4 Gift Alternatives That Will Bring Joy to Your Family

Giving doesn't need to mean gifts

My family sucks. Haha, just kidding – we’re actually all pretty dang awesome. But there is something that sucks about us all, and that is we really have a problem when it comes to gifts. Everyone in my family is decently equipped in their own financial lives to purchase things they want, when they want them (within reason).

If you’ve ever tried to buy gifts for someone who doesn’t ever want anything, you know the struggle. You either need to find something so awesome that they wouldn’t have thought to get it themselves, or struggle so much that you settle on something that neither party is totally elated by.

Recently my family has decided to stop with the gifts, and it’s been awesome. If you’re in a similar boat – or if you just dislike the idea of getting more shit you don’t need – keep on reading. There are a few options and alternatives to traditional gift-giving events that go over well with the grown-ups, and a few options for kids, too.

The Agreement

Our agreement was simple: no more material gifts. It just doesn’t make sense to accumulate more stuff. Kristin and I definitely have the least amount of ‘stuff’ of anyone in my family (which makes sense since we packed it all in two cars about a year ago). The last thing we want is to continue to get more stuff that, quite honestly, we don’t really need.

So, last Christmas, we decided that we would no longer exchange gifts with each other on Christmas or birthdays, as we had typically done in the past.

I was curious to find out who else in the personal finance community has stopped giving gifts. I turned to the Millennial Money Man Facebook Community and asked this very question. Turns out this sort of agreement is pretty common.

Gift Alternative 1: Experiences

Just because you’re done giving physical stuff to each other doesn’t mean that you’ll need to totally give up your gift-giving, unless you want to. Experiences – trips to the zoo, nights out, vacations, you name it – make for awesome gifts. A lot of times these can be things that might put someone a bit out of their comfort zone, or be something that they hadn’t considered doing before.

The great thing about experiences is that you don’t accumulate stuff and you still get to see the joy that your gift brings that person. Those memories will last a lifetime – most physical gifts won’t. Plus it means spending some quality time with the people you care about, which is what it’s all about anyway.

Gift Alternative 2: Charitable Giving

My brother’s family did this for Christmas last year and it was awesome. Instead of giving us gifts, they donated to causes that each one of us cared about.

Space nerd? Donate to a space exploration charity. Eco-warrior? Something for clean energy, minimalism, or clean water initiatives. Someone’s life impacted by cancer? Donate to a cancer research foundation. The opportunities are endless, and there are charitable foundations of all kinds, for every niche, that could make good use of your donation.

Charity Navigator is a good resource to use if you’re not sure where to donate to. Do your research on charities and make sure that their values align with those of the person you’re giving the gift to. Organizations that put a significant portion of their funding into the actual work they’re doing (as opposed to paying for overhead, marketing, etc.) are the ones I look out for.

These sorts of gifts show that you know what others care about, and you care about those things too. It’s a great way to promote a cause on behalf of whoever you’re making the donation on behalf of, and is a meaningful gift.

Gift Alternative 3: Saving/Investments (awesome for kiddos)

The third option I’m throwing on this list works awesome for kiddos. Saving money for the kids in your family is a great way to help their future. Not many kids need money (that’s what mom and dad are for) but when they’re old enough to appreciate it, it’ll be a nice surprise.

If the kids in your life don’t have savings accounts, talk to their parents and get them set up. Even putting a few dollars in there will help, and it isn’t something they’ll outgrow.

One caveat with this: lots of kids like opening gifts, because we’ve been conditioned to. It may be best to pair this with a small gift for them to open and enjoy immediately. They’ll get a little something now to appease them (and let’s be honest it’s pretty cool to see how much a kid’s eyes light up when you get them an awesome gift) and they’ll have a great head start on saving for life later on.

Gift Alternative 4: Secret Santa

We did this one when all the cousins were kids. Around Christmas time, we all wrote our names down and picked from a pool. Whoever we got, that was the person we had to get a gift for. This worked out great because it was inexpensive for the parents – one gift instead of 6+ – and all the kids were still happy.

As adults you could continue this if you wanted. It’s kind of a fun, nostalgic thing but still helps save some money.

Just Whatever Works

If you want this sort of arrangement with folks in your family, these are some recommendations but definitely not the only options out there. In the end, whatever sort of arrangement you and your family arrive at needs to be one that works for everybody. Gifting shouldn’t be a cause of stress.

If it is, maybe it’s time to change things up.


Do you exchange gifts with family or do you have some other sort of arrangement?

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    1. Oh that’s cool! I am not very creative so I’d probably struggle with this but if I had all year I could probably make it happen 🙂 I miss Secret Santa from when we were kids, it was always fun!

      The Millennial Money Man FB group had some adults who still did it and it sounded like they all enjoyed it.

  1. Dear MwM,

    We do not exchange gifts for holidays or occasions. The only exception is that our kids (they’re 7) get to pick one “birthday” gift that they would like (we buy it) and then the grandparents and us get together to buy a few more big gifts (usually joint). In the end, about $600 is spent on gifts for the kids.

    Otherwise, we spend our money on sports events, vacations (with extended family) and the kids (government contributed) college fund.

    My kids don’t watch tv and they’re not at school so they’re not enticed by commercials or what their school friends have. It’s been like this their whole life so they don’t know any different and it’s hard to know the impact for sure but I think that it helps a lot with keeping their expectations reasonable.

    Besos Sarah.

    1. Not having kids get swayed to try to make you buy things would definitely be helpful! Also limiting gifts to just one is a great way to keep things under control 🙂

      Thanks for reading!!

  2. We were just discussing with our inlaws the idea of a Secret Santa. Mr. Adventure Rich is the eldest of 5 boys, three of which are married with 7 kids from those 3 marriages. Honestly, I didn’t like how many gifts AR Jr. received last year when he received a gift from EVERY uncle + grandparents and my brother. Too much! We are planning to do a Secret Santa between Mr. AR’s brothers, the wives and the kiddos this year to alleviate the financial commitment and reduce the amount of gifts for the kids!

  3. My wife and I buy and wrap our own gifts from each other and we don’t even know what we got each other until we open them. I’m not sure if that is sad or outrageously clever?

  4. Number 3 with the kiddos for sure. After 4 years we accumulated so many toys and junk. Instead of buying lots of stuff they use for 5 minutes and forget we buy shares of stock. Let the grandparents spoil with toys. Each child starts with Disney until the account reaches 5k. Then we pick a different company. I track all the gory details. Hopefully it turns into lessons later in their life.

  5. I am 100% behind this idea, we all have way too much “stuff”. We found the perfect answer: a calendar. I put everyone’s birthday, anniversary, etc and then stalk Facebook photos from all the family. Then you can easily design a custom calendar for 8-10 per person! Works like a charm, everyone loves them and it’s become my “thing”. Useful, yet personal.

    1. Yep that’s where we are at too! My brother has too much (if you ask me, only because I had to help them move last year haha) and we have enough.

      The calendar idea seems cool!

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