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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

For children only -- A television producer in Detroit says her family has stopped exchanging gifts among adults. The kids exchange names with one another. She buys a savings bond for each child to teach them the importance of saving, and also buys them a small gift like a book. Then the adults all get baby sitters and do a dinner together.

Jim Pool in Florida agrees, "We adults only exchange cards, or perhaps a token gift, between ourselves. That leaves the majority of our expendable dollars for the ones who really look forward to the holiday season."

Donate in others' names -- A number of nonprofits have become very creative with this process. You can buy someone a flock of ducks or a goat through the Heifer Project. Basically you have donated the cost of buying one of these things for a family in the developing world to help them become more self-sufficient. But you can say you bought your brother a water buffalo, or tell your annoying boss you bought him a pig -- for charity! (At Heifer, you can even buy part of a larger animal if you can't swing the cost of a whole one.)

"Last year we made the break from commercialism," says April Lidinsky in South Bend, Ind. "We give gifts to kids only, and then to grown-ups we give Heifer cards that note we donated money in their name. We also gave everyone a very small handmade thingy from our local eco-products store. We were the hit of the holidays."

Carol Sardinha, a health care executive from Washington, D.C., says she e-mailed her co-workers last year telling them she had made a donation in their names to an agency devoted to providing medical care to a homeless person. This approach, she says, "establishes the appropriate expectations regarding gifts, avoids the awkwardness that can occur in either giving or receiving a gift that is not reciprocated, avoid making people feel obligated to spend money and clearly fits in with the idea of being generous to people most in need."

Limit spending -- Sounds simple enough: Everyone agrees to limit the price spent on gifts to a certain dollar amount. But to make it more interesting, create a new "theme" each year. You could have a puzzle-and-game year, or a year in which all the gifts have to be made in your home state.

Other ideas for theme gifts:
Favorite things. Find items in a certain price range that are your favorites. This puts the emphasis on things you love or things that work very well that you share with people you care about and not on how much money is being spent.
Family movie night. Make up gift baskets with a well selected DVD or even a gift card to a video store. Pack it with tubs of popcorn, popcorn seasonings and movie-style candy. Wrap it in cellophane and top it off with a homemade gift tag.
Gag gifts. Probably best reserved for adults, it can provide a day or evening of hilarity while the children are opening their more traditional gifts.
-- Posted: Nov. 30, 2007
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