Planning to cut back on your holiday gift-giving but don't want to look like you put the "S" in Scrooge? Relax. Being frugal isn't simply a sign of less-than-affluent times. It's hip to save money these days.
Here are some tips on trimming your gift list without having to duck friends, family and co-workers in the process.
1. Don't shop without a list
Even if you plan to pare down the number of people on your Christmas gift list, you need a starting point. That's why list advocate Paula Rizzo of ListProducer.com says making a list puts you at an immediate advantage. "Shopping with a list is like using a road map: If you put some effort into organizing your list before you hit the stores, you are more likely to get more done," Rizzo says.
By scrutinizing the list of people you normally buy for, you can see where you've spent your money during past holiday seasons. When you're done shaping and pruning your list, use it to focus your shopping. Then, says Rizzo, you won't wander around the mall overspending on the people who remain on it.
2. Put it under a microscope
Perhaps you're still exchanging gifts with a former work colleague or neighbor with whom you no longer socialize, or you mail a package to a high school friend out of habit each holiday season.
Leah Ingram, whose blog "Suddenly Frugal" explores strategies to live well with less, says it's perfectly fine to prune your Christmas gift list. "There is no reason to continue to buy gifts for people who are no longer meaningful to you. That kind of excess -- buying a gift just 'cause you can -- seems so dot-com boom!"
3. Be upfront about your intentions
Cutting back on the number of potential gift recipients on your list is fine, says Jodi R.R. Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. The key to doing it right is all in the way you communicate your intentions. "Waiting until I'm at a holiday gathering and people are handing me gifts to tell my sister-in-law I've decided not to give her (one) this year is too late," Smith says.
She recommends you tell those with whom you usually exchange gifts well in advance that you're skipping the custom this time around so they can adjust their own shopping lists. Smith says most people are grateful for the opportunity to cut back.
Also, remember that gift-giving doesn't always have to be quid pro quo. If you made it clear you're not buying someone a gift and you end up with a beautifully wrapped package anyway, thank the gift-giver and give yourself permission to skip the holiday angst.
4. Set limits
Limit family gifts to small children or draw names. Ingram says she's still trying to sell her own clan on the joys of using a Secret Santa or other gift-giving system. "This would cut down on the gift clutter so much," Ingram says.
Although Ingram says she's not been able to make inroads on some family gifting habits, she does like their "unwritten rule" that after reaching 21 or graduating from college, a child ages out of the automatic gift process. "The aunts and uncles and everyone else are off the hook from buying you a gift," Ingram says.
5. Invest time rather than money
Cyndi Cook Travis, who lives with her husband outside of Chicago, says she's taming her holiday gift list not by paring it back, but by changing the types of gifts she gives.
"We have definitely cut down on the amount we are spending. In the case where in the past we have given neighbors a bottle of wine or a gift card to go out to dinner, this year they will be receiving homemade treats," Travis says.
She's not the only one. Lots of Americans are choosing the homemade route over hit-or-miss purchases made in busy, overcrowded stores. From handcrafted chocolates to knitted scarves, personalizing a gift can make it much more special to the recipient.
6. Shop all year
It may be too late to do it this year, but promise yourself you'll be on the lookout for bargains and special gifts year-round so that when 2014 nears an end, you'll have the bulk of your holiday gifts purchased and ready for wrapping.
Not only does it really save money (think post-holiday sales when stuff is marked down as much as 90 percent), but it also keeps you from making those last-minute impulse purchases. And it's easier on your budget to buy one or two bargain-priced gifts a month instead of trying to do it all at once. Just stay away from foodstuffs, trendy items that are likely to be passe in 12 months and children's clothing because their sizes change so fast.
7. Don't skip the tip
It's tempting to skip the December haircut and avoid that obligatory holiday tip, but can you really cut out the tips to shorten your shopping list or -- is that just plain tacky? Smith says if you can't afford to pay the tip, then perhaps you shouldn't be using the service provider.
"If your tipping at the end of the year is putting you into debt, then you should be looking at your lifestyle," Smith says. If tipping your manicurist, hairdresser, dog walker and the guy who shovels the snow in your driveway will put you over the edge, then perhaps you should be doing your own manicures and shoveling your own snow, she says.
However, stiffing the people you should tip is a no-no.
8. Have a meaningful holiday
For many, it's simply a matter of putting one's budget in order. They also want to tame the commercialism in favor of what the holiday really means from a religious or family perspective. Help tap into the significance of the season by giving gifts to a charity, nursing home or homeless shelter, or donating to another good cause. Tell the people with whom you normally swap gifts.
If exchanging gifts is a normal part of your workplace's tradition, perhaps this is the year to suggest a group effort. Check with your human resources department first to see what's allowed. Adopt a family or charity and pool your resources to make the holidays brighter for someone else. Not only can it be individually more economical, but also it's satisfying to come together as a group and make the world a better place.