5 Ways To Give More And Spend Less This Christmas

According to a recent survey conducted by the The Conference Board, U.S. households plan to spend, on average, $390 on Christmas gifts this year. That’s down from last year’s estimate of $418. Considering the economic turmoil many Americans faced during 2009, I’m not at all displeased with the 6.7% decline in spending from last year.

Regardless of what the average American spends on Christmas gifts, it’s exponentially higher than what I’ll spend. Over the last few years, my annual Christmas gift giving budget has hovered right around, say, $0. I don’t do Christmas gift giving – at least not in the conventional sense.

Continues after Advertisement

This hasn’t always been the case.

Once I made the decision to sit out the circus some refer to as the “holiday shopping season,” I broke the news to my loved ones gently:

“Don’t expect nothin’, ’cause you ain’t gettin’ nothin’.”

Not even the children were spared from this ruling. Although I love my family and friends dearly, they already have enough stuff. I’ve never worried whether they’d have access to nutritious food, clean water, habitable shelter, or, dare I even say it, decent health care. They have everything they need.

The last Christmas gift I gave my mother was $300 cash. The year before that was a chicken rotisserie oven and the year before that was a vacuum food sealer. Only the cash was ever used! The other gifts are buried, never to be seen again, in one of two rooms specifically designated for crap my mom won’t ever use.

And so it went every Christmas until I decided enough is enough. I’m wasting my valuable time and money on a fleeting moment of fulfillment for people whose homes are bursting at the seams with stuff they have never and will never use.

I couldn’t help but ask myself, how does this type of giving glorify Christ?

Although most people spend the bulk of the days leading up to Christmas and the day of giving gifts to one another, I have to admit this seems odd. I’ve never thought to exchange gifts with my mom, brother, significant other and friends on my dad’s birthday without getting him anything. I imagine my dad would’ve been pretty hurt if he was shut out of his birthday celebration.

Matthew 25:35-40 indicates how you can honor Christ on the day that represents His birthday.

Jesus: “For I was hungry and you fed me; I was thirsty and you gave me water; I was a stranger and you invited me into your homes; naked and you clothed me; sick and in prison, and you visited me.”

The Righteous: “Sir, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you anything to drink? Or a stranger, and help you? Or naked, and clothe you? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?”

Jesus: “When you did it unto the least of these my brothers you were doing it unto me.”

5 Less Conventional Ways To Celebrate Christmas

Keeping with that theme, here are 5 less conventional ways to celebrate Christmas:

  1. Drop off items you’re no longer using to your local Goodwill or Salvation Army. It won’t cost you anything to give away gently used (or unused) bread makers, musical instruments, exercise equipment, or whatever else a momentary state of delusion led you to purchase. If you haven’t used it or sold it in all these years, it’s highly unlikely you ever will. Goodwill uses the sales proceeds from donations to fund job training programs and placement services for people facing various employment challenges. The Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Centers are funded 100% by the profits of their stores.
  2. Sell unused gift cards and donate the cash to your favorite charity. Plastic Jungle offers up to 85% of the balance on your unwanted gift cards. You may also want to try unloading gift cards on Craigslist, eBay, and Swapagift.com. Not sure which organization is deserving of your spoils? Research the efficacy of over 5,400 charities at Charity Navigator.
  3. Maximize the value of a dollar. Planning an international vacation isn’t the only time the strength of a dollar deserves consideration. Case in point, for less than the price of many iPhone apps, you can feed 4 Tanzanian children a healthy breakfast by donating $1 to GO Campaign. A $5 donation to Feeding America provides 10 bags of groceries for hungry families living in the United States. Your $25 gift to Save the Children will help health workers deliver lifesaving malaria medication to 10 Malawian children.
  4. Give anonymously. You might know someone who’s financially struggling to the point they don’t have enough money to meet their basic needs. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to help. Unfortunately, cash gifts aren’t socially acceptable among many cultures. Through Giving Anonymously, you can send a gift to a friend without the recipient knowing it came from you.Facilitate charitable giving. For the person who has everything – and it seems many of us do – give a charity gift card. A GiveNow Card from JustGive.org allows the recipient to choose from nearly 1.5 million charitable organizations. You’ll pay a $5 fee for each gift card mailed, but 97% of its value will end up in the hands of the charity chosen by the gift recipient. Three percent goes to cover processing fees which is about what you’d pay if you used a credit card to donate to any charitable organization.

