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How to Avoid Holiday Debt and Stress: Give the Gift of Not Giving

The holidays can be a joyous time of year for many people. But trying to find and afford the perfect gift for everyone on your list can take a lot of fun out of the season. The financial stress of gift-giving can be draining, especially this year, when many are already struggling thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

In the past, perhaps you pushed through and found a way to buy presents for your extended family and friends. However, this holiday season, you might want to consider whether gift-giving to your adult loved ones makes sense. Maybe it's time for you to give a new type of present—the gift of not giving.

Benefits of a Gift-Free Holiday Season

In 2019, the average American expected to spend close to $850 on holiday gifts, according to a survey by Gallup. Unfortunately, if you overdo it and spend more than you can afford, you might end up facing a holiday credit hangover come January.

Below are several potential benefits you might enjoy if you decide to lower your gift-giving expenses this year.

  • Avoid overspending. Unless you saved back cash ahead of time, extra holiday spending could put a strain on your budget. However, when you opt out of gift giving, you can avoid holiday overspending and its potential negative side effects like late payments, increased debt, and financial shortages.
  • Protect your credit scores. Many people rely on credit cards to finance their holiday purchases. But using credit cards for purchases that you can't afford to pay off right away could increase your credit utilization ratio. Higher revolving credit utilization (aka the percentage of your available credit limits in use) might have a negative impact on your FICO® Scores. By avoiding extra holiday credit card debt, you could protect your scores from this potential damage.
  • Reduce financial stress for your loved ones. If you're feeling pressure to fit extra gift purchases into your budget, your family members and friends might feel the same way. By suggesting gift-free holidays, you might make the season a lot more enjoyable for everyone.

Other Ways to Give

Of course, the idea of a no-gift holiday might feel a bit disappointing for some, depending on your normal traditions. Yet there are other ways to show people that you care about them during the holidays without spending a lot of money.

For example, instead of individual gifts, you could consider a Secret Santa exchange with your family or friend's group to help keep costs down for everyone. Setting a price limit on the gift each person buys can make this option even more affordable. Other families may decide to purchase presents only for the children, who still truly get joy from receiving gifts.

Another idea your loved ones might consider is coming together to adopt a family in need. Giving to others in less fortunate situations can be a great alternative to spending money on gift cards or presents that you and your loved ones won't really miss anyway.

Removing the obligation to buy presents for the other adults in your life could be the perfect recipe for skipping holiday debt and anxiety this year. And remember, a gift-free holiday might just make the holidays brighter for the people you love as well.

Michelle Black

Michelle Black, Founder of is a leading credit expert, financial writer, and speaker with nearly two decades of experience. Her work has been featured with major outlets such as Forbes, Reader's Digest, and U.S. News and World Report.