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Why My Husband and I Don’t Exchange Christmas Gifts

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or the past few years, Terry and I haven’t bothered buying each other a Christmas gift.

(Actually, I tell a lie: there was that one year when he got me a gel polish kit and I got him a dressing gown. We must’ve been feeling prreeeeettty darn fancy that year, is all I can say…)

I know: what a couple of complete Scrooges, eh? I mean, part of the joy of Christmas is the giving of thoughtful gifts, which show just how much the recipient means to you, amiright?

Er, I guess this would be the wrong time to reveal that we don’t send Christmas cards, either? Thought so.

In our defence, we didn’t stop exchanging gifts because we don’t care about each other, and, despite what you might think, we’re not TOTAL scrooges, either. We do buy gifts for the rest of our respective families, for instance, and we will, of course, buy gifts for Max – in fact, they’re already in stock.

So, why don’t we do it for each other? Lots of reasons, really…

Christmas bauble on treeBecause we have way too much stuff, and not enough space to store it in.

We’re lucky, basically: we have a house that’s full to bursting point with STUFF. We just don’t need any more of it – and while there ARE things we’d both like (I mean, it’s not like we’re morally opposed to shopping or anything like that: um, far from it, actually…), we don’t buy those things for each other at Christmas either …

Because we’d probably get it wrong.

Honestly, we’re both super-fussy when it comes to shopping. For instance, I love clothes and makeup… but I’d much prefer to be able to pick them out for myself, knowing I’ll get exactly what I want (and in the right size/colour), than trust someone else – even the person who arguably knows me best – to do it for me. Terry, meanwhile, has pretty specific taste in the things he likes, too, and I wouldn’t even know where to start if I were to try shopping for him: which I know for sure, because I HAVE tried… and have normally gotten it wrong.

Of course, we could both just create wish lists, or simply TELL each other what we’d like, but not only does that kind of defeat the point of gift-giving (Like, if we each spend £X on buying something the other person has specifically told us to get, surely we may as well just each buy our OWN gifts, right?), it wouldn’t solve the next issue either, namely…

Christmas is expensive enough without allocating even more of our shared finances to it.

OK, so this one DOES sound pretty Scrooge-like, doesn’t it? The thing is, though, while we don’t resent spending money on gifts for other people, we DO have a lot of people to shop for, and it just doesn’t make sense to us to make the Christmas bill even higher by adding two more names to it, and  buying things just for the sake of it. And, anyway…

We’d much rather put that money towards a holiday, or something we need/want for the house.

We stopped exchanging gifts when we started taking a winter holiday every December: those trips meant much more to us than a Christmas gift would, so they were basically our gifts to each other. This year, we’ve re-started that tradition with a week in Tenerife before Christmas, which we both agree is a better use of our budget than buying each other more stuff we don’t need. And I’m really glad we both agree on that, because…

We find gift shopping stressful

I’m not sure “stressful” is the word Terry would use (He’s one of those super laid-back people who don’t really DO “stress”…), but it IS one I would use. I know some people get a lot of pleasure out of gift shopping, and will spent hours on end tracking down (Or making – which is another big NO from me: I’m the least “crafty” person alive, and would find MAKING a gift even MORE stressful than buying one…) just the right gift, but I’m afraid I’m not one of them.

Again, this isn’t because I don’t want my loved ones to have something they’ll love: it’s simply that I’m really, really bad at working out what that thing might be, so I end up getting really stressed about it, before finally panic-buying something I know is probably just going to lie in a drawer, or end up in the charity pile. Over the last few years, I’ve become really aware of the fact that that’s what I was doing, so while I still try my best to find things I know the people I shop for will like, honestly, the best gift Terry could possibly give me for Christmas is freedom from the obligation to buy yet another gift. Luckily, he feels the same, which makes the ‘no gifts’ rule a bit of a no-brainer for us, really.