Not only does it feel good, but you couldn’t possibly quantify the investment return charitable giving produces. What you do this Christmas for someone who is truly suffering could save or substantially enhance the most precious gift many of us too often take for granted: LIFE.

In November 2007, Shawanda Greene had $54 in her savings account and about $25,000 in debt. By the end of December 2008, she was debt free with a 3-month emergency fund of $7,500. During that time period, she adopted a lifestyle of what some would consider extreme frugality. Shawanda now spreads the wealth as blogger-in-chief of You Have More Than You Think – a productivity focused guide to maximizing the money you have to obtain more of what you want.

Like What You Read? Share It!
Get Useful Tips In Your Inbox!
Last Edited: 28th November 2012

Related Posts


    Share Your Thoughts:

  1. Oregonsun says

    I was so glad to see this article. I thought my husband and I were the only ones in America that were doing this. Year after year, we would shop, spend and give to our family and nothing was appreciated. In fact one time after giving each $100 we were told it wasn’t very much money. We stopped! Now we host a Christmas meal, we supply all the food and that is it. Those that want to come are welcome and those that don’t we understand. We no longer are caught in the “Christmas trap” and don’t feel resentful or hurt.

    • says

      Knowing I don’t have to head to the mall or spend hours trying to figure out what I should buy everyone is so peaceful and refreshing this time of year. I’m sure you know how it feels.

      Hosting a Christmas meal is a good idea. Who doesn’t like food? Since I’ve refused to give Christmas gifts, I hardly receive any. I think my brother is the only hold out. He insists on giving me something. But not receiving so many gifts is perfectly okay with me. In my experience, most gifts are nothing more than another piece of junk I have to store, donate, recycle, or trash.

      It wouldn’t be a problem if people were as thoughtful as you and gave cash. :)
      Shawanda´s last post ..The Last 5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying Anything

  2. says

    Good thoughts here. I think the gifts themselves can still have meaning and thoughtfulness behind them if they are done in the right spirit.

    At least in our immediate family (wife and kids) I like to tell the story of Luke 2 before we open our gifts and remember that Christ was the ultimate gift from God the Father and so the reason we give each other gifts is to celebrate the greatest gift of all.

    Not saying its perfect and it certainly is still easy to take those gifts for granted, but unfortunately we do that daily dont we?
    Jason @ Redeeming Riches´s last post ..What Makes People Happy?

  3. karyn sweet says

    I have no problem not exchanging gifts with adult family members and my husband and I don’t exchange gifts. But were your children young when you stopped giving gifts? How did that go over? I buy my children fairly practical gifts – books, supplies that help with our homeschooling, clothes. They also get the more “exciting” gifts from relatives. But how did yours handle getting nothing? I love watching them open gifts and would really miss it.

  4. says

    Shawanda, I loved reading about your story and it reminded me to go subscribe to your blog.

    On the topic at hand, I love the idea of charitable giving at Christmas time, and we’re trying very hard to do it.

    Like Karyn, I too worry about how our kids react to not getting anything and wonder how yours did.

    I’m not saying that kids need to get everything they want–far from it. But even in the kind of culture I grew up in, where a Christmas card or a book was an acceptable and an awesome gift at Christmas time, the kids usually got a few “extras” from Santa.

    I have this talk a lot with a co-worker who has three little kids. We have none at the moment, but one on the way. Maybe it’s wrong to pretend that everything’s okay when money’s tight at home, but somehow I wonder if protecting the innocence of little kids is a worthy cause.

    Curious to see how you feel (and curious to see how my own opinion changes as my kids grow).
    Wojciech Kulicki´s last post ..Alternatives to Traditional Christmas Gifts

  5. says

    I’m totally on board.

