15 Things Families Do for the Holidays Instead of Buying a Crapload of Gifts

Wendy Robinson | Dec 16, 2016 Being a Mom
15 Things Families Do for the Holidays Instead of Buying a Crapload of Gifts


Shutterstock/Lucky Business

Gifts are my love language, so I really enjoy the process of shopping for and exchanging gifts with the people I love. My husband, on the other hand, would be totally fine if he never got a gift ever again. He'd much rather save for a trip or just have a quiet day at home instead. This is a story about people who are much more like my husband than like me.

Whether it is because they have a tiny budget or are fortunate to already have everything they need, there are some families that are happy to skip giving gifts entirely. What they give instead is, in some cases, even more meaningful -- gifts of peace and time and even a permanent legacy. 

I'm still looking forward to a load of presents under our tree, but I have to say I am inspired by some of these great ideas. 

Click on for ideas of how to give without ever having to buy a roll of wrapping paper -- it might just change your definition of what makes a great gift. 

  • Experience Gifts

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    iStock.com/izusek

    "Hamilton is coming to our town in 2018 and I am OBSESSED with the musical and so are my kids. This year we are spending our whole holiday gift budget on season tickets to the theater. We're not throwing away our shot to see it!" -- Gayle M., Minneapolis, Minnesota

  • Tiny House Dwellers

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    "We live in a tiny house -- for real! Like one of the ones on TV. We have less than 400 square feet, so we have to be SUPER selective about adding anything new to the house, gifts included. We usually get one thing for our 3-year-old but we skip giving each other gifts. I don't mind it at all. I don't need clutter and I'd rather save the money for travel." -- Naomi G., Portland, Oregon

  • Legacy Gift

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    iStock.com/Christopher Futcher

    "My wife and I get a gift or two for our son, but we never exchange with each other. I just don't like the materialism of Black Friday and the whole shopping thing. We usually make a holiday donation to a charity instead. This year we are starting a scholarship in my mom's name at the local community college. That is a gift that will last for years! We're make a legacy instead of a mess with wrapping paper." -- Amie D., Holyoke, Massachusetts

    More from CafeMom: 20 Awesome Gifts That Give Back to Worthy Causes

  • A Big Trip

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    We go on vacation and focus on experiences instead of presents. My 11-year-old son loves it and has even told me traveling is better than getting gifts under the tree! (He does get a few gifts ... we aren't monsters ... we just keep it small.)" -- Morgan B., Reno, Nevada

  • Giving Back

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    iStock.com/Steve Debenport

    "For Christmas Eve, we started a new tradition last year (and will hopefully continue) of traveling over the border to Tijuana to feed and clothe struggling families.

    My kids are 23, 12, and 10. They were all quite sad afterwards, and quiet for a little while. They had never seen such poverty up close. We met the neighborhood at their church, and at first my little ones were super shy, and then they started to feel more comfortable and sang Christmas songs for the families and were really engaged with the handing out of items.

    We ended it by having a Christmas Eve dinner at a restaurant in Mexico, where we shared how important giving back is and discussed all that we are grateful for.

    My kids are already in the process of collecting items for this year's trip. They expressed a little hesitation of joining my husband and me in going down again because 'it's just too sad,' but I'm not giving them a choice. And, I know they will feel fulfilled afterwards, just as they did last year. They are fortunate to be spoiled on Christmas Day by family, so I love that we are dedicating Christmas Eve to helping other families." -- G.G. Benitz, San Diego, California 

  • Just Plain Avoid the Hassle

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    "I don't mean to sound like a Scrooge, but I hate the holiday gift pressure. I don't like to shop, I suck at wrapping, and the gifts my husband usually gets me are terrible (like the year of the lava lamp). 

    The best gift I ever got was the year my husband said I was off the hook for Christmas gifts. I don't even buy for the kids anymore. They get a ton from Grandpa and Grandma -- they don't even notice." -- Sophie D., Saint Paul, Minnesota

    More from CafeMom: 11 Indulgent Little Gifts to Stuff into Your Own Stocking

  • Sweet Gifts

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    "We make cookies as a family and deliver them to friends' homes on Christmas Eve. It's not a gift substitute, but it takes the emphasis off the 'gimmes.'" -- Shana A., Brooklyn, New York

  • Grad School Givers

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    "My husband and I are both in grad school so money is pretty tight. This year instead of giving each other gifts, we are going to put the $100 we would have spent toward an interest payment on my student loan. Not the most romantic, but in the long-term it's the smarter thing to do." -- Debbie M., Grimes, Iowa

    More from CafeMom: How Much Money Everyone Else Is Spending Over the Holidays

  • Made With Love

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    iStock.com/OnlyZoia

    "For several years now, my daughter and I have spent time in the month or so leading up to Christmas making ornaments to send as gifts to grandparents and extended family. Nothing too crazy -- one year we found a pretty glittery shell idea in Martha Stewart, and one year we sewed easy ornament out of felt.

    The process is the best part, just spending time together, not focusing on our phones or shopping or anything stressful. We make one for our tree, too, and they're now my favorite decorations." -- April H., Verona, New Jersey

    More from CafeMom: 6 Smart Ways to Approach Holiday Spending (Without Turning into a Grouch)

  • The Gift of Solitude

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    "My partner and I are both big introverts. We're also not religious at all (though we are culturally Jewish) so the holidays aren't really our thing. We do give each other the gift of low expectations and solitude. We usually rent a cabin around Christmas and I stay by myself for a few days, then he comes and we spend a few days together, and then I leave and he gets alone time. It is heaven!" -- Jessica G., Hudson, Wisconsin

  • Fine Dining, Please!

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    "Our kids are grown now and, truthfully, we have everything we need. We usually just send the kids some money and then we treat ourselves to a really fine meal and some great wine. I look forward to it every year!" -- Bonnie D., San Francisco, California

  • Gift of Peace

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    "I already know what I'm getting for Christmas! I asked for no presents so I could go to a retreat and work on my certification to teach yoga. This will be the most peaceful Christmas ever!" -- Lace G., Phoenix, Arizona

  • Less Is More

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    iStock.com/extravagantni

    "Our dream is to move to London and it is finally happening next year. So we are doing no gifts this year -- everything we have will cost us money to move, so we are setting the money aside for our new life across the pond!" -- Andrea P., Wheaton, Illinois

  • A Letter to My Son

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    Shutterstock/alexkich

    "Every year, I write a letter to my family that summarizes the past year. I wrote a separate letter [to] my newborn son last year, and hope to continue to do so every year. I told him about his parents, his family, and his birth." -- Myrna C., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey

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