Despite that, though, it’s still the source of a bit of controversy when people ask what we got each other, and get the answer, “Er, nothing: we don’t really DO Christmas gifts these days.” Most of the time we’ll get some kind of lecture about how we HAVE to buy each other SOMETHING, and, even at best, you can tell from the various responses that people think we’re a couple of miserable gits, basically. Just wait until I tell ’em we’re not even planning on putting up the Christmas tree this year (and didn’t even own one until a few years ago)!

Still, though, lately I’ve noticed a slight shift in attitudes towards gift-buying, with a few people I know saying they’re either dropping it altogether, other than for children, or are looking at ways to try to cut it down a little. So, I’m wondering: what do you do at this time of year? Do you buy gifts for everyone you know, or do you try to limit it in some way?

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28 Comments
  • Anita
    November 27, 2017

    We only buy gifts to a handful of people. Preferably I’d only gift the people I celebrate with, which is my partner and my parents, and preferably one person would only receive one gift, but we also gift a couple of other relatives. One family of relatives asked us a couple of years back to drop gifts altogether – their kids were already drowning in gifts to the point where they were overwhelmed. And, having taken on a minimalist mindset almost around the same time we were happy about the request.

    The gifts we do buy we do not want to be stuff that only end up as fillers to already full cupboards and basements so we opt for something we know is needed or we gift experiences or consumables. We have also made it clear to those that gift us that we do not want random objects we might not need. Luckily, we do not exchange gifts with too many people, so that kind of eliminates this problem all by itself. 🙂

    So no, my boyfriend and I do not buy gifts to each other either. We rather invest in stuff we need replaced around the house together through the year.

  • Elaine
    November 27, 2017

    A few years ago several members of our family, me included, decided not to send cards and to cut down on gifts and make a donation to the hospice instead. I got mixed reactions to this when I explained to people what I was doing. People either said it was miserable or it was a great idea! I still do this and have replaced cards with sending a text message. I do buy gifts for my children and a small handful of friends only. My husband and I usually drop hints to eachother for a small gift which will be something we need or will definitely use. If we’re invited to someone’s home we take a gift for everyone such as chocolates. We’ve never gone overboard with present buying anyway.

  • May
    November 27, 2017

    In my country we don’t have much of a gift giving culture. Christmas gifts only happen within the family and even birthday gifts from friends usually stop happening once you become a teen. My family has a non existant gift giving tradition, except for my cousins who are under ten. We just don’t do gifts in general. When we want/need something and we can justify paying for it we buy it and that’s it. Most of my friends have to wait until their birthday, Christmas, or any other gift giving holiday to ask their parents for something, so it might have to do with that. My mum sometimes buys us a little gift, like scarves or socks, as little gesture but no more than that. There was one Christmas where my sister and I bought my mum two books and then bought each of ourselves one, but I don’t remember any other bigger gifts in the last ten years. No one seems to be surprised or care about it so we’ve never gotten comments shaming us for not buying gifts.

  • Anita
    November 27, 2017

    My partner and I don’t buy ‘stuff’ for each other and never have. We do, however, get something we know the other person will enjoy more as an ‘experience’, which usually means tickets for a concert or comedy gig; and obviously we buy 2 tickets with the assumption we’ll go together (although there was a memorable occasion 2 years ago when we bought each other tickets TO THE SAME CONCERT so we ended up with 4 tickets between 2 of us… luckily my best friend and her husband came with us) so I suppose it’s a bit like your ‘holiday to each other’ thing.
    I also don’t buy ‘stuff’ for my dad because, exactly as you describe above, he has a lot of ‘stuff’ already and if he did really need anything, he’d buy it for himself so it’s easier for me to just leave him to it. We both, however, love Christmas carol concerts so for several years I’ve bought tickets for us to go to the concert at the Royal Albert Hall (and in fact as his birthday is on 22nd December I use this as an excuse to call it his Christmas and birthday presents all rolled into one!)
    For these reasons Christmas used to be super-unstressful for me as there were hardly any people I had to think of a present for (about 4 of my good friends and that was it). It’s become a little trickier in recent times as people have started having kids so I have little people to buy for – but at least now I get why people get stressed about Christmas shopping as I never understood it before!

