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Taking the Stress Out of Gift Giving


December 8, 2020 | Published by

Does the thought of Christmas shopping give you a sense of dread? Do you find yourself stressing out over what to get who, and what you can afford? If so, take a deep breath, read on and realize you are not alone. In this blog we’re going to provide an understanding of this type of stress and how you can turn gift giving into a stress-free and even joyous experience.

It’s well-known that the holidays season is already stressful. Add all the events of this year plus the ongoing pandemic and  you’ve got quite the stress stew going. Recent surveys show that 70% of people are stressed by feelings of inadequate time to plan and lack of funds for gifts. Moreover, more than half the people surveyed are stressed about the pressure to give or get gifts.1

Fortunately, this time of year doesn’t need to be this stressful. Often times we put too much pressure on ourselves to get the perfect gift, even if it means spending more money than budgeted. Sometimes the pressure comes from relatives or children who may not understand the financial pressures of purchasing gifts, especially in a year where unemployment and underemployment affected so many of us.

Instead of worrying so much over getting the right gift, we must accept that we have no control over how people respond to our gifts. Take comfort in your good intentions behind the gift, no matter the size or cost. It’s not the end of the world if someone is unhappy with a gift they received from you. There aren’t going to be any front-page tabloid articles reading “Local Person Gives Unwanted Gift, Recipient Highly Disappointed.” If you find there’s someone who is always unhappy with their gifts, or proves to be highly superficial or materialistic when it comes to gifts, it may be time to take them off the gift list.

If your stress is more of the economic type, you may be stressed because you fear your smaller or cheaper gift may not be received as well as previous ones. You may have been known as the mom or uncle who always gives the cool gifts, and expectations may be high. You may feel like you’re letting the recipient down with a “lesser” gift, but it’s better to focus on the change being for the better. Chances are the recipient will understand and will be thankful for whatever you are giving. This may also be the perfect time to adopt a new tradition, like agreeing to a set maximum spend for gifts in the coming years.

Here are some additional tips for taking the stress out of gift giving:

  • Stick to a budget – Set a maximum price per gift that makes you comfortable. Stick within that range, no matter what pressure you may experience. If someone pressures you to spend outside their budget to make them happy, it may be time to reevaluate that relationship and set up more boundaries.
  • Ask for ideas – Don’t feel pressured to guess what exactly the person wants. There’s no shame in asking for a wishlist, and it won’t take any allure out of the surprise. Plus, you may learn new things about the person and can help them indulge in a new or unexplored hobby or interest.
  • Consider making a donation instead – Some people may tell you they don’t want or need anything. For these people, or if you feel that way yourself, consider making a donation in their name to one of their favorite causes or non-profit organizations. 
  • Consider baked goods as gifts – You may not have as much money for gifts this season, but don’t forget about the value of homemade food. Baked goods make terrific gifts and can be a pleasant surprise. Many baked goods can be made with ingredients you already have on hand or can be purchased for less than a material gift. Plus, baking and cooking can be stress-relieving activities in themselves!
  • Make a list and check it twice – Sometimes we feel like we must get gifts for anyone and everyone we know. Make a list and put it in a prioritized order. Don’t worry – this doesn’t mean the people on the bottom are less important or have less value. This allows you to cover the people you can with the money you can comfortably spend. For the rest, consider sending a card with a heartfelt message, and maybe include some of those homemade cookies. 
  • Don’t stress the wrapping – Sometimes we can spend as much on paper, bows and bags as the gift itself. Use any materials saved from previous holidays to wrap gifts. Wrapping paper, ribbon and bows are often thrown away, so minimizing the wrapping saves on waste. Paper bags, old magazines, and newspapers make great wrapping paper as well. 
  • Get and give creative – Maybe you aren’t comfortable in your baking skills but practice other trades and hobbies. Love gardening? Consider giving a potted plant as a gift. Like to paint or draw? Those make excellent gifts as well. Handy with woodworking or other crafts? Make them something personal and practical. 

Let’s talk about receiving gifts for a bit. What if you get a gift you don’t particularly like or was expecting? Regardless of what you get, give the giver a smile and thank them for the thoughtfulness. Tell them you appreciate them thinking of you and taking the time to pick out the gift.2

What about the dreaded receiving a gift from someone who wasn’t on your list? Thank them for their generosity and for being such a wonderful person. Feel free to tell them you weren’t expecting a gift but don’t feel pressured to reciprocate. Most people don’t give gifts to receive them. If you feel bad about it, make a reminder to give that person a surprise gift sometime in the coming year.2

There’s one last thing we’d like to cover – the gift you can give yourself. The gift is boundaries, and here’s you can get it:3

  1. Setting a firm holiday budget and sticking to it regardless.
  2. Making a list of all gift recipients and raking it from most to least important.
  3. Setting a budget for individual gifts for certain or all recipients.
  4. Remember you are a busy person and to be easy on yourself if you don’t get to everyone on your list.


  1. Le Cunff, A. The psychology of gift giving. Ness Labs.
  2. Hatfield, H. How to Shake ‘Holiday Gift’ Anxiety. WebMD.
  3. Turner, T. Tips on Managing Your Gift Giving Amxiety. MyTherapyNYC.

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