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Special section Thrifty gifting

Sick of the overspending and commercialism often attached to the holidays? Check these ideas for lowering the cash flow while raising the joy of the season.

12 ways to de-commercialize Christmas

12 ways to de-commercialize the holidays

Bah humbug.

Did that first Christmas song over the radio this year fill you with Scrooge-like gloom?

For many people, Christmas means a severe case of holiday dread, directly tied to a sense of obligation to spend money in order to have a meaningful celebration.

We all know the pain of those credit card bills in January and February. If we've been particularly festive, that pain might even stretch into the spring or summer, or -- yikes -- the next holiday season.

This year the average U.S. consumer plans to spend $817 on holiday-related shopping, plus an additional $107 on "non-gift" purchases of promoted or discounted items, according to the National Retail Federation -- up 3.7 percent from 2006.

At the same time, however, 70 percent of Americans say they would welcome less emphasis on gift giving and spending during the holiday season, according to the Center for a New American Dream.

If you're among those who feel holiday spending is out of control, remember: It doesn't have to be that way. You can start new family traditions or return to some abandoned long ago.

How to go about it?

First of all, discuss the matter or simply warn your family in advance so that you avoid any awkwardness when it comes time to open gifts. At the same time, show respect for those who may not want to go along with your pared-down spending plans. If they enjoy it and can afford it, don't try to ruin their fun.

Once that's settled, come up with a plan. Here are some popular ideas you can adopt or tweak to your own situation.

De-commercialize Christmas:
Yankee Swap
A fun-filled gift exchange that involves everyone.
Secret Santa
Also called a Polyanna, this is tried and true.
Un-Secret Santa
A key person matches up givers and receivers.
It's fine, no matter what your mom or Jerry Seinfeld says.
Pool your resources
Swap inexpensive gifts for a group party or dinner.
For children only
Leave the adults out and focus on the most fun for the kids.
Donate in others' names
In the spirit of the season, help those most in need.
Limit spending
Agree to a price limit but add the fun of an annual theme.
Family strength
Donating time or money together can have a big impact.
Plan family outings
Create family activity traditions that don't involve gifts.
Let the kids rule for one day
The day is supposed to be theirs, isn't it?
Take a trip
Get away from it all and "gift" each other by preparing meals.

Yankee Swap -- Everyone brings a wrapped gift within an agreed spending range or limit. Stefanie Ling, of Florida, says her family calls this "Full Contact Christmas." She explains that all the unidentifiable gifts are piled in one spot and everyone picks a number from a bowl. The fun starts when No. 1 picks a gift and opens it in front of the group. "The second person has a choice -- to either take the gift No. 1 opened or select another unopened gift. If the second person 'steals' the previous gift, No. 1 gets to open a new gift. The third person then can take either of the opened gifts or open a new one," says Ling. "Pretty soon, you're taking gifts from one another left and right."

You can set your own rules. Usually, it's forbidden to take a gift back immediately after it's taken from you. You also may want to set a limit on how many times a gift can be "stolen," adds Ling. "Things could get ugly."

The game ends, she says, only when someone opens the last gift and decides to keep it. "It's a fun game that goes on and on and involves everyone," Ling says. Some people use a variation of this called a White Elephant Exchange -- wrapping silly gifts no one really wants.

-- Posted: Nov. 30, 2007
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