Keep Gifts Simple and Meaningful This Season

"Simple Gifts" was written by Elder Joseph in 1848 while he was part of a Shaker community. These are the lyrics to his one-verse song:

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free

'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

With the holiday season often comes gift-giving. Resist the urge to buy with reckless abandon. Instead, be open to the idea that simple gifts may be the best. As you think about your family’s celebration this holiday season, please reflect on the celebration itself. What are you really trying to accomplish? For many, it is dedicated time with family, free of distraction and arguments. (For related reading, see: How to Talk to Your Family About Christmas Gift Budgets.)

In happiness studies, experiences are far more meaningful than tangible items. If you set a goal earlier this year to take a big family trip, perhaps the trip can be the gift. Or an excursion on the trip can be the gift (Disney anyone?). If a vacation is out of reach, consider purchasing one substantial gift for each child rather than multiple small presents. Think about the meaning behind the gift. It's hard to view a Target or Walmart ad without seeing loads of electronics. Maybe instead of a tablet, you can buy your seven-year-old a new bike. Doesn’t fresh air and physical movement sound more appealing than extra screen time? (For related reading, see: Meaningful Christmas Gift Ideas.)

Time is also one of our most precious resources. Maybe your son or daughter would like to have an afternoon of one-on-one time with mom or dad, away from siblings. Here are some gift-giving ideas for various age groups:

Toddlers & Preschoolers

  1. Bounce house
  2. “Little gym” for a real energy release
  3. Ice cream or some other dessert

Young Kids (Ages 5-9)

  1. Bowling
  2. Arcade
  3. Lunch or dinner out
  4. Indoor rock climbing or trampoline center

Entire Family

  1. Bake cookies and other sweet treats
  2. Visit a holiday light display
  3. Partake in a holiday-themed festival
  4. Watch a movie together at home
  5. Play indoor games; our kids love kickball in the unfinished basement .

These are just a few ideas. Obviously, the key is to make it meaningful to the recipient. For those families with older kids, I’m not there yet. 

Still looking for other gift ideas? Consider those that benefit charitable causes. You can make a donation in the name of a family member or friend—living or deceased. Rather than selecting your favorite charity, think about causes that are important to your friend or family member. If your friend volunteers at the zoo, consider adopting a penguin on his or her behalf. (For related reading, see: How to Pick a Charity.)

To make an even broader philanthropic impact as a family, investigate a donor advised fund (DAF). You contribute assets such as stocks or cash to the DAF and make suggestions on charities that will benefit from these assets. To include your children in the decision-making process, consider appointing them as secondary account holders. You get an immediate tax deduction in the year of the contribution, even if the proposed charitable grants are pushed into later tax years. Fidelity and Schwab are known leaders for donor advised funds, but minimum account sizes apply (i.e., $5,000).

I hope this article inspires you to get into the gift-giving spirit. And remember, simple may be better. (For related reading, see: Donor-Advised Funds: The Benefits and Drawbacks.)