8 Ways To Change Your Holiday Spending- Make This Year More Meaningful Than Ever

Today, I have an article written by my sister-in-law and editor, Ariel Gardner. You may remember her from the article How Saying “No” to Money is Saving Me Money. This is a topic that we feel strongly about, so I was happy to publish her article when she offered to write about it. Enjoy her article below!…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: November 22, 2021

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8 Ways To Change Your Holiday Spending- Make This Year More Meaningful Than Ever #givingtuesday #holidays

Today, I have an article written by my sister-in-law and editor, Ariel Gardner. You may remember her from the article How Saying “No” to Money is Saving Me Money. This is a topic that we feel strongly about, so I was happy to publish her article when she offered to write about it. Enjoy her article below!

I love the holiday season, spending more time with friends and family, getting cozy under a blanket with a movie, and of course the food.

But, every year, I am overwhelmed with the gift giving.

I really do love buying gifts for those I care about, and I love thinking about the thought and time put into the gifts given to me. However, I can’t help but wonder if there is a different way to approach the holiday gift giving season. This isn’t a new feeling, and every year it’s made me think more and more about changing my holiday spending and the ways I can be giving back for the holidays.

A recent NerdWallet Harris poll found that the average family with children will spend nearly $600 on holiday gifts. If you’re like my family, some of these gifts go unused. I actually still have an unopened fondue set given to me five years ago! It might not be a fondue set, but I’m probably not alone on this.

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This has me thinking about all of the stuff I’ve given in the past years. I’m sure some of it is still unused, unopened, or maybe even re-gifted.

So, what if instead of spending hundreds of dollars on things that may just add to someone else’s clutter, we tried to find new ways to approach gift giving and holiday spending?

When I stop and think about the holidays and why they are important, I find that it’s because this is the season for reflecting on the year and thinking about what I am grateful for. Often, the way we express this gratitude is by giving gifts, and I’ll be the first to say that I love opening presents. But, this year, I want to focus more on finding ways to make the gifts I give more meaningful than ever, spending more time with those I love, and giving back to those in need.

If you’re feeling frustrated with holiday spending and wanting to find new ways to celebrate the holidays, while still giving to those you love, here are 8 ways you can change your holiday spending and start giving back for the holidays:


1- Adopt a family for the holidays.

Leading up to the holidays, our school posts an anonymous list of area families that are in need, including ages and sizes for clothing and toys. If you are looking for a very direct way of helping those in your community, adopting a family, or buying for one, is a great way to focus on giving back for the holidays.

To find families in need, you can reach out to schools in your area, check the newspaper, or contact the United Way. These families have needs that extend far beyond just toys, which you are also encouraged to give if you want. Most of the time, these families are in need of the basics, like clothing, winter jackets, and shoes.

If you have children, adopting a family can be a great way to instill charitable giving and encourage empathy at a young age.


2- Give a handmade gift.

I know what many of you are going to say, “I’m just not crafty enough!” Fortunately, Pinterest exists for a reason. And, really, you don’t have to be crafty to give a handmade gift.

I am a knitter, so this is the area I kind of excel in, but yarn can cost more than you think, and it’s really time consuming.There a lot of different ways to make holiday gifts, and many of them don’t take nearly as much time as it does to knit a hat! Again, Pinterest is your friend for handmade gift ideas.

You can do something simple like putting a dry baking mix together with instructions on how to finish. Or, one of the things we like to do is to print a family photo and put it in a nice frame.

If you have children, this can be a fun way for them to get hands on by making paintings, drawing pictures, writing stories, and more. With this, you are also teaching your child that they can be involved in the process.

Handmade gifts don’t have to be fancy or elaborate because they show your loved one you care through your time and thoughtfulness.


3- Go on a holiday outing.

This is a new thing for our family, and it’s been a really fun way to spend time with one another. When we do our holiday spending budget, we take a portion of that and set it aside for outings.

For a family, this can be something like driving through a light display, going out for ice cream, doing a cooking class together, going to the movies, etc.

For friends, try a fancy dinner out, a painting class, or a day at a climbing gym.

Life gets busy, and it’s hard to see everyone during the holidays, so planning a holiday outing is giving the gift of time and memories to those you care about.


4- Donate to a charity.

Charitable giving is different for everyone because finding the right charity takes into consideration the values of each person. Many of you may give throughout the year, but donating as a gift is a meaningful way of expressing your gratitude for what you have, while focusing on the values and interests of those you care about.

One of my favorite approaches to charitable giving is through organizations like Heifer International and Kiva. Both of these organizations are nonprofit groups that focus on sustainable efforts to end poverty.

