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NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- You don’t have to be a Scrooge or a Grinch to want to skip Christmas.

The average person spends hundreds of dollars on merchandise over the course of the holiday season, and that’s money some cash-strapped Americans just can’t afford to throw around in a tough economy. Others may have more philosophical objections – maybe they feel gift-buying is against the true spirit of the holiday, or perhaps they’ve been inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement to boycott the trappings of capitalism. Still others may be sick of spending hundreds at the mall and getting gifts they hate and would prefer to just buy something nice for themselves.

Unfortunately, skipping Christmas is easier said than done, and it may be tough to explain to close family and friends that you’d prefer not to give or get gifts this year. And even if you clearly explain to them that you don’t plan to engage in gifting, there’s still a chance some friend or relative will get you something anyway (and be offended you didn’t reciprocate). So if you want to buck the consumerism trend and cut out gift-giving altogether, here’s how to do it as tactfully as possible.

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Invoke the Economy

Whatever your true reason for wanting to forgo Christmas gift-giving, your best bet might be to beg poverty. The economic downturn has affected everyone and the economy is a long way from recovering fully. So unless you make a habit of spending ostentatiously year-round, most people will probably be understanding if you explain you’d prefer to save your money this season.

“Send an email to your family and explain it in financial terms,” says Leah Ingram, who runs the Suddenly Frugal blog and has written books on gifting and etiquette. “Say, ‘The recession has hit us hard, we’ve decided we cannot afford to give people gifts, but you’re in our hearts and spirits. And since we can’t buy, we hope you will reciprocate.’”

If you’re well-off and everyone knows it, this gambit could backfire and could just make you look the modern-day embodiment of Scrooge. And if you lay it on too thick and make it sound like you’re truly struggling, you could find yourself on the receiving end of their charity, which will just make you feel guilty. Still, in this economy most people won’t bat an eye if you tell them that you’d rather rein in your spending and keep your debt load low.

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Go the Charity Route

Even if you can’t reasonably claim poverty, there’s one gift-giving alternative few people will be able to argue with: mutual charitable donations.

“Find a cause that means something to your family, then explain that in lieu of traditional gifts you’ve made a donation to a charity in their name,” says Ingram, who adds that you can keep the amount of the donation confidential. Assuming the other party hasn’t bought you a gift yet, you can suggest they donate to one of your own favorite charities.

Of course, you can cut out the other party altogether, put your gift money toward a worthy cause and hope your friends and family understand.

Anna Daugherty, a Michigan-based public relations professional, explains that family circumstances made her parents unable to deal with gift-buying this Christmas, so she’s found another recipient for her gifting.

“I have adopted a family through the Volunteers of America Adopt-A-Family program and spent most of my holiday funds purchasing the things they need to have a good holiday this year,” she says.

Indeed, doing so is arguably more in the holiday spirit.

“The feeling of buying gifts for someone that you don't know but you know needs it more than you is an incredibly uplifting feeling,” says Jim Dailakis, a comedian. “This shows you're not cheap or a Scrooge, but that you are actually more in line with the giving feeling of the holiday.”

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Don’t Go Cold Turkey

Going from a gift-giving bonanza to a line of empty stockings may be a shock to the system, especially to relatives and friends used to getting mountains of gifts from you every year. As such, it may be in your best interest to scale back slowly.

“If you’ve gotten here because your family is always over the top, then instead of going from black to white, you can say ‘This is going too far, maybe next year can we do Secret Santa,’” Ingram suggests.

Once again, you can try invoking the economy – let your relatives know money is tight and you’d rather not go all out, and encourage them to do the same. Doing so will break the cycle of everyone trying to out-gift each other, and you can continue to scale back in subsequent years. Once your friends and family have gotten used to you bearing only a small number of modest gifts, they may be more receptive to the idea of cutting out gifting altogether.  

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Just Be Honest

While claiming poverty, giving to charity or slowly scaling back are all great ways to tiptoe around the situation, perhaps the best option is to just confront the issue head-on. If you decide to go the honest route, be firm but tactful.

“Several years ago, we simply explained to our friends that we felt truly fortunate to have all we needed,” says Sheila Hibbard, a marketing professional. “We were at a time in our lives when we were looking to unload, not to collect. We assured them that their friendship was all that truly mattered to us and we far more appreciated the phone call, the note, the communication.”

Ryan Nicodemus co-writes The Minimalists, a blog on living a minimalist lifestyle. He says that explaining his new lifestyle to his mother was particularly challenging.

“My mom is just that type of person who insists on getting me gifts,” he says. “I basically told her, ‘If you get me anything and I don’t have any use for it, I’m probably going to end up donating it.’ But I said it in a way that was tactful and easy to take in. You have to cater the message.”

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Steer Clear of Gifting Events

Calmly and rationally explaining your motivations for skipping Christmas may very well convince your family to forgo the mall and rediscover the true meaning of Christmas. But don’t count on it. Gift-giving is an ingrained holiday tradition, and the exchange of gifts may likewise be an important part of your family’s gathering. Meanwhile, friends or co-workers may organize a Secret Santa, thus necessitating the purchase of gifts that likely no one will enjoy.

Let’s face it: These events are going to be awkward for you, and your best bet is just to avoid them.

“We decided not to go to my family’s house in California,” admits Monique Shaldjian, a chef who recently decided to forego Christmas gifting. “It used to be about getting together, but now it’s just about getting together to give gifts.”

Ingram agrees that such social situations would be uncomfortable to navigate, which is why she says she ultimately would never consider skipping the gift-giving.

“If you made this proclamation but continue to go to family events, you’re putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation,” she says. “I might feel secure saying this in a vacuum, but going to that party is going to be uncomfortable, and I’m 100% sure at least one person in your family will ignore your wish.”

At the end of the day, then, you have two options: You can skip these parties and family gatherings, or you can simply accept that engaging in a bit of materialism is the price of admission.

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