9 Ways To Celebrate the Holidays Without Buying Gifts

Are you done shopping for gifts? Have you even STARTED shopping yet??


Will you be shopping for gifts at all??

Would I be a total Scrooge if I suggested you not buy any gifts at all this year?

Lately I’ve been contemplating the things I LOVE about Christmas, aaand the things I hate don’t like quite as much about Christmas.

Things to love:  

  • Memories from when I was a kid
  • The season’s first snowflakes making landfall
  • My two dogs playing in the snow
  • Christmas carols
  • The smell of a real Christmas tree
  • Driving through the neighborhood looking at all the festive holiday lights

Things I could do without:  

  • Pushy, inconsiderate people who don’t believe rules apply to them
  • Having to go into a grocery store for any reason
  • Crowded parking lots
  • Coworkers pushing deadlines onto you at the last minute so they can start their Christmas break
  • Traffic jams
  • People who don’t sneeze into their sleeves 
  • Post-Christmas credit card hangover

Now some of the things above cannot be avoided.

You can’t exactly tell your coworker to take their work assignment and shove it up their *ahem* chimney.

You also can’t totally avoid stores, parking lots or traffic — unless you choose to go shopping at 3am, or don’t leave the house at all. (Amazon + Grocery Delivery = My BFFs).

What you can do is avoid overdoing the holiday hub-bub by ditching the gift-giving ritual.

Now, if you have young kids, I get that this isn’t exactly a viable option. Or if you have younger nieces, nephews, grandkids, etc.

But I’ve been chewing on this idea for a little while now.

In addition to wanting to break the never-ending credit/debt/guilt cycle, I’ve been feeling like something’s been missing.

Something that’s more meaningful than battling the lines at the mall and wrapping gifts that you don’t even know if your family actually wants.

The hustle and bustle of stuffing everyone like a Thanksgiving turkey, then scoring monumental Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals.

Followed by scrambling to take the *perfect* pic to slap on a glossy photo card, and sending those out the door with a sprig of holly.

I knew this would be a frugal year for me, but was not expecting the urge to fill the void in the empty stockings with something more valuable.

Figured I’d just play it cool, and pick up next year with the whole gift-giving thing. Penance for spending too much in prior years. (Okay, maybe a few prior years…)

But when you think of the most basic form of gift-giving, what aspect of it really gives you joy?

Is it buying an expensive present, wrapping it in shiny paper & watching your family member realize how much money you spent on them? 

Because anything that comes with a charging cable, battery pack or temporary password probably isn’t going to yield years of fond memories.

Instead, let’s consider some alternatives to make this holiday season more meaningful, show our loved ones the genuine spirit of giving, and build up our bank of nostalgic memories.

9 Things You Can Do Instead of Buying Christmas Gifts This Year:

1. Save Money for a Rainy Day / Emergency Fund

Instead of spending money on gifts, start a rainy day fund. You know, the one you tell yourself you’re gonna start every year, but don’t quite get to it. Start the new year stress-free with a nice little buffer. Instead of dealing with buyer’s remorse over all the money you spent over the holiday, feel relief that you will be covered (or at least cushioned) when the unexpected arises. Or start an emergency fund for someone else. Start a savings for your child, whether they’re a toddler or a tween.

2. Pay Off (And Try To Avoid Additional) Debt

This time of year, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of buying presents on credit. We get caught up in the joy of the season, and believe the spirit of Christmas will somehow magically pay everything off when the New Year comes ‘round. A sweet thought — but unrealistic nonetheless. Avoid accumulating more debt at all costs, and stick to what you have. Even better — pay out a few more bucks on your existing bills, if you can swing it. Think of the weight lifted off of your shoulders when realizing how each balance is going down, and will be eventually paid off.

3. Pay It Forward

One of the best feelings in the world is when you’re waiting in line for a cup of coffee, and then find out the person in front of you paid your tab. Well, maybe not one of the best feelings … but it’s still pretty awesome to realize a complete stranger has done something nice for you. You know what else is pretty cool? Doing it for the person behind you. Or the next five people behind you. Paying it forward is not something that you’ll receive a “thank you” for. The joy is in the giving, and the possibility that you’ve just made someone else’s day.

4. Invest in Yourself

You are there for your family and friends all year long. You make sure your kids are happy, healthy and fit, and get their homework done every night. Tend to the emotional needs of your spouse or partner, and lend a sympathetic ear to your best buds. When was the last time you focused on doing something for yourself? Self-improvement is something we internally beat ourselves up over, but seldom put first and foremost. It might be an online marketing course you’ve been eyeing, gourmet cooking classes, horseback-riding lessons or that deep tissue massage your back has been aching for. Sometimes you just need to be kind to yourself for a change.

5. Start a New Tradition in Honor of Loved Ones

This doesn’t have to be huge or elaborate. My mom used to have this tradition with one of her sisters — she’d pick out the gaudiest Christmas card she could find, write a few sentences in it & mail it out to my aunt. Then the next year, my aunt would write a few sentences in that same card & mail it back. This went on back & forth for several years. They wound up with this single, priceless holiday card documented with years of their memories.

A few years ago, my sister and I decided to honor this tradition in a slightly different way. Each year we buy each other a really cheap (like a dollar) Christmas tree ornament, and that’s how we exchange gifts. From gaudy cards to cheap-o ornaments, it’s the love behind it that counts.

6. Share a Memory Night with Friends / Family

Each year, when the holidays roll around, my older step-son waxes nostalgic about years past. He’s a big mush, but you’d never know it from looking at him. He’s a tall, broad-chested almost-thirty-year-old, with a heart of pure gold. And whenever we’re gathered around the holiday table, he loves to bring up old anecdotes from his childhood. Stories about his beloved grandfather who passed many years ago. And stories his grandmother told us about his father when he was a boy. It’s always the same stories, but we all enjoy the recollection and stroll down memory lane.

And sometime in the not-so-distant future, once he has a family of his own, I predict these stories will expand and continue to live on.

7. Go Caroling at a Nursing Home / Hospital

Back in the early 90’s, when I was a young and perky 16-year-old, I was a member of the high school nerd trifecta — show choir, drama club and Key Club (a youth service organization sponsored by the local Kiwanis Club.)

What did this mean? We were performers with a mission. And that mission was to go Christmas caroling at the local nursing home and patient rehabilitation center. We’d go door-to-door to each patient’s room, and sing a carol or two. Then we’d end with an encore collaboration that would put the (off-off-off-Broadway) cast of Les Mis to shame.

8. Give your Expertise 

Do you have a special skill or proficiency that you can share with a family member or friend? Maybe something that comes up every once in awhile like, “Oh, I wish you’d show me how you made that awesome pineapple upside down cake”, or “Can you walk me through the basics of setting up my network router?” Okay, weird examples, but you get the idea. Time is limited and valuable. Follow through with these opportunities, and create awesome memories in the process.

I come from an Italian family, and my grandmother made homemade sauce (“gravy”). She taught all four of her daughters how to make it. No one ever wrote the recipe down. I vow to one-day get the crash course from one of my aunts. They all live in Florida, and I missed the opportunity to learn from my mother. So live and learn. And cherish.

9. Express Gratitude

Sit down with your loved ones — whether it’s friends or family — and simply express gratitude. Be honest, when’s the last time you told someone how much they mean to you? As we all know, life is not infinite. There’s a beginning, there’s an end, and we need to make the very most of the time spent in between.