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Gift Giving Etiquette: How to Say No to Gift Giving This Year

Holiday gift-giving etiquette seems set-in-stone, but with some thoughtful planning, you can learn how to stop a gift exchange with friends or how to tell someone not to buy you a gift.

October 27, 2021

The holidays are just around the corner. While this time of year brings plenty of cheer, the seasonal celebrations can also lead to debt down the line. 

In 2020, the average American spent $650 on holiday gifts and an additional $230 on non-gift seasonal items. With global product shortages and an ongoing pandemic, holiday shopping in 2021 is likely more stressful than ever. 

If you’re trying to tackle debt or just be mindful of spending, you may be wondering if you can opt-out of gift-giving this year — and how to tell someone not to buy you a gift without offending them. 

This gift-giving etiquette article will discuss:

  • How to tell someone not to buy you a gift 

  • How to stop gift exchange with friends

  • How to tell your family not to buy Christmas gifts 

  • Ways to create new holiday traditions

Make a plan — and tell everyone

It’s important to make it clear to family and friends what your intentions are for the holidays. Decide how you want to approach gift-giving this holiday season, then tell your friends and family — anyone you'd normally exchange gifts with — about your plans. The last thing you want is for others to give you elaborate gifts while you have nothing in return for them. 

If you’re expected to participate in work or social gift exchanges, you’ll need to notify the organizers that you’ll be opting out.

If you’re opting out of gift-giving, it’s helpful to explain why you are choosing to do so. It could be that you’re:

  • Exploring minimalism, and don’t want to collect any more possessions

  • Focusing on experiences over possessions

  • Committed to saving money and improving your finances 

Whatever the reason, your family and friends should understand — but they’ll appreciate an explanation for why you are making this decision. 

Finally, understand that gift-giving is an important part of the holiday tradition for many people. Approach these conversations tactfully, and don’t try to impose your expectations on others. You may choose not to give gifts to anyone this year, but you can’t stop others from giving you gifts if they want to.

For example, you can choose to opt out of a gift exchange; but don’t expect everyone in your family to do the same. 

Consider gift alternatives

If you’re wondering how to stop a gift exchange with friends or how to tell family not to buy Christmas gifts, it’s helpful to have an alternative to offer up. 

Instead of saying, “let’s not exchange gifts this year,” come prepared with some fun alternatives such as:

  • Donations. Everyone picks a charity, donates, then explains where they donated to and why. The idea is to help cultivate a sense of gratitude and use the money you would usually spend on gifts to improve the lives of others. 

  • Shared experiences. Everyone chips in for a shared experience together. It could be a fancy meal, a weekend trip or a group activity like an escape room. The point is to spend meaningful time together.

  • Small gifts. Everyone exchanges cheap, meaningful gifts with each other. You can discuss the guidelines with your family, but you could set a dollar amount (under $10, for example) or opt to stick to homemade gifts. You’ll still exchange presents but focus on small, meaningful gifts that don’t cost a lot of money. 

  • Gift exchange/secret Santa. Instead of buying everyone gifts, everyone is randomly given one person in the family or friend group to find a gift for. This way, you’ll focus energy on a single present, making for a more meaningful gift exchanging experience (and saving everyone a lot of money).

  • Thoughtful regifting. Everyone exchanges gifts, but the idea is to regift existing possessions. This alternative challenges participants to recognize possessions that someone else may enjoy and participate in the gift-giving experience without spending money. 

Create new traditions

Opting out of gift-giving may seem like you’re abandoning an old tradition. Holidays are very nostalgic for many families, and traditions hold a special place in our hearts. 

Because of this, it’s helpful to create new holiday traditions if your family or friend circle chooses to stop giving gifts. 

You can choose any new tradition, but the important thing is to be intentional with making it a tradition that you’ll continue each year moving forward. 

Some examples of fun new holiday traditions could be:

  • Host a potluck dinner

  • Sponsor a family in need

  • Volunteer

  • Cook a feast 

  • Bake and decorate cookies 

  • Watch classic holiday films 

Ultimately, the purpose of this practice is to shift the focus from giving up on gift-giving towards building this fun new tradition. If your family is struggling to change your holiday traditions, framing the conversation in this way can help avoid the feeling like you’ll be missing out on something. 

Final thoughts

Gift-giving is an important part of the holidays for many. Implementing the tips described above can smooth the transition into fun holiday traditions without excessive gifting.

And remember: It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. If your circle is hesitant to give up gifting, consider simply giving fewer gifts — perhaps one per person.

Ultimately, reconsidering the holiday gift-giving traditions can help you realign the holiday season with the values that mean most to you. 

Opting out of gift-giving can certainly help improve your finances, as well. A 2021 study by American Express found that 86% of millennials overspent on holiday gifts last year — and many of those purchases were funded by credit cards. 

If paying off credit card debt is on your year-end to-do list, you should check out Tally. Tally is a debt payoff app that helps Americans manage and pay off their credit card debt. 

To get the benefits of a Tally line of credit, you must qualify for and accept a Tally line of credit. Based on your credit history, the APR (which is the same as your interest rate) will be between 7.90% - 29.99% per year. The APR will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Annual fees range from $0 - $300.