7 alternatives to buying traditional holidays gifts

7 alternatives to buying traditional holidays gifts

Reading Time: 7 minutes

This year has been tremendously challenging for many people around the world. Shut downs to slow the spread of Covid-19 has had a significant effect on economies. Many have lost income or even employment. Some have lost homes. Many are struggling to make ends meet and are looking for alternatives to buying traditional holidays gifts.

The holiday season, with the tradition of expensive gift-giving, is right around the corner and it is time to think “outside the box”. I want to share with you seven gift ideas that just might bring the joy back into your holidays.

No gifts is an acceptable choice

First, I want to start off by saying this very clearly: if you are struggling financially right now, it is perfectly acceptable to not give any presents at all.

The holiday season has been hijacked into a time steeped with consumerism and materialism. Even before Thanksgiving arrives, we are bombarded by holiday advertising trying instill a sense of discontent with what we do have. The primary marketing goal of most advertising is to generate new sales, new consumers. Most advertisements are designed to convince us to buy the newest thing in an endless pursuit of an allusive and never attainable “happiness”.

Nearly a hundred years of American holiday traditions — from classic movies to traditional carols to family rituals to retail sales — has brainwashed our society (and us!) into believing that we must give gifts, even if we cannot afford to. We give even when our gifts are not needed or even wanted by the recipients!

So let’s just stop. Take a deep breath. And ask ourselves: why do I feel obligated to participate in rampant consumerism?

If you decide to skip the gift-giving this year, perhaps you can write a hand-written letter or send a holiday card instead.

Choose a gift-giving philosophy

If you are financially able to afford gift-giving this year, I recommend pausing and carefully choosing your own gift-giving philosophy. This can help you avoid wasting money on gifts that are unwanted (and likely to be returned after the holiday passes).

My husband and I have decided to adopt the “want, need, wear, read” philosophy with our three boys. So this year, we will be limiting the presents to four items: one gift that fulfills a want, one that satisfies a need, one item to wear, and something to read (or learn).

Perhaps your family might be interested in a “white elephant” philosophy, where you all put your names in a hat and then each person draws one name. This is a fantastic economical choice as usually presents have a $10 or $20 cap, and everyone is only responsible for buying a single present.

Maybe your philosophy is to not spend more than $5 or $10 per gift per person on your list. Whatever your philosophy, I encourage you to choose one and stick to it throughout the holiday season.

Alternatives to traditional holidays gifts

Here are seven ideas for gifts alternatives that are a little different and more in tune with the mood and circumstances of this year.

Many are struggling, and the holidays are just around the corner. Let's do gift-giving a little differently this year. Here are 7 gift ideas! Click To Tweet

1. Donate in their name

Perhaps this year, you can donate in your loved ones’ names to community charities helping those in need. Local food banks and toy drives need all the help they can get right now. Local non-profits that help people pay their rent or utilities are also a good option as so many families are struggling.

You can send your loved one a receipt of the donation with a lovely holiday card to let them know how their “gift” was used to help those in need.

2. Give gift cards

If any type of gift has been somewhat underrated before but can possibly be the shining star of the holidays, it is the gift card.

Let’s be honest: we often don’t know what our loved ones really want or need. Sure, we may see a nice sweater or whatever and think: “Oh, so-and-so might like this!” But do they really need or want it? Probably not. How many of us have received nice but unnecessary gifts? Yeah, exactly.

So this year, take the guess work out of gift giving. Instead of assuming we know what someone wants or needs, let’s like them decide. Get them a $20, $50, or $100 gift card to their favorite store.

Don’t know their favorite store? You can never go wrong with a gift card to a local grocery store… that is like free food! How many of us — especially those of us with families to feed — would jump at a $50 grocery gift card? I know I would!

3. A cash gift

In a similar vein as the previous idea, another option is to invest in the lives of your loved ones by giving them a cash gift. Instead of micromanaging them by giving an item you think they could need or use, give them a cash gift that they can put to whatever use they need.

Perhaps they will go out and buy something pleasant with it! Or maybe they will use that money towards groceries, rent/mortgage, bills. Maybe it will go in the bank to save for a family vacation or college or retirement. No matter how it will be spent, you can know that your gift is happily received and will be put to good use sooner or later.

