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How to make gift-giving less of a hassle 

Alt.gifting: Every December we run around spending money, trying to get the perfect gift for people. But there are ways to minimize both the spending and the anxiety, in ways that will benefit you and your loved ones.

JORDYN F. BOCHON
  • Jordyn F. Bochon

Uncle Steve loves the Habs. Aunt Lizzie can't get enough of Lady Gaga. But what about their boys, your cousins John, Stewie and Seamus? And your brother Larry? And his new girlfriend will be coming home from Toronto with him at the holidays, what do you get her?

If these kinds of questions are starting to haunt you with just weeks before the family gathers, there two ways to approach gift-giving in order to lower your stress, diminish the impact on your bank balance and make for a more equitable season: Group plans and Do It Yourself.

Group plans

Secret Santa

Or "drawing names," for the non-denominational. A good solution for an office or large family, everyone in the group is a name on a piece of paper, and the names are drawn from a hat and distributed, so your giving responsibility is limited to a single person. An alternative is a Grab Bag: Everyone buys one present and they all go into a bag and everyone chooses one. Trading is allowed later on if Michael Bolton's Greatest Hits isn't thrilling your sister's boyfriend Severin, with the spiderweb tats on his elbows.

Stocking stuffers and cost limits

Plan in advance on a cap on the spending. $10 or $20 gifts, maximum, and make them small and utilitarian. This is often recommended for government and can work for your nearest and dearest.

Sandwich

If your family has three generations, agree to only give to the youngest and eldest. That way little Bobby has a lot of prezzie unwrapping to do, and Nan and Papa also get the gifty love. More importantly for them, they can still spoil the young 'uns.

DIY

Make something

Not everyone has a knack with felt and glue, but it's an option if you do. And making gifts doesn't always mean being crafty. Kick against the advancing tech age by putting together a mix CD while people still have players to spin them on. Write a poem or a song or a story. Collect old photos in an album.

Stick to food

Shawna Henderson is all about the food. The self-employed single mother of two and a transplant from Vancouver, she estimates she has 35 friends and family members on her gift-giving list. With the geographical separation of many of them, if she's going to give food, she needs to plan in advance.

"I grow a lot of food in my garden and buy local fruit to put up for the winter," she explains. "So much of my gift-giving is in the form of special canning, like plums in port, brandied peaches, dilly beans and other pickles, fruit butters and chutneys."

For Henderson, the season's biggest joy is the extended constellation of her Nova Scotia family sitting down to supper together.

"Over the last few years, I have ended up spending most of my Christmas budget on food---a 24-pound organic turkey for instance, to feed 20!" she says. "It's really important to me that people start looking at gift-giving in a different way, buying local, or making things, growing stuff. Some folks might read this and think, 'Oh, nice to do if you have lots of time,' but I'm not in that position. The short answer is we all make time for the things that are important to us."

One more (less) thing

Buy nothing holiday

This will seem an anathema to older folks who drool at the idea of giving ornately wrapped presents to their kids and grandkids, but it's good to remember that these festivals are based in a spiritual celebration. A family and community gathering is where the spirit is rooted, ain't it? (Or, take your funds and make a donation to a charity in the name of a loved-one. That works too.)

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