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Quality Over Quantity: How to Change Your Mindset Around Gift Giving

Transform holiday spending into a source of joy instead of guilt with these ideas from the YNAB team.

You're knee-deep in wrapping paper, surrounded by a mountain of gifts that seem to multiply with each passing year. The kids tear through their presents in a frenzy of excitement, but in the chaos, you can't help but wonder: Will Suzy even remember her Tickle Me Elmo come January? Will Steven remember to feed his Tamagotchi pet? Will Kara wear her butterfly clips to school?

Oh, wait, wrong decade. But you get the idea! It's a scenario many of us can relate to, where the trends change as quickly as the seasons, and kids' interests seem to evolve faster than you can say "fidget spinner." 

It's easy to see how the holidays can become a blur of spending. For some of us, it may even feel like we’re just going through the motions. Did I ever get a moment to sit and enjoy a meal without rushing? Did my family spend as much time opening presents as we did cleaning up the wrapping paper? 

Amid all the pressure to spend early and often (hey, Black Friday), it’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy when you don’t have a plan.

Before you start jingling all the way, pause for a moment to think about your money as more than just currency. Think of your dollars as the energy you're investing in creating special moments and memories. You’re practicing YNAB’s habit of giving every dollar a job—and this time of year, their job is to make your traditions and celebrations magical. 

So take a deep breath. Push the self-critical questions aside and ask yourself: How do I want my holidays to unfold? How do I want my celebrations to feel?

There's no judgment here; it's entirely your call! At YNAB, we're all about transforming the holidays into a mountain of quality moments rather than an avalanche of guilt. And if splurging on gifts is your thing (more power to you), we're here to help you see it as a joyful possibility rather than a daunting problem. Ultimately, holiday spending boils down to the purpose behind your purchases.

There are all kinds of ways to make your holiday spending more intentional. From the 4-Gift Rule to exchanging heartfelt family letters on Winter Solstice, you might be surprised by the array of ideas shared by the YNAB team. Some enacted gift limits. Others embraced the joy of gifting and used YNAB throughout the year to gift more! A few ditched gift-giving altogether and created new experience-based family traditions.

YNAB candle for Winter Solstice

As we dive into these heartfelt tips, remember each piece of advice reflects the values and traditions of the individuals who shared them. Use these ideas as a source of inspiration to create a holiday season that's unique, meaningful, and stress-free for your family.

Embrace the 4-Gift Rule

Emily W. knows the feeling of excess holiday spending all too well. She says, "We used to just give the kids a pile of gifts (trying our best to keep it around an equal amount), but quickly realized as they got older they expected a pile of gifts—even when those gifts started to get more expensive." So, about 3 years ago, her family adopted the "4-gift rule." Each child receives just four gifts: something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. Emily adds, "Our kids love it, and it has majorly simplified both the saving and buying process."

Encourage Wish Lists

Pen and quill wishlist

Yvonne highlights the power of wish lists. "We say to our kids, 'Let's add it to your wishlist' often. We’ll take a picture, add it to their list, and that gets shared with the extended family members who want to buy them gifts." This helps eliminate excess spending and duplicate gifts.

Embrace the Magic of Consumable Gifts

Ben M suggests embracing the magic of consumable gifts. "Snacks, drinks, cookies, and candles are relatively inexpensive compared to other gifts, don't take up space for long, and feel more personal." He also integrates gifts into shared experiences, like the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod, where books are exchanged and enjoyed on Christmas Eve. 

Start a Winter Solstice Tradition

Kat introduced a new annual tradition for her family—a Winter Solstice celebration. Her family cooks dinner together every Solstice, but there's a unique twist—only candlelight and firelight are allowed, creating a warm and cozy ambiance. During the gathering, they reflect on the past year and exchange handmade gifts, letters, and notes, all without spending money. Kat takes the opportunity to write a personal letter to each of her children, acknowledging their growth and accomplishments during the year and expressing her pride in them. This Winter Solstice celebration has become Kat's favorite night of the year.

Give Memberships: Gifts That Travel With You

YNAB Giraffe representing gifts like zoo memberships

Chrissy's family often asks for memberships to places like the zoo and the children’s museum. She adds, "The nice thing about giving national park passes and memberships is they can often be used throughout the country all year long!"

Plan Ahead for Holiday Magic With YNAB

For Yvonne, the habit of Embracing Your True Expenses was a game changer. "We have a 'Christmas Magic' category, in addition to 'Christmas Gifts’, to make the season more special." Her family uses the YNAB app to set money aside for things like holiday cards, spontaneous ice skating outings, tree decorating, impromptu gatherings, and big fun experiences like going on the Polar Express. "It feels like permission to be extra during the time of year—and honestly, I am going to spend this money anyway, so I might as well account for it!"

Use Saving Targets to Go Bananas On Gift-Giving

Ashley’s love language is gift giving. She said, “I’ve just accepted that I am a person who loves to buy presents and watch my kid rip into gifts on special days. I just set my saving target in YNAB starting in January, fund it throughout the year, and try not to let anyone make me feel guilty for buying the things I’m excited to give her.”

As you embark on this holiday season, remember the true magic lies not in the number of gifts but in the intention behind your purchases. The truth is, spending isn’t inherently bad. It’s spending without purpose behind your decisions that can leave you with a holiday hangover. 

Outside of gift-giving this year, our team is dwelling on the quality of the moments created with loved ones. Steven might not remember to feed his Tamagotchi pet, but he probably will remember that time you transformed garbage bags into high-speed sleds under the light of the full moon. So feel free to write yourself a permission slip to spend time (instead of money) when it comes making holiday magic. 

When you spend, save, and give with intention, there’s no such thing as buyer’s remorse. Make the money mindset shift with the YNAB app and four powerful habits. It starts with a free 34-day trial!

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Quality Over Quantity: How to Change Your Mindset Around Gift Giving