5 Ways to Spend Less Time Christmas Shopping

Five ways to spend less time Christmas shopping

I’ve talked quite a bit in this series about having less of a focus on stuff and spending less time shopping. But you might be wondering, “How exactly do I go about that??”

Here are four ways you can move your Christmas celebration away from the shopping end of the continuum.

1. Draw names/organize a limited gift exchange.

This is the route my adult siblings and I have chosen, and I highly recommend it. Each of us is assigned one person (so each couple shops for another couple), which means that we have the fun of exchanging gifts without a crazy amount of stress. Because we only need to give gifts to one couple, I can pour a lot more thought and energy into picking out/making a gift than I would otherwise be able to.

I feel like this arrangement has all of the fun and none of the stress that normally can accompany family-wide gift giving.

2. Don’t give gifts to everyone.

I’m not exactly sure when in history this came about, but our current culture seems to expect us to give gifts to a ridiculously large number of people. I read a Real Simple magazine a few years back that talked about all the tipping/giving that we should be doing at Christmastime, and it was a little overwhelming (which is kind of funny, given that the magazine has the word simple in the title.)

Giving gifts is lovely and all, but when our gift-giving begins to cost us sanity and financial peace, something has gone wrong.

For instance, giving gifts to all of our nieces and nephews would start to be ridiculous. On my side alone, there will soon be 11 nieces and nephews (that’s not counting our kids!). So, my siblings and I have agreed that this is not something we want to do. Not only do we want to avoid the stress, we all feel like our kids get plenty of presents anyway.

I’m not suggesting that you cut out all gifts to your children or anything like that, but maybe you don’t need to give something to your mailman, hairdresser, dog groomer, and all of your children’s teachers.

3. Give fewer gifts.

In the past, Christmases haven’t always been as present-heavy as they are now, and somehow, people still managed to have happy Christmases. So, I think it’s pretty likely we can too.

An earlier post has a lot of my thoughts about giving children fewer presents, but I also think the adults could stand to have fewer gifts, especially if those gifts are putting a strain on people’s finances.

Paring back on the adult gift-giving should be easier because adults should be able to be a bit more reasonable about it than kids (theoretically speaking).

If you’re going to make a big change in this arena, though, I do think talking to the people you exchange gifts with is a good idea. Who knows? Maybe they would be relieved to have the freedom to spend less as well. And maybe they’d even agree to a price cap.

4. Give experiential/service gifts.

These kinds of gifts obviously help to reduce the focus on stuff, since they’re not tangible. And they don’t require a whole bunch of shopping, either.

Gifts of this sort could be a park or zoo pass, a membership to a club/museum/etc, tickets to a concert or play, or a gift certificate to a restaurant.

Or if someone on your gift list has children, giving the gift of babysitting (with maybe a restaurant gift card attached!) is an awesome idea. I haven’t ever really met a set of parents who wouldn’t welcome that gift (as long as the giver was someone they trusted with their children).

5. Start ahead of time.

Saving your shopping for the last-minute is an almost sure-fire way to increase your shopping hours. Crowds and traffic get pretty awful in the stores when we get deep into December, so you can spend a whole lot less time shopping if you do it early.

You can also choose to do a lot of your shopping online, but again, that’s only going to be practical if you start ahead of time (shopping online at the last minute is going to cost you a pretty penny in shipping charges!)


I’m sure there are more than five ways to cut back on shopping time, so add your ideas to mine!

Previous posts in this series:


Think more about serving and less about impressing.

Make a priority list.

It’s ok to have an imperfect Christmas. And it’s ok to say no.

3 ways to lower children’s Christmas present expectations


Joshua’s 365 post: Cricetinae


  1. Rachel says

    Ooooo I love #4! With professional babysitters in our area charging up to $15 an hour, an offer to babysit is worth its weight in gold with us!

  2. says

    How about giving a ‘family-gift’ instead of a ‘personal-gift’ – something the whole family can enjoy- like a dinner set or movie tickets. You can cover many people in one go and make everyone happy.

