Chances are I’m in the throngs of Black Friday shoppers as you read this. Are you out in the madness with me reading this on your phone in a check-out line a mile long? How’s it going with the budget? Is it helping you with decisions? I hope so! Maybe you’re not too far into your list to benefit from today’s tip. Once again, let’s get right to it!

Tip Three: Simplify Gift-Giving

As much as I love to shop, Christmas shopping causes me a lot of anxiety. I love to buy gifts, and I love to buy good gifts, but if I don’t have something specific in mind for a particular person, my peace gets all messed up. Worse than that is not knowing who should be on my list and whether or not I’m going to find myself staring down a thoughtful gift with nothing to reciprocate. Awkward! I find answering the questions below has simplified my gift-giving and increased the meaningful and merry of our Christmases. A lot.

1.    Who is on your list?

I used to buy for every friend, my kids’ friends, neighbors, church friends, extended family, immediate family, my husband and kids, etc. Forget the budget! I just spent until I’d covered all my bases and then some. This approach spiraled into a disastrous mess, and I had to do something. So I talked to my friends and the moms of our kids’ friends and asked what they would think about not exchanging gifts. Every single one was relieved! Even when it requires an unpleasant conversation up front, I’ve found it’s worth it to establish a mutual “no gift” agreement that prevents these thorny moments. Since new friends come along, the conversation has to be repeated, and I usually say something like this:

“Since Christmas is right around the corner, this may seem odd or awkward, but we decided a while ago that we just couldn’t buy for every person we’d love to get a gift for at Christmas. I’ve found it’s best to bring it up now so everyone knows there’s no need for gifts. We’re just thankful for our friendship and would love to do something fun to make a memory instead. This way, neither of us finds ourselves in a situation where one has a gift to give and the other doesn’t. What do you think?”

With my immediately family, my grandmother, aunt, cousins and sister and I agreed years ago not to exchange Christmas gifts among us adults. We buy for each others’ nieces and nephews and that’s it. In my family, one of the parameters we’ve put in place is a three-gift system (Jesus received three gifts, so that’s good enough for us): a gift of wonder, a gift of meaning and a gift of usefulness. When I have each gift for each person, I’m done. It gives me a very defined stopping point, as well as a way to buy meaningful gifts. Now if I could just get a handle on stockings!

Where can you simplify? Can you afford to buy for everyone on your list? Are there friends and even family members who would be just as relieved to forgo gift giving as you? Bring it up.

I will say, sometimes I do have something small and “generic” in a gift bag ready to grab in case someone unexpectedly shows up at my front door with a gift and I wasn’t expecting an exchange. An ornament, Christmas candle, or some other small item that I might have even grabbed on clearance the year before. Or, I’ve learned to smile and graciously accept the gift with a hug and warm thanks.

2.    Can you make memories instead of exchanging gifts?

Do something fun with a close friend or family, and the same for your kids. Bake together. Shop together! Get up at 3 a.m. and brave Black Friday together! My favorite is to serve together. Last year, we didn’t exchange gifts with our future in-laws. Instead, we joined a favorite ministry serving a hot meal to homeless people in Houston on Christmas Eve, and then we went out for barbecue afterwards (yes, in Texas, barbecue is appropriate for any and every special occasion!).

(See The Value of Special for more thoughts on making special days truly special without spending a lot of money.)

3.    Would a group gift exchange or drawing numbers simplify gift-giving and ease stress and pressure?

Several years, the families we do life with have had a potluck Christmas gathering where our kids bring a $5 or less ornament for an ornament gift exchange. It’s a blast for everyone! We laugh, we’ve made a meaningful memory and the entire event, including shopping for ornaments, is manageable for all of us. Win, win, win! I know a lot of larger families who draw numbers and each person buys for just one person. I love this idea! I’ve encouraged our kids to all go in on one gift for each sibling instead of all of them buying for all of them. Since I’m no longer funding all their purchases, I’m letting them decide. But that’s what I’d do!

4.    Can you make gifts instead of purchasing?

This can get expensive, too, but it can be a whole lot less than buying retail. Craft ornaments. Put together a soup or cookie mix in a jar. Bake candy and/or sweets. Find a poem or scripture that captures your heart for your recipients (or write your own) and design a bookmark on your own computer. Print it on card stock, punch a whole in the top, and tie a ribbon through it. Attach a candy cane with a mass of curly ribbon, and wala! A thoughtful, beautiful gift from the heart, and one that will remind them of your love for them all year round. Again, don’t think big; think thoughtful, and then to the best of your ability, package it beautifully. Presentation is everything!

Tomorrow we’ll talk about involving your family for a meaningful, manageable and memorable Christmas. Join me again then? This series of tips is filling in the framework of The 3 M’s of a Merry Christmas. If you’ve missed a few tips along the way, you’ll find all ten here: 10 Tips for Making Christmas Meaningful, Manageable & Memorable.

Whatever you are doing this day after Thanksgiving, I pray you make this day a gift in and of itself.