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Christmas gift.Massonstock/Getty Images/iStockphoto

There will be a lot less wrapping paper to clean up at the Duchaine household in Brighton, Ont., this Christmas.

For the first time, the four Duchaine siblings have decided to drastically reduce their gift giving to one present per person, with a price limit of $50 each. That's a break from the longstanding tradition of buying smaller gifts for each person, and in more recent years some of their significant others as well.

The change is partly about priorities – making the holidays more about family and less about stuff – and partly about saving money given where each sibling is in their life right now, says Isabelle Duchaine, 25, the second-oldest sibling.

Ms. Duchaine is engaged and saving up for her wedding next summer, her 26-year-old brother just got married and is saving for a house, her 17-year-old sister is planning to go to college or university next year and her 15-year-old sister is still in high school.

"Even though there's a spread in our ages, we're all in the same place when it comes to thinking more carefully about finances," Ms. Duchaine says.

"For us it was about being honest that what we're looking forward to is being together. Yes, getting gifts is great, but being candid about where we are and not just what we can afford right now, but what our priorities should be when it comes to spending money on one another."

Ms. Duchaine says it's not just her family that's cutting back. Her group of friends is also looking at ways to save money this holiday season, including hosting potluck dinners and parties instead of individual gift exchanges.

She also uses all of the rewards she earns from her Visa card, Shoppers Optimum and PC points cards to help her cover some of the extra costs that crop up during the holidays.

"You're going to use them at some point, so why not during the time of year where most of the expenses pop up?"

Ms. Duchaine and her family and friends appear to be bucking this year's holiday shopping trend. According to Accenture's annual Canada Holiday Shopping Survey, 39 per cent of shoppers plan to spend more on their holiday shopping this year, which is up five-percentage-points from last year. The survey says Canadians expect to spend an average of $873 this season, up 17 per cent from $744 a year ago.

Figure out what the holidays mean to you, and spend accordingly

The holidays are a season of excess, including food, drink and family gatherings, but it doesn't have to mean blowing the budget, says personal finance expert and author Bruce Sellery.

For many consumers it's the same problem every year: They don't set a budget and are surprised when they open their credit card bills in January. It doesn't have to be that way, Mr. Sellery says.

He recommends people approach the holidays by pinpointing what the season means to them.

"It may sound kind of obtuse, but it's not. Are the holidays for family time? Are they for gift gifting? Are they for activities or religious observance?" Mr. Sellery asks. "You can choose one or two things, but use them to help to drive your spending priorities."

These questions can also help you determine what's actually a tradition and what's a habit that can be curbed.

"Then you can start to assess the spending," he says. That could mean renegotiating with friends and family some of the activities you've done in past years.

You can also introduce different activities, such as Secret Santa gift exchanges with dollar limits, or even free activities such as caroling, or simply spending time with friends and family.

Be respectful when breaking old habits

A change in holiday spending habits and traditions can be a touchy subject in some families or circle of friends, Mr. Sellery warns.

"Change can be very difficult, especially around something with such an emotional element," he says. "Gift-giving really does mean love to some people. And a change to that practise can be interpreted as rejection. Be aware that you may offend someone, but don't let that stop you. It may be a risk you're willing to take."

He recommends using rationale such as saving money, reducing stress and saving time otherwise devoted to shopping.

Ms. Duchaine says the switch to one gift from presents for each person was somewhat controversial in her family. As a result, this year's gift exchange is considered as a family experiment.

"Changing a tradition is hard – especially over the holidays," Ms. Duchaine says. "It's a balancing act between respecting the reality of where people are right now and respecting nostalgia over how things were done in the past. In my family, my mom has always been a huge fan of Christmas traditions, but she's willing to try this out as a pilot project."

Preet Banerjee discusses a simple but effective way of budgeting for holiday spending and avoid going into the red next year