The No-Spend Holiday: 7 Alternatives to Buying Gifts

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The No-Spend Holiday: 7 Alternatives to Buying Gifts

The holidays are quickly approaching, and while many people feel joy with the abundance of crisp weather, festive lights and warm drinks, there's also something else many of us experience: financial stress. There's a lot of pressure to spend and buy gifts for everyone from family to co-workers, friends and more. All of this could lead you to overspend and rely on credit to get through the holidays.

The American Research Group found that consumers are planning to spend an average of $929 on gifts this holiday season. However, a November 2015 Credit Karma study found that consumers planned to spend less on gifts this year than they did last year.

There are ways you might be able to cut costs during the holidays. This holiday season, consider doing these seven things -- many of which focus on spending time together -- rather than spending money.

1. Give out fun and useful coupons.

One way that you can give to your friends and family is by providing fun and useful coupons. For example, you can give a "coupon" to a busy mom for one free night of baby-sitting or a "girls movie night" coupon for your best friend. For your spouse, you could give a coupon for a "no chore day" so they can sit back and relax.

The point of the coupons is to provide value to friends and family, in a fun way. The beauty of this gift is that you can be as creative as you want with your offerings.

"It can be something you both enjoy doing together, such as going on a hike to a place you've never been to before. There is nothing more valuable than your time, and setting aside quality time to spend with the people who are important to you is the most treasured present you can give them," says Jackie Lam of

2. Host a potluck.

Spending time with others, reflecting about the previous year and enjoying a nice meal are at the heart of the holiday season. But you don't have to go out to a fancy restaurant or host a huge party to invite your friends over. Consider hosting a potluck this holiday season. Invite your friends over and ask everyone to bring a different dish or drink.

You'll get to spend time with friends and family and enjoy delicious food, all without a high-price restaurant bill.

3. Volunteer in your community.

The holiday season is all about giving. One way to really make an impact is through volunteering and giving the gift of time and service to those less fortunate. Ask your friends and family to get together to volunteer at a local homeless shelter, food bank, church or children's hospital. It can help you bond over a shared activity and boost your happiness.

4. Play outside.

Instead of spending money on gifts this year, get together with friends and family and play outside. If it's snowing where you live, build a snowman and have a snowball fight. If the weather is nicer, go on a winter hike or bike ride together.

Playing outside provides a mini digital detox and allows you to take advantage of having time off and experience the great outdoors.

5. Play board games.

One fun no-spend strategy is to invite family and friends over for a board game night. Have everyone bring their favorite board games, and enjoy each other's company. Put on some holiday music in the background, sit back, relax and have fun with friends.

6. Read aloud.

Reading books, plays and poetry is typically a solitary experience. But it doesn't have to be. You can invite friends over to share and recite their favorite poems. For more drama-minded individuals, consider reading a play out loud from start to finish.

One way to keep the holiday spirit going is by asking people to bring their favorite holiday-related piece of writing -- essay, poem, story, etc. -- and sharing with the group by reading it aloud.

I did this last year with a group of friends, and it was surprisingly fun. It may seem like an unconventional thing to do, but hearing different stories from everyone was a great way to spend time together and get introduced to new pieces of writing.

7. Do a holiday swap.

During the holiday season, the primary focus is often on buying new stuff to give to people. However, an environmentally friendly and cost-saving alternative is to have a holiday swap with friends. A holiday swap is when you take something you no longer want or need and exchange it with a friend, who gives you something they no longer want or need in return.

"I know it can be a busy time of year, but a holiday swap where you can exchange books, clothing and household items is a great way to score cool things without spending a dime," Lam says.

Bottom Line

The holiday season can be an expensive time of year, but it doesn't have to be. Talk with your friends and family ahead of time, and let them know that this year you're doing things a little differently and that you'd like to spend some quality time together. By giving one of these no-spend gifts, you can still experience the spirit of the holidays while also keeping your budget intact.

About the Author: Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer and editor currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is passionate about education, financial literacy and empowering people to take control of their finances. Her work has been featured on Rockstar Finance, GoGirl Finance, The Globe and Mail and more.

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