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5 Fun Ways to Be Less Materialistic This Holiday Season

Dec. 10, 2020
5 mins
A mother and child cut out paper snowflakes by the window

The COVID-19 pandemic has put countless things into perspective, changing how many people will choose to spend their money and time during the holidays. According to an Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of World Vision Canada, many cash-strapped families are looking to scale-down their celebrations this year.

The recent changes in the economy will have many Canadians re-evaluating their holiday traditions. Seventy-eight percent plan to reduce their holiday spending, while a third will choose to either give fewer gifts or buy less expensive ones, at 31% and 33% respectively.

Compared to the 2008 Financial Crisis, Canadians are more likely to show signs of financial strain this holiday season, says Ipsos. But the impact of the pandemic on festivities is not only monetary. Eighty percent of respondents say they will avoid in-person gatherings this year.

In terms of gifts, Canadians will be purchasing for fewer people (24%), buying more online (24%), making more homemade (17%), and giving more to charity (15%).

This year is about focusing on gratitude rather than gifts. Here are five fun ways to be less materialistic this holiday season.

1. Plan a gift exchange

Spoiling your friends and family with loads of gifts and goodies can be fun, and often, they like to treat you in return. However, after the holidays, you may be left with too much stuff and a financial hangover. Consider suggesting a gift exchange this year and downsize your celebrations.

Secret Santa gift exchanges can be a fantastic way to enjoy festivities with friends near and far. It can also be a fun way to limit your gift list and cut down on holiday spending. Work with the group to set a reasonable price cap and remember to include the cost of shipping.

Elfster is a free tool you can use to generate wish lists, draw names, and organize your event. It is easy to set up your gift exchange, including inviting attendees, setting the budget, and sharing contact details like addresses. The event organizer can even set draw restrictions, so drawees will not be given their spouse or their pick from last year, for example.

2. Challenge yourself

Kickstart your New Year’s resolutions early and aim to save money by making mindful purchases. It can be easy to add a few items for yourself in the cart while shopping for others, but self-gifting can take a toll on your budget.

Challenge yourself to buy necessities only and see if you can do this for one entire month.

To help you stick to your goal, consider downloading an app like Goalify. It enables you to record your progress, stay organized and improve your willpower. You can challenge your friends and family in a friendly competition to add some excitement to your commitments, and they can hold you accountable.

3. Make a wish list

Asking for gifts can be awkward but having this conversation may be more rewarding for all involved. Making a wish list can be a helpful way for your loved ones to give you something you can use and enjoy. It can also remove some pressure from the shopper and ensure they don’t waste time and money.

Wishlist by Giftbuster allows users to create one or multiple wish lists, add items from anywhere, including the price, and share them with family and friends.

Consider adding items that serve a purpose. Ask for food, wine, and other consumables or a donation to your favourite charity. Maybe ask for a meal from the beloved local diner around the corner. Think about the practical gifts you can appreciate every day.

American Express has created a directory of some Canadian small businesses to browse if you need some inspiration. Another option is to surf Not Amazon, a website compiled of small businesses across Toronto, Halifax, Calgary, and Vancouver. Or visit Shop Local Canada.

4. Go digital

Connecting with the ones we love is the reason for the season. Although the restrictions and lack of contact throughout the year have kept you apart, you can plan to surprise your friends and family in creative ways.


Writing thoughtful or funny e-cards can be a wonderful way to remind your favourite people you are thinking of them. Lots of these services are free, so you can send out as many cards as your heart desires without it costing you a thing—because it really is the thought that counts.

Elf Yourself is a classic holiday laugh. Upload your family photos (up to five faces) to the website, and your household will transform into a group of singing and dancing elves.

Virtual experiences

Virtual experiences can help make memories and avoid clutter.

American Express has curated a selection of virtual experiences from theatre productions and museum tours, movies and more. Many of these events are free; however, some are exclusive to cardmembers.

Airbnb has created a vast catalogue of online experiences and unique activities from all over the world.

Some examples of events include:

  • Guided Meditation with Sleepy Sheep
  • Go on A Leopard Safari in Sri Lanka
  • Sangria and Secrets with Drag Queens
  • A Very Kardashian Christmas (hosted by Kris Jenner)

Some experiences are budget-friendly, while others are more costly. To participate, you will need to book your ticket and join a Zoom call.


Many family board games are now available online. Play favourites like Scrabble, Scattergories, and Monopoly virtually.

Other enjoyable multiplayer games gaining popularity include Jackbox games and Among Us.

5. Create new traditions

While your usual family traditions may not be possible this year, you have an opportunity to create new ones.

Walk or drive around your neighbourhood to view the lights and holiday decorations with a hot beverage. This activity can bring some joy to your evening.

There is a German tree trimming tradition that sounds exciting. Hide a pickle ornament somewhere on the tree. The first person to find the decoration gets a special gift (or opens their presents first).

Discover a new cookie recipe, whip up a peppermint hot chocolate, or bake some holiday-inspired scones. There are endless possibilities for new traditions you can start now and enjoy for years to come.

Hayley Osmond

Hayley Osmond is an editor and writer in the personal finance space, where she uses her eight years of media and marketing experience to bring content to life. She specializes in money products, including mortgages, home and auto insurance, and credit cards. Hayley holds a Broadcast Journalism diploma from Sheridan College and was awarded the Shaw Media Journalism and Media Award for graduating at the top of her class. Her work has appeared in Global News and diverse digital corporate training materials behind the scenes.

Hayley is passionate about making complex subjects, such as home buying and financial literacy, concise and intriguing. Her work has garnered media coverage from The Globe and Mail, blogTO, Yahoo! News, and CityNews 680 and has been syndicated across other publications.

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