Given that Christmas has grown to be a nearly $400 billion spending spree here in the U.S., I sometimes think that Ebenezer Scrooge should have stuck to his guns and ignored those three spirits who visited him on Christmas Eve.
According to a recent Gallup Poll, this holiday season, the average American adult expects to spend about $700 on gifts alone. At the very least, with the economy still tipsy from too many eggnogs, a little temperance seems to be in order this gift-giving season. Who knows, a simpler, less materialistic holiday might just be a more memorable and enjoyable one, too.
So how do you have that potentially awkward conversation with family and friends? You know, the one where you broach the subject of maybe cutting back on gift giving, or even entirely forgoing a gift exchange this year?
The important thing is to have the talk --- don't be shy. With friends and family you don't see that often, a thoughtful letter or even an email suggesting that maybe it's time to take a different approach to gift giving is perfectly acceptable, according to Peggy Post. She's the great-granddaughter-in-law of etiquette queen Emily Post and a director at the Emily Post Institute.
"As long as you do it politely, directly, and sincerely, many times others will thank you for starting the conversation," Post says.
Many families cap holiday gift giving by setting -- and sticking to -- a maximum amount per gift, and/or giving gifts only to children under a certain age. In addition to a strict $20 spending cap, in our family nieces and nephews no longer receive gifts once they reach age 18, but they then become part of the Secret Santa plan for adults. That's where we all draw names ahead of time and buy a gift for one other adult family member, so we all have something to open on Christmas.
And if you've fallen into the habit of exchanging gifts with adult friends and colleagues, can't you simply agree that it's a habit in need of breaking? What about just exchanging holiday cards instead?
Here are some other creative gift exchange ideas that let you stretch both the fun and the dollars:
* The $1 Store Gift Exchange: If it's truly the thought that counts, then set a spending limit of a single sawbuck and see how creative everyone can get at the $1 store.
* The Re-gift Exchange: Agree to wrap up something you already own and give it to someone who will appreciate it. Remember: It's only re-gifting if you believe it's re-gifting (or, in the case of intimate apparel, if you've worn it more than once).
* The Handmade Gift Exchange: All gifts must be made by the giver, be it a birdhouse, fruitcake, poem, etc.
* The Old Photo Gift Exchange: What more cherished -- and inexpensive -- gift is there than an old family photo? Get up there in the attic and see what you can find!
* The Charity Gift Exchange: Don't you already have everything you need? Many are not as fortunate, so agree to make a contribution to a charity rather than exchange gifts.
* The Tackiest Gift Exchange: Keep it cheap -- and fun -- by seeing who can give the tackiest gift for under $5. (You can even put on your tacky Christmas sweaters when you do the exchange!)
* The Gift of Time Exchange: Exchange gift cards for your time. Recipients redeem them and have you do anything from wash their car, give them a massage, or volunteer your time to a charity of their choice.
* The Baked Goods Gift Exchange: It doesn't qualify unless you baked it yourself.
* The Talent Show Gift Exchange: Give a gift of free entertainment by performing your "special talent" before a gathering of family or friends. (Did you know that I can recite The Night before Christmas while standing on my head?)
So don't be bashful about proposing a "gift-lite" holiday season to your family and friends this year. As Dr. Seuss wrote in How the Grinch Stole Christmas:
"And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
'Maybe Christmas,' he thought, 'doesn't come from a store.
Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more!'"
A version of this article originally appeared on www.AARP.org.
Jeff Yeager is the author of The Cheapskate Next Door and The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches. His website is www.UltimateCheapskate.com. Connect with Jeff Yeager on Twitter and Facebook.
Friend TDG on Facebook and Follow TDG on Twitter
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.