A Holiday Guide to Stopping Shopping

Posted Nov. 24, 2008, at 7:27 p.m.

• Don’t ask, do tell. Inform friends and family that you aren’t buying gifts this year. Request that they reciprocate. Trust me, they won’t be insulted. They will kiss your feet in relief and gratitude.

• DIY. Each year, my partner bakes cookies, which we wrap, label (“I Famosi Biscotti di Paolo”) and distribute widely. That’s just our strategy, though. A Google search of “frugal holiday ideas” yields more than 100,000 bundles of advice, most involving used Christmas cards, white sugar or both. Don’t be intimidated. If you can neither glue nor cook, give time — an IOU to babysit a friend’s kids or help your brother-in-law clean out the garage. Or give thought. A New York copy editor remembers asking her mother for gift ideas for her father. “You know what Daddy longs for?” Mom replied. “A haiku!”

• Recycle, reuse, regift. About 6 percent of consumers are planning to shop at flea markets and thrift stores this year, according to research by the consulting firm Deloitte. No doubt you have an equivalent source in the downstairs closet.

• Forget “value.” That same Deloitte poll says that consumers will be heading for “discount-value department stores, warehouse clubs, dollar stores, outlet stores and off-price stores.” But why buy junk that’s going to break in a week? One or two well-made presents per recipient will cost less and last longer.

• Moralize later. You may be trying to instill nonmaterialistic values in your family along with fiscal discipline. But the holidays are no time for negative reinforcement. You don’t have to buy your kids the moon, but a few well-considered gifts will not turn them into the Hilton sisters.

• Freeload. Some of your friends are still flush. Take advantage. If the party is big enough, no one will notice that you’ve shown up empty-handed and are now monopolizing the pancetta-wrapped mushroom caps. Your hosts want your company; that’s why they invited you. They do not need another bottle of mediocre Merlot.

• Save your marriage. According to Rasmussen, almost half of men find shopping “unpleasant.” If the emotional weather outside is frightful, stay home and mull his cider.

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