Believe it or not, Black Friday was not a holiday invented by retailers to encourage consumers to spend more. The day after Thanksgiving being referred to as “Black Friday” began in the 1950s, and it initially referred to the practice of workers calling out sick on that Friday – completely unrelated to shopping! By the 1980s, stores had adopted a new meaning. “Black Friday” has come to mean, for them, the beginning of the period of the year where they enter into “the black” and generate profits for the year.

The average American will spend $708 on pre-holiday shopping this year, such as on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Holiday shopping can put serious stress on your wallet, but it’s hard to say that spending money on gifts for your family, friends, and children isn’t worth it. How do you balance not going overboard this holiday season and giving meaningful gifts to everyone on your list?

1. Gifts don’t need to be expensive.

It sounds cliché, but gifts don’t need to be expensive to make someone happy. My favorite gifts that I’ve given – and received – have not been the most expensive gifts. Personally, I don’t ever ask my loved ones what they want. If you know someone well enough, you can get them an amazing gift without ever asking what they want. And in my experience, it will be that much more special if you didn’t have to ask.

While that may work well for adults, with kids you probably do need to ask them exactly what they want or have them make a list. I’m still scarred from the Christmas I received four copies of the game “Connect 4” (Santa, my grandparents, and my aunt didn’t do a great job coordinating that year). Kids tend to care more about the actual gift rather than the thought behind it.

They may not be ready to completely grasp the concept, but this is great time to introduce the concept that being generous is rewarding. Over time they will come to learn that it is better to give than to receive. Jumping back into the reality versus the ideal of gift-giving for your kids, it is important to remember that you do not  need to break the bank. Set expectations with your kids so they know what is reasonable to ask for and what is not reasonable to ask for.

2. Black Friday may not be the best time of year to shop.

Shopping for Christmas gifts year-round can help you save money and make holiday shopping less stressful. Check out this month-by-month guide of what items are better to buy at certain times of the year. If you do the majority of your holiday shopping within the span of a month, or even a week, set aside a small amount of money every single month instead of trying to come up with the full amount all at once. A zero-based budgeting software such as YNAB can help you fund annual spending goals like holiday shopping.

3. Gifts come in many different shapes and sizes.

Holiday gifts don’t have to be physical objects wrapped in shiny paper. If you are a young couple, your gift to each other could be saving more money for a house, or traveling home to see each other’s families might be your gift to them. When you are younger and have less money to spend on others during the holidays, giving your time may be a better option. I can almost guarantee that your parents and grandparents would rather spend more time over the holidays with you than get a physical gift. Memories last much longer than any traditional gifts.

4. Don’t give what they don’t need.

If you have the means to do so, it can be tempting to buy loved ones really nice, expensive gifts. However, make sure it’s something they actually want before you spend all that money! My grandmother has no interest in the latest technological advancements, yet almost every year she receives a new gadget that will most likely never come out of the packaging and go straight to her “present closet.” She has a stack of about five different tablets that she will never use (and will probably receive another one this year).

Unfortunately, many Americans get stressed about money around the holidays. 35% end up taking on debt to pay for holiday gifts. By focusing on what really matters – spending time with your family and choosing meaningful gifts over more expensive alternatives – you can make this season a little less stressful and may even end the year with a little extra jingle in your pocket.

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