If you’re looking for simple tips for a green Christmas, you’ve come to the right place! In this post, I’m sharing my family’s best tips to help you save green (your money) and go green (for the Earth).
Don’t worry, this won’t hurt a bit
If you’re overwhelmed or turned off by overly green tactics, don’t worry. I’m not into deprivation, being a scrooge or green shaming. You can still celebrate Christmas your way, and you’ll still make a big impact (even if you’re not 100% green).
The tips in this article are easy and approachable, and don’t require much (or any) extra effort. Read on, and make this your greenest Christmas yet!
I know, I know. It’s a little late to be putting out a Christmas article. But hey—it’s December, and life got busy! Aaand this article turned out to be way more detailed than I’d anticipated!
I decided to take my time to make it awesome, and publish it anyway (even though it’s late). While you may not be able to use all the tips this year, they’ll be helpful for next year—so be sure to bookmark this article!
1. Limit gift giving
By limiting your gift list, you’ll cut your spending and stress, and save yourself time. It’s also a green choice: reducing our consumption is one impactful way we can be more responsible consumers.
But how exactly do you cut down your gift list? Here’s how we broached this sometimes-touchy subject with our friends and family:
Start with one conversation
If you’re unsure of how others feel about going giftless, start by initiating the conversation with one person. We started by telling one friend that we wanted to simplify Christmas and save everyone time and money.
Instead of gifts, we wanted to focus on the things that truly brought us joy: spending time together and doing things for each other throughout the year. Our friend was happy to go along with our suggestion, agreeing that we all have more than enough stuff.
After that success, we approached other friends and family members with the same request. To our happy surprise, everyone was immediately on board. In less than an hour of messaging, our Christmas list was cut by a third!
If you’re not sure how to start a conversation like this, below is an actual message I sent to my cousin. Feel free to use it verbatim if it works for you:
How are you? We’re looking forward to having lunch at your place next month! As we prepare for the gathering, we’re wondering if we can make a request?
It’s the same request we’ve made to other family and friends, and we hope you’ll be okay with it: in an effort to simplify Christmas, we’re opting not to exchange gifts.
We’ve found our giftless Christmases to be such a relief for everyone. It saves time, money and energy, which we can then redirect to more quality time together. (Not to mention: it also lightens our footprint on the Earth!)
I hope this doesn’t come off as presumptuous—maybe you hadn’t planned to exchange gifts anyway! But we prefer to be upfront.
We’re looking forward to seeing you again and catching up. Let us know what you think of our green Christmas idea.
2. Make a list
Now that you’ve minimized the number of gifts you’ll need to buy, it’s time to make a list. There are so many benefits to creating and maintaining an annual Christmas gift list. For example, my list helps me to:
- Stay organized and save time;
- Save money by planning ahead and buying on sale;
- Keep track of what I still need to purchase;
- Remember gifts I purchased on sale last year;
- Remember where I stored those gifts;
- Reuse gift ideas from last year;
- Add notes for next year;
- Prevent over-buying (I no longer need to keep just-in-case gifts on hand);
- Prevent duplicate gifts (whether from year-to-year or for different people);
- Never forget someone (doctors, teachers, etc.);
- Avoid last-minute shopping runs;
- Minimize shopping trips (which saves time and gas).
I keep my list in Evernote so that it’s easy to update, and always with me. Wherever I am, I can pull up the list on my phone to see what I still need to buy. (No more lost slips of paper!)
If you’ve never used a Christmas gift list, I highly suggest you give it a try. I’m confident it’ll help you have a greener Christmas by saving you money, gas, and time!
3. Get creative with kids’ gifts
Our extended family loves getting gifts for the kids—and who could blame them? Seeing those little faces light up is so much fun! But we have a huge family and always end up with a tsunami of gifts on Christmas and birthdays.
As appreciative as we are of our relatives’ generosity, we knew we had to change things. Here are some of the ways that we and our family make gift-giving to the kids greener:
Offer an experience
My sister has done a wonderful job of this with her kids. Instead of giving them physical gifts, she lets each of them pick a fun outing or experience of their choice.
One year, her daughter’s pick was to ride around the mall on one of those big, ride-on stuffed animals. This is something my sister normally wouldn’t pay for, but it was a perfect choice as an experience gift!
Other experiences her kids have asked for include: going to a trampoline park, seeing a movie at a theatre, or a having a family board game night. All of these choices are affordable or even free ways to spend time together.
And what better gift is there than having quality time to build memories as a family?
