere in the basement from one year where I felt ambitious but never got around to sending anything.

    I make things for everyone unless I have something else planned. My sister's probably getting a hockey jersey since we like to go to hockey games with her and her husband and she's the only one of us without a jersey. But for everyone else it's homemade jam, truffles, cookies, and knitted things. I've never understood spending more than you have for the holidays; it just makes you more stressed out.

    Online shopping is also a godsend. I hate christmas music with a passion, so it's a good thing Target doesn't play any or I wouldn't leave the house.

  • Bo says:

    We each get my dad something. He needs nothing, so it's always something small–a book, a sleeve of golfballs, a coupon for dinner at his favorite bad local chain restaurant. His recent forays into unexpected (considering his history) racism have me thinking Obama's [i]Dreams from My Father[/i] might be the perfect gift this year. But if anyone has a better idea (tweaking and enlightening but not smashing his head in) I'm all ears.

    Over the years, I've given the nieces and nephews Barnes & Noble cards for the most part, with the understanding they'd use them for books. Fortunately they all love to read. But with one in college now and another a senior in high school, I'm not sure about them. I don't exchange gifts with anyone (haven't for years). I receive a gift from dad and small gifts from or dinners out with my vendors. That's enough receiving for me.

    As for gift cards, if you really want to give them, there are Visa and AmEx gift cards in pretty much any denomination that can be used anywhere, so you don't need to worry about the solvency of any particular store/chain. But that's a pretty impersonal way to go and may mean it's time (unless you're gifting to someone who needs so much, so you want them to prioritize) to stop with the gifts and start with the charity as you can.

  • d says:

    I don't celebrate Christmas, I celebrate that Other Holiday, but even with only buying gifts for 3 people (kids) in my family, it's a tough holiday this year. I am about to leave my job and have concerns about finding another, obviously. Even if you can say "no gifts" to family, that's a lot harder to do with service people, and we, as a family, don't feel like we can. Since I am about to leave my job, that's a worrisome chunk of money-no layaways or even credit available for that. The only reason I'm actually staying at my job for December is because of this.

    I figure I can get away with baked goods for the friendly neighbor and an office gift (if I have to), tucked away in nice tins. I'm somewhat concerned about the latter, though, because I don't know how these things really work. And, frankly? I'd just as soon not participate in giving things-even baked things-to people that I while, I don't particularly dislike, I don't particularly like either. Everything costs. But that's a balancing act of the appropriate and the cheap, and the appropriate has to win.

  • Shari says:

    Don't discount your local dollar store. The girls where I work always do something, usually baked goods (they're all nutritionists and food technologists), but I don't bake. I got a bunch of mugs at a dollar store (they had snowflakes on them) put some tissue paper in them and toss on some individually packed tea bags/cocoa. They sell boxes of tea in the grocery stores in fun flavors packaged individually. I managed get one for each of the girls in my office (11) for under $20. You could also buy a bag of candy and fill them with that if you have to buy something tangible for random people. My family isn't a problem for Christmas seeing as how we're Jewish. We've never really gone all out. My parents usually get me and my sister one nice present and 7 little ones (like socks, or once in college, post-it notes). I have a few friends that insist on exchanging presents, but they seem to have figured out that I have a pretty strict $20 limit per person (prior to coupons of course).

  • Deirdre says:

    I guess I'm relatively "lucky" in that my sister and I are both unmarried and childless, we have only the one grandparent left, and we are not in contact with extended family because they all suck. And there's certainly no expectation of giving gifts at work.

    So the gift-giving is not as insane as it could be. This is the first year that both my parents are retired, though, and I have a feeling most of the gifts under the tree will be courtesy of my and my sister's over-strained credit cards. And I have a few friends to buy for as well (fortunately, those are taken care of).

    This year was also my mom's 60th birthday and my parents' 40th wedding anniversary, so it's been kind of nutty in terms of spending; we didn't get them anything tangible for those milestones, but what we did cost as much or more than something "wrapped" might have anyway.

  • kate m says:

    Since my family is spread out, the money we would spend on gifts gets spent on plane tickets instead. We have a $20/person limit if anyone feels like doing something extra, and most of us request donations to places like the Heifer Project or Donors Choose. I don't do cards at all b/c it's more environmentally/budget friendly to send nothing. The few friends I exchange gifts with keep it simple, so a dvd or trade paperback is the usual, maybe with cookies if I feel like baking. Office policy limits gifts to $5/person, and my team is doing a secret santa on top of that. I much prefer time with loved ones to more stuff, and I'm thankful that I'm surrounded by like minded people.

  • L.H. says:

    There's been a lot of hysteria about giftcards lately- I work for a large women's clothing retailer and I've seen emails that say to avoid giftcards from us (among others) because we're CLOSING OVER 100 STORES!!! Ok, except it was announced in 2007 that the company would close about 100 of the lowest performing stores in 2008-2009. This is out of almost 1000 stores, and stores are still being opened in promising new areas.

    So do what you're comfortable with, but I'd take any giftcard warnings with a grain of salt.