    • Natalie says

      This was going to be my comment as well. :)
      Last year my family and I received a couple Christmas movies, some microwave popcorn, and a bowl for the popcorn as a gift. We really enjoyed the time we spent watching the movies and eating popcorn. And of course, we will continue to enjoy the movies for years to come.

      • Jen says

        We live in Alaska and one year sent a really cute nature video (narrated by a 6 year old) to our families in the lower 48, accompanied by popcorn. Everyone loved it, and the kids have watched it over and over again. Can’t repeat that success every year–but it was a hit. Alaska children’s books have been a big hit as well, not only for kids but for grandparents. So if you live somewhere unusual, share that experience with your families. We’ve also done that on vacations–when we were in FL with family we bought some local books and saved them to send at Christmas for the kids. They enjoyed being reminded of their holiday.

    • Amie says

      Board games and puzzles is another idea. Depending on how crafty you are you could make puzzles or even make up a board game as a family. Then each family brings one and you can do a swap. :) It really depends on how much your kids can keep a secret. I’d consider working on it the week or two before for younger kids.

  3. says

    Go homemade, and/or sentimental! The year our first child was born, I created a photo calendar on one of those photo printing websites, with a few pics from each month of his development or family adventures. I ordered a copy for each set of grand and great-grand parents, and they were a hit! They’ve been requested every year since! And yes, I guess my time on the site technically counted as shopping, but it felt more like creating.

  4. says

    With regards to extended family both my family and my husband’s family does a rotation – each year we give gifts to only one member of his family (including their spouse and children if they are married and have them) and one member of my family (also including spouse and children). If we gave gifts to every member in our families – we’d have to give to both sets of parents (we do give something to our parents), 11 siblings (plus 6 spouses, and 21 nieces & nephews.) It would be a good way to go broke really quickly! This year we’re both giving gifts to our brothers that are just younger than us – kind of interesting how it worked out. :)

  5. says

    I really like the calendar idea too. Grandma did it one year for everyone, and we convinced her to make it part of our gift for future Christmases (yes, I said part, but it’s hopeless to say we want less. Some people just don’t get it. I think it’s an emotional thing for her. They filed bankruptcy, lost their home, farm, cars, etc. Now she holds on to everything, and wants to make sure we have plenty of stuff to make us feel secure.)

    She puts pictures of us throughout the year, and the most helpful is that she puts all the birthdays, anniversaries, and special days in for us.

    We all love it.

    I think you nailed it though with give fewer gifts/go homemade. One year we did a $3 limit gift exchange for 1 person. You could only spend $3/gift. It could be worth way over that though. Someone got a leather coat, someone got a really neat serving tray, and someone gave some bowls out of her cupboard that her giftee said she really liked. I think I gave a quart of homemade salsa and a bag of chips. Because we knew which person we had ahead of time, we were able to put thought into it, instead of just grabbing a random knick-knack to throw in the grab bag. And because everyone had to play by the rules, no one had to feel bad for not spending much.

    My parents suggested using Christmas money to send everyone on a vacation instead of giving us presents. While this isn’t necessarily cheap, I’m all for it, because it’s not stuff. I know my 4 year old will remember it longer than he would play with a toy.

    • says

      My in-laws invited us to vacation in OBX for a week with them this summer. Unfortunately, with two little ones, we won’t be able to stay in their duplex and will need our own place. They offered to pay for half of the cost of our room as our Christmas present. That’s present enough for me! The kids will still get a few things, but for my husband and myself, it’s the perfect gift.

  6. says

    This list is spot on…
    I hate shopping. Just the thought of walking round shops is enough to send me into a panic attack. Seriously, no exaggeration.
    How I do it is this (to keep the whole thing simple including storing the gifts).
    1. Cut back on who exchanges gifts…that’s the simplest option all round.
    2. Once the gift list has reduced every one who will receive a gift gets allocated a box. I use recycled shoe boxes.
    3. The boxes are decorated by me and can be reused as bauble boxes, storage boxes etc by the recipient.
    4. In the box goes something to eat, to drink, maybe some socks or scarf, an experience (theatre tickets, day out, DVD or book or if they like shopping gift voucher) or homemade gift voucher (cake, babysitting etc).
    5. Stored away in closet.

