I remember when I was a little girl I would anxiously await the delivery of the Sears Christmas catalog.
I thought it was sent from Santa. The day it arrived, I would look page by page and write my list to send to Santa. I would include the item number, description, and the page number of my Christmas wish.
I would then leave my list for Santa on Christmas Eve — I didn’t really give him a lot of advance warning! — and on Christmas when we would open our gifts, it was rare that one of my presents were from my list.
But I was overjoyed with what I did receive. My parents didn’t have a lot of extra spending money and there were five of us kids, so our gifts were simple but nonetheless magical.
It wasn’t about the presents but the fun we had together. So, this holiday season it’s important to remember that it’s not about the money we spend on gifts, but rather the memories and fun we create with our family.
Here are a few alternative Christmas gift exchange ideas for you to create a fun experience while keeping your holiday spending in check.
In need of a little pick-me-up this holiday season? Here are 10 ways to stay positive even when you’re on a holiday spending budget!
1. Pick a secret Santa.
This game is a classic, but by only giving one gift to a family member, you can focus more on the gift-giving experience (and picking out something extra special) rather than spending money on several gifts that may or may not hit the mark.
You can even up the ante by asking family members to leave secret notes and treats for the person whose name they’ve drawn leading up to December 25. Be sure to put a dollar limit on how much each person can spend on the final gift given on the holiday!
2. Make a coupon book for family members.
I love this idea because it’s personalized and can be a lot of fun depending on how creative you get!
These coupons can be for “Making Your Bed for a Week,” “Doing the Dishes for 1 Week,” or “Letting You Pick the TV Show We Watch.” Choose simple things that can make other family member’s life a little easier or a little more fun!
3. Set gift expectations early.
It’s important to set gift expectation for kids early on. Let them know that even if they have a long wish list, only a few presents will show up under the tree.
You can make this into a learning exercise by having your children prioritize which gifts they really want. Have them rate each gift idea by putting stickers next to them on the list, coloring in stars, or writing out why they want this particular gift more than others.
You can also help your kids choose a couple toys they already have to donate to charity. This kind act makes room for a few new ones while teaching them about giving and sharing with others.
4. Take a family trip.
Instead of spending money on everyone’s presents, use the money for an outing. It can be as simple as a local trip — you’ll even find some good deals during the week between Christmas and New Year’s while the kids are still on vacation.
Even if you just travel to a nearby town or a local park, it’s the act of getting away as a family.
Too stressed to plan a family trip? Check out my list of easy family staycation ideas!
5. Let your kids do the shopping.
If they’re old enough, give your kids a set amount of cash, allow them time to search for deals and coupons, and then let them shop away for gifts for family.
The cash will help them learn the value of every dollar and how to stay within a set budget, plus most kids love the thrill of shopping on their own!
If you haven’t started teaching your little one about money, take a peek at my guide to teaching kids about money!
6. Give back as a family.
You can sponsor a family in need by making a donation through Heifer International. As a family you can provide a gift of a cow, goat, or chickens to a struggling family from another part of the world.
Last year we did this as a family by sponsoring a young girl through Made By Survivors. We get letters and photos from her throughout the year and we respond with our own letters and photos!
You may also be able to sponsor a local family through your local Salvation Army, Families First, or even adopt a military family for the holidays through Soldiers’ Angels. It’s a wonderful way to feel the real meaning of the holidays and do something as a family!
Looking for ways to give back without making a cash donation? Check out these ways to donate to those in need — without having to spend a dime!
7. Trade favorite recipes.
For extended family, have everyone make their favorite dish or dessert and attach hand-written recipe cards — one for every member of the family. Gather together for a family meal and swap recipe cards so everyone in the family can build their own family recipe book!
8. Share a family photo collage.
Photos are one of the least expensive and most treasured gifts, in my opinion, so why not build a family photo album together?
Have each member of your family print up to 10 (or more if you like!) of their favorite photos from that year for each person in your family. (That would be six copies of each photo if you’re a family of six.) Then, share your memories while enjoying time together. You can also have each family member bring an empty photo album with them to fill with the photos they receive so they can look back on their wonderful holiday experience next year.
9. Create a family gratitude journal.
Grab a beautiful journal or inexpensive notebook and set it in a public place where every member of the family has access to it. Starting on January 1 or even as early as December 1, each person will write one thing they’re thankful for in the journal each day. In 2018, you can all look back on your thankful messages together!