Simple Gifts

Purchasing Christmas gifts can be one of the most intimidating responsibilities of the Christmas season.  I love to give gifts, but I think shopping is as enjoyable as cleaning the oven.  Fortunately my love of giving gifts outweighs my strong dislike of shopping!  Here are some of the tips I use to simplify my Christmas gift list. Keep a list.

I haven’t fully embraced the digital age (or the prices of the electronics!) so I still use the notebook planner system.  When I am able to write down important dates and events, I don’t have to keep them in my brain and I can stay more organized.  In the back of the planner, I keep one section devoted to a yearly Christmas list.  When someone mentions that they need or would really like to have a specific item, I write it down in my “Christmas List” section.  When I go to my mother-in-law’s house and she says her cookie sheet needs to be replaced, I write it down.  When I am inspired with a gift idea for a daughter, I write it down.  When Christmas arrives, I have a head start on my shopping list.

Set a limit.

I remember the first time I heard about families who gave their children only three Christmas presents.  I never imagined I’d be one.  After all I love to give gifts, especially to my children, but one Christmas convinced me that my generosity wasn’t always best for my children.  The Christmas our oldest was four, she opened one present after another and loudly demanded, “What’s next?!”  We had sacrificed so she could have a remarkable Christmas and it seemed that she was less than grateful.  The next year we instituted The Three-Present Tradition—technically they receive four since there is something small in their stocking.  Though the number of presents has decreased, my girls are very grateful for what they receive.  The expectations are clear and no one is disappointed.  It also causes me to evaluate my purchases more carefully.  Recently the girls were talking about Christmas traditions and said they would like to continue The Three-Present Tradition with their families--if it was ok with their husbands.

Make a budget.

Before you go shopping, determine how much you plan to spend on Christmas presents.  No matter how many presents you buy for your children or other family members, it’s easy to go “hog wild.”  You see something that you know your family member would love and then you look at the price tag.  Well, it’s more than you wanted to spend but you rationalize that the recipient just has to have it.  Soon your Christmas budget has been thrown out the window and you’re paying for Christmas until March!

Know the rules.

If you exchange presents with your extended family, find out what the exchange looks like—individual gifts for everyone, individual gifts for children, or family gifts.  It is a little awkward, but you may also want to discuss a budget limit so that everyone is on the same page.  Again, communicated expectations make for fewer disappointments.

Shop all year.

Since I don’t like to shop and rarely find myself at a retail establishment that doesn’t sell canned food, I shop for Christmas all year long.  If I happen to be in a store in February, I look for winter clothes sales.  During the summer, I found a great deal on Christmas plates to hold my homemade goodies.  Consider seasonal sales, going-out-of-business sales, or home parties as great opportunities to do some early Christmas shopping.  When we’re on vacation, I keep my eyes open for unique gifts.  Gift shops are sometimes expensive, but may have the perfect gift.  On our vacation this year, we spent a day at Springs Folk Festival where we found handmade items from wood, leather, textiles, pewter and other metals.  I picked up several pewter Christmas ornaments that were significantly less than Hallmark prices.  Several years ago, I purchased cloisonné jewelry during a missions trip to China.  Shopping year ‘round can save money and ease the December budget by spreading expenses over several months.

Be creative.

Handmade gifts are unique and personal.  It just doesn’t seem like Christmas to me if I’m not making some of my gifts.  In last year’s December newsletter I wrote an article entitled, "Gifts from the Heart," a collection of handmade gifts that I’ve made over the years for family and friends.  You may also find ideas for handmade gifts at


One way to simplify is to give family gifts.  Two families have been the inspiration for simplifying some of our gift giving.  Each year the Bowen family gives us homemade cinnamon twists, one for each member of our family and the Shedd family, originally from Ohio, makes homemade buck-eye (chocolate and peanut butter) candies, one for each member of our family.  Each family has gifted us these same treats for nearly ten years and yet we still anticipate these treasures.  Recently, we started our own tradition of giving homemade peppermint bark to families.

Another way to simplify is to buy in bulk.  When I find something that I really like, I sometimes buy a bunch!  When giving gifts to everyone in a group, like a Bible study or a group of Sunday School volunteers, it works well to give the same gift to everyone.  This year I found a great sale on a leather-bound devotional book, so my husband will be giving it to all of the men he is mentoring.  Last Christmas, I made a dozen pair of star earrings for my friends.  Giving the same gift saves planning time and shopping time.

Prepare to wrap.

I love to give gifts that look beautiful but I hate to wrap and I’m opposed to using gift bags for everything.  One way to make things easier is to be organized and prepared.  Before Thanksgiving, I purchase boxes, tissue paper, wrapping paper and matching wired ribbon from a $1 retailer.  Sometimes I buy the sticker gift tags and other times I use decorative scissors to cut gift tags out of cardstock.  At home, I have a large plastic tub to store boxes, gift bags, tissue paper, and gift tags—the front for year-round and the back for Christmas.  I keep an extra pair of scissors and scotch tape with the wrapping supplies so that everything is easily accessible.  When I have to wrap, everything is in one place.

May your Christmas shopping and wrapping be full of peace and joy!