One Christmas some years ago, my family came to an agreement that made all of us breathe a huge sigh of relief: we agreed to stop exchanging presents.

The truth is, we were headed in that direction anyway. It was getting kind of ludicrous – my brother and I would just ask each other, “what do you want for Christmas?” and order it online for each other. Same with my parents. This minimized hassles and guaranteed we’d like our gifts, but there was no surprise, and really no point in it.

But even worse, I know many people who stress out over the holidays about coming up with gift ideas, shopping for those gifts, and figuring out how to pay for them.

Not being obligated to give gifts was the best gift our family members could give each other. We went ahead and ditched gift-giving for birthdays too.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that maybe it’s time to ditch gift-giving among adults when done just because it’s a holiday. We shouldn’t feel obligated to purchase crappy things just because it’s Christmas or Hanukkah or someone’s birthday.

What if the holidays could become purely times for family, friends, and celebration instead?

The Problem: Material Gifts Have Lower Utility

How times have you received a gift that you didn’t really like, or that you never used? How many times have you re-gifted something or sold it on eBay?

For me, the answer to these questions is many, many times!

Studies have shown that gifts have lower utility to the recipient than the equivalent value in cash. How often do we buy some useless trinket as a gift because we couldn’t think of anything better and we ran out of time?  I am guilty!

According to, 7% of Americans knowingly give unlikeable presents, 1 in 2 people dislike at least one gift each holiday, and $16 billion was wasted on unwanted gifts during the 2017 holiday season.

Let’s look at an example. Have you ever received (or given) one of those pre-made gift baskets? You know, they have crackers, cheese, chocolate, and some other stuff nicely displayed in a huge basket. Unpack it all and you end up with some snacks that cost a few dollars and a whole lot of wasted packaging including the basket which you’ll throw away. These are priced anywhere from $40 to $150 and up. Would you rather receive one of these baskets or the equivalent value in cash?

Useless Gifts Contribute to Climate Change

Many gifts end up as clutter or landfill.  Manufacturing all of this stuff is a huge contributor to climate change!

Let’s not forget about the waste of wrapping paper and ribbons – something enjoyed for maybe a few hours during a birthday party or a few days during Christmas and thrown away.

What About Gift Cards?

Gift cards might seem like a good solution, but a surprising amount of gift-card value goes unredeemed, which is why businesses promote them so much.  Once, I got a gift card where the store eventually went out of business, leaving me with a $150 gift card that was worthless.

Another annoying thing about gift cards is the inconvenience of having to carry them around everywhere. Or, if you’re like me, you leave them at home and slap your forehead when you’re at the store and don’t have them.

Gift cards can be a useful gift if chosen well, but then why not just give cash? It never expires!

What About Gift Registries?

For our wedding, we didn’t have a gift registry. We were both older and already had all of the kitchenware and linens we needed. Instead, folks gave cash, which we anticipated and used to make our celebration even better for our guests.

The other thing about creating gift registries is that they make you insensitive to price. You go down the list picking out towels, sheets, silverware, etc., with no regard to price because you’re not (directly) paying for it. But someone is paying for it; and that money might be more useful to you in cash form. Then you might look for a better bargain or sale before buying some of the items on your registry list.

The Exceptions

Before you think I’m a total Grinch, I do think that children should still get Christmas and birthday presents. I wouldn’t want to rob them of the fun I had getting toys as a kid.

Also, I’m still in favor of giving gifts when you find something that the recipient could truly use or appreciate, especially if it’s hard to find or unusual. For a few special people in my life, I’m on the lookout all year long for things that I know they will enjoy. That’s a huge difference from panicking a week before Christmas and hastily grabbing a nick-knack at a department store that they might never use.

What You Can Give Instead During the Holidays

According to the same article at, a majority of people, 53.25%, say they most look forward to spending time with family during the holidays, while only 3.25% say they most look forward to receiving gifts.

I’m in favor of giving non-material presents such as giving your time, your expertise, a night at a nice restaurant, a day at a baseball game, or something like that. How about helping someone paint their home? Or fixing up someone’s computer? Or giving them coupons for free rides to the airport from you? Or catching up with someone over coffee?

Most People Actually Agree With This

It turns out, I’m not the only one who feels this way. Seven out of ten Americans would give up gift-giving during the holidays if others gave it up. If you’re one of the majority of Americans who feel this way, maybe it’s time to have a talk with your family and friends who might actually be up for this!

Imagine all of the time, money, and grief that could be saved if we did this!  Not to mention damage to the environment and landfill usage!

Check out some of these articles that agree with me:

What do You Think?

So, do you think it’s time to stop being obligated to give material gifts to adults during the holidays? Am I a total Grinch or is this the way of a more fiscally and environmentally responsible future? Please leave your comments below, yay or nay. – Brian

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