Gift giving: Spend less, enjoy more
Stressed about the cost of holiday gift giving? You’re not alone. In a recent survey of U.S. adults, 43 percent said they feel pressured to spend more than they can afford.1
Retail holiday sales touched 964 billion in 2023.2 The result? The awful January “financial hangover” that occurs when we face bloated credit card bills and skeletal bank statements.
If gift-giving pressure weren’t so intense, said the survey respondents, 25 percent would spend money on activities with friends and family, 37 percent would reduce their debt, and 47 percent would add to their savings.3
One segment of the U.S. population may already have figured out a balanced approach to holiday spending. Research shows that Confident Planners — roughly 2 in 10 Americans — are adept at living within their means and deferring gratification. As a result, they feel more confident and satisfied with life than those of us racing through the mall at midnight.
Does that mean Confident Planners sit out the holidays in a cave, subsisting on bread and water? Of course not. But because they plan well and live within their means, they may resist the pressure to over-spend by sticking with a plan and a budget. Because they have greater financial and emotional confidence, they may also have realistic expectations about holiday giving (and receiving), recognizing that happiness and self-worth can’t be downloaded from the latest toy or electronic device.
Here are some ways you can spend less, while finding greater financial and emotional satisfaction in the lead up to the holiday season.
Choose experience over expense
Millennials are ahead of the curve here. In a recent poll, 78 percent said they prefer receiving experiential gifts rather than things.4 That could be: Tickets to a concert or sporting event. A spa weekend. A zoo or museum membership. A restaurant certificate. Often, you can spend less while providing a memory that lasts.
Recognize that gift buying is not a competition
Psychologists say the “thrill of the hunt” causes many to overspend. Being the first in the door at 4 a.m. on Black Friday to capture the last mammoth-screen TV becomes the goal — rather than finding a more thoughtful, less expensive gift for a loved one.
Take time and DIY
Do-it-yourself gifts are a win-win. You get the satisfaction of crafting something that’s uniquely you, while the recipient has the joy of a gift meant only for them. It can be as simple as a custom music mix, or as elaborate as a quilt. The value is in the time and thought you put into it, not the dollars.
In holiday shopping, the early bird stays out of debt. Set up a holiday savings account at your bank or credit union and make automatic deposits throughout the year. Prepare a gift list and stick to it. Shop with cash, not credit cards.
Ordering everything you need from home may be the real holiday magic. Cyber Monday is the time to score deals, and online apps can turn your smartphone into a combination shopping list and budget tracker. Still, other apps can help you find the lowest price on gift items, locally or online. There’s even one that lets you purchase people’s unwanted like-new gift cards for thousands of merchants at an average of 15 percent off.
Lastly, remind yourself of what the holidays are really about. Spending time with family and friends. Reflecting on the past year, and anticipating the new one. Being grateful for the joys in your life. (It’s a great time to start gratitude journaling, if you haven’t tried it.) Don’t let over-spending deplete your energy (and bank account) and drain your holiday spirit.
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2023-165732 Exp. 1/2026