Getting Rid of Gift Guilt During the Holidays

Reducing Gift Guilt During the Holidays

You may love gift giving and plan all year to check your list and check it twice to make sure you have something nice for everyone.  You might even have your Christmas gifts purchased and wrapped before Thanksgiving and know nothing about gift guilt!

Or, you may dread the holidays because it represents a list of people that you feel obligated to purchase gifts for that really don’t represent the ones you love.  You may be ready to just say no Christmas presents this year.

Gift guilt can be an overwhelming and frustrating emotion that drives you to spend money on things just to check off a name on a list rather than bringing joy to you or them.  You are probably looking for any quick solution to reduce your gift guilt this holiday!

Reducing Gift Guilt During the Holidays

You may be wondering what you can do instead of gifts for Christmas.  Or how do you ask for no gifts at Christmas?  Should you even give gifts at Christmas?   Perhaps you’d like to ask for or give experience gifts.  What does that even mean?

This article will give you some simple steps to take to help you reduce the pressure of buying gifts for Christmas this year and help you enjoy the holidays without feeling obligated or overwhelmed trying to satisfy gift-giving expectations.  You will find some alternatives to buying gifts for the holidays and some ideas for new family traditions instead of exchanging Christmas gifts.

Reducing Gift Guilt During the HolidaysThis post contains some affiliate links for your convenience (which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link I may earn a small commission but it won’t cost you a penny more)! 

Why do you have gift guilt?

Gift guilt can be something you feel when you feel the need to get a gift for someone else, or it can be an emotion you struggle with when someone else gives you a gift and you don’t how to receive it or accept it graciously.

There are several situations that can create a sense of gift guilt when you feel obligated or required to get or give a gift to someone else.  Here are some times when you may have felt guilted into giving a gift.

You think a gift is expected…

You may have a friend or family member who gives you a large gift each year and you begin to feel like you have to reciprocate.

Perhaps the gifts that you’ve received aren’t even something you wanted or liked, but you know they were expensive so you feel like you have to find something big and expensive to give them.

It’s a holiday tradition…

Perhaps you have exchanged gifts for your entire life and it’s just what you do.  It’s a family tradition and even though you may not really need or want the things you receive and just try to cross off the names of all of your relatives, you wish there was a simpler way.

You owe a gift to someone…

Aunt Betty might have given you something really big this year and you may feel like you have to give her something back even though you’ve never given her a gift before.  Add Aunt Betty to your list of obligations.

Office party gift obligations…

You’ve been invited to the annual office party and you need a gift for someone for the exchange.  You may or may not know anything about the person you are supposed to get a gift for but it’s a required party to attend.

Classroom Christmas party gifts…

Your child just came home with a note about the classroom gift exchange and you need to find something for $10 or less (but usually more) for a boy, for tomorrow.  Oh, and you need a teacher gift as well.

Gift-giving expectations

The holidays should be the most joyful time of the year.  Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus and the amazing gift God gave to us. This was a gift that was given out of abundance and love.  God so loved us that He gave His most valued and treasured son to us.

Giving gifts during the holidays or any time of the year can be a huge blessing for the giver and the receiver.  But if it becomes a wearisome burden, then gift-giving is no longer a blessing to the giver.

When you begin thinking about the people you want to bless at Christmas time, you need to start by making a list of those you want to bless.  Include all the names of your family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and anyone else who might be on your list to bless.

As you make your list, think about the reason each person is on your list.  When you write their name, does it create joy and happiness when you think of Christmases past and the time you’ve spent together or the traditions you’ve shared with them?

Or, does their name bring up hurt feelings and difficult conversations?  Are there things you wished were different but you don’t know how to change them because relationships take two people working together and not just one trying to make something change.

Are there people on your list because you want them to notice you or you want others to notice your extravagant gift?  What is your motive for giving to each person on your list?

Perhaps you’d like to do something instead of exchanging Christmas gifts this year.  Maybe you are looking for a way to not buy gifts for Christmas.

Step 1 – Pare down your gift-giving list

Giving gifts to get noticed

Look through your list and cross off any names that are there because you want to be noticed.  Most likely, no matter what type of extravagant or thoughtful gift you give hoping to get noticed will not end in your desired results.

If a gift might make someone notice you, that is probably not even worth your time, energy, or money.

Giving gifts because of traditions

If you are feeling stressed about getting a gift for someone because it’s tradition or simply because you are related, you need to put a star by those names.

Is there really a good reason that you need to spend time and money to try to find something to put in a bag with a tag on it for someone you don’t have a good relationship with?

Yes, it might feel easier than no Christmas presents for that person or family, but there are lots of people in life who aren’t on your gift list.  We’ll come back to these names in a bit.

Obligated gift-giving at the office

Office gift exchanges can add up really quickly.  If you work in a large office, there may be expectations that you bring goodies or treats or a small gift for everyone in the office.  Even at $5 each, this can add up very quickly.

And besides, are you really friends with everyone in the office?  Do the bosses really want or appreciate your $5 gifts or are you more likely to spend way more than $5 on each gift just so that your gifts don’t look cheap next to the others?  Consider not buying gifts for Christmas for your co-workers and colleagues.