The key is in the ‘why’
While my sister’s kids are mostly on board with experiential gifts, they’re still kids! They do question it at times and wonder why their family chooses experiences over stuff.
This is when my sister and her husband explain the why of their choice. In doing so, her kids understand that buying less stuff means more money, time, and energy saved. And in turn, they can direct those precious resources to things they truly value—like family outings, travel, and even FI.
They also discuss how important it is that they do their part to reduce their impact on the environment. This was a pretty easy sell for her kids, whose generation is very in tune with the crises facing our planet.
Once they’re reminded of these whys, it’s not hard for them to go back to being happy with their experience-based Christmas gifts.
My guilty secret
I have a guilty secret to share: I don’t gift experiences to my kids! Exciting Christmas mornings spent opening physical gifts is a big part of our family culture, and it’s hard to make the shift.
However, I’m very inspired by my sister’s experience and hope to move towards giving my kids experience gifts in the future.
Buy on sale and create your own ‘store’
Another creative way to save and go green with kids’ gifts is to buy their gifts on sale, then stash them to create your own ‘store’. I know it sounds a bit weird, so let me explain:
Some of our relatives really enjoy giving physical gifts to our kids. Since it’s so meaningful to them, we want them to have the opportunity to give our boys a special gift at Christmas.
But we’re frugal and hate to see our relatives paying full price for these items! So our family has a system where the parents of the kids buy their desired items when they spot a sale. Then the relatives buy the gifts directly from the parents to give to the kids.
This saves our relatives money and time, and our kids get gifts that they really want. There’s also less impact on the Earth since we don’t end up with a pile of unwanted or inappropriate gifts.
Ask for cash
In our family, cash is a welcome gift option. For the gifter, it’s easy and convenient. For the giftee, it offers flexibility (especially for tweens and teens, who may want to save up for larger items).
This gift money is also how our kids have steadily built sizeable investment accounts. Since they spend so little of it (with a portion going to charity) there’s always a large chunk of cash leftover. And what does a good FI-minded parent do with excess cash? Invest it, of course!
As our parents did with our gift money growing up, we’re slowly building nest eggs for each of our kids—largely from these gifts of cash. Instead of a pile of stuff, they have a steadily-growing pile of investments.
I realize this may sound crass, and may even be insulting to some. But our relatives are like-minded when it comes to money. They actually appreciate that their gift money is going towards something more valuable than the latest video game!
That’s second generation FIRE in action!
Ask for gift cards
For those who are uncomfortable with cash gifts, gift cards to favourite stores are a good alternative. They’re convenient for the gifter and easy for the giftee to spend—another win-win for everyone!
Jump to my Give greener gift cards tip to learn how to make gift card gifting greener.
This is another option that may not fly with your family, but it’s such a great money and Earth saver that I have to mention it: I always start with Craigslist when shopping for my kids’ Christmas gifts.
While this may sound odd or icky, hear me out! I do this because kids generally couldn’t care less how their gifts are packaged or if they’re brand-new. As long as it looks decent and is in working order, they may not even notice that the item is used.
Here are some of the benefits I’ve seen from giving my kids used gifts:
Huge money savings
Used items are typically a fraction of the cost of new ones—even when they’re in like-new condition. That means more money in your wallet (or the ability to afford more gifts for your kids).
Affordable unique or rare items
Sometimes, the gifts my kids asked for are no longer sold in stores (e.g. certain Nerf guns or limited-edition LEGO sets). Instead of paying a premium for these discontinued items on eBay, I searched Craigslist for them—and almost always find what I’m looking for.
Since I’m purchasing something that’s already been manufactured, I’m preventing more of that item from being made. This is a very good thing since decreasing consumption is an impactful way to help the Earth.
Less landfill waste
Buying used also helps to prevent otherwise-good items from being sent to the landfill. The more we support the used marketplaces in our community, the more incentive there is for people to sell, rather than toss their unwanted items.
4. Gift mindfully
While the best choice is to minimize gift-giving, it can be difficult to cut out all gifts. Instead, we can be more mindful when gifting to others.
Let’s quit buying those junky token gifts and consider some greener alternatives:
Experiences are a great alternative to giving yet another mass-produced doohickey. The ideas for experience gifts are endless and are easy to personalize! To get you started, here are some favourite experiences that we’ve given or received:
- Admission tickets or annual membership to a local attraction or museum.
- A family fun pass (like Kidsworld).
- A homemade coupon book of frugal outings to ‘cash in’ all year round.
