How to get or opt out of Christmas Gift Exchanges (without looking like a Scrooge!)

A few years ago, my husband was laid off from his job and we told our family that we wanted to opt out of gift exchanges. And we did. Given our financial circumstances it was gladly accepted.

And it was great! Less stress and LESS MONEY spent, but we still enjoyed time with our family and all still exchanged small little gifts, even though no one “had” to.

But now, a few years removed, with my husband once again employed, the gift exchanges have resumed.

So now, how do we tell our family we want out again without a good excuse? Here’s how to get started:GREAT advice on how to opt out of gift exchanges at work, with friends or family! Reduce STRESS this Christmas- getting out of extra gift exchanges! #Opt #Out #Christmas #Gift #Exchange #Ideas #Family #Friends #Office #Co-Workers

1) Work out the WHY. Possible reasons to opt out include:

a) Financial: Job loss, cut hours or lay-offs are all options. For us, we are working on paying off debt, and would like to funnel as much of our resources towards that as possible. You may not want to divulge this to your family, but the following options will likely resonate with you as well.

b) Combating Consumerism: Tired of trying to buy and give happiness? Most people can relate to this at some level. Have your family gift exchanges turned into this? — I tell you what to buy me and you tell me what to buy you, wrap, exchange, unwrap…I could have just bought the thing I wanted, in the color I actually wanted and skipped a bunch of steps in between.

c) Remembering the REAL reason for the season: Gifts are an important part of most Christmas traditions regardless of your specific denomination, and that is OK! Gifts aren’t bad, but the stress they cause and the need for MORE can become problematic. Whether you’re trying to teach your kids or want to be reminded yourselves, finding ways to focus on the true reason for the season can be rewarding.

d) Helping a family in need: Maybe you have friends or family who are adopting, have suffered a serious illness or have lost a job themselves. Donating money that would have otherwise been reserved for gifts can be a noble alternative.


“Thanks for inviting me to exchange gifts, however, my husband and I decided that we’re only exchanging gifts with immediate family this year.”

“I’ve always enjoyed exchanging gifts with you all, the {insert past gift here} you gave me last year has been great, I use it all the time. But I was thinking, how about this year we all just go out to lunch together instead of exchanging gifts. After all, time with you is the best gift of all!”

“We were wondering if we could start a new tradition this year? Instead of doing a traditional gift exchange, could we do {insert alternative here), we think it would be a lot of fun!”

2) Decide ahead of time what Gift Exchange exceptions you will make:

While I personally wouldn’t have a problem cutting out every single gift exchange, it is important to remember that gift giving is important to many people. It would not be fair to ask my mom to not by our children gifts. She is a nana, and it is her right :) It is ok, though, to help guide gift givers. We ask that they give our girls activities to do and for our little guy, we ask for practical things that we need for him. They won’t always adhere 100%, but again, that’s ok!

We’ve also decided that while we want to opt out of sibling gift exchanges, we still want to buy gifts for our parents. For us, it is a way of honoring them and thanking them for all that they have done for us. It’s ok to make exceptions to the rules :)

3) Offer Gift Exchange alternatives:

Before presenting this to your friends, family and co-workers, it is wise to have a few viable alternatives. They could include:

a) Spending time together: Go to a movie, play games, watch old home movies and flip through photo albums, build gingerbread houses together, bake something that reminds you of childhood.

b) Gifts just for kids: For me, watching my kids open gifts on Christmas is enough of a present for me, most families don’t mind skipping adult gifts as long as they can still experience it through children’s eyes.
You can also ask that friends and family gift your kids with an “experience” (like a trip to the movies or zoo)…this is best if they wrap a small token (theater box of candy or small stuffed animal) with a note or certificate stating what the experience will be.

c) Homemade Christmas: With Pinterest, there is no excuse not to find the perfect DIY gift for anyone!

d) Start a new tradition: decorate ornaments together, dress up and take pictures, scrapbook, make a meal to deliver to another family or person who is alone on the Holiday.

Or decide on an alternative gift exchange:

e) Favorite things exchange: Set a price limit and each participant brings one of their favorite things. Ideas include coffee, cosmetics, sweet treats, scarves, socks and anything else you couldn’t imagine living without!

f) Exchange services: Each participant makes a certificate for a service they can offer. Ideas include: babysitting, mechanical work, sewing, computer services, home organization, cooking, baking, haircuts, handyman jobs or painting…everyone has something they are good at!

g) Book exchange: Everyone brings a favorite book to exchange (you decide if you get them back, continue to rotate them, or just keep the new one you received).

h) Cookie exchange: This can be a great alternative to traditional office exchanges.

i) Meal exchange: Another great exchange to do at work. Everyone is short on time during the holidays. Each person makes two of the same meal for the exchange (to cut down on prep time) and then you get to bring two different meals home. Make sure to clarify food allergies ahead of time.

j) Re-gift exchange: The rule for this is that you can’t buy anything, but rather find something at home to re-gift…great way to get rid of nice things that you just don’t use.

k) White Elephant or $1 limit: Everyone is familiar with this one!

l) Game exchange: Each family brings their favorite game, exchange and then play!

m) Gift card exchange: Set a limit and bring a gift card to one of your favorite places. You can also set a theme, like restaurants, if you have an especially diverse group.

4) Remember, that despite how your friends and family respond…

…you do have the right to make this decision; it isn’t wrong or selfish and you aren’t a scrooge!

You’ll probably need to expect some push back from at least a few people, but that’s ok, they can have to their opinion, too. Some people show love through gifts (like my sister Diana), so going cold turkey might really disappoint them and detract from their experience. Suggesting one of the alternatives above might be a better option.

And at the end of the day, remember, we’ll never make everyone happy, but it is important to do what is best for our family.

Have you opted out of gift exchanges before? How did it go? Did you do something else instead? Please share below!

>>If you have another minute, you don’t want to miss our most popular post right now: What Teachers REALLY want for Christmas (written by a teacher!)