    I get it all out of the way early and stored.
    I’m halfway through this year already. Can’t wait to have it done and dusted.
    (only one issue, am trying to handknit scarves this year, and it’s not going well…sometimes I do wonder why I bother?!?!?)

  7. says

    We only give gifts to the children in the family (we have 4 nieces and nephews). We originally did a gift exchange between siblings, but it got ridiculous, with most of us exchanging gift cards. So that got dropped. I write a check to charity in honor of the adults and leave it at that.

    The kids are getting one very large gift from their grandmother this year. We decided since it’s kind of extravagant (Omagles building set), that would do. We’ll have socks and underwear or their equivalent for them to rip open, but there won’t be anything else. I’ve watched relatives spend an hour opening gifts and then ask where the rest of the presents are. I’d rather not set a high expectation of really huge Christmas celebrations. We’re not religious, but focusing on the commercial aspect of the holiday so much feels inappropriate. I’d rather build up family traditions of giving to those less fortunate and spending time together.

    • Kris says

      We only give gifts to the children in the family, too. I really can use only so many lotion bottles from Bath and Body Works. :)

      Something to think about if siblings buy for nieces/nephews is establishing a “cut-off” time. On my side of the family it got awkward when the kids were in high school and ridiculous (gift-card exchanges as you mentioned) when they were in college. We need to address this soon on my husband’s side of the family. I’m not sure what a good solution is.

      • WilliamB says

        In my family, the solution for semi-adults (say, 15-25) is for an older grownup to give the semi-adult a sum of money. The semi-adult decides what to spend it on, then tells/writes the older adult about it. The only rule is that it has to be a splurge, no paying the electric bill with it.

  8. Walnut says

    I have super simplified my gift list in recent years. My siblings and I pitch in for a single nice gift for my parents (usually experiential) and all of the siblings exchange names as well. I give a nice gift to my significant other (though this year we’re taking a trip to Chicago as a gift to each other) and we have agreed that for the time being, he doesn’t give gifts to my family and I don’t give gifts to his. It’s just implied that whatever each of us decides to gift to our families is from both of us.

    During the weeks before and after Christmas, I arrange to go to supper or coffee with any friends who want to celebrate. We split the check and have a wonderful evening enjoying each others company. It’s better than any candle or set of bath salts.

  9. Elizabeth says

    We don’t exchange many gifts outside our immediate family. I don’t see the point of mailing gifts for small children in other states who have relatives that are closer and will get enough presents whether we send or not. I’m making a few gifts for our kids in addition to store bought (a fishing game for the young boys). My daughter (age 10) wants a new fancy bedding set so in addition to that I’m making her a kit of supplies so she/we can make her coordinating decorations to match.

  10. says

    Great list. I was raised by a single mom, and she got the extended family to agree to not giving gifts for adults, and so my family has stuck with that ever since. As far as my immediate family, my husband and I limit what we’re giving to each other, and agree beforehand on the amount we’ll spend on each other & on our kids. We may get a few small things for kids’ teachers or close friends, and that’s about it. All the way around, it is really freeing not to have so much pressure to buy so many gifts.

  11. Stephanie Gunstream says

    Last year we started making gifts for Christmas, and continued it for birthdays throughout the year. It is now expected that our family will be giving home made gifts ONLY.

    I spent too much time and stress worrying about what others will get us and will our gifts be enough to match. I’ve already set the expectation and it’s up to others how they want to receive it and what they’d like to give/make in return.

    Plus, depending on what we make (greeting and special occasion cards this year), we can start as early as we want. There are tons of easy ideas online (especially Pinterest). I enjoy gift giving more now, than I did before.

  12. Kris says

    I find it very helpful to start early. We live in a cold climate, so every year my kids get a hat/mittens as part of their Christmas gifts–and I generally buy them on sale in January! If I see something on sale throughout the year that I know they will like (a t-shirt with my son’s favorite sports logo on it, for instance) I pick it up and stash it away. It not only helps with avoiding the last-minute rush, but your spending is spread throughout the year so you don’t feel the pinch in your wallet as much. But … you might want to write down what you’ve purchased … I’ve been known to forget items before …

    • says

      One way we avoid the pinch in the wallet at Christmas time is we set up a revolving savings account that includes expenses such as Christmas, Anniversary, Birthdays, Car registration, car insurance, and a few other yearly expenses and average it over 12 months. Then each time one of those expenses come up we just take the money out of the savings account. It really makes a huge difference ;).

