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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

Families helping others -- Volunteer as a family, perhaps at a meal program. Many churches, and even stores and malls, have programs where you can choose the name of a needy child and buy a gift for him or her. Volunteer to distribute toys to children or clothing and food at a homeless shelter. Megan and Tom Bolin in De Pere, Wis., volunteer with their two daughters as bell ringers for the Salvation Army.

"We usually get comments like 'How can you NOT make a donation to these cute little girls?' or 'Here, honey, you help me put the money in the bucket.' This serves two purposes: It helps the kids think about other people at a time when they're thinking 'What do I want for Christmas?' and also, whenever we see those buckets, the girls insist on putting in some money."

Another alternative is to pool your money as a family or group, and then donate it to charity. Andrew Lamb, an account executive from Chicago says, "We had been competing to buy each others gifts year over year and it was getting to the point we were spending money on gifts people really didn't want. Our new tradition is to pool a certain sum from each person for charity. The charity is chosen by one person and it rotates each year. At our Christmas dinner that person gets to announce the charity chosen and gives a little background on it. The kicker is that person gets the tax write-off for that year."

Another possibility is to put together care packages for troops in Iraq or Afghanistan. Sam Rodriguez of San Antonio was corresponding via e-mail with a fellow Texas A&M alumnus who was serving in Iraq and found out very simple things are great morale boosters: Oreos, flavored coffee, drink mixes. "Instead of swapping stuff you'd rather return, agree with a co-worker or whomever that you will put together a care pack for someone," he says. "Flat-rate boxes are available from UPS for about $9.80."

Plan family outings -- Create other activities that don't center on opening gifts. On Christmas Day, instead of buying lots of gifts to open on the big day, go out to a Christmas movie or a holiday musical or concert. Combine it with dinner in a special setting or have a pizza party.

Let the kids rule for one day -- This is another idea from the Center for a New American Dream. Yes, that does mean you might find yourself wearing pajamas all day and eating Fruit Loops pizza for dinner, but it's only one day and no doubt one that will stick with children's memories much longer than the latest toy that breaks three months later.

Take a trip -- Dean Rader, who lives in San Francisco and has family in Oklahoma and elsewhere, says his family has stopped gift giving all together.

"Instead, we take a family vacation, usually for four or five days," he says. "Each family member has to buy or make dinner each night. That's the official present."

Russell McCulley in New Orleans says he and his partner also do a trip instead of gifts. It takes the stress out of Christmas, he says. "I like to go to the mall without the intention of actually buying anything. I take perverse glee in watching other people have nervous breakdowns in public," he says.

-- Posted: Nov. 30, 2007
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