    No one in my life is in need of anything. In fact, all of us stand to benefit from having less. Having more rarely constitutes having happiness, and when you have less stuff, you have less worry and concern. Period.

    This year my wife and I are giving gift baskets filled with homemade products. Not as a way to give people something, but as encouragement for them to start making things for themselves again. We look at it as training toward greater self-reliance, and less reliance upon big box stores.

    Great article, thanks.
    Matt Jabs´s last post ..Honor | The Importance of Character in Success

  6. says

    @karyn sweet and @Wojciech Kulicki – Guess I should’ve specified I don’t have children. The kids I’m referring to are those of family members and friends. When I have my own, it’s likely I’ll buy them gifts when they’re old enough to appreciate them or remember into adulthood that their mother was a grinch. The look on their sad little faces on a giftless Christmas day would probably lead me to make an exception. However, I don’t foresee my position changing for other people’s children unless they’re really in need.
    Shawanda´s last post ..The Last 5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying Anything

  7. says

    I would also suggest that instituting a meaningful family holiday tradition is a good idea. Instead of getting full off of turkey and watching turkey being the norm, maybe it’s simply visiting a children’s hospital.

    By doing something like this, we get to reinvent what our family believes the season is about. Hopefully, we embed that into their psyche and that tradition lasts long past we as parents are dead and gone.
    Torrey´s last post ..Winter Skin Care for Men: How To Combat Dry Winter Skin

    • says

      This reminds me of something my family used to do. Our family was musically gifted, and at Christmas we would take all our instruments to a local home for the elderly, and play christmas music for an hour or so. It’s amazing how a small act like that can just brighten people’s day – you could see those old folks brighten, and a lot of them singing along. For many of them it was the highlight of their week/month. Small acts of kindness and giving are what the season is all about and both the giver and receiver benefit!

  8. says

    Thanks for the great post Shawanda, It’s stimulating some good discussion. I have to admit that I’m somewhat conflicted about the gift giving at Christmas.

    On the one hand I think it has gotten completely out of control in our society to the point where it is expected that we will buy expensive gifts for everyone in our family. Christmas has become more about the “getting” of things for ourselves. Obviously this isn’t a good thing.

    On the other hand, I think the spirit of Christmas is first in celebration of the birth of our savior, but also in the giving – of thinking of others – your family and friends, and giving them a thoughtful gift that shows you actually spent time thinking about them. I think it can be a good time to show our kids that Christmas is about the giving, and sharing and caring for others.

    In that vein, the idea of giving at Christmas, I love your ideas for giving in unconventional ways by donating things to worthy charities, giving gift cards to needy families (our church has a program like this) and giving anonymously to needy families. It can be a great teaching tool for our kids.

    So I think I come down somewhere in the middle on this one – in favor of moderation. I think giving of some gifts is ok, but it’s important to remember that it is a season of giving (not getting), and of thankfulness to our savior who was born on that day, and later died for our sins.


    • says

      We struggle to find a similar balance, Pete. I think we’ve been blessed with people in our immediate friends and family who understand and appreciate the effort and resources it takes to make or buy a gift, and have no “expectations” of what something you give them should look like.

      That gives us a lot of leverage in which to “play” at Christmas time and find new and exciting ways to share our love with them.
      Wojciech Kulicki´s last post ..Alternatives to Traditional Christmas Gifts

      • says

        Those closest to me know my feelings on the matter pretty well so no one holds my lack of participation in the Christmas gift exchange against me. I’m grateful for my family’s support. Besides, they don’t have much of a say so on the matter since they have to love anyway. :)

        A while back I baked some cookies for a cousin, put them in a tin can, and gave them to her for Christmas. I think that was one of the most thoughtful and inexpensive Christmas gifts I’ve ever given. I especially admire those who give handmade gifts like @Matt Jabs.

