Holiday gifts © Corbis

The Basics

How to thin your Christmas gift list

Has an old friendship devolved into a dutiful exchange of Christmas presents? When holiday shopping turns into a chore, it's time to halt the gift-giving treadmill.

By Melinda Fulmer

How do you dump excess baggage from your Christmas list without feeling like a Scrooge?

You know you want to. Every year, there's the gift or two you buy only because you know one of your family or friends or co-workers will have one to exchange. Worse, there are the times you slip and forget, and wind up scrambling at the last minute.

If the relationship has already turned into a mutual exchange of gift cards, enough is enough. Etiquette experts and gift givers who've been there have some advice on how to cut your Christmas list while minimizing the emotional bruises.

You may have mutual relief

If buying a present for certain people feels like a chore, chances are it feels that way for them as well. You'll never know until you broach the subject.

The first step is to talk to that person about exchanging cards, phone calls or a night out instead, says Mary Hunt, the creator and editor of the Debt Proof Living Web site and a series of books.

"Just say, 'How about this year we do something different?' " Hunt suggests.

Most of the people you approach, she says, are generally going to be relieved by the suggestion.

Whatever you do, be honest with the person and don't make excuses, says Peggy Post, the director of the Emily Post Institute and author of "Excuse Me, But I Was Next . . . "

"Tell them . . . 'I have loved your gifts and loved exchanging gifts with you. What do you think about calling an end to gifts but still keeping in touch?' " Post says. "If money's tight, let people know."

Ignore the gift-giving pressure

Don't simply stop calling or visiting people around the holidays, a strategy one male shopper refers to as "laying low."

And don't feel like you have to have a gift for everyone, even those who seem to expect it. A heartfelt thank-you and a smile are generally the best way to simplify.

"The key thing is to say 'Thank you' or 'You shouldn't have' or 'What a nice surprise,' " Post says.

Stick to your guns, even in the face of gift-giving pressure.

Chris Halbeisen, a Long Beach, Calif., daycare owner, remembers giving the ax to one of her husband's friends who always showed up around Christmas seeming to expect a gift. After years of being the only one on the giving end, Halbeisen decided it was safe to call it quits. That same year, the man unexpectedly showed up with a gift, and Halbeisen put herself through the wringer, having her sister come over with an item she had at home and pass a gift through a back window. This year, she says, she's prepared to end it for good.

"I don't care if he shows up with a gift -- he's been axed!" she says.

Video on MSN Money

Woman with gift © Sonny T. Senser/age fotostock
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It's one thing to thin down your gift list, but how do you get rid of those gifts you never used?
Many people talked of buying gifts only for their relatives' kids or choosing one family member each year to receive a present. Jerry Upham, a construction purchaser from North Hollywood, Calif., says he made a deal with his grown children years ago not to buy Christmas gifts for the grandkids.

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