USA TODAY US Edition
Meaningful gifts don’t have to be expensive
Sharing experiences can simplify the holidays
When the holidays roll around, Stephanie Washburn gets anxious.
Her parents have been divorced for a long time, but the 26-year-old still worries about everyone’s feelings on both sides when it comes to gift giving and receiving. On top of that, Washburn, a potter, operates on a small budget.
“I’m a freelance artist, so my income is pretty tight,” she says.
She buys small presents from local artisans or makes coffee mugs, ornaments, plates or bowls in a ceramics studio in Wilmington, North Carolina, for friends and family, who have come to expect the homemade gifts, she says with a laugh.
“But I do wish people would take a step back and care less about the gifts,” she says. “If we can come together, eat dinner and play Secret Santa, that’s fun and it forces you to enjoy each other’s time rather than show what you can afford.”
Washburn’s experience is not uncommon. Instead of joy and generosity of spirit portrayed in holiday movies, the yuletide season often comes with emotional and financial stress as people navigate budgets, family expectations and guilt.
Americans are expected to spend an average $1,007 this holiday season, a 4 percent increase from last year, according to the National Retail Federation. Almost two-thirds of that spending – or $638 – will be on gifts. That’s a stretch for many household budgets. Here are how some families across the country are working around that.
❚ Re-gift with purpose: Earlier this year, Kay Rodriguez left her corporate job to focus on travel, full-time blogging and simplifying her life. This holiday season, she wants her new values reflected in the gifts she gives her family.
“Instead of buying things that my family may or may not use, I went to my closet to see what I could repurpose for someone who would appreciate it more than I do,” says Rodriquez,
Her younger sister, who just graduated from college and is about to start working in management consulting, doesn’t have much business attire. But Rodriguez does, and it’s gathering dust after her career change. So, she’s picked out some of her favorite pieces, plans to dry clean them and wrap them up for her sister. (Don’t worry, her sister already knows!)
“I’m really excited for her,” Rodriguez says. “Now she has some basic pieces instead of spending hundreds of dollars she doesn’t have.”
❚ Memories instead of stuff: If nothing in her closet works for others on her list, Rodriguez will buy them an experience. It’s a tradition she introduced to her family two years ago after they had moved to Washington, D.C. On Christmas morning, the family received a box with envelopes for a scavenger hunt Rodriguez set up for the following day.
The hunt took them to new areas of D.C. they hadn’t visited, as well as the Newseum and The Hamilton, a trendy restaurant. The day ended at the St. Regis Hotel, where Rodriguez booked a suite for the family using Starwood rewards she earned traveling for her job.
They sipped champagne and ate chocolate cake. Most important, they spent the day together exploring their new city.
“At first, when they got the gift, I think my sister was unimpressed,” Rodriguez says. “At the end of the day, she said, ‘this is cool, we should do it every year’ and posted it to Instagram.”
❚ Getting away together: In a similar vein, Monica Dwyer, a certified financial planner in West Chester, Ohio, suggested last year that instead of her mom buying gifts for everyone, she should treat them to a family vacation on Oak Island in South Carolina.
“We looked on Airbnb, and it would cost her the same to rent the house for a week as it did for her to buy Christmas presents,” Dwyer says. Another perk of her plan was that Dwyer’s brother and sister-in-law were on a tight budget, so vacations were out of the question unless they had some financial help.
“From Christmas until June, my sister-in-law and brother were talking about the vacation the entire time,” says Dwyer, who notes that the time together turned into a great bonding experience. “And my mother said it was the most stress-free Christmas she ever had.”
❚ Start the conversation: Whether your budget is thin or you want to try something new, be upfront with your family. Marie Boggs in Sierra Madre, California, turned to Twitter and In- stagram to crowdsource new gift-giving traditions for her extended family.
“I was looking to mix it up,” the 46year-old mother of two said. “All the nieces and nephews are getting older and are harder to buy for.”
She’s considering a gift card game for the younger set. She’s also hoping to limit the gift giving among the adults on her husband’s side of the family – and she’s got her mother-in-law’s blessing.
“All the moms are on board,” she says. “My mother-in-law and sisters-in-law are dying to make it more simple,” she laughs.
“It’s the guys who want to keep buying gifts. We’re getting together for Thanksgiving, so hopefully we can come up with a better plan.”