  13. Battra92 says

    My wife has a much larger extended family than I do while I have a larger immediate family. She used to exchange gifts with her cousins but it’s now pretty much dropped off. If there were lots of nieces and nephews in the family, I’d probably opt for just mailing more Christmas cards. After all, cards are a nice thing and kids love receiving mail! Optionally you can go to the bank and get some nice crisp $2 bills to put inside.

    I really wish my family would opt for drawing names or something. Whenever the subject is breached I’m accused of being Scrooge or Jack Benny (Well!) Unfortunately I just don’t seem to understand why people who have more than they could ever need seem to want to exchange more and more items.

    This year I’ll definitely be following #4. While I have already purchased some items, I’m mostly going the experience gift route or the “what do they need” route.

  14. dorthey says

    In my family, We Buy just buy for my Kids (20 & 17 yrs) & my Daughter’s Fiance & for my Siblings Kids. & our family do a White Elephant gift for the Adults. but the kids are old enough to join in now too :) we pick a theme each year. Like the Ugliest thing u can find ( weather it’s something from home or a thrift store) or a $10- gift card or $10 lotto scratchers. But the Last few years we just been doing something from our Homes that is in Good Use & we just no longer use.
    We also buy my Dad, GMa & Gpa gifts. As our families Sadly have gotten smaller. ( I’m 46yrs today & when I was born I had 10 grandparents 8 hv passed on & my Mother :( as well ) . For my husbands Family we just do a White Elephant of Used Goods from our Homes & buy my Mother in law a gift.

  15. says

    I don’t think anyone has mentioned this yet, but if you do want to buy “things”, buy them used! This will already save a ton of money. When we get our boys a big joint gift, we always buy it used. They never know the difference!

    I also agree with others on family gifts, babysitting, and homemade food treats :)

    Also, to reduce the amount you’d be spending on wrapping paper, use comics or decorate butcher paper. At least those are way less expensive and can be recycled when done (just use an old string that can be reused instead of tape too).

    • Renee CA says

      One year when money was really tight, my husband built a rabbit hutch out of free wood and chicken wire and we gave our son a bag of rabbit food, a water bottle and $10 to purchase a bunny. He remembers that as one of the best Christmases ever. A neighbor had also given us a doll’s cradle and high chair which we saved for Christmas for our daughter. I didn’t even need to repaint it. Just washed it up well, and made a “mattress” and blanket for it. There were probably a few smaller gifts as well. Between that and Grandparents, there was plenty.

    • says

      I buy things used for gifts! I have to be careful to make sure they’re not obviously used, unless I know the receiver will be OK with that. I also make sure I let everyone know that I’m 100% OK with used or handmade gifts!

      • says

        I think it helps when receivers understand your philosophy on life and stuff etc…
        For example this year I have requested no physical items be purchased for me. My family like to give gifts so I couldn’t say don’t buy me anything, because they get enjoyment from it. I’ve therefore mentioned a charity membership, tickets for a music gig and and an itunes voucher.
        So when they get consumables and experiences from me they totally get it. It’s not because I’m being awkward, I’m being true to what I believe.

  16. says

    We don’t exchange that many gifts during christmas here in The Netherlands. The biggest exchange of gifts is usually during Sinterklaas on the fifth of December. Less is more I think. Too many gifts takes away the joy of such a wonderful tradition as christmas. It’s about spending time with your loved ones, isn’t it?