4. Gift an experience

The average American has more stuff than they know what to do with. In my area, it seems that the fastest growing industry right now is the storage industry. New storage facilities are being built all over the place! Storage units of all sizes just to hold all of the stuff we can no longer fit in our homes.

Why do we let ourselves drown in useless stuff? We are often so busy maintaining and managing and cleaning and organizing our stuff that we have no idea how to experience life. So this year, why not give the gift of an experience to your loved ones instead?

Perhaps it is a mystery box from a subscription service (they usually offer a one-time purchase option and this time of year has lots of discounts). Or maybe it is a family trip to the local zoo or nature preserve. Maybe it is planning a camping trip for late spring or a mini roadtrip to see some regional or national parks.

Another idea is to get an annual pass to their favorite place: zoo, gardens, aquarium, museum, sports, etc. Or tickets to an upcoming movie, play, or concert that they would enjoy (if such recreational places are open in your area). Or assist with a dream or life goal: art classes, music lessons, courses for improved skills or certifications, etc.

If you have kids or a spouse, you could even create little “ticket” books with cool, pre-planned experiences that your child or spouse can “redeem” once a month over the next year.

5. Homemade gifts

Do not under-estimate the power of a hand-made or home-made gift. Whether crafted, knitted, sewed, carved, painted, sculpted, printed, or whatever the case may be, homemade gifts are often thoughtful and well-received. Perhaps it is some freshly baked goodies or secret family recipes or delicately arranged bouquets or custom cocoa mixes in little mason jars.

After a year of social distancing and isolation, a hand-made gift may be the touch of humanity that someone really needs to bolster their spirits up.

6. The gift of your time

You know, sometimes what one of our loved ones and friends need most is actually a little bit of our time. Maybe they need an emotional break and would love to be taken to lunch or dinner (or have lunch/dinner delivered!). Maybe they could use a babysitter so they could get some errands done or have a few hours to self-care. Or perhaps you can offer to help clean their house.

The gift of your time could be very practical as well. Perhaps you could prove-read a college paper or clip coupons for your sister. Maybe it is visiting your parents or grandparents once a month (with all of the proper precautions) to make sure they are doing well. If a friend’s car is unreliable or they don’t have a car, perhaps you can offer to take them to the store or to church or to pay for a bus pass.

Know a family with young children or babies? Check out 6 Practical Gift Ideas for Families With New Babies.

7. Practical, daily help

The last alternative gift is providing practical daily help. This could be paying for a one time house cleaning or lawn care service. It could be gifting a trip to a chiropractor or masseuse to help with physical ailments (aches and pains). It could be offering to pick up groceries order online or dropping off dinner. If you can afford it, maybe it is offering to pay one month’s rent or at least help with it.

Many of us are overwhelmed, barely staying afloat under the weight of severe stress and anxiety. Many people who were gainfully employed a year ago are now unemployed. Many hard working individuals and families, through no fault of their own but due to a global pandemic out of their control, are facing evictions come January 1st.

If you have a loved one or friend in need, the best and most needed Christmas present is not another “thing” wrapped up in pretty paper. Maybe it is something very practical that you have within your ability to help with. This year, let’s stop with the pointless consumerism and really focus on what we can do to really help.

If you know someone in need, the best Christmas present is not another "thing" wrapped in pretty paper. Maybe it is something practical that you have within your ability to help with. Click To Tweet

To wrap up

There are so many alternatives to buying holidays gifts, especially in a year like this year with some many individuals and families struggling to make ends meet. If you have an idea that I did not cover, please share in the comments! I’d love to hear what gifts you will be giving this year.

So whether you decide to forego the gift-giving this year or to do gift-giving a little differently, remember that you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to enjoy the holiday season. If this year has taught us anything, it is that stuff doesn’t really matter. What matters most is spending time with the people we love and making the most out of the time that we have together.

From my family to yours, happy holidays and a merry Christmas to all.

Here are 7 gift ideas, alternatives to buying traditional holiday gifts.

For those planning to buy gifts this holiday, you may also be interested in 10 Tips for staying in budget this holiday season.

Featured photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash.

Back to Top