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Avoiding the Dreaded Gift Exchange…


My family started exchanging names for gift giving about 15 years ago. When you have a family of 9, buying for one is a huge cost savings – not to mention a time savings.

When my husband and I married, I participated in his family gift exchange as well (turns out, his family of 10 was interested in saving money too). It was a great way to feel a part of the family.

Now that the economy has tanked, everyone wants to do a gift exchange rather than a mass gifting. Aunt May, Grandma Joy, and co-worker Suzie want to exchange gifts this holiday. While it’s easy to bow out of work related exchanges (‘My husband is unemployed’ is always a fabulous and acceptable reason), it’s difficult to get out of extended family exchanges. Family members say “it’s only $20 or $30!” but I can’t afford toothpaste much less a $20 Sham Wow. $20 or $30 multiplied by ten or so exchanges just isn’t happening this year.

I know what you’ll say, “Hey, it’s family. They’ll understand.”

Um. Hello?

It’s family. The very definition of people who are allowed to make fun of you and feel no guilt.

Wait. Maybe that’s just my family.


Since I don’t particularly want to say, “Yes, I bought you the Sham Wow but I can’t afford to buy deodorant until February”, I’m going to hold off on gifts entirely this season.

Whew. I said it. No gifts.


  • Reply jaye |

    This year our family decided to only give something home-made in our gift exchange. This is probably due more to the feeling of that many/most of us don’t really want and/or need anything more than a hope to save money.

    We will give CD mixes, marmalade, recipes…anything that we can make ourselves.

    This was my suggestion, but I have to say, the whole family was thrilled with the suggestion! I think it’s the fact that it takes more thought and creativity than running out at the last minute and buying something.

  • Reply brooklynchick |

    No gifts! OMG! That sounds WONDERFUL! Since I’ve already started shopping (and to be fair, asked for a few things) for my list of six (I try to shrink the list each year), I can’t do it THIS year, but maybe next.

    Imagine a holiday with NO gift stress! No wrapping stress! No nagging myself to write all the thank-you notes! Oh I will daydream about such a Christmas….it sounds like a dream come true….

  • Reply JMS |

    For the exchange on my husband’s side (everyone 18 or older) we normally each draw a name. This year we’re collecting the cash we would have spent on those two gifts and purchasing a cow, a goat, chickens etc for a family in a developing country. For anyone struggling financially this year, they can simply opt out of adding their contribution to the pot. For the exchange on my side we’ve decided this will be the last year. There are still 6 nieces/nephews plus my own 2 children on my list, but other than that I’ve cut the list as much as I think I can. I just can’t bring myself to tell the kids I didn’t get them a gift. I did however cut my spending by at least half on the kids. They won’t notice the difference – I’ve just been more creative and started shopping months ago and picked things up on sale. My husband and I haven’t exchanged gifts in 20 years. Instead we each help the kids chose small items for the other (magazine, tree ornament, favourite candy, etc). We try to focus more on the events around the holidays than the stuff under the tree. Every Christmas Eve we dress in red, put on the Christmas music and make a giant batch of cookies so we have something fresh for Santa. Then we take a long walk in the snow (if the weather cooperates), and watch a Christmas movie. My 8yr old is already debating the merits of chocolate chip vs peanut butter cookies. I’ve asker her twice if she’s finished her list for Santa, but she’s apparently more interested in planning for cookie night.

  • Reply Abby |

    Good for you! My husband’s family gifts in a way that makes me want to cry – even when we can afford it. When times have been tight, we charged gifts rather than bow out. Foolish, really.

    Last year, his brother was laid off – and still bought presents for everyone. After one of his aunts gave us a pricey set of silver for our wedding, I realized that they were just scraping by when she made the purchase. (We didn’t register for silver – or anything so pricey, and while it makes for a beautiful family heirloom, we’ve used it once in seven years.)

    It has become such a burden, something that puts me on edge right after Labor Day every year – and yet, I can’t seem to break the cycle. They’re loving, generous people – but oh, THE GIFTS! They’re not bringing anyone any joy.

  • Reply Jen |

    Hmm.. Maybe this’ll increase your Christmas joy 🙂 My bf’s family stopped exchanging gifts, but still does. However, we’re a relatively small family. Still, even though I can afford gifts, there’s still the hassle of buying them, shipping them, wrapping them, etc.

  • Reply kate |

    I know the feeling. Things were brutal last year financially with us. I spent a bundle buying almonds and real chocolate and tins etc. to make homemade gifts for my family.
    My own dad didn’t even say thank you, just said, oh just what I wanted “the old standby, candy bark. Hmmph.”

