The Great Gift Debate

“Thirty Six? But last year I had thirty seven!!!”

Every Potter-Head on earth will immediately get this reference. But, for those who need a refresher –

It is the absolute nightmare of all parents, grandparents, relatives, or even just F.O.P’s (Friends of Parents). To watch a child throw a tantrum for not being given enough gifts, the right gifts, or a better gift and is cringe-worthy on a level that makes it viral YouTube content.

But even without the skin-crawling reactions of tiny humans, the Holidays can be an absolute minefield. From our idealized image of selecting the perfect gifts for our loved ones fighting with the painful shrinking of our bank accounts to the ‘should we, shouldn’t we’ debate of gift expectations for friends, acquaintances, coworkers. I mean, sure, Karen in accounting is nice and all. But if we get her something then do we need to get gifts for the entire department?

All of this needs to be taken into consideration against the larger factor of our overall financial health. Is it really worth getting $5 coffee gift cards for all of our kids’ teachers if it tallies up to a sizeable ‘Ouch’ for our account balance?

Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules or guidelines to any of these questions, as much as we might wish there were. Everyone’s situation is very nuanced and unique. What I can offer, however, are some alternatives.

Subscriptions and Streaming

Magazine or newspaper subscriptions may have been digitized, but aren’t extinct. I’m partial to a particular weekly magazine myself. Something about paper and ink has always been more satisfying to me. But loads of people get their subscriptions for digital content too.

This is especially true with kids; Highlights, NatGeo, Chirp, ChickaDee, Animal Tales and Bazoof (just to name a few) offer a wide range of varied content for kids of all ages.

And that’s not even touching on streaming services. Between the amount of online content out there and most young adults’ restrictive budgets, gaining access to a new platform is a fun and low cost ‘gift’ perfect for Round Robin. Netflix, Hulu, Prime, and now Disney Plus may dominate the screens, but there is also Fubo, Sling, Philo, CBS, and the indomitable HBO. Other than the Big Four, I recommend CBS as a good addition; original programming, live TV, and only six bucks a month.

Memories, not Memorabilia

Whether spending time with friends, family, kids, or even coworkers, oftentimes the best gifts don’t come in boxes. And there are so many options…

Vacation, Road Trip, or Stay-cation. You don’t have to go far from home to get away. Whether it’s with the whole family or just your special someone, hotel deals are more affordable than you might think. Stay in your own city, or drive 3-4 hours to somewhere new. Three Days and Two Nights of exploring a new place, trying new things, and (best of all) not having to worry about the dishes could be just the escape you needed.

Pool Together Group Activities. Skip the embarrassing holiday party and instead try an embarrassing new activity instead. Laser Tag, Paint and Sip, Tango, Paintball, Life Drawing, Bowling. Whether going out with the office or trying new things with friends, the more outlandish the better. Even if it is something you never would have considered trying before, once you are out and with friends and are open to the experience, you might just find yourself having a good time.

Day Camping. Yes. It’s Cliche. But it’s a cliche for a reason. Everyone brings something (either food or alcohol-related) someone always manages to produce the goods for smores, and there is always some dude playing the guitar in the background. You don’t need to camp out overnight to take advantage of the nature around you, although depending on who brought the booze you may want to plan on spending the night anyway. Go out in the afternoon, have a great time and, assuming it’s safe to drive, be home and tucked into bed before the stroke of midnight.

Gifts that Keep on Giving

Yeah, I’m not being rhetorical here. One of the best gifts to give (or receive) is something that you are actually going to use month after month.

Classes. Consider after-school programs that might otherwise be out of budget such as dance, sports, karate, art, music, etc. rather than purchasing a toy. (always consult with parents first!) These can have a profound impact on a child and lasts way longer than one afternoon.

Top Tip, this works just as well for adults too. I started taking kickboxing a year ago and, as much as I love it, classes aren’t cheap. My friend takes Ariel Silks (so cool!) and I know has the same struggle. These kinds of gifts aren’t boring or insulting, they are genuine and profound and deeply appreciated.