Your co-workers are probably also weighed down by the obligation of finding something for you as well.  Maybe this is the year to suggest starting a new Christmas tradition instead of gifts.

Reducing Gift Guilt During the Holidays

Step 2 – Determine your gift spending limit.

One of the consequences of gift guilt is often overspending and debt.  If you feel like you have to purchase something for someone in spite of your desire to do so, you are likely spending money on that gift that you may resent having to spend or may not even have it to spend in the first place.  This racks up credit card bills for things that didn’t bring joy to you and may not have even been noticed or appreciated by the recipient.

Look at your budget and your list of people on your gift list.  How much can you afford to spend on gifts?  Make a list of the gifts you may have stashed away during the year or the items you are making for gifts that you won’t have to buy.

Write these things down on your list next to the names of the recipients.  Now take your budgeted amount and divide it by the number of people remaining.  This will be your individual person gift budget.

Remember, you have worked hard to earn your money.  Your money is yours.  You are not obligated to give it away as dollar bills or gifts.  Gift-giving should be a joy and not a burden.

Step 3 – What can you do instead of purchased gifts for Christmas?

Handmade Gifts

Do you have a craft ability or talent that you could use to create some gifts this year?  Do you have some amazing family recipes that your family would really appreciate receiving?  Did you make jam, jelly, relish, or fruit butter?

How about home-cooked meals or baked goodies?  Could you give a coupon for a home-cooked meal or a loaf of bread each week for a month or a year?  Even a plate of delicious homemade cinnamon rolls on a pretty platter from Goodwill or a yard sale, wrapped with a festive bow can be a beautiful and thoughtful gift.

Perhaps you know how to sew, knit, or crochet.  Put your time and love into making something useful for your people.


Yes, this is a thing!  I’m sure you’ve received a lovely gift that just wasn’t your style, a duplicate, or the wrong color, etc.

Those are great items to put away in your gift closet to re-gift to someone else.  Just be sure to keep track of who the items came from so you don’t re-gift them back to the original giver!  This can be very embarrassing and awkward!

Re-gifting can also include things that you have had and are now ready to pass along to a new home.  These are your like-new items that you’ve used once or twice but no longer want or use.

You may have a huge stash of craft supplies that you no longer want or need.  Perhaps you could put them into a craft kit for one of the younger members on your gift list.

Gifts of Time

The saying bears truth “time is money”, but sometimes you can save money by giving time.  There may be seasons in your life when you have more of one than the other.  Providing babysitting for your sister-in-law for a date night might be worth far more to you and her than an expensive candle.  Taking your nieces and nephews on a picnic might be much more memorable than another set of toys.

Think about the things that you could do with the people on your gift list.  Are there any people on your list who would love to just spend time with you?  Could you plan a monthly date with them and visit over a cup of tea or while the kids are playing at the park?  In our busy lives, time can be such a valuable gift!

You could host a cookie baking party for all of your nieces and nephews or grandchildren.  Or plan a tea party for the little ones complete with invitations, dress-up clothes and yummy treats served on your best dishes.

Often these types of gifts last in the memories of both the givers and the receivers much longer than a trinket or toy.

Gifts of Service

Gifts of service usually include a component of time as well, but the gift might be more what you are able to do with or for someone rather than simply spending time.

Gifts of service might include car cleaning and detail, house cleaning, babysitting, organizing, yard work, or whatever else you might be able to do for someone else.

Group or Family Gifts

If you are frustrated with the expectation of giving a gift to everyone in the office even though they aren’t all particularly your friends, why not make a big plate of cookies or treats and put a card on top that signifies that it is for the whole office from you.

Do you really want to go to the office party?  Could you make other plans and avoid the obligation by skipping the party?

Are you struggling with gifts for an entire family?  What if you gave them the gift of a family experience such as a museum or zoo membership,  tickets to a ball game, or a family movie/game night with snacks and goodies along with your favorite classic movies and a new game.

Turn it into a fun gift for the entire family that they can enjoy together.  There are so many fun ways to create family gifts.  Think about the things the family enjoys and then think about a way that you could give them the gift of family time together.

What to do with the people you feel obligated to…

Now let’s look at those people on your list that you just feel like you have to get a gift for but you really don’t have a close relationship with.

Why do you feel obligated?  What do you hope the outcome will be?  Is that outcome likely to happen?  When considering these difficult obligatory feelings, is there a way that you could excuse yourself from the obligation?  Could you have a conversation about it with the person?

A few years ago, we had a few names on our obligation list that resulted in sad feelings for us.  We spent hours trying to find a great gift that would somehow, hopefully, mend hurt feelings, but the gifts never remedied those hurts.

One year, we made a phone call and let them know that we were trying to simplify Christmas and just wanted them to know that we weren’t planning to exchange gifts that year.  It was one of the best things we did.

The obligation was gone from our gift list and the other people were relieved as well as they had also been feeling this pressure.

If you decide to have a conversation about the gift obligations, plan your speech ahead of time.  If you already have feelings of obligation, you probably also have feelings of manipulation or not being good enough in this relationship.