    Well, I say screw them! They are going to get homemade goodies this year as well!

    I asked my brother if we could please hold off on presents to each other this year because times are tough. No answer from him. I am thinking he just doesn’t get it. But he also still lives at home with my mother and doesn’t have things like a mortgage to worry about. Sigh. Family.

    Besides,if we get to the point where no one buys presents for the adults(only one child attends family gatherings) it would be a relief to not have to feign delight about another stupid gift from them.

  • Reply mom |

    Wow…. it’s a good thing I checked your blog dear. No gifts hmmmmmm…. does that mean that the gorgeous gift I just finished for you is mine???? Thank you so much. (I’m with Jaye, I decided this year to go the homemade route and I love it so much more….. don’t know that my children or grandchildren will but hey.) Well sweetheart, since I have so many to make for.. 7 children, their spouses, their children, (except for you of course) parents…..you get the picture. I think I’ll just keep everything… teehee Love you sweetheart, mom

    P.S. I might as well check everyone else’s blog too… maybe they have come to the same conclusion as you. By golly it just may be a merry christmas after all… I’ll have myself a bunch of new cool stuff. I just love you guys!!

  • Reply Georgie |

    I set aside a fixed amount of money and buy presents from that…interestingly, my family gets cheaper, more personal gifts (I ordered $10 photo books from Walgreens with lots of photos of the last few years), my boyfriend’s family is very into giving and receiving things.

    I don’t know how they paid or what their financial situations are exactly, but I do agree that it makes me uncomfortable – particularly because I don’t especially want a bunch of stuff. If they are going into debt just because I listed out things when I don’t especially care whether I have them or not – well, that would be sad.

  • Reply emmi |

    Offer that husband up as a gift. 2 hours of fixin’ whatever needs fixin’. Hey, minds outta the gutter, people!

  • Reply Kristin |

    The problem I have is how to have the dreaded conversation. My family is fine, but it’s my husbands family. They are great and truely sweet people, his cousins, aunts and uncles, siblings, all exchange personal and sweet gifts. And no one in the group has a lot of money. It’s just such a hard job finding/making/purchasing gifts for all of them. I would love at least a gift exchange but as my husband and I were just married last year, I don’t feel like I can bring it up. Anyone have any great ideas?

  • Reply Kari |

    Beks – hold fast and don’t let them get you down. I know it’s tough because it’s family, but if they give you grief, you have to ask yourself what’s really behind their resistance. Some people just want stuff, some people don’t like changing established traditions. Feeling positive about your financial choices is more satisfying than bowing to family pressure, even if it doesn’t feel like it short term.

    Oh and a note to Kate – your dad’s response to the candy bark? WOW! That was a really ungrateful response to your homemade gift. NOT in the holiday spirit. Some people should be ashamed of themselves.

  • Reply Beks |

    brooklyn chick – I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to not have to go to the mall for as long as I want. No crowds, no noise… it’s wonderful!

    Jaye – Good idea!

    JMS – I thought about that, but then my family would argue over which part of the goat they gave.

    Abby – Sometimes those gifts are the worst because they come with unneccessary guilt.

    Kate – Very lame. I’ll take the bark and be grateful!! : )

    Mom – Nooo!! I want them!!

    Kristin – I’m just honest with them and throw in some guilt for good measure. Cry a little, it works everytime.

    Kari – I agree.

    Emmi – Haaaaa hah hah hah!!
    Jen – Amen!

  • Reply Joe Dirt |

    Either regift something or write them a note saying you are taking back all of the nasty thoughts you had of them over the last year.

  • Reply Sandy |

    That’s why somehow I enjoy Thanksgiving more, because we can enjoy the company of family without the stress of “having” to buy presents.

  • Reply Nancy |

    Good for you! We are bowing out of our family gift exchange as well this year. We have to travel a good distance to see family so we said you either see us or get a gift in the mail….your choice.

  • Reply SavingDiva |

    I’m sure it’s extremely difficult to go without doing gift exchanges…I hope your family is more understanding then your post implied.

  • Reply Paige |

    I am only buying one gift for my niece. The end. I am so proud of your no gifts. People miss the point of the season and waste so much time and energy running around spending money and stressing out about what to get everyone…..and i am in debt up to my eyeballs like you. again, i say…No Gifts!

  • Reply Stephanie |

    Have you thought about regifting? Some people may gasp at the thought but this year money is tight for us too and I took a look at all my Christmas decor knick knacks that look brand new (because I never find the right place to display them year after year) and I literally have thrown them into gift bags and given it away to family members who truly will love it! I am also baking fudge and cookies and wrapping them up in those cello bags to give as gifts too….

So, what do you think ?