When the holidays pressure you to spend excessively, consider starting a new family tradition by giving memorable and meaningful alternative gifts.

Updated February 17, 2017

With all the stress, expense, and expectation surrounding the holidays, it can be a challenge just to get through "the most wonderful time of the year" with our values and our wallets intact. Here's how to save money, protect the planet, and spread good cheer all at the same time.

  1. Chronicle your family history by assembling photographs, letters, and important documents.
  2. Frame a meaningful photograph or put together a photo album or book of family recipes.
  3. Host a potluck instead of having to cook the entire holiday feast alone.
  4. Give children a gift of music or sports lessons instead of another toy.
  5. Give the gift of time. Begin with a gift certificate that offers babysitting, a home-cooked meal, or a monthly lunch date with a relative or friend.
  6. Donate to a charity in the name of a loved one.
  7. Give fair trade items such as tea, coffee, or chocolate.
  8. Give homemade baked goods, potpourri, or a dried herb wreath.
  9. Create a special memory by going to a ball game, to a museum, or on a camping trip.
  10. Give away one of your favorite things.

The best way to change your gift-giving habits is to start slowly. You can't change your holiday traditions all at once, but you can try one or two ideas at a time. Pick a few things from these easy-to-do ideas below and give them a try this holiday season.

  • Pay for the car behind you at the toll booth during holiday road trips.
  • Leave potted flowers or herbs anonymously on a friend's doorstep.
  • Clean the cat box without being asked!
  • Send a card to a soldier overseas or an injured veteran spending the holidays in a military hospital.
  • Make an emergency kit gift basket with a blanket, flashlight, gas can, jumper cables, and flares.
  • Call an estranged friend or write a letter to someone you haven't seen in a few years.
  • Give away the last great book you bought and enjoyed to someone who shares your taste.
  • Shovel snow for an elderly neighbor.
  • Have a re-gift swap. Get together a few like-minded friends and trade tchotchkes.
  • Host a cookie swap. Six friends who each make six dozen of the same kind of cookie can meet for coffee and go home with a dozen of each kind.

Alternative gift fairs give shoppers the opportunity to purchase personal, poignant, and fun gifts that support local and international charities. At a gift fair, people are able to make donations on behalf of friends and family to a variety of charitable organizations that feature gifts ranging from chicks for a family in Haiti to school supplies for an underprivileged child close to home.

Organizing an alternative gift fair is something you can do with friends, neighbors, members of your faith community, and at the office. Whether held in a coffee shop, a church basement, or a restaurant, alternative gift fairs are social and fun community gatherings that alleviate the stress of a packed shopping mall while supporting worthwhile causes.


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