    On the subject of gifts, don't underestimate the handmade. Martha Stewart Living has some cool new ideas I'm going to try (lip balms, bath fizzies) and while my family has always been into handmade things, a lot of my non-crafty casual friends will be absolutely FLOORED that a person can make bath products, embroidered things and baked goods.

    Heck, an old coworker once paid attention to me talking about my liking for chai tea and gave me a small box of it with an oversize mug, and I still think about how nice that was when I use the mug.

  • autiger23 says:

    Re: shipping prices- I tend to buy stuff on Amazon or Overstock and just get it shipped to my family's address rather than to me. They even do free shipping on a lot of things. Now, I realize you can't get everything from those two places, but I was just scratching my head a bit since I've been mailing my nieces and nephews birthday and Christmas presents to their own homes, or in the case of Christmas to my parents' home, for many years now and it only costs about $3 worth of shipping at the highest. If I want anything shipped to me in Alaska from Amazon and a bunch of places, it's around $20-30, so I hear you on the high shipping prices.

    Since I have to travel home for Christmas every year, it just makes no sense to cart all that stuff home with me when I fly, so I just wrap it all when I get there. On the birthdays, I even skip having Amazon wrap it ($4!! Whatever!) and either mail it to my Mom for wrapping (she doesn't mind) or just send it straight to the parents and tell them they can either wrap it or tell the kid that opening the box is the unwrapping part. LOL! The kids and my siblings don't mind. Just thought I'd pass that along in case it helps anyone out.

  • Jan says:

    I live far, far away (same galaxy though), and choosing and shipping became too complicated. Not to mention the risk of someone else giving the same gift. Now that we're all grown (even the grandkids!), my father came up with a good solution. He said, "Take the money you would spend on us and buy yourself something nice, we'll do the same." The philosophy has spread like wildfire through the family. We're all happy, getting what we want and the Christmas stress level has dropped considerably.

  • Ann says:

    I have always been very minimal in my xmas shopping – unless there is a clear awesome gift that I want to give that would just be *perfect*, my friends and fam get nice, little things. This year my special gift was a package of chiropractic visits for my brother (no insurance, much neck pain). It made him cry. So worth it!
    My son just turned 1, so the grandparents and great-grands are getting "Finn's First Year", a great photobook I made online, cost appx $25. My friends are getting credits to Donor's Choose and homemade rice socks (they go in the micro for a few seconds and become a heating pad). Their kids are getting the same but made into cute critters. Cost is under $5 per sock. My little cousin and nephew will get a toy and an outfit, and my DH will get some fun used CDs and PS2 games. Easy, stress-free.

  • Kristen says:

    Re: gift cards, whether to a store or general Visa or AmEx gift cards. Just be sure that the person will actually use them within the contstraints of any particular card. One year for Christmas my fam decided to give Target cards to my sister, because she had her eye on a Target dining set. Well, huge hoops to jump through to use them, because said dining set was only available online from, which only allows you to use 4 gift cards at a time. And in store Customer Service can't/won't help with that. So even though she had over $400 in gift cards, the max she could use toward the dining set was about $120, because we'd given her all smaller denominations. She ended up in the store using the $20 and $40 gift cards to buy one big $400 gift card before she could actually buy the dining set online.

    Another gift gone wrong: I recently threw away 4 $50 AmEx gift cards my hubby had tucked away, because they expired before he used them! Nothing like throwing away $200, just because he'd rather wait to buy something "special" (and end up getting nothing) than use them for groceries or home repairs.

    Another Visa gift card that we received for a shower this year was supposed to be worth $25, but Visa apparently assessed us $2.95 in fees every month after we'd had it for 3 months, so it was down to about $9 by the time I went to spend it.

    I'm not saying that those gift cards are a bad idea, but just check with the person or a close family member to be sure they'll be able to use it to buy something they want. A $20 bill might be better for one person, while another would prefer to have $20 from iTunes. And some stores don't have any expiration dates or fees, where AmEx and Visa definitely do, even above and beyond the fee that you pay to buy the card to begin with.

  • Margaret in CO says:

    I never have enough money to cover my huge list, so I make my gifts, usually. I'm in the midst of making voodoo money dolls for everyone that might get a kick out of such a thing. (You should see my crafting zone, it's sorta spooky! But they're under $10 each, and the trial model was a huge hit with my focus group. Hee.)
    Also fun, how often can you have THIS conversation?

    "Whatcha doin?"
    "Baking voodoo heads, Whatchoo doin?"

    The rest are getting boring gift cards.

  • The Bloody Munchkin says:

    My neices, sister-in-law, mother and mother-in-law are used to homemade jewelry from me, in fact they love it. Ny nieces look for any excuse to raid my crafts table so they can make their own stuff. This year I'm doing cheapy picture frame ornaments with my son's picture end them and doing a couple of beaded embellishments and calling it a done deal.

    Between my 7-month old and all his hospital bills and just being pretty much warn emotionally from everything I went through with him this year, people better be pretty darn understanding about me wanting to do the bare minimum.

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