Experiences. Even if you can’t go with them, you can still give someone memories over memorabilia. A two-day hotel stay in the Keys is a great gift for a Floridian. Close enough to not be arduous travel, far enough to still be a different world. Theme park passes, travel cards, theater or event tickets, or even gift cards to a new restaurant they have been dying to try are all great ways to let the people you care about get out and see the world, even if you can’t go with them.

Appliances and Useful tools.

For sleep-deprived adults, a new coffee pot can be absolute life (and money) saver down the line. So might a power drill, back up USB battery, emergency flashlight, windshield scraper, or anything else remotely useful that someone you care about actually needs but would never spend the time/money on themselves. Like, say, an OXO double-wall travel mug with a snap to seal button… in purple, monogrammed. You know, just as a general example. Most people will be genuinely touched that you cared enough to notice and take their needs into consideration.

The Book Bargain

Okay, so this isn’t a new tradition. It is one that is regularly practiced across most of northern Europe and, though it has changed a bit with the advent of the Kindle, is still a tradition that I absolutely adore. Mostly done between friends and relatives such as cousins, the exchange and gifting of books not only provides an insight into the giver but of what you think of the person you might be giving the books too. While that might sound more stressful to some, it’s also a lot more fun.

You can choose from your own book collection, especially if it is something you have already read a few times or really think the other person might like. But you can also find absolute bargains, which we discussed previously in more detail HERE (‘Free Books for Kids’), at places like second-hand shops, used book stores, or even libraries. It doesn’t take a lot of time or money, but the thought put into it is what makes these meaningful.

Books are exchanged between friends and family in the weeks before Christmas, and you then spend the following days curled up with a warm beverage and a read your way through all the books you’ve just been given.

I fell like I should point out that in Scandinavia, where this is most common, it is pitch dark for 14+ hours, and snow is piled up so high you couldn’t go anywhere even if you wanted to... so, there’s that to consider.

Lay Down the Law

With Kids, it can be difficult to control the flow of gifts into your house from well-meaning relatives. As much as you might be trying to keep the holidays simple and sweet, grandma and grandpa, or a certain well-meaning aunt, might throw that all out the window with an over the top gift. A general rule of thumb guys; if it beeps, blinks, or costs more than $25, check with the parents first.

Parents; Be Prepared. When well-meaning relatives ask for what your kids want for Christmas, TELL THEM. Send an actual link. We don’t want to have to guess what the kid might like. If you tell me he wants a new Hulk lunchbox (both cool and practical) then I will get him a new Hulk Lunchbox. You tell me she wants light-up sneakers (again, fun + practical) then I will get her light-up sneakers! You tell me they need underwear… I’ll tell you to get it yourselves because I’m not being that aunt. But literally anything else and we are on board! Just TELL US already!

Don’t Be Afraid to Say No

When the holidays roll around, a lot of us can feel compelled to overspend, over give, and over gift.  We want to be ‘The Nice Person’, the one who drops $20 tips at cafes for no reason.  The one who gives all the teachers at school great gifts.  The one who finds each and every relative exactly what they were looking for.  And as nice as that might be… it’s just not reality.

Our bank accounts don’t magically replenish themselves on January 1st.  Neither do our bodies or our calendars.  We don’t suddenly get more time, more energy, or more money because we chose to spend what we had on others.  And, as much as we might wish it, we can’t give from an empty tank.

If you are running on Empty for time, energy, or money you should absolutely have no shame in being able to Just Say No.  Say no to the $5 gift cards for everyone you know.  Say no to the over the top gift you know someone has been waiting for.  Say no to spending more than you have to give.


Well, there you have it. We may not have solved all the holiday stresses, foibles, or faux pas, but at least now you have some alternatives to work with. The spirit of giving is a great and wonderful thing, but that giving doesn’t require a big dollar sign attached to it. Modern consumerism and ads may have convinced us that the best gifts are always the most expensive, but that is not always the case.

So this year, give what you can. Give your time, give your thought, give your intention. And, if you don’t have anything to give, then give yourself a break. As a wise man once said, “Those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter.”


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