This may sound crazy, but the holiday season doesn’t have to be a time where you spend a lot of money.

It’s true!

In our book Living With Less So Your Family Has More, Mark and I share how even though our world often tells us the message that “bigger is better,” we’ve chosen to believe that “less is really more.” And we’ve realized by shifting our focus as a family, we’ve been able to live the “more” we’ve truly been searching for all along.

As we continue into the holiday season, I want to remind you that you don’t have to be tethered to what culture says you should do. Those are decisions and traditions you get to form and define.

You see, part of what makes a house a home is the way the family celebrates together. These celebrations often form traditions. And the traditions are an anchor to our sense of family identity. Because our culture often equates celebrations with spending money, we have to be willing to think differently.

So what does it mean to think differently about the holidays? Here are 4 steps to get started, along with some suggestions for rethinking gift giving:

Step 1: Prepare

So often we make assumptions about how our holidays need to be spent based on assumed traditions or even the expectations of others. Intentional conversation ahead of time between spouses and as a whole family can go a long way.

Ask, “What do we want to accomplish with our holiday time together?” Holidays can be vacation time and it can simply be an opportunity to get together with friends or extended family. Remember, though, that only you know what is best for your family. Don’t let extended family expectations (i.e. adult peer pressure) pressure you into a cross-country road trip you can’t afford or a weekend with family members you’d rather not spend a lot of time with.

You and your spouse must determine how your family will spend the holidays. And planning ahead is the key to making and communicating those decisions before you’re too far into the holiday season.

Another part of Christmas that deserves a plan is what to do with gift giving.

  • What is your budget for each child?
  • How are you going to handle gift exchanges with extended family?
  • What parameters do you need to set financially so you will stay on budget and focus on the time with family more than the gift giving?

A decision made in advance can help you stick to your guns when the Christmas music and holiday decorations tempt you to forgo your well-thought-through plans.

Step 2: Listen

When it comes to being emotionally refueled, every one of us is different. In our marriage, Mark is an extrovert who is refueled by being with people. I, on the other hand, am an introvert, which means I’m refueled by being alone. So what are two opposites supposed to do for the holidays?

Well, just like every other area in which we’re different, we have to learn to compromise.

As holidays are approaching, it’s important to ask each other questions like:

  • What would you like the Christmas season to look like?
  • How do you want time with extended family to look?
  • Is there any way you’d like to transform gift giving for our family?

The most important thing is that you use this time to have a safe conversation. Really listen to each other before responding, so this remains a unified conversation rather than a debate.

Step 3: Adjust

Often, when we intentionally choose to live differently, especially around the holidays, we have to adjust our expectations and dreams we may have once had. But it’s important to remember that we are exchanging those things for more time with family, more patience, more margin, and a whole lot less stress.

There may be less travel than you’re used to. There may be less gifts than you’re used to. But it’s all for a purpose.

We need to adjust our expectations so we’re excited about what can happen rather than disappointed about what can’t. When your Christmas gift to your sister is a framed picture of the two of you at a family gathering rather than the tennis bracelet she had on her list, you’ll find a sense of pride and accomplishment in giving her something so personal and unique.

We are only limited by our attitude and creativity. Let it flow!

Step 4: Navigate

Too often we allow ourselves to get sucked into the “consumer” mindset of the holidays. The most important strategy for navigating the holidays is to remember Who and what we’re actually celebrating. When we redefine priorities, spending time with people becomes much more important than spending money on people.

There are many families who successfully celebrate Christmas in a simple, yet meaningful way.

One family we know gives each child three gifts under the tree, representing the three wise men who brought a gift when Jesus was born.

Another family has a birthday party for Jesus, complete with cake and ice cream.

Our family has read the Christmas story aloud from the Bible on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. We have also often participated in Operation Christmas Child to make Christmas more about giving than receiving.

4 Practical Suggestions for Less-is-More Gift Giving

Changing how we give can be challenging. When thinking about redefining gift giving, here are some suggestions that have worked from other less-is-more families:

1) Set a budget based upon how much you have put into a Christmas account during the year. Predetermine how much money you’ll spend on each family member. Put cash in envelopes with the person’s name on it.

2) In future years, begin thinking about Christmas gifts as early as July. This gives you enough time to watch for sales and make as many gifts are possible with the same budget. You can also celebrate with extended family the week after Christmas and take advantage of post-Christmas sales.

3) Make your own gifts (a tree ornament, homemade bread, a tin of cookies, a box of fudge, stamped note cards, etc.) If you have a hobby like photography, poetry, woodworking, or painting, make personalized gifts for friends and family. A couple Christmases ago, our youngest son took things that he’d seen a couple family members declare on social media and he turned them into a graphically-designed framed gift of “guiding values.” Each member shed tears when they opened that gift. All it cost him was paying attention to details and some time to pull it together.

4) Give words of encouragement. Write a thoughtful card to someone. Or write and frame a tribute to a family member or close friend. Your words can go such a long way.

The Christmas season is a special time for relationships. Seeing family more consistently and getting to reflect on the beautiful gift of Christ coming to Earth is incredibly meaningful. As you are navigating this season, don’t be afraid to structure your celebrations to more intentionally focus on what matters most.

What about you? How do you hope to live in a less-is-more way this holiday season?

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