illustration of person sitting next to a giant gift box
The Winter Issue

Why I'm Opting for a No-Gift Christmas This Year

I love intentional gift-giving.

While I also enjoy being on the receiving end, I love the feeling of giving someone something they adore. Whether it’s something mentioned in a vague passing comment or an item someone desperately wants but can’t get for themselves, I make it my mission to always give items with a lot of thought and consideration. I won’t lie; it does feel good to make someone happy. But I would never say this process is entirely selfless, either.

After all, I will confess that I view (and treat) the practice as a productive outlet for my competitive side. It’s a fun challenge, and winning comes from getting the gift right! But even beyond this, I view gift-giving as one of the purest expressions of love and compassion.

Through being intentional, I hope my loved ones can see how deeply I know and understand them. Also, as someone who finds it difficult to express my feelings, I appreciate the practice as a non-verbal means to show that I’m paying attention to their wants and needs. I view it as a symbol of deep intimacy, which is why the concept of a no-gift Christmas always felt so foreign to me. But why do we give?

Gift-Giving Is Often Viewed as an Integral Part of the Holidays

Particularly in the West, research has found that gift-giving during the Christmas period helps to formulate and maintain social and personal relationships. This process has been consistent for hundreds of years, and with the advent of consumer culture, the expectation has increased.

Now, while the pandemic has affected the spending habits of consumers, the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights and Analytics found that retail sales between November-December 2021 grew by 14.1% compared to 2021. Therefore, it seems that gift-giving during the Christmas period is still consistent with other patterns recorded over the years. Nevertheless, while this may be the case overall, the pandemic (though not directly) has significantly affected my personal relationship with gift-giving.

When I first became financially independent, I was quite reckless with my money. Particularly during the holidays, I assumed that spending significant amounts is what made a good gift-giver. Though I was still thoughtful, I did pressure myself to go above and beyond for my loved ones. So, rather than working within my means and budgeting, I would work extra shifts just to ensure I could afford what I wanted to give. In my mind, my savings weren’t for the future but rather “surplus” money that needed to be spent.

In my defense, during this time, I hadn’t yet been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—both of which have been found to independently impact a person’s relationship with money and excessive spending. Additionally, I was only in my early twenties at this point, but I was still by far the least financially savvy out of all my friends. So while my gift-giving practice may have started for altruistic reasons, it soon began negatively impacting my life.

In my mind, my savings weren’t for the future but rather 'surplus' money that needed to be spent.

After a few years, I began to work on improving my financial responsibility, and I was able to make some slight improvements here and there. This change was also spurred on by my return back to college. For context, I’d been a college student when I was younger, but due in part to various undiagnosed mental health conditions, I’d dropped out of two programs over a span of six years. With this history, I was determined to graduate, and so I wouldn’t have anywhere near as much time to work as I did before.

But even still, I wasn’t as strict as I should have been. Though I was 24 at that point, I had always assumed I’d have ample time to correct my previous recklessness. Yet, COVID-19 was the wake-up call I didn’t know I needed.

The Pandemic Helped Me Appreciate the Benefit of Having a Safety Net 

As the pandemic imposed lockdowns globally and everything shut down, I realized that the future was something I needed to start preparing for. The internal change took a little bit longer to implement, but I found it easier to pace my spending after some time. I’d still have moments where I’d overdo things, but I was more successful than not. Yet, this improvement would go awry once the holidays approached.

While there was no expectation for me to participate in gift-giving, I’d always feel guilty and like I wasn’t doing enough during Christmas. So in true form, I overdid it yet again.

But, last year, I found myself bored of the cycle I’d created. Yes, it felt good to make other people happy in the moment, but it didn’t feel worth it in the long run.

Yes, it felt good to make other people happy in the moment, but it didn’t feel worth it in the long run.

So perhaps due to learned experience or the complete formation of my prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain concerned with executive function, self-regulation, and impulse control — I decided to opt for a no-gift Christmas this year.

What Does a No-Gift Christmas Entail? 

While the concept of a no-gift Christmas has been around for quite some time, the practice has undoubtedly gained more momentum recently. For example, a 2021 survey by Deloitte found that 11.5% of low-income shoppers planned to not spend any money on gifts, presents, and gift cards during the Christmas period. In comparison, only 4.9% of shoppers said the same in 2020 and 2.9% in 2019.

The reasons for this are theorized to be due to COVID-19’s impact on the financial sector and the increasing economic divide. Nevertheless, this is still a record-breaking figure that hints at many individuals rethinking their consumption habits.

While it is fair to assume that things will return to normal after a few years, I think it is also reasonable to assume that these habits may remain for some individuals. But what does a no-gift Christmas look like in practice?

Well, for me, it simply means not spending money over the holidays. But for other people, it can mean a variety of different things, such as re-gifting unwanted gifts, giving virtual or handmade presents, or engaging in experiences versus material items. The beauty of the practice is that you can tailor it according to your own unique context. But I’ve personally found total abstinence during the holidays the best method for me.

With the holidays approaching, I can feel myself starting to feel the same guilt I felt before. But rather than overcompensating through gifts, I’ve decided to be honest with myself and take inventory of my situation. I simply can’t afford holiday gift-giving, and that doesn’t make me a bad person or friend. If anything, I’m sure my friends and family would be extremely disappointed to know I wasn’t prioritizing my finances. So I’ll be reaching out and being present with them instead.

It’s Time to Re-Establish Our Relationship With Gift-Giving

For many of us globally, the change we have universally experienced from the pandemic has made us rethink our consumption habits and practices. In my case, I’ve realized that the best financial budgeting method for the holidays is not partaking in the interim.

Opting for a no-gift Christmas doesn’t mean I will never give a present to people, but I have promised myself to be more of a practical and conscious gift-giver. This new state of mind has alleviated a lot of pressure and also brought me back to the reasons I loved the practice in the first place.

I simply can’t afford holiday gift-giving, and that doesn’t make me a bad person or friend.

Additionally, I’ve already had a small amount of financial freedom to surprise friends and family here. Surprisingly, this has turned out to be a much more enjoyable way to show them I care, and it is something I am sure to continue during the coming year.

So to anyone else starting to panic about your holiday budget, please know that it is OK to abstain from gift-giving. It’s also OK to take the time to reflect on the consumption habits and practices you may take as a given. Financial security and mental health should always take priority. The gifts can wait while we take a beat, reassess and recover.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Offer A. Between the gift and the market: the economy of regard. The Economic History Review. 1997;50(3):450–476. doi:10.1111/1468–0289.00064

  2. Carrier JG. Gifts and Commodities: Exchange and Western Capitalism since 1700. 1st ed. Routledge; 2005. doi:10.4324/9780203983041

  3. National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights and Analytics. NRF says 2021 holiday sales grew 14. 1 percent to record $886. 7 billion.

  4. Sebastian A, Jung P, Krause-Utz A, Lieb K, Schmahl C, Tüscher O. Frontal dysfunctions of impulse control — a systematic review in borderline personality disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Front Hum Neurosci. 2014;0. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2014.00698

  5. Funahashi S. Prefrontal contribution to decision-making under free-choice conditions. Front Neurosci. 2017;0. doi:10.3389/fnins.2017.00431

  6. Deloitte. 2021 Deloitte holiday retail survey

By Zuva Seven
Zuva Seven is a freelance writer, editor, and founder of An Injustice!. Follow her on Twitter here.