Holly Richardson: Christmas giving without breaking the bank

Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune Santa Claus greets families as he arrives at City Creek Center Thursday November 20, 2014.

‘Tis the season for giving. As you might imagine, the gift-giving thing can be complex with a very large family and not a very large budget. I suspect that many families face the same challenge of gift-giving without breaking the bank, although research from MarketWatch suggests that 44% of shoppers rack up more than $1,000 of Christmas debt.

If you’re like us, you’ve probably tried a variety of things when it comes to gifts. At the beginning, I’d classify our gift-giving as random and largely utilitarian: If the kids needed anything starting about October, I would just save them for Christmas. Socks, undies, school supplies — all Christmas gifts. But, two things happened: The kids liked the boxes and wrapping paper better than the gifts and frankly, I thought the gifts were boring.

I wanted the kids to also have the experience of choosing and giving gifts so for a couple of years, we took all of the kids to the dollar store and had them pick presents for their eight siblings and mom and dad. Upside? No one really cared that toys broke two days in. But let’s do the math: nine kids each buying 10 presents = at least 90 presents. Um, yeah.

So then we went to drawing names of just one family member to give a gift to. When we started, the idea was we would lovingly and carefully hand make gifts. We actually did that for a number of years but it added to my load a lot. For example, kids would want to see something or make a no-sew fleece blanket or a simple stuffed teddy bear. Very sweet, but then multiply times 10, 15 or 20 kids who wanted/needed help and you’ll understand why we eventually gave that up. We still do the Secret Santa exchange but now, “homemade” is not a requirement.

Around the same time we started the Secret Santa gift exchange, we also started giving three gifts a la the three gifts from the Wise Men. We had three categories to begin with: mind, body, spirit, then added a fourth for Santa gifts — fun. That’s been working for us for years for the kids still at home. It keeps the number of gifts manageable, it keeps the gifting relatively equal and it helps me not forget kids. (True confession: I did forget a kid one year. Luckily, we had extras.)

Gift-giving to me is about meaning. I don’t like to give cash for Christmas gifts because it takes no thought. Meaningful gifts might take more thought but they don’t have to take lots of money. Three gifts that cost little to no money are the gift of time, the gift of experiences and gift of creating or capturing memories.

In today’s digitally noisy world, the gift of a technology-free day spent being present with your loved ones can be an invaluable gift of time. Can you give the gift of cleaning a car, inside and out? What about hosting a game day? Can you teach a teenager to drive a stick shift? Or how about recording yourself reading a favorite children’s book? I would much rather receive a gift of time than a gift card.

Gifts of experiences are also meaningful. Cooking together can also be combined with a couple of pot holders from the dollar store combined with kitchen utensils and tied with a pretty ribbon. Can you give the gift of a manicure of pedicure that you do? How about hosting a princess tea party for the little princesses in your life? Pick an ancestral country and do a traditional meal together. Share the gift of experiences.

Finally, share the gift of memories. Write or record some of your favorite childhood Christmas memories. Record grandma and grandpa’s stories too. Spend a day sharing family folklore. Frame a favorite photo or use fancy fonts to print out (or draw!) a favorite quote. Make a time capsule to open at a later date. Those memories can be a treasure.

Christmas is in a week and a half. My Christmas wish for you are gifts of time, experiences, memories and some peaceful moments.

Holly Richardson (2019)

Holly Richardson is a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune.