Holiday Politics: Who’s on Your Shopping List?


Note: This is a post from Courtney Baker, chief seller and long-time running wo-man of MvD.

Now that the election is over, let the holiday politics begin!

You know what I’m talking about. You want to buy a gift for your favorite niece, but not necessarily all 15 of them. Or there are four cards circulating at work asking you to give $10 for each one. You HAVE to do it, or you’ll be the office bah-humbug.

Before you know it, your gift list miraculously doubled in a week’s time, and your bank account is starting to panic.

Let me admit that my love language is gift-giving. I want to give (and get) gifts, because it’s a way for me to feel love and connection. You can imagine that I get in deep doo-doo when it comes to the holidays!

It’s taken a few years for me to realize that giving a few, very personal gifts is far more satisfying than giving several impersonal gifts.

Here are guidelines that help me stay in control throughout the season.

The A-List

These are the people you LOVE buying gifts for. In fact, you already have the perfect gift in mind. Throughout the year, ideas have popped into your head, and you’ve been waiting until Christmas to gift it. Keeping a list all year as ideas pop into your mind will prevent you from buying last-minute expensive crap.

The People On My A-List

  • Parents
  • Parents-in-law
  • Husband
  • My girls, Milli and Charlie
  • About three friends

The Gifts I’m Giving: Personal

  • Items that spark inside jokes
  • Items that I know they will love
  • Items I’ve heard them show interest in

The B-List

These are the people in my life that I feel more of an ebb and flow in our relationship. Some holiday seasons, I’m especially close to them, but others we’re a little more distant. If I know the perfect thing, I get it. If not, I’ll give them a “creative creation” (see list below). Either way, I’m still giving a thoughtful gift.

The People on My B-List

  • Siblings
  • Siblings-in-law
  • Co-workers
  • Mentors
  • Close friends

The Gifts I’m Giving: Personal or Creative Creations

  • The same things as in the A-list above…
  • … Or a creative creation

The C-List

They give you a gift, and you don’t have one for them. Or you give them a gift, and they don’t have one for you. There’s no defined line as to whether a gift exchange is happening, and it’s all a bit awkward. This category also includes the mandatory, “His girlfriend will be there…” purchase.

Either way, spending gets a little out of hand. All of a sudden, everybody needs a gift. Think of who is really important and who you actually have a good gift idea for. Give the gift in private to avoid the “one for everyone” syndrome. When in doubt, keep a few “cute” gifts stashed at your house just in case, or gift a creative creation.

The People on My C-List

  • My kid’s teacher
  • The neighbor
  • A family friend
  • My niece

The Gifts I’m Giving: Slightly more general, if at all

  • Gift cards (blah!)
  • Candles (blah!)
  • Something from a store end-cap (blah!)
  • … Or a creative creation!

Grouping Couples’ Gifts

There’s a huge jump in quality from a $20 to a $50 item. Instead of buying two mediocre $25 gifts for my sister-in-law and her husband, I will buy one nice $40-50 gift for the couple to share. I also do this with my four brothers who are still school-aged. I’ll get them one $50-$100 item for the household to share. My family now loves group giving themselves!

So What Are Creative Creations?

These are cute, thoughtful gifts that are low-cost and easy to reproduce. I make 10 to 30 of them. They may not cost a lot of money, but it’s your time. And in my opinion, time is more thoughtful! I often volunteer these gifts to the collections instead of money (it’s great to give along with a card of money!)

*Spoiler Alert*

I like to pick a new idea each season. This year I’m making Chocolate Chip Cookies in a Jar. I’ll add a tag to each one with the name of who I’m giving it to.

Check out these ideas for some more inspiration.

That’s it! I have about 20 people on my list this year, and some of them will receive a group gift. I don’t feel an ounce of guilt over buying them gifts. I have no anxiety over shopping. In fact, I’m so excited to get the season under way, because I’m in control.

Make your holiday shopping list this week. Be thoughtful. Challenge yourself to move on from giving generic gifts to tons of people, and start making personalized gifts for the important people in your life!