Heifer International’s mission is through a “teach a man to fish” philosophy that works to end worldwide poverty and hunger. For 70 years, they have focused on projects in women’s empowerment, sustainable farming, basic needs, and more.

One of the most popular ways to give through Heifer is by buying a full or partial share of an animal that goes to a family, often in a third world country, that will use that animal to sustain their family, with a promise to pass offspring to others.

On their website, Heifer describes this as, “Giving an animal is like giving someone a small business, providing, wool, milk, eggs, and more. Animal donations can provide families a hand up, increasing access to medicine, school, food and a sustainable livelihood.”

Kiva is an international organization that also does work in the US, and their focus is on loans to individuals and/or families in need.. They describe their missions as creating an “opportunity to play a special part in someone else’s story.” Those working with Kiva have funded over $1 billion on loans for things in areas like agriculture, education, food, arts, etc. These are crowd funded projects that pay back the loans at a 97.1% repayment rate. You can find out more about the loan application process and repayment on their website.

To give the gift of a loan through Kiva, you can search through their easy to use database to find projects that are important to those you care about. It’s similar to crowdfunding websites, but the idea is that your monetary gift is a loan, which they encourage you to reinvest upon repayment.


5- Volunteer as giving back for the holidays.

Beyond money, giving our time is one of greatest and most valuable gifts we can give. Often, spending money can be substitute for time, which can be a difficult thing to digest as we live in a world that is busier than ever. And, if you think about it, spending money is often easier than giving your time.

During the holidays, there are always places in need of volunteers, like animal shelters, food pantries, etc. Doing volunteer work may be something you already do, but if not, the holidays are a special time to share this charitable work with those you love.

If you want to volunteer during the holidays, contact local nonprofits to see if they need extra help during the holidays. This can be making meals, reading to dogs (our local animal shelter has a program like this for children), or visiting seniors in retirement homes.

This would also be a great holiday outing to do with family or friends.


6- Rule of 4 for kids.

I read this online a couple of years ago, and ever since, it has been the way we buy holiday gifts for our kids. It’s pretty simple and easy to remember, buy something they want, something they need, something they’ll wear, and something they’ll read.

Not only does this make those giants lists your kids give you more manageable, it helps you make sure you aren’t overspending this holiday season.


7- Host a gift exchange.

A gift exchange is a good way to ease out of buying so many holidays gifts, especially if you have a rather large list of those to buy for. Gift exchanges are great for families (large or small), friends, and coworkers.

Several years ago, my husband’s family decided to start doing this instead of buying individual gifts for all of the adults. We draw names and only give a present to the person whose name we drew. We also have a set spending limit, which I suggest you do for all holiday spending.

I’ve found that when I don’t have a huge list of people to buy for, I can be more thoughtful of the gifts I do buy. I can also spend more time finding just the right thing- in most cases, not a fondue set.


8- Shop small and local.

In 2010, American Express began promoting what they call Small Business Saturday in response to the Black Friday sales at big box stores. This nationwide promotion has taken off and focuses on supporting brick and mortar businesses in your community.

If you didn’t participate in Small Business Saturday, you can still make an impact by buying gifts at small, area businesses as a way to focus on giving back for the holidays.

In my state, over 47% of all employees are working at small businesses, and those small business make up about 99% of all businesses in my state. By shopping local, you are giving back to your community through taxes and jobs.

Small businesses may not always be able to meet the prices of online and big box stores,but that extra bit of money (it’s usually a very small amount, if any) goes directly to those in your community. It’s a way to invest in your area, a hope for a thriving future, and a great way to learn more about your community.

Are you frustrated with holiday spending? If so, how are you giving back for the holidays?

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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. Hey Michelle,

    One thing I learned is that anyone that purchases anything anytime of the year should take a quick look first on the clearance rack. Not just for items they’re possibly interested in to purchase with discretionary income, but items they deem worthwhile to buy and sell on sites like Etsy.com, Poshmark.com, and eBaY.com for a profit. Buying and selling online is a great way to put the awesome power of the “side hustle working from home” to work. Selling stuff online from clearance sections out of stores is a great way to earn all your money back that you spent on yourself.

  2. My wife and I were just talking about how my son does not need more “stuff.” I love the idea of giving another kid a gift on his behalf. The feeling of giving should give him more satisfaction than another toy.

    1. Ariel

      All it takes is the thought that we can live with less. I love that you’re looking to pass that on to your son. He’ll be so thankful that you taught him that lesson.

