Save Money this Holiday: How to Trim Your Christmas Gift List

With the economy tanking, more and more people are announcing that they plan to spend less on gifts this year. Some people will keep their lists long and hunt for better deals, while others will opt to buy fewer gifts for fewer people. I’m choosing the former. Here’s how I trim my list without hurting anyone’s feelings.

7 Steps to Trim Your Christmas Gift List

If you follow these seven steps, the process of trimming your list should be as painless as possible.

1. Compile a list of everyone you currently give gifts, and everyone who gives you gifts. Include secretaries, co-workers, friends, relatives, children, neighbors, the postal carrier, the newspaper carrier, teachers, donations at church and school, office exchanges, and hostess gifts.

2. Now that you’ve amassed this list, think hard about how many of those people actually mean something to you and how many get obligatory gifts. If you and your neighbor exchange trinkets, consider dropping that tradition. If you usually give a little something to everyone at work, consider skipping it this year. Most people won’t mind.

3. Determine a budget for your gifts, including obligatory gifts. A few notes:
The newspaper carrier would probably appreciate a tip more than a gift, so if you must give, give a small monetary sum.
Postal carriers aren’t permitted to accept tips, but may leave a small food gift in the mailbox if you know your carrier well or the carrier has gone above and beyond.
Teachers receive a lot of mugs and other kitsch. Consider either something homemade like fudge or cookies that can be shared, or a gift card.
If you must give a secretary gift, then buy a gift card in a reasonable amount. You don’t want to tick off your secretary!

4. Briefly consider what you might buy for each person on your list within your budget. If you have a hard time thinking of a meaningful gift and find yourself defaulting to “gift card” for a neighbor or friend, strike them from the list. If you only give them a gift because they give you one, strike them.

5. Call or email the dropped people to suggest gift alternatives. Invite them over for a nice dinner or drinks in your home in lieu of a gift. If you have no desire to spend more time with them, they had no place on your list to begin with. If you have a large family, suggest a group exchange where each person or couples gives and receives one gift. You can draw names or exchange them white elephant style.

6. Send a card instead. That way they’ll know you remembered them, even if they didn’t receive a gift. If you don’t typically send out holiday cards, but you’ve removed several people from your list, consider sending them this year. You can find cheap photo cards online or at Costco, or find cheap boxed cards. Spending $20 on cards and stamps is a lot cheaper than $100 on gifts.

7. Consider baking or making if you need to trim, but can’t bring yourself to do it. Do you have a specialty that everyone loves? Spend a day baking it en masse, then place it in cute, cheap containers to give out. If you’re crafty, consider something you can make cheaply, like soap or a photo album, that will feel more personal. I’m known for my truffles, so I whip up a batch in a pinch. They seem extravagant, but they couldn’t be cheaper or easier.

At first, you’ll feel terrible trimming your list, but it does get easier. It might even be a relief to no longer have the pressure of hunting the mall for the perfect gift, only to settle on “this will do.” If you do find yourself thinking “this will do” for someone still on your list, consider dropping them, too. Christmas gifts are meant to be something the receiver will enjoy. A “this will do” gift that doesn’t mean anything to either of you will leave both of you unsatisfied.

Last year I trimmed a good friend I could no longer think of meaningful gifts for. I stopped exchanging gifts with several other friends years ago with no discussion. We all just tapered off. You may find that the people you trim from your list are relieved. There won’t be any “I didn’t get you anything” guilt, and their budget will be reduced. That could be the best gift of all.

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