Let’s Make Holiday Gift Giving More Meaningful

Dear Readers,

Here we go again. The holiday giving season is upon us, and too often along with that comes the pressure to buy something—sometimes anything—for an ever growing list of extended family, friends and co-workers.

But this year, I’m hoping for something different. While the last two years have been challenging, I think they've given us an opportunity to reflect on our personal values and rethink how we spend our time and our money.  Add in today's higher prices and shortages of certain goods, and it only makes sense to move away from our old ways of thinking about holiday giving—and avoid the buying frenzy.

Don’t get me wrong. I love giving gifts and I love getting gifts. But here’s the catch—I don’t love giving or getting a gift if it feels like an obligation. Or when you buy something you’re pretty sure the other person doesn’t even want. And especially if that gift isn’t affordable.

So, I have a suggestion. Instead of feeling compelled to mindlessly buy, buy, buy, stop and think carefully about who you most want to recognize, and how you can do that in the most meaningful way—perhaps without giving a physical object, and certainly without breaking the bank.

Make a list.

Much like you'd plan a party, take your time to think carefully about the people you want to acknowledge with a gift. Instead of automatically including every family member, friend and co-worker, be thoughtful about whom you really want to include.

Make a budget.

If you haven’t already, figure out exactly how much you can afford to pay for all of your gifts this year. Choose an amount that doesn’t eat into your necessities or your emergency savings, and stick to it! In the age of online shopping and buy now, pay later options, it's way too easy to buy on impulse and overspend. Often the best gifts cost very little.

Be creative.

Now that you have your list of recipients and your budget, it’s time to mesh the two and start to brainstorm. And try to think outside the metaphorical—and physical—box. Of course, some families, especially those with young children, delight in opening physical gifts, but a number of studies have shown that most people derive more long-lasting happiness from experiences rather than material possessions.

Just for starters, how about volunteering to babysit for new parents, complete with a dinner out? Dog-sitting for a pandemic pet? Or giving a young family a membership to the local zoo or museum? Perhaps your parents would enjoy a few lessons in ballroom dancing or tickets to the local theatre. A teen might be thrilled to work with an athletic coach, or might appreciate a boost to their savings or 529 account. Others might be grateful for a gift to charity made in their honor.

And don’t neglect your own talents. Are you an accomplished chef? How about giving someone a home-cooked meal, featuring their favorite dishes? If you’re an artist, perhaps you can offer a ‘paint and sip’ evening? Or if you have a green thumb, you could help a neighbor plant their garden. The possibilities for meaningful gifts are really endless, and there are options for every budget.

Be open.

If you've been stuck in a gift rut for many years, it might be time to reset expectations with your friends and family. To avoid misunderstandings and potential disappointments, speak up! Explain how you feel, and talk about your new approach ahead of time. And don’t feel that you have to apologize. Open, honest communication is key. My guess is that many others feel the same way, and will appreciate your taking the lead on new ways to enjoy the holiday season.

As we look ahead to the holidays, let’s all enjoy this moment at the same time that we remember the lessons we've learned in the last two years. We can acknowledge each other—families, friends and co-workers—in a way that resonates with our values and the future we want to build.

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