        But I’ll admit, giving to those less fortunate has given me an excuse to be lazy. If someone is in need of basic necessities, you buy them: directly or indirectly. It’s just too easy.
        Shawanda´s last post ..The Last 5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying Anything

  9. says

    What a stirring posting. There is so much wealth, and so much waste. The two are closely connected. And yet, gift-giving is an important anthropological reality that is here to stay. At TisBest Philanthropy, we’re working hard to change gifts of “stuff” into gifts of “good.” The charity gift card has come into its own this year, and http://www.TisBest.org is an outstanding option. Customizable, personal, meaningful.

  10. says

    This is a great post, Shwanda. I agree that people already have too much stuff and do not need anymore from me. So, your suggestions are perfect in giving back to those who need it.

    In regards to children, this year we’ve moderated quite a bit. I am the practical gift giver – you will find socks, dentel floss, and clothes under the tree and in the stockings. We bought a couple of play gifts, but cut down the amount we spent towards those gifts quite a bit. They don’t need any more STUFF! I’m always trying to get rid of it.

    So, I’ll be able to tell you if there is disappointment or sadness on thier face this year. Especially because my daughter is all about lots of gifts right now. *sigh*

    From a parental standpoint it hasn’t been easy to cut back, but I’m not about to go into CC debt for the holidays (again). I’m done with CCs.
    Money Funk´s last post ..Personal Loan for Debt Consolidation

  11. says

    Boy I’m not sure I could take this line, although I certainly appreciate your position. For me I get tremendous joy from giving during Christmas, so much more so than getting. Yes it’s not all going to get used, but if I guided my life by pure practicality that’s taking some of the fun out of it. We’ve been budgeting for the whole year so we decided last January exactly what we were going to spend and we’re holding to that. I just love giving gifts as well as donating at this time of year. They are not mutually exclusive.

    I’ve been working away madly in the evenings making loft beds for my boys that I’ll install on Christmas Eve with their new (to them) desks. I’m not sure how’s going to be more excited. I love an excuse to do something like that and I fully enjoy where I can celebrate the greatest gift ever given and my family and friends. Christmas Eve also happened to be the day that I accepted Christ so for me it holds even more meaning. I don’t mean to disparage your choices but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with giving.
    Paul @ Fiscalgeek´s last post ..45 Days to Debt Freedom How We’ll Raise $8572.91

    • says

      I agree. There isn’t anything wrong with giving as long as the gift some how enriches both the life of the recipient and the giver.

      I don’t give gifts begrudgingly. If the giving isn’t cheerful, I won’t do it. There came a point in my life where I felt I could no longer waste the resources given me on people who already have so much. It just doesn’t sit right with me when others are suffering.

      Everyone has a birthday. If I chose to do so, I could buy them a gift then. However, Christmas isn’t about giving presents to anyone other than Christ to me. If I had children, it’s quite likely I’d give them gifts simply because they probably wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate the position I’ve taken.

      Now I don’t have any research to support this theory, but I think people are more likely to give gifts that aren’t as meaningful on Christmas because they have so many people to think of in a relatively, albeit self inflicted, short period of time.
      Shawanda´s last post ..The Last 5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying Anything

  12. says

    Shawanda, thank you so much for posting this – I’ve come back to it a few times over the past few days. It’s been a topic that’s been nagging at me for many years.

    Much like most of us, none of my family is in need, or, really, wants for anything (to the point of ridiculousness, in my opinion!). This year, my husband and I decided to donate to various charities in the names of each of my siblings’ kids, with a small, token gift from us for them to open. I also asked them, if they felt the need to give us a gift, to respond in kind, i.e., donations to a food bank or other local charity. We also don’t need any more “stuff” – not really.

    We shall see.

  13. says

    I’m with Paul on this one…I love buying gifts for my family. I enjoy thinking of gifts that will mean something to them and that they will love getting. Some of our gifts are for the whole family to enjoy, such as puzzles of the places we’ve been to this year, and games that we will all enjoy.

    And I enjoy buying gifts for charitable organizations – especially the ones where kids can request a gift that they really want. I love to think of the joy these kids will have when they open their gifts.

    But I am trying to cut out the extra, meaningless gifts – both as a way to save money and cut down on clutter.

Previous Post:
Next Post: