Christmas Gifts – 10 Ideas For A More Manageable Christmas

 In Budgeting, Families

Christmas Gifts – 10 Ideas For A More Manageable Christmas

1.      The Kris Kringle

I first encountered Kris Kringle at work, where it is a very common in Australia. Our family is quite new to it, but it has great potential, so the adults in our family are giving it a go this year.

The basic principle of Kris Kringle (or KK) is that everybody buys one gift for another person. About a month before Christmas, everyone who is participating has their name put into a hat, and you all take turns pulling a name out (ensuring you don’t get your own name), and you then buy a gift for that person. Sometimes there are ideas or instructions on what the gift is going to be, and other times it’s completely left up to you. Often there is a dollar limit placed upon the gift. At the family Christmas celebration, the gifts are exchanged. In some families, the gift-giver remains anonymous, while in others, they are revealed when the recipient opens their gift.

One of the benefits of KK is that it seriously cuts down the time and expense of gift-buying. Instead of buying 10 gifts, you only buy one. And whilst you may well be spending more on a gift for one family member than you have done in the past, you won’t be buying anything for anyone else, so overall, the total amount you spend on gifts is reduced.

There is, of course, a small risk of people failing to hold up to their part in the exchange, in which case one family member will miss out on their gift, so it’s worth taking this into account if you are considering adopting this strategy in your family. If you have a family member who is perhaps a little less reliable than others, then this strategy may need some tweaking to ensure everyone is catered for on the big day: a reminder message sent out the week before, or an ‘emergency gift’ put aside just in case.

2.    Doing-it-for-the-kids, and kids only

Another strategy is to introduce ‘presents for kids only’ approach. This one’s not bad to implement when the number of children start exceeding the number of adults. Families grow exponentially, and along with the cost of hosting Christmas, this can put a serious strain on the savings if you continue to buy presents for everyone.

Often it’s the kids who enjoy the gift-giving ceremony the most, so it’s a nice way to maintain the excitement of sharing gifts, but limiting the amount spent. This strategy can be less effective when there are some family members who don’t have children, but all in all, it’s not too bad an idea to consider.

3.     Putting a cap on the madness

Another strategy we’ve experimented with over the years is setting a dollar limit on gifts, especially among the extended family. We will happily buy gifts for everyone, but we’ll all agree on an upper dollar limit, and all presents bought should cost around the same amount. This ensures that people aren’t overspending, and also that no-one feels ‘short-changed’ when they unwrap their gifts.

When combined with the Kris Kringle approach, this strategy can have some great benefits financially, and it also provides boundaries to help you know went stop buying.

4.      It’s the thought that counts – no really

I’ve been at workplaces that have diverged from the more traditional Secret Santa gift exchange (the gifts in which are often either slightly offensive or incredibly inane pieces of junk that you don’t want and will never use), and have opted instead for the more alternative idea of an ‘imaginary gift swap’. Each colleague had to spend 10-15 minutes having a bit of a search on the Internet for a gift that they would buy their appointed co-worker if they had unlimited means, and then they printed out a picture of the gift, which they delivered with a card explaining why they thought it was the perfect gift for that person. It became a team-building exercise, which allowed people to show their care for each other, and helped us all engage in the process of thoughtful gift-giving. When coupled with a company donation to a local children’s charity, this was a particularly mindful affair and enabled us to remove ourselves from the commercialism of Christmas.

One thing to be aware of is that this a strategy which works best amongst fairly cohesive and close teams or families, but may not be a great idea when dealing with workplaces that have cultural issues or are going through tough times from a personality management perspective. But for the most part, this is a strategy that sets the tone of a thoughtful Christmas. It sets the imagination, and people are able to ‘give’ what they think someone deserves, regardless of the position of their bank account, and this in itself can make the gift-giving experience more enjoyable for the givers as well.

5.     Charity begins at home with a goat

We used to get together with friends on Boxing Day. For many years we exchanged gifts and it was lovely. But one year we decided that once again the cost and expense was just unnecessary. We were there to spend time with each other and enjoy each other’s company. So rather than giving each other stuff that we didn’t need, we clubbed together, donated $10 each and bought a goat and chicken through Oxfam which was given to a needy community in a developing country. We had a great time discussing and debating whether a 1 goat, 3 chickens and a freshwater well was a better gift than an education program and a dozen health kits, but the overarching feeling of satisfaction came from giving something that would truly help people who genuinely needed it.

You can often see Oxfam stands in the walkways of shopping centres around this time of year, complete with model pig or goat, so pick up some information there, or visit to purchase a thoughtful, helpful gift this year.