  • Jenny
    November 27, 2017

    I’m totally with you on this. We were going to buy for each other this year but similarly to other recent years, I said we may as well save the money and each buy something we really want in the January sales instead. We are very lucky to get plenty of gifts anyway, so we definitely don’t need to buy each other gifts too. It ends up being buying things just for the sake of it. I think present bans are such a great idea. I suggested to my friend this year that we don’t buy for each other this Christmas and she was really relieved because things are very difficult for her financially at the moment. It can give so much relief! x

    Jenny | LuxeStyle

  • Porcelina
    November 27, 2017

    It can get expensive and stressy, can’t it? My husband and I do a charity shop challenge, which probably sounds equally scrooge-like, but it’s fun, cheap and ethical, and if we hate anything it gets redonated swiftly! I also made my family give up mass present buying years ago, so that’s now a one-present secret santa job. Much better. I am blown away by how much some people spend. X

  • Emerald
    November 27, 2017

    Oh, I agree! Putting the cost of a holiday is soooo much better. We’re off to Tenerife in late January so we’ll save for that instead of buying each other things we may not particularly want or need. There’s just too much stuff going into people’s houses and stuff = future clutter.

    Mind you, my birthday’s in early April – which comes around all too quickly! – so I have suggested that my partner can chip in for an art-related course that will benefit me career-wise. That would cover both a Christmas and birthday present and be something that I really appreciated.

  • Michelle
    November 27, 2017

    My husband and I don’t exchange presents either – not only for Christmas, but for birthdays/anniversary also. We do exchange cards/letters though! And we do other kind/romantic things for each other throughout the year – just because.

    Honestly we don’t give gifts to any adults. We buy gifts for children and for adults we will plan something like dinner out, or offer to babysit for their kids so they can go out.

  • Anna
    November 27, 2017

    My parents only did Christmas gifts for the kids. Didn’t bother any of the extended family.
    When I was about 8 my parents moved from a toy or game gift to an experience or event. My favourite gifts since have been tickets to see a play or musical at one of our nearby theatres. I had to many toys and I barely remember most of the physical gifts I have been given over 20 years. I do remember every time someone took the time to make special memories with me.

  • JHP
    November 27, 2017

    My husband and I also do not exchange gifts, ever. Not for birthdays or anniversaries or Christmas. Growing up my parents didn’t have a lot of money to spend on Christmas, each of us kids were given four presents (one from Mom, one from Dad, one from the siblings and one from Santa). Now my family usually plans some kind of get-together for a gift. One year we went out to a nice dinner. Another year we went as a family to the movies and even bought concessions (movies are so expensive these days). My husband’s family, however, is very big into gifts. They have a Christmas that lasts the whole day with presents for everyone (regardless of age) filling the entire living room. It takes hours and hours. I find it very stressful. Not only because it’s alot of money, but because we end up getting a lot of stuff that we don’t want/need/or ask for and it feels very wasteful. I usually donate 70% of what is brought home. My husband knows I stress about this, so the last couple of years I’ve planned visits to family or friends that make me travel on Christmas Day and miss his family’s Christmas marathon while he still attends-at least I get to avoid the bulk of the stress. Which is the best gift ever. 😉

  • Ophelia
    November 27, 2017

    I am with you on all the points. I actually had to leave the room one year, because all the STUFF being unpacked was just too overwhelming. Especially knowing these were things bought for the sake of unpacking, rather than actually being something the recipient wants or needs (e.g. bath-salts for the sister living in an apartment with no tub). My brain just could not stop automatically tallying up the cost. I know it’s a personal choice of the giver, but i do feel bad about people having spend so much on overpriced christmas sets that will disappear in the back of a closet.