- A gift certificate to a pottery studio.
- A couple of rounds of glow bowling.
- Tickets to a local sports event.
More experience-based gift ideas
- Create Memories, Not Garbage: An amazing website from Metro Vancouver filled with unique gift ideas and tips for a green Christmas.
- 22 Experience Gift Ideas for the Holidays: A great article from Jessica at the Fioneers about giving experiences instead of things.
- How to Avoid a Transactional Christmas: In this excellent post, Maria shares some helpful ideas to avoid a Christmas based on meaningless lists and gifts.
Gifts of food and personal care items are always a reliable gift option. They also make for a greener choice because they’ll be eaten or used up in short order! That means no lingering clutter or yet another item to purge one day.
Even if the item isn’t needed or wanted, it’s unlikely that it’ll end up in the landfill. That’s because there’s never a shortage of people who’d love to eat or use up these items on others’ behalf!
If you’re keen on making consumables yourself, this gift option can also be a good way to save money. Treats, soaps, and scrubs often cost pennies on the dollar to make at home.
DIY gifts also allow you to choose greener packaging. Instead of adding more plastic to the waste stream, you could gift cookies in a compostable paper box. Or package homemade soap in a reusable cloth bag.
Whether homemade or store-bought, consider consumable items. They can be a lovely, clutter-free alternative to generic token gifts.
Green gifts can be a fun, easy way to help others live more sustainably. Below are some green gifts I’ve given and were big hits:
- Stainless steel bottles.
- Stainless steel straws.
- Reusable fabric shopping bags.
- Reusable mesh produce bags.
- Pocket-sized stainless steel cutlery.
- Wool dryer balls.
- Beeswax food wraps.
Your green gift may even inspire your friends and family to incorporate more green practices into their life!
Give greener gift cards
I’m not sure how this is allowed, given the state of our planet, but most gift cards are made of plastic. Even worse—they’re made of laminated plastic, which makes them hard to recycle.
Gift cards don’t need the durability of plastic like credit cards do. We just don’t use them as much or keep them as long. In my opinion, ALL gift cards really should be made from recyclable cardstock!
Unfortunately, we can’t control the powers-that-be who decide what to make gift cards out of. But we can choose greener options whenever possible. Here are a few suggestions:
Buy gift cards made of recyclable cardstock
- I’ve come across a few companies that sell paper gift cards: Apple iTunes, Starbucks, Roots, Netflix, and MEC.
- I’ve mostly found these paper gift cards in the gift card section of grocery stores.
- It can be hard to tell if a gift card is made of paper or plastic unless you can touch it. (I’m not sure why these companies don’t tout the fact that their cards are plastic-free—to me, it’s a selling feature!)
Opt for print-at-home gift cards
- Many online retailers offer this option.
- Some retailers (Amazon comes to mind) thoughtfully design their printable gift cards to be folded into a nice card.
Opt for digital gift cards
- This doesn’t work for face-to-face gift exchanges, but it’s a great option for gifts to out-of-town friends and family.
Reuse plastic gift cards
Give practical items
When gifting practical items, chances are they’re needed and will be put to good use. This means less clutter and less junk going to landfills. (Especially if you purchase higher-quality items.)
Below is a list of well-received practical gifts that we’ve given to others or received ourselves:
- An Instant Pot.
- A cast-iron or carbon steel wok.
- A nice set of chopsticks.
- A wine aerator.
- Themed/crazy/character socks.
- Non-skid fuzzy socks.
- A cozy scarf (homemade if you can swing it).
- A warm toque/beanie (this would also be extra-special if homemade).
- Next-size-up clothing for kids.
- Fuzzy slippers.
- A useful or helpful book.
- A custom-assembled car safety or earthquake preparedness kit.
Give digital gifts
Digital gifts consume a fraction of the resources of physical gifts. By giving digitally, you’re cutting out many streams of resource-sucking processes. (Manufacturing, packaging, shipping, storing, displaying, wrapping, and disposal.)
Digital gifts are also perfect for last-minute gifts since you can purchase and gift them almost instantly. Plus—there’s no need to ship them, which saves you money and minimizes the carbon footprint of your gift.
Here are some digital gifts that we’ve given (or that I would love to receive):
- E-codes for in-game videogame items.
- An online course.
- Electronic gift cards.
- A subscription to an entertainment service (Netflix, Disney+, Spotify).
- A subscription to a productivity tool (Headspace, Evernote Premium).