6.    Recyling – making regifting legit

Recycled gifting, or Re-gifting has worked with varying success at different workplaces, and could work in some families too. I worked in a team that was part of an environmental sustainability effort, and the consumerism of Christmas was high on their ‘naughty’ list. So the team decided to recycle a gift. Each member took an item from their home, wrapped it and gave it to a colleague. Like the Imaginary Gift, this has worked with mixed success, but invariably it brought up some very funny moments, like when someone was gifted a photograph of their team leader, or a CD of One Direction.

7.    The Op-Shop Shop-a-thon

A less extreme version of re-gifting is the op-shop version. As a team bonding experience, you all head to your local op-shop with the with the idea that in half an hour’s time you’ll come out with a gift for your Kris Kringle person that costs no more than, say, $5. It’s amazing what you can find for so little money, and usually you’ll be able to pick something up that the recipient will like, or at very least find amusing. Of course, if they really, really, really don’t like the gift they receive, they can simply donate it back to the op-shop, which doubles the charitable giving of the whole experience.

8.     The Shopping Event

Another version I’ve heard which is quite an interesting one was done by a family of four – a mum, dad and two adult children – for gifts amongst themselves.

They would get together for a couple of hours one night at a shopping centre. They decided that each family member would have $100 spent on them, and they pooled all their money into a kitty. In the first half hour, the mum went off with $50 from the kitty and bought something that she really wanted. At the same time, dad and the two kids went off together and found a $50 gift for mum that they thought she’d really like, which they’d keep as a surprise to unwrap on Christmas Day. They met back together and then off peeled dad to find his $50 gift for himself, while the three looked for a gift for him. And so it went on.

In the space of the two hours, they each got something for themselves that they really wanted, they had a parcel to open as a surprise on Christmas morning, and they’d spent some quality time together. It was a way to manage the costs, their time, and it was a joint shopping experience. I quite liked that as a concept.

9.    Theme-a-year

If the Kris Kringle won’t fly then you tend to have a large Christmas gift list and when you have a large extended family, one of the hardest things about shopping for a Christmas present, is remembering what you gave an individual last year.

“Oooh, I think your mum would really like a pedicure this year; I think we should get her a gift voucher. ”

“Yeah, we got her that last year.”

“What about we get her a cup and saucer set?”

“We got her a cup and saucer for Mother’s Day.”


Trying to remember what you gave someone two or three years ago for Christmas is nightmarishly tedious, so for a number of years our family went through Christmas gift themes. We decided that everybody would receive a gift from a particular theme. The first theme we had was The Kitchen, the second year it was Gardening, and so on. It might have been Sports, Activities, or A Book. Each year was a different enough theme so that it was easy to remember what you had bought for people the previous year.

The bonus of this strategy was that we became better at knowing what was in the shops, because on the year that we looked for Gardening, we only ever had to go in to gardening shops. On the Homewares year it was just homewares. It meant that rather than trying to visit 600 different types of shops, we were able to streamline our shopping efforts, and manage our time much more effectively. Sometimes, constraints are the best inspiration for creativity.

10.   There’s always next year

The 10th idea is not a different strategy but it’s more of an idea. We are social animals, and the whole purpose of gift giving is to foster a healthier relationship with the ones that you love and care about. It is, however, easy to get caught up in the formulaic pattern of rushing to buy presents for people ‘because that’s what we’ve always done’, in which case, the spirit of Christmas is lost.

So here’s my idea: I suggest that if you haven’t found the gift giving experience incredibly rewarding this Christmas, that you open up a discussion about how you might do it differently next year. You could bring it up around the dinner table on Christmas day or possibly the next time you all meet after the festive season. Obviously, you want to bear in mind that after a couple of glasses of champers at Christmas lunch, especially if tensions are running high (the turkey’s being burnt, the kids have opened all the crackers already, and Fred hasn’t turned up again), maybe it’s not quite the right time to discuss it. But when the moment is right, one of the best things we can do is have those discussions with our family and friends.

Make that agreement in the follow-up to Christmas to discuss what is that you could do differently next year. “Could we choose a different gift-giving strategy? Could we host the lunch somewhere different? Could Christmas lunch be a smaller affair? Do we change the way everyone contributes so it’s a more enjoyable, less pressured event?  And remember that if you do all come to some agreement, you probably want to subtly introduce it into the conversation over the course of the next year from time to time to give it the best chance of success. Because what’s said at 9 o’clock on Christmas night, can get lost in translation by the time it gets to the 23rd of December the following year.

Christmas is a beautiful time for many of us and I think sometimes living just that little bit smaller helps us to appreciate it all that much more.


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