    My boyfriend and I skip the gifts, our parents get Muffis/Cookies/Something sweet and a few friends , whose brand of humor we know, get the odd shirt/mug/something small and guaranteed to make them laugh.

  • Erin
    November 27, 2017

    We’re similar to you guys and I basically have listed out every point that you’ve made with regard to gifting to each other and even some other people – it’s honestly just too much and it’s pretty ridiculous. I think Christmas should be for minor children, and I don’t even have any of those if that tells you how I feel about it. I also think that should be minimal so the children don’t grow up to be spoiled jerks. If I see something that someone I love will love, I buy it for them no matter the time of year. Gifts on specific dates is extremely overrated.

  • What Lou Wore 365
    November 27, 2017

    We buy each other a few token bits and pieces but in the main, we tend to buy something we need instead. This weekend for example we ordered a new bed. I like what I call “nice things”; clothes, shoes, makeup, jewellery, candles, pottery, nail polish etc etc but am quite happy to buy those for myself and anything he needs for golf is purchased year round so finance are definitely better used for a “thing we need”!

  • Sharon
    November 27, 2017

    This year I’ve told my friends that I’m only doing family presents (the only exception is a friend’s four-year-old), and even those family presents have a limit of £20. I have a really small immediate family so there’s four gifts in total. All bought already, so much easier with less presents to get.

    I’ve asked my family for something off my Amazon wishlist and not to deviate from it, last year I ended up with cheese knives I’ve never opened and measuring cups I’ve never used; grams and mls people – cups are not a measurement!!!

  • Sarah
    November 27, 2017

    I love receiving Christmas gifts and i love buying them, wrapping them, giving them… but saying that, I just spent a whole weekend wrecking my brain what to buy for everyone (and ending up buying exactly 2 presents). As for buying something for my husband, that is always a tricky one. So a lot of times I tend to not buy him a thing, but tickets for a concert or an activity together… as i travel so much for work, basically giving him my time as a present seems to be the far better option. We have a trip to New York coming up soon, so might check what’s on that particular week 😉

  • Sarah Rooftops
    November 27, 2017

    We have compromised: Steve loves gifts and I don’t see the point so we have a very small price limit for each other. He pays for his parents’ gifts out of his own account; the grown ups in my family all agree that none of us need or want anything; and, otherwise, we only buy for the kids (even then, we have a £10 limit for our nephews and a £30 one for our own kids). If Christmas has a point to it, it’s not The Stuff, is it? It’s the relaxation and the time together – you can have all the fuzzy niceness of Christmas without expense or excess presents.

  • Jaynie
    November 27, 2017

    I really love the tactile elements of wrapping and unwrapping gifts way more than the gifts themselves — and I’d be sad to lose that nostalgic routine, even if I don’t expect much these year because 2/4 gift givers (my parents) bought my flight home as my gift. I really just want to wrap lots of boxes and stack then under the tree. Choosing my wrapping paper and accessories is limegitimately one of my favourite parts of the run-up.

    I like the idea of getting people indulgent consumables they’d like but never buy themselves — in fact that’s what everyone on my list is getting this year except my infant nephew. I have the advantage of living abroad from them so i can milk “foriegn snacks you’d love” for all its worth. My mum usually buys my brother and SIL experience type stuff, too. Both of those I think are probably better in our lives that are too full of stuff.

    Oh, and my parents finally quit buying for each other, after years of saying they wouldn’t but then one of them bought something really thoughtful so I’d have to subtly persuade the other to do the same – I put my foot down a few years ago lol. They buy something nice for themselves together instead.it just seems sensible?

  • Heather
    November 28, 2017

    I finally convinced one circle of my friends this year to just treat ourselves to a really nice dinner out instead of exchanging gifts. Everyone seemed really excited about it! I’m hoping it becomes a tradition.

  • Trudy
    November 28, 2017

    My family has never done Christmas presents, and we only got birthday presents until we were teenagers. However, they would often buy us random presents for no reason, if there was something we badly wanted, and they thought we deserved it. I guess this has stuck with me, as I tend to buy presents for people all through the year, if I see something I think somebody will like, rather than waiting for a set ‘time’ to give gifts.