- A subscription to an online newspaper or magazine.
Give gift receipts
Wherever possible, ask the cashier to print a gift receipt when purchasing gifts. It’s so easy to do and costs nothing, but so many people forget this extra little step!
Gift receipts are a thoughtful way to ensure your gift recipient can get exactly what they want. If they need a different size or colour, or just don’t like the gift, they can easily exchange it for one that suits them better.
This saves everyone some awkwardness and also means one less thing going to the donation bin or landfill.
Give to charity
Gifting to charities in the name of the person you’re gifting to is a lovely idea… in theory. In practice, it’s slightly awkward. You’re essentially swapping your gift to someone with a donation to a charity of your choosing! I’ve never felt right about this, so have never given a donation as a gift.
When you purchase charity gift cards, your giftee will be free to choose who to donate to, and you’ll get the tax receipt. I think it’s a thoughtful, green gift and a win-win for everyone.
Bonus: make the gift extra-green by printing the gift card at home and gifting it in a recyclable paper envelope. This reduces plastic use and carbon emissions from shipping the physical card.
5. Go green with your wrapping
It’s been years since I’ve needed to buy wrapping paper or Christmas gift bags. How have I managed to pull this off? With green wrapping, of course!
Here are some of my favourite ways to go green with our gift wrapping:
DIY reusable cloth bags
A coworker once told me how her family used old pillowcases as Christmas gift bags. I loved the idea and thought it was ingenious. But instead of repurposing old pillowcases, I opted to make my bags using pretty Christmas fabric. (I wasn’t as aware of sustainability in my younger years.)
While my DIY bags weren’t as eco-friendly as old pillowcases would’ve been, they were a relatively frugal choice: I waited for Boxing Day so I could purchase the fabric at a 50% discount.
It’s been close to 20 years since I made those bags, and they still look great. We pull them out every Christmas to ‘wrap’ our gifts… and every year we’re so grateful I made them! Not only are they pretty under the tree, but they’re also a huge time saver. Since I sewed the bags with drawstrings, it takes mere seconds to bag a gift and tie it up!
I also love that we’re not adding piles of paper to the recycling bin or buying hard-to-recycle laminated paper gift bags. Reusable cloth gift bags are definitely a green choice! (But try to make them greener than I did by upcycling old fabric instead of buying new.)
Reuse paper gift bags
When we receive paper gift bags, we keep and reuse them. The slightly worn or wrinkled ones go to gifts for family (they don’t care because they all do the same!) And the more-pristine bags are reserved for gifting to friends and co-workers.
I also made some stickers that say, “I’m going green by reusing this gift bag. Please consider doing the same and passing on this bag with your next gift.”
I stick these to the bottom of my reused gift bags to encourage others to use them over and over again. I’m not sure if this has ever happened… but I can hope!
Choose 100% paper gift bags
If I ever need to purchase paper gift bags, I look for the ones that are just plain paper, without lamination. That’s because lamination is a thin plastic film that’s fused to paper. This makes the paper very difficult to recycle… which means more waste in the landfill.
100% paper bags might be less durable, but at least they’re fully recyclable or compostable at the end of their life. Additionally, Chris Istace at Mindful Explorer points out an important distinction:
“Use ‘100% post consumer recycled’ paper bags… if recycling is to have value as an industry we need to use items made from recycled materials. Plus we save the need for new wood fibre.”
Put a (used) bow on it
As with laminated gift bags, I collect and save those poofy plastic bows we receive with our gifts. These things last forever and can be used over and over if you add a fresh loop of tape to the back.
They can make a gift bag or paper-wrapped gift look extra special. Or they can be the perfect, minimalist gift wrapping for large, bulky, or odd-shaped gifts—just stick a (used) bow on top, and you’re done!
By reusing these bows, I’ve never had to spend money on them, and I’m keeping them out of the landfill.
6. Go green with your Christmas cards
As nice as it is to give and receive Christmas cards, we should all try to be more mindful of the materials they’re made of. Most of us don’t realize that glitter, foil, or other accoutrements make Christmas cards difficult or impossible to recycle.
The paper that could’ve been recycled becomes more landfill waste. What a shame—the 5% of a card that’s not recyclable ends up wasting the 95% that is. Here are some tips to minimize the environmental impact of the cards you give and receive:
Mindful card giving
Consider these greener options before making your Christmas card list:
- Minimize the number of cards you send out.
- Choose 100% paper cards (avoid embellishments like glitter, foil, and metal/plastic accents).