Practice your speech before you make the phone call.  If a phone call is going to be too difficult for you to stick with your resolve, send an email or a note in the mail.  Just know, that if this is a tough relationship already, this conversation probably won’t make it better or worse.  But it could unload a whole lot of gift guilt for you.

4 Gifts You Should Never Give

  • Gifts with an expectation that you will receive something in return.  It can be tempting to give a present with strings attached.  A gift should be just that – a generous thought or gesture to let someone else know you love them.  Nothing else.
  • Gifts of obligation.  When you feel like you are required to give a gift.
  • Gifts of comparison.  You should never give a gift that you hope will raise your value in someone else’s eyes.  You will be disappointed by the result almost every time.
  • Gifts of jealousy and envy.  Giving a gift that you hope will make someone else jealous or envious is not a gift from a generous heart.

What’s next? 

Now that you have compiled your list, checked it twice, and removed the ones that add to the feeling of obligation and reduce the joy of the season, you can start your planning.

  • Who are the loved ones that you love to give gifts to?
  • In what way can you bless each of these people who are still on your list?
  • Can you give the gift of time or service?
  • Have you been crafting something special for them?
  • Would they love some home-baked goodies or would you enjoy a special time or event together rather than more stuff?

This year, work through your plan to reduce the stress of gift guilt and enjoy the beauty of the holiday season with those you love.  Remember to give out the abundance of your heart as a reflection of the gift that God has given to you.

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43 thoughts on “Reducing Gift Guilt During the Holidays”

  1. All great advice…sometimes easier to talk about than actually do. I know we have had to deal with those times we felt obligated to give something. Luckily most of our extended family has moved towards a Pollyanna idea so we have shortened our list by a lot.

  2. Pingback: 7 Simple Ways to Prevent Overspending on Black Friday! | Savoring Each Moment

  3. I think a lot of people feel obligated to buy a gift for the reasons you have listed. It is unfortunate that we often feel the need to because of guilt. You give some great suggestions on how to handle this.

  4. Gift guilt is so real! One way our family handles it is to have a white elephant party. It’s fun to see who winds up with what, and the price limit is normally under $15.

  5. We stopped feeling guilty about gifts over the years. We tell our family members to do gift cards, it’s so much easier and we don’t stress about what to get. These are great tips!

  6. Oh such a good topic – the office guilt can be terrible alone. Thanks for tackling and getting all these issues down so those of us like me that read it, do not feel the guilt but know it is a common but maybe not appropriate gift practice – release the guilt I say!

  7. This is a great list of things to consider when planning your Christmas shopping. My husband and I actually went through this several years back and boy does it ever make the holidays much more enjoyable! You’ll be helping lots of people with this post!

  8. I think my gift guilt kicked into high gear once I STOPPED celebrating Christmas because I was used to getting everybody something. It was so stressful trying to buy this and buy that all while trying to remember “the reason for the season”. After my watch for truth and my family’s decision to stop celebrating Christmas, I spent at least the next to Christmas’ guilty about not buying people things but that just showed something deeper than I understood, some of what you touched on in this article.

    1. It really is all about focus. When the focus is on the material things and the stuff, it’s easy to lose sight of the joy of family and the amazing gifts God has given to us! It sounds like your family is on a good journey.

  9. Thank you for the reminder and tips. It seems like I go through this each year! As we get older, I realize that gift giving should be more thoughtful and personalized rather than, “here is a gift for you” (just any old thing)!

  10. I am 100% with you on this. I used to buy loads of gifts for people, but as I got older it felt wrong to me. Yes, I feel this season is about giving, but that doesn’t necessarily mean going out and sending money! I’d rather have good quality time with the people I love most. Christmas can also get really expensive so I now set expectations with everyone in advance. My immediate family – we do secret Santa. My best friend – no gifts, but always an afternoon or evening of festive fun. My hubby – we are pairing down this year and focusing on the kids. I will be making homemade food gifts as always though as I love and I know people love those treats!

  11. Gift guilt – it’s not just me! Thanks for this article, and I love your points about the gifts of time and gifts of service. With tight budgets, this is going to change my plans for the better.

  12. Great advice! Gift guilt can be a real thing, but I don’t want anyone giving me a gift they can’t afford or just to give one, and I suspect many others feel the same.

  13. Great post and really great suggestions! I love the idea of gifts of time or service. I have spent a year trying to pare down and declutter my home. I have removed at least 50% of everything in my home, and so I don’t really want to receive or give gifts just to give them. Yet, the gift of lunch with a friend, or a good walk or drive, sounds awesome…and it never has to be dusted! Thanks for all of your ideas.

  14. Great ideas. My ex-husband’s family got into the tradition of hand-made gifting. We would get anything from canned vegetables, home-made mustard, applesauce, apple butter, candles, soaps, and crafts. It means more than just going out to the store and buying any little ‘something’ just to have a present and it is something you can actually use and enjoy.

  15. The perspective in this is so wildly accurate! I cant believe how much I’ve been doing out of obligation and not necessarily because I can. This was huge! Thank you!

  16. Great suggestions! I don’t have gift guilt until I start wrapping and see how much I’ve accumulated since I started shopping. Great ideas!

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