    I do the the idea of giving experiences too! I took my mother on a trip to Australia once, it was a blast!

  • metoo
    December 1, 2017

    Instead of buying gifts for the grownups, each grownup in a family I know goes out and fills a backpack with school supplies for a needy child and puts that under the Christmas tree, to be donated .

  • Nancy
    December 26, 2017

    My husband and I agreed not to exchange gifts this year. When our kids have opened theirs and he has a weird attitude. Then made a comment that this is the first year he didn’t get any gifts. And said it must be mine too. We both agreed and I felt so much less stress trying to buy something that might not be just right. He is acting a bit like a child because I didn’t get him anything. I was just sticking to our agreement …

  • lauranne
    January 13, 2018

    This year S and I put a £20 limit on our gifts to each other, and although we both went over a little bit (me by abut £2.5o) I really enjoyed the extra challenge of finding gifts he would love without spending money. Also, not being completely broke come January was a fantastic bonus too. This is something I would definitely do more, a token gift at Christmas and then a date/holiday later in the year when we can afford it.

    For me Christmas has become to commercialised, it’s about time people said no and went back to focusing on what it should be about.

  • Lila Athanaselis
    December 5, 2018

    I dont like getting presents but don’t mind giving them. I prefer to buy what I want throughout the year, nice things.
    My husband does like being given Christmas presents on the other hand, he doesn’t insist on it, but I know he loves opening his usual predictable gifts and he doesn’t buy things throughout the year so is easy to spoil.
    My problem is buying for friends, that’s what stresses me, though it has become easier with my best friend, as we just give each other a box of biscuits or a tin of chocolates.
    I always get things I can’t use, I can’t use most toiletries and am very fussy about food items, so nearly every gift I receive, even though friends know I can’t use a lot of things, will go for recycling 😕 I think they just feel sorry for me and assume one day I will use it anyway 😂

  • Kat
    December 5, 2018

    This is the first year I have worked full-time and actually make enough money to buy friends and family gifts. Until this year, I had to start saving for gifts in July so I could get loved ones something meaningful, make all my bills on time and not go into debt. I thought this year would be the first year I didn’t want to cry when thinking about the holidays. And I’m really, really excited that I finally get to spoil my husband, sister and parents. Only now that we are both working full-time, people expect a lot more, which is really turning me off the concept of gift-giving even more. I’m a librarian – I’m lucky I have my dream job, but I’m never going to make a ton and I have to be very careful because of student loans and other necessities – and yes, because every once in awhile I want to spoil myself too. I think my husband and I will probably adopt your concept for each other next year just to take some of that stress off.

  • Myra
    December 5, 2018

    I give gifts to those we spend Christmas with. I used to do extended family gifts but stopped this a long time ago. We have had financial diffultirs in recent years, so even the children have missed out, but they are growing up.
    I don’t spend a fraction of what I used to, and recognise that gifts are not always wanted.

  • Gerlinde
    December 5, 2018

    We did not exchange gifts for ten years, but we also rarely buy something for ourselves. Actually this year I deceided to give my husband a present (a bracelet with an anchor for the old sailor he is), and he will give me something; probably lace up stockings since men are often easy to predict 😉 He buys them from my friend local cute boutique. But it is about 15 euro’s and just a sweet thing to do.
    To my four children I give experiences, the said without me asking that they would love that for next christmas again. I do not see most of the point of adult gift giving. We already have everything and have our own preferences. Why not save ourselves a lot of trouble and just have a nice little party instead.

  • Selina
    December 6, 2018

    This is the best method in my opinion. My friends and I have stopped buying each other birthday presents as well. I’d rather go on holiday with someone than exchange presents

  • Catherine
    December 10, 2018

    I find giving the gift of a ticket to an event is more effective now that everyone has so much stuff.

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