How to Stay Sane While Giving and Receiving During the Holidays

Does this time of the year make you feel warm and fuzzy or anxious and stressed?

The concept of holiday giving and receiving, whether gifts or helping someone out, seems simple enough, yet after many discussions with clients and friends, I continually see that both areas are very loaded issues.  Consider the following ideas as you go through the holidays right now and for next year.

Holiday Budgets and Giving


Giving and receiving is definitely about more than the material gifts, especially when you add money, emotions and past history to the mix.

For those of you who tend to slide in at the end and are just getting started with the holiday shopping for gifts, let’s start with the “Giving” side. From a pragmatic budgeting perspective, I will always recommend the standard tips you’ve read before:

  • Make your list of everyone on your gift list. (Don’t forget your favorite hairdresser, mechanic, vet, mail carrier, teachers, boss, secretary, pets and all the others).
  • For a great template, check out “Google’s Gift Shopping List”. Or review the Gift Giving Worksheet in The Budget Kit Workbook. You DO have the workbook, right?
  • Decide on some dollar limit and add this next to the person’s name. (Be thinking of a few different gift ideas as you create this list).
  • Beware of the “creep” – continuing to buy more gifts even after you reached your limit.
  • Remember all the other added holiday expenses and write these down. (You know… decorations, trees, wreaths, postage and shipping, wrapping paper, cards, crafts, plants, beverages, parties, donations, workplace events, clothes, trips, boarding the pets, entertainment, batteries, etc.)

Note: After decades of counseling people, I continue to see this holiday expense category as the most overlooked area of budgeting. In fact these expenses usually add at least an additional $400-$600 to the holiday budget.

Back to the Money Part

  • Be sure to total up the dollar amount for BOTH the gifts and added holiday expenses.
  • Is this grand total amount in true alignment with your personal priorities, values and budget? Are there adjustments you want to make now that you have a total number?
  • Outline a plan for covering these costs and/or consider resourceful and creative ways to still enjoy the holiday yet not go into deep debt. For example, how much money will come from the regular savings, overtime or part time work, gift money, bonuses, charge cards, delayed charges and any other sources?

Holiday Giving and ReceivingIf you are going to be charging expenses, remember to actually work out a plan for paying off that amount when the bill comes due. It’s one thing to tell yourself you’ll deal with this when the bill comes in. It’s another to look back and see how many times in the past you actually successfully managed to pay off the card in full as planned, after being slammed by life with a half dozen other issues.

How long will it take for your gift charges this year to be paid off? To find out, try this handy calculator from Bankrate to determine how long it will take.

Another way to look at this situation is to ask yourself, “Will you be paying off Christmas of 2016 in 2020???”

In my Udemy course “Create a Budget that Works” you will receive and learn more about the “Gift Giving”, “Christmas/Holiday Expenses” and “Source of Money for Gifts and Holiday Expenses” from the Budget Kit: Common Cents Money Management Workbook 6th Ed and learn how to use these tools for better planning.

Emotions and Giving

Now for the more loaded side of giving. If this whole giving process triggers your buttons, consider your motivation behind the giving.

  • As an absent parent or spouse, are you hoping to make up for your lack of personal attention and time by lavishing gifts?
  • Is there some part of you that doesn’t feel good enough by just being who you are, and somehow the expensive gift is meant to make up the difference?
  • Is more expensive supposed to mean more love?
  • Is it too embarrassing to discuss the topic of current limited finances with family and friends, so rather than give a modest thoughtful gift (or no gift or some service), you go into debt to keep up appearances?
  • Are you giving out of a sense of obligation because someone always gives you a gift? Do you find yourself too timid to say you would rather spend time together instead of exchanging gifts?

Use these questions for starters as you dive in and explore what’s really going on.  Remember, this is not about judging yourself, but more about being honest with yourself and knowing your real truth.

Once you know what is truly behind the spending, you have choices for changing that behavior. During these ongoing challenging times, many families have started talking about their tight budgets and are relieved to realize there’s a shared family consensus on cutting back on the gift expense and creating new traditions.  

In the end, it goes back to realizing that money can’t buy us love, and neither can expensive gifts.

Giving Gifts without Spending Money

There is no shortage of creative and resourceful ideas for “homemade” gifts. One example is a list from Real Simple Magazine.

Perhaps the bigger question is will you feel acceptable if you don’t actually spend money on purchased gifts.

Budgets and Receiving

Now, let’s move to how you feel with the receiving side. Are you the kind who loves to give to others, yet feel quite uncomfortable receiving gifts from others?

  • Have you found yourself uncomfortable receiving a gift you felt was too expensive?
  • Do you feel guilt or resentment because you can’t reciprocate in kind?
  • Do you feel you don’t deserve to receive such an expensive gift or feel you are being selfish receiving it?
  • Do you start to compare yourself and feel like you can’t measure up and feel “one upped” and now you’re on the lower end of the power dance?
  • Or… do you just graciously and genuinely accept the gift and say “Thank You?” And then just appreciate and enjoy the heck out of your gift and let go of all the inner chatter!

The Power of Giving AND Receiving

Holiday Giving and ReceivingRemember, it’s really a two-way dance. For the giver who has a hard time receiving, it is important to realize that others want to have the opportunity to give so they too can feel special like you do when giving – whether it be a gift, a service or a simple gesture of help.

So this holiday season, if someone genuinely gives you a gift or offers to help you get ready by running errands, doing the baking or decorating, instead of immediately resisting and trying to handle it all yourself, remember the gift of receiving can be just as important and powerful as the gift of giving.

This time graciously accept their offer, sit back and totally enjoy this holiday season.

Judy’s BIO

Judy Lawrence MS Ed. is a Financial Counselor and Coach in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She moved back from the Silicon Valley area in 2009. Her best-selling book, The Budget Kit: Common Cents Money Management Workbook 6th Edition (Jan 2011, Kaplan Publishing), sold over 425,000 copies. If you would like a 30-minute free phone consultation, sign up for the free e-course, or just find out more about her services, workshops and books, you can reach her at, or 505-554-2638 or 408-529-6474.