The giving season is underway, with the holidays and year-end bearing down on us. So how can we transform holiday giving from one of the more stressful (and sometimes guilt-ridden) aspects of the season into expressions of gratitude and generosity?

Whether you’re giving to a family member, a friend or a cause, please consider the following four suggestions for holiday giving.

1) Give out of impulsion, not compulsion. 

The compulsion of holiday giving can arise from the mountain of expectations, perceived or otherwise, heaped upon us at this time of year. (Those expectations are more often self-imposed, by the way.) Impulsion, on the other hand, comes from within. Give because you want to, not because you have to. And don’t give if you don’t want to. 

2) Plan your giving.

Just because holiday giving comes from the heart doesn’t mean you wait for an epiphany to direct you. Sit down and decide who or what organizations are on this year’s list, and how much you plan to spend (even if you choose donor-advised funds). This will help ensure that you are not going to suffer in 2020 for your over-zealous, underfunded generosity in 2019. Stick to your budget.

3) Give creatively.

What you give and how you give it tells a person a lot more than the amount you spent on them. You could give your nephew a generic Visa gift card he can spend on anything. On the other hand, you could target his love of music with an iTunes gift card. Or, you could give him Jack White’s “Ultra LP” on vinyl. It plays from the inside out and has a locked groove on side A. It shows you were paying attention enough to know he has a record player and would probably like that kind of music. Creativity increases the value of your gift exponentially.

4) Give participatively.

Yes, I know “participatively” isn’t a word, but perhaps it should be. We want to encourage you to actively participate in your giving, physically as well as fiscally—especially when it comes to charitable giving. Sure, you can write a check to have a positive impact and feel good about it. But you can also get involved, personally interacting with those receiving your holiday gift. Acts of personal giving can be life-changing, for both the giver and the recipient, and this isn’t simply anecdotal advice. Studies back it up, too.

That ever-popular song says this is the most wonderful time of the year. And while it can be, it’s also one of the most stressful times for far too many. Reframing how we view and practice giving can help transform this central element of the holidays from a burden into a blessing.

If you’d like more information on how to utilize holiday giving as an aspect of your ongoing financial plan, we’d love to talk with you. At Cogent, we help high-achieving individuals like develop clear goals for your financial future and guide you in taking the right steps to achieve them. And that includes holiday giving!


A version of  this commentary originally appeared December 5, 2014  on and was written by Tim Maurer.