On my side of the family we started a new tradition 5 years ago to cut the financial stress that came with the holidays! Now, I can’t ever imagine doing it any other way.
I have three adult siblings. My parents were still buying gifts for all four of us like they did when we were children, like multiple gifts! And, when I married they started doing the same for my husband. We all bought gifts for our parents and each other. We spent about $50 on each person. Our gift costs, just for my side of the family, were over $250. And, we were spending the same on my husband’s side of the family. My parents cost were easily 4 or 5 times that.
In the depths of the recession, my mom (in her late 50’s) was laid off. My sister, unable to find a permanent teaching position after college, was starting back in school to be a Medical Assistant. I was a stay-at-home-mom with my oldest. That year the holidays could have felt more like a financial strain than a joyous occasion, but we didn’t let that happen.
How Secret Santa Evened the Financial Playing Field
I can’t remember how the topic came up, but a proposal was made to draw names that year and you could only buy a gift for that one person. It was basically a Secret Santa gift exchange, but inside the family. Secret Santa exchanges are popular in office or community settings where people don’t know each other personally enough to buy a gift for everyone. We adapted the Secret Santa idea to help remove the financial burden from gift giving at the holidays.
I think the original limit was $100. Everyone agreed, and honestly felt relieved. That year we each gave one gift and received one gift. We agreed to do it again the next year, but lowered the limit to $75 per person. For the last few years we have kept a $50 limit.
Taking on New Family Members Does Not Add Any Burden
Over 3 years ago, my older brother married. We brought my sister-in-law into the gift exchange. Our tradition makes it easy for the family to grow…it is just one more name in the hat. Adding a new family member does not add any more financial burden.
On a side note, we did not officially add her to the exchange until they married. For the two years before that when they were dating, we pooled our money to buy her a gift.
Children are the Exception to the Rules
One other rule we implemented was for the children. When we started my oldest was the only grandchild. We decided everyone could buy him gifts without limit, or expectation. Now, there are three grandchildren. After buying a gift for the exchange, we are free to spoil the children however we like.
Crowd Sourcing for Gift Ideas
One of my favorite things with this style gift exchange, is asking the rest of the crowd for gift ideas for your recipient. Like when I have my mom, I can ask my sister if she has any ideas for her. Since she is shopping for someone else, she is more than happy to share any ideas she has for my mom. In the past, she would have already bought the gift for her and been fresh out of ideas.
The Rules We Abide By
Since we are geographically separated, we do the drawing by proxy. My mom does the drawing every year, usually over the summer. She always does it when I am there…I guess I am the witness or something.
Just to recap, here are the simple rules we follow:
- Names are drawn out of a hat
- If the person draws their spouse, they must redraw (spouses can exchange gifts separately)
- You can only buy a gift for the person you drew
- The gift limit is $50
- Kids are not included in the drawing
- Everyone can buy gifts for the kids, no limits
At first, I felt relieved that we wouldn’t need to spend as much at the holidays. Then, for a while I was a little sad at the thought of not picking something out personally for everyone in my family. On the flip side, finding one great present for one person is less stressful than 6 great presents for each family member. We did decide to do stocking stuffers. We each spend $5-10 on a stocking stuffer for everyone’s stockings.
I don’t think we will ever go back. The gift exchange works so well. Everyone gets the joy of giving and receiving, without feeling financial stress. The focus is more on the kids. We love it!
I am curious, do you have any gifting rules in your family?