- Donate to charity. Give a gift of cash to the local food bank, homeless shelter/mission or to an organization like Heifer International. Use Charity Navigator to check out charities before giving to make sure they use donations wisely.
- Give what the recipient actually wants. Sure you might love that Lalique Crystal vase, but would your mother-in-law? If you must give a gift, at least give what is needed or wanted. Gift giving is a two-edged sword, a loaded gun (add your own cliche!)--it's full of peril. Save yourself by sticking to the known and respecting the values of the recipient.
- Keep it simple. No child needs a dozen new toys at Christmas time. If a child is on your list, give a single, simple gift. One LEGO set, not six. One Barbie, not a dozen. More gifts overwhelm kids and they stop enjoying the occassion. I've seen over-gifted kids at holidays and birthday parties just go through the motions--ripping paper because they're told to by the adults in attendance.
- Give edible gifts. But keep them simple. Teacher gifts this year are small bags of Lindt chocolate truffles. Inexpensive, yet tasty. We like to give a plate of homemade cookies to our neighbors. The kids enjoy the process, the neighbors get a sweet treat. Nothing fancy, no expensive ingredients, but a heartfelt sentiment.
- Above all, if you can't afford it, don't buy it. Remember that o henry story, The Gift of the Magi? I hate that story! Neither of the main characters had money for a gift, so they sold treasures to buy unessential gifts that wound up being useless, because of the sale of the treasures. Such a waste. Remember that story, and keep your hair on your head and your watch in your pocket. A heartfelt hug or a bright smile and a "Happy Holidays" is much more powerful than a gift of futile sacrifice.
That's all! Happy Holidays!