Are you avoiding the holiday politics?  Who’s on your list? And what special ideas do you use to get creative?

Comment and let us know!

27 thoughts on “Holiday Politics: Who’s on Your Shopping List?”

    1. I think exchanges like that are a great way to gift give in large groups. My family has something like 6 aunts/uncles and 30 cousins, so we would draw names and give one gift.

      1. We do the same thing! We all love finding out who we “get” to give to for the year in November. But we all groan when our number comes up and we have to figure out something for that impossible-to-shop-for Uncle.

  1. I love the idea of writing down who is on your list, and then dividing the list into categories, so that in the moment, gift decisions don’t become cloudy and expensive.

    BTW, I’m fairly new to MVD and I’m loving it. Thanks!

  2. I’m kinda annoyed with the whole Christmas giving/getting thing. My husband and I have been concentrating our efforts to get out of debt. We’re also concentrating our efforts to not bring more stuff into the house.

    I’ve asked repeatedly for people including my parents, not to get us anything. NOTHING! I’m serious. Very Serious and I’m getting offended by their desire not to follow my wishes.

    I do hand out homemade goodies and things for people we work with and friends….but, I have no desire to hand out stuff….or get stuff. Edible and consumable presents rock!

      1. When we were in our debt war (and again when we did the 100 Thing Challenge), we had to be very clear with our families about gifts. It’s tricky with young kids, and also with people that have the “gift” love language.

        It led us right to where you are now- experiences as gifts!

  3. Hey Courtney!
    I never did think of the whole git buying thing as ‘politics’, but the way you break it down, it makes sense. Anyway, guess what?! I loathe politics to begin with, but this year, I have resolved to give NO Christmas presents : ) Hmmm, a bit scrooge-ish some might say (especially because I have a 2 year old daughter), but I’m at that point where I feel that enough is enough! I did a BIG de-clutter and sold or gave away a ton of things and feel so much better for it. Heck, I even de-cluttered the hard drive on my mac!
    THINGS don’t really matter – people do, experiences do and so does showing love to others. So this time, I have no shopping worries either and feel great!
    It may be a bit early but Happy Holidays to you guys and all your readers!

    1. I think it’s an interesting experience to have a no-gift Christmas. We did it one year, and it felt like a cleanse. Like I was cleansing away all the expectation, so I could begin gifting the way I wanted to. I love giving gifts, so I was certainly happy to participate in that aspect of the holiday again.

  4. I personally love the idea of giving homemade treats and sweets. Everybody loves food, and it goes easy on the pocket! Really loved the idea of making priority lists Courtney, and another great article as usual 🙂

  5. What I have started doing to stop the clutter-tastic madness that December 26th brings is start buying gift certificates for things to DO instead of things to BUY. So, sister in law who loves movies, gift card to a movie theater. Mom and Dad dinner GC to a nice restaurant. Beer loving brother, tickets to a local beer fest. You get the idea. Creating memories instead of clutter. 😉

    1. We’ve always been an experience kind of family. We’ve had Christmas themes before, where we give everyone an experience (dinner, movie tickets, visit to the museum) instead of stuff. One year, we donated to a separate charity for each person.

      There are certainly ways to participate in the Holidays without adding to the clutter!

  6. We so not exchange gifts like that. If I give something, it is handmade or a card. Americans treat this like a second birthday for everyone and it’s NOT. Wrong person’s birthday, and poor way to celebrate it! I don’t think Christ wanted us to remember him via materialism and consumerism. People get theirs on their birthdays, but during the holidays I just make sure to spend time with the people I love and be grateful I’m alive and well.

    1. While Christmas undoubtedly has religious roots, the holiday has changed and developed. That isn’t to say that corporations have hijacked Christ’s birthday… but that we, the people, have developed new norms for the season. Non-Christians can celebrate Christmas too!