- Choose 100% paper envelopes (avoid the ones with unrecyclable foil liners).
- Buy smaller cards.
- Give gift cards in an envelope and no card (or insert a small note with the gift card).
- Send digital cards instead.
Mindful card receiving
Don’t just throw out those beautiful cards you’ve received! Here are a few ways to deal with them more sustainably:
Recycle old Christmas cards the right way
You could go through the tedious process of removing only the unrecyclable components from the cards, then recycling what’s left (I do!) But I’m a frugal eco weirdo who’s happy to take on silly tasks like this. Most people aren’t.
A simpler solution is to cut off and throw out the decorated front half of the card then recycle the (usually) 100% paper back half of the card. Or, instead of throwing out that pretty decorated front, see the next tip.
Upcycle old Christmas cards
There are plenty of creative ways to give those beautiful (but unrecyclable) Christmas cards one more use. My personal favourite is to trim them down to use as next year’s gift tags, but there’s a myriad of other ideas:
- Christmas card crafts from Hallmark (so many gorgeous ideas here)
- Tiny gift boxes (video)
- Donate them to charity (also includes other great ideas and recycling tips)
- Bookmarks (an easy gift that kids can make)
- 51 epic ideas (too many amazing ideas to list—check them out for yourself!)
- Even more beautiful ideas (I especially love the jar toppers and gift box bling)
- A wreath (I like these instructions because they don’t use non-recyclable materials)
These crafts will keep your cards out of the landfill and save you money on wrapping supplies. Also, some of them are beautiful enough to give as gifts (that cost you almost nothing!)
7. Plan for next year
I always find it most effective to start planning for next year soon after the holiday madness has passed. That way, you won’t forget important details and changes you want to make.
Here are some of the things I consider when planning for next year’s Christmas:
Budgeting for Christmas
We all know Christmas comes around every year, yet few of us actually plan ahead and save up for it. I was guilty of this myself—until I discovered YNAB and learned there was a better way!
At YNAB, they suggest including a budget category just for Christmas. You start by estimating an amount you’ll need to spend for Christmas, then break it into a monthly amount. (Even better: tally up what you spent last year, then base it on that number.)
Next, create a Christmas category in your budget. Enter the amount you need to set aside each month, then watch the balance grow. When December rolls around again, you’ll have a pot of money ready to use for Christmas!
Note: you could also set up a recurring transfer into a savings account to do the same thing. (The EQ Bank Savings Plus Account1 is great for this. You can add up to four sub-accounts so you can easily save towards big expenditures. Bonus: you’ll earn 2.45%2 everyday interest on your account balance!)
To further fine-tune our plans, I also review the following before and after the holidays:
- Gifts we’d like to add or remove from our gift list.
- Expenses we could cut back on.
- Sales we should watch for throughout the year.
- Social events we’d like to add, remove, or change.
Planning ahead is one of the best ways to save money and avoid buying decisions based on convenience rather than sustainability. So get those budgets and lists started now, and make next year’s Christmas your greenest yet!
There are so many easy, approachable ways to have a green Christmas—and there’s no need to sacrifice any fun or enjoyment to do it!
- Limit gifts: Ask your family and friends to consider going giftless. You’ll save money, time, and stress—and have more energy to focus on quality time together.
- Make a list: Get clear on what you need to buy, and for whom. This will save you money, time, and stress while reducing your consumption and carbon footprint.
- Get creative with kids’ gifts: Experiences, cash, gift cards, or used items are more-sustainable alternatives to giving kids yet another brand-new toy.
- Gift mindfully: Instead of buying junky token gifts, get mindful with your gifting. Doing so will help to minimize the impact of your gifts on the planet and your wallet.
- Go green with your wrapping: Reusing and upcycling can reduce or eliminate your need for new wrapping materials and send less waste to landfills.
- Go green with your Christmas cards: Most of us aren’t aware that the pretty cards we give and receive are not recyclable. Learn more, then seek out more-sustainable alternatives.
- Plan for next year: Save up for stress-free Christmas spending, and consider other ways to save money and time next year.
I hope these tips for a green Christmas have opened your eyes. There are so many easy, simple alternatives to conventional gifting, shopping and wrapping. If we all make a few small changes, we’ll be helping to ensure many generations of green Christmases to come!
Got any green Christmas tips?
Do you have other green tips that I’ve overlooked? Did I get anything wrong? Tell me in the comments so we can all learn and have an even greener Christmas next year!
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