If shopping for holiday gifts drives you crazy, you’re not alone: Almost a third of people in a Consumer Reports survey said that it was the most stressful part of their season.
Shopping itself isn’t so bad, but when I add in everything else going on this time of year—the travel, the baking, the office get-togethers—the volume of to-dos takes the fun out of buying holiday gifts for the people in my life. Every year, I start the season with the best intentions (something sentimental for my mom, something useful for my husband, something fun for my friends), and every year, without fail, I realize that I’ve taken on more than I can handle. So, I give up and spend money on generic presents that don’t make me happy to buy, just to get it done.
It doesn’t need to be this way: “Spacing your gifts out year-round can make shopping more manageable and less stressful,” says Aileen Avery, author of Gift Rap: The History and Art of Gift Giving. There’s less rush, less of a bomb to your budget, and most importantly, less pressure. “Buying gifts for the people you love should be a pleasurable experience, but the pressure often makes it unpleasant,” Avery says.
On the other hand, spacing out your gifts eliminates expectation and adds a meaningful element of surprise. “Expecting a gift because it’s your birthday or a holiday takes some of the fun out of it,” Avery says. “But an unexpected gift feels more thoughtful because it seems like less of an obligation.”
But how do you space out your gifts without seeming like a total Scrooge? Here’s how to get your family on board so they don’t feel cheated this season.
Call a family meeting
“People are more likely to sign on for something like this if they have input,” Avery says. “Gather the family around and say, ‘wouldn’t it be cool if we got gifts at different times of the year instead of only over the holidays?” Be sure to set some ground rules from there: birthdays don’t count, buy for everyone in the family at least once, and so on.
Don’t skimp on other holiday traditions
You’ll need to up the ante with other festivities, so the season still feels fun. Consider doing a cookie swap, making gingerbread houses, or having a tree-decorating party with your extended fam.
Open a little something over the holidays
“You don’t need to completely cut out gifts over the holidays,” Avery says. Agree to limit presents to one small one each, or try a gift swap, another solid way to introduce that element of surprise and slash shopping stress.
Stock up year round
If your family isn’t on board with your proposed present plan, collecting gifts throughout the year will have a similar effect on your stress levels. “I keep a box of gifts in my closet and add to it all year,” Avery says. “This allows me to be more thoughtful in the moment—say, when traveling—and less overwhelmed come December.”