      So while I can appreciate your view point, I’m reluctant to agree. Halloween has also developed out of religious traditions, but few people dismiss the candy/costumes as “not the purpose” of the holiday. We accept that the holiday has changed.

  7. This is a pretty good list; I like the mason jar thing, I’ll share it with my wife, she’ll love it because we have so many people that would qualify for a littel something, but honestly, afterwhile…it becomes so much!

  8. Great advice, and I am Thrilled to see content from Courtney. Thanks for the post, and hope to see you around here more!

  9. My husband celebrate the holiday with extended family and everyone buys for everyone. We don’t want to be the scrooge ending the tradition of lots of gifts but also don’t have the time or money to be thoughtful about all of those gifts. We’ve figured out that if we choose a theme each year we can give appropriately to individuals while keeping a semblance of fairness.

    For example, one year our theme was “reading” – most everyone got a book – personalized to their taste (monetary values varied as appropriate to our relationships), our parents (who we wanted to do more for!) got a kindle. Another year we did a “food” theme – rarely seen Aunts and Uncles got home baked goodies, a college-age cousin got a pantry-full of college convenience food and some cute, inexpensive dishes, parents and siblings got gift cards to favorite restaurants, nieces and nephews got candy (they were thrilled!). This year our theme is sports – lots of easy, inexpensive toy options for the kids, team gear for most adults, tickets to enjoy a game with us and our daughter for grandma and grandpa.

    We decide upon our theme early in the year so when we see appropriate things we can pick them up. Sometime in early November we can usually purchase for whoever is left in one easy trip. On Christmas, as people are opening, they’re always excited and curious to see how we’ve interpreted the theme to their interests.

  10. I’ve stopped buying Christmas gifts a few years ago, it was getting silly, both myself, family and friends were getting stressed over what to get each other. We have everything we need, and ultimately a huge disparity happened when gift exchanges happened, so that caused ill feeling between people.

    We initially agreed to gift promises, like a meal out together, or a theatre trip, but we do that anyway, so we all agreed unilaterally to stop giving gifts altogether. My mother was in huge agreement however had selective memory, coming to the gift days and was expecting to receive a present and not give one. Needless to say after five years the behaviour pattern has made this assumption to pass.

    Gifts are for Children, and creates the magic of Christmas, so long as it’s done with care. My God Children receive one main gift and creative play gifts, art suplies, crafting items etc. A big pile of plastic toys that are cast aside in minutes are discouraged. They ask extended family to give, books or gift tokens to the bookstore so it creates a love of reading and an event to go to the book store and pick out a book that will be read at storytime at night.

  11. I couldn’t agree more about the experiences being the stuff that will be remembered. We just spent 2 nights in the mountains with my husband’s parents and we covered the cost of their room. We explained that it was their birthday(s)/Christmas gift and they were absolutely thrilled.

    I like the idea of homemade gifts too. For mother’s day, my (toddler) daughter and I made 3 ingredient lemon sugar scrub for the women in our family and it was a hit. I’m thinking maybe peppermint scrub for Christmas 😉 She loves having a projects she can participate in and I like the idea that it’s not all about accumulating stuff.

    That being said, the holidays are crazy for us. Our daughter will turn 3 on December 24th and it’s incredibly frustrating to convince family not to buy her “stuff”. Even if each family gives her 1 gift for her birthday and 1 gift for Christmas, we’re overwhelmed. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or seem ungrateful, but it’s simply too much. And despite my efforts to give them alternatives (donations to charities, savings, etc.) they all want to give her something she can “open”.

    I think our best alternative right now is to teach her to pass on one toy for each new one she receives ….

  12. Christmas is so expensive! I normally spend most of my birthday money (November 29) on Christmas, and then I really don’t have a true birthday, but I love giving gifts to people too much. But, that is just me.

    My A-list: Mom, Step-father, little brother and sister.
    My B-list: Grandparents, Aunt and Uncle, best friend
    My C-List: Other friends, animals, cousins.

  13. Pingback: Military Personal Finance Roundup: November 12-16 | Veterans United Network

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