  3. Nice post, I’ve been doing 2 & 3 for the most part the past few years. Handmade gifts just rock and are more personal, and a day out doing something cool like hiking just beats getting more stuff. Especially when you bring bourbon 🙂

    1. Ariel

      Haha, bourbon does make hiking better!

  4. Patty

    I love what the Heifer organization does. It’s so empowering for women to be able to support their families and that amazingly these people are committed to paying back any money loaned to them to get their small business started. Not sure if Heifer does that but there is a company around where I live called Hope International which does the same sort of thing, teaching people to be self-sufficient. It’s a great idea!

    1. Ariel

      That’s what I love about Kiva, is that the money is paid back. That “teach a man to fish” philosophy is great. I haven’t heard of Hope International, but I’ll have to look into it. Thanks!

  5. Dear Michelle, thanks for sharing this post by your sister in law Ariel. I think I am becoming your biggest fan! I like your down to earth mentality while crushing it, as Jeff Rose said repeatedly in the recent interview:)

    My comment is I recently learned about an organization called the Spring based by a philanthropist in New York City after discovering the deplorable water conditions in third world countries. I am impressed by their financial contribution structure and even $5 goes a long way. I first heard of them through Ann Wilson, the Wealth Chef. I’ll add the link as soon as I find it for those who want to learn more.

    1. Ariel

      Thanks Anastasia!

  6. First off, I give a lot all year round. I’m choosing this season to gift people in my family. I’m refusing to be nagged and ‘guilted’ into supporting noisy charities. That being said, we are very careful with our money for giving under any circumstances.

    We have a variety of practices in our family. One ‘section’ has chosen to forego tangible gifts at Christmas and more effort with a card and note at least for birthdays, anniversaries We spread attention throughout the year instead of grabbing stuff in December, shipping it off and thinking “Here’s your darned old Christmas gift; now I don’t have to think of you again all year. Or I’m making up for not thinking more of you earlier this year.”

    Another ‘section’ — my personal family, is FULL of young people trying to balance their lives. MONEY and GIFT CARDS never offend! We are all at a distance and when we tallied up the shipping costs…we were even more satisfied with our plan.

    Another section is chaos, but we manage to get through the holidays anyway! They often send me things I can’t figure out how to work into my life, but also appreciate a gift card where they get to choose! Go figure. Aren’t families wonderful?

    1. Ariel

      There is a lot out there right now about giving at the holiday times, and, for me at least, this is a time that I tend to do more of that. I know of a family that really doesn’t buy anything for their kids all year long, and they save it all up for Christmas time. Makes sense to me!
      I love the idea of getting personal with notes, this seems to be something that we have lost. And yes, those gift cards go a long way for younger people.
      I love that you have a method to it all, as it’s all about what works for each person.
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  7. Our family doesn’t do much for the holidays besides eat and eat some more. My friends family on the other hand takes gifts very seriously. The family is broke but they still give $190 Coach bags to each other because they think they need to. This post would do much good for them.

    1. Ariel

      I’m always confused by people that gift like that, but I try to remind myself that to each their own. I’m with you though– food at the holidays is one of the best parts of the season!

  8. This is great! I think the consumerism that surrounds the holidays just takes away from what the holidays are really for. Why do we need to buy and own so much stuff? I barely buy anything, haha, just a couple gifts for my boyfriend. My family members and I haven’t exchanged gifts in a long time, and I have made donations in their name instead. I think all of us have had experience throwing gifts away we never used.

    1. Ariel

      I get so frustrated with the consumerism! We’re not religious, but all of that buying does seem to conflict with the message about the “meaning of the season.”

      Sometimes I feel bad that we don’t gift for more people, but we do make an effort to spend more time with our friends and family. I was super excited this year to get some more family members in on donating to charities instead of gifting.

  9. Here is the link to the video explaining the project, which I think is a well-managed charity and worthy cause. It was an eye-opener to me and I hope to your readers as well. Thanks 🙂


    1. Ariel

      Wow, I only watched the first 5 minutes, will watch more later, but wow. What an amazing journey he took. It goes to show that we can all make changes to better ourselves through helping others. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Ariel

    Thanks Ms. Frugal! Yes, that time off is great! My husband is a special ed teacher, so we get to enjoy a lot of time off this time of year.
    That sounds like a great way to celebrate Christmas– surrounded by those you care about.

  11. Ariel

    Thanks! It’s hard to break out of that cycle, but it sounds like you’ve found a way to do it, kudos!

  12. Wow! Your ideas will definitely make the year more meaningful and unforgettable, Michelle. Excellent suggestions which are truly food for thought. 😉