  17. Ruth says

    I love reading all the comments and ideas! In my family, I’m the only one married with kids, and since my three single brothers and I don’t exchange birthday gifts, I do enjoy shopping for something for them for Christmas. Usually it is tools they’d like or something for their house or kitchen. I’ve been thinking about somehow giving them frozen, homemade meals that they can eat at home, but not sure of the logistics of that. Anyone? And on my hubby’s side, he has only six relatives, including his parents, and it would feel weird not to buy for both of them, so we don’t draw names. Last year I made both sets of grandparents a photo book with photos of our kids since they live far away and don’t get to see all the kids’ milestones, and they seemed to like that. I like the idea of a membership someplace for my SIL and her kids. Where do tween boys like to go?

    • Renee CA says

      How about a coupon for dinner that can be redeemed on an agreed upon date after Christmas if they live in the same town. One year a friend gave us a jar that had all the ingredients for Chicken Tortilla Soup plus a can of chicken and a can of Rotel tomatoes. It was delicious and no refrigeration needed.

  18. Jennifer says

    Spend less time shopping by spending more time thinking about what you’d like to give. Every year I like to make a list of everyone I’d like to buy gifts for and what I’d like to buy (or make for) them. The earlier you do this the better, since you can pick some things up on normal shopping trips. This also gives you time to plan homemade gifts, as well. I’ve done homemade gifts for everyone in the past, but since I work full time, it’s hard to get it all done, so I just rotate homemade gifts and storebought. This also prevents some unsuspecting gift receiver from getting 3 scarves from me on consecutive christmases ;-). Having a list in hand at the store also helps prevent over-shopping. Being able to gifts off as the season continues also makes for a nice feeling of productivity.

    • Renee CA says

      Lists sure make a difference. Whenever I get overwhelmed with too much to do, I pull out a pencil and piece of paper. Really helps me to stay on track.

  19. says

    I like #4 as well. An off-shoot of that is to give “coupons” to immediate family members or siblings. The coupons would be redeemed for things like do your chores for 1 week, or wash you r car every Sunday for a month. Can be a fun way to spread out the gift and have it cost nothing. Great post.

  20. says

    I’m embarrassed to admit that I used to think I was doing something wrong because I only buy presents for my family and my (2) best friends.
    And I love experiential gifts! That’s my new suggestion to my husband for gifts. This year for my birthday he got me tickets to Wicked and I’m so excited! I’m sure I’ll remember seeing the show with him a lot longer than I’d be attached to a thing he gave me.

  21. says

    I like your caveat on point #4 because for my daughter’s 3rd birthday, my husband’s younger brother (who has never babysat a kid in his life) gave her an experience gift. He wanted to take her to the zoo by himself and I had to put the kabash on it because I just didn’t feel comfortable with it.

    So another point I would add would be if you want to do something like that as a gift, ask the parents FIRST. I was quite blind sided by the intention and felt bad saying no so now it’s kinda awkward.

  22. Melissa says

    Have you heard of free shipping day? There are a bunch of retailers out there that offer free shipping on a day on December 17 – and guarantee delivery by Christmas. It’s a great way to do online shopping without having to break the bank for shipping costs! The website that shows you participating companies is http://www.freeshippingday.com.

  23. Melissa says

    Have you heard of free shipping day? There are a bunch of retailers out there that offer free shipping on December 17 – and guarantee delivery by Christmas. It’s a great way to do online shopping without having to break the bank for shipping costs! The website that shows you participating companies is http://www.freeshippingday.com.

  24. says

    Shopping ahead of time is our way of reducing Christmas shopping time. And I mean WAY ahead. We basically shop all the way through the year. If we are in Costco and see something that would be perfect for Penny for Christmas we say “That would be perfect for Penny for Christmas.” and we buy it! It goes up into the attic with all the other Chrismas gifts that we started buying maybe as early as Feb! Perhaps when we were visiting family in England, or on vacation somewhere or just shopping in Home Depot or Lowes or Giant or wherever, as long as it is not perishable of course. Uncle Fred’s Southern Comfort is not perishable! Nor is Aunt Mauds wine. Another advantage of shopping like this, apart from saving time is that you can often save MONEY too!!! Wow, how great is that? And when Christmas does roll around, not only have you saved money, found the perfect thing for most everyone but you now don’t have to lay out thousands of dollars and hours pushing and shoving trying to find that perfect something – ’cause you already got it! Aren’t you smart?

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