The Margin: 5 ways to create more memories — and not more debt — this holiday

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Don’t debt the halls.

The official holiday shopping season kicks off with Black Friday and Cyber Monday, when more than 165 million people are expected to bag holiday gifts for everyone on their lists (including themselves.)

Americans are expected to spend between $727.9 billion and $730.7 billion in holiday retail sales in November and December, according to the National Retail Federation. Yet millions are still in debt from LAST year’s holiday shopping spree. In fact, NerdWallet estimates that almost 50 million Americans are still paying off their credit cards from holiday 2018. WalletHub puts that figure closer to 35 million people, however.

Read more: 5 tips to score the best Black Friday deals — without breaking the bank

Those jaw-dropping estimates have spurred a trending Reddit thread where men and women are sharing their tips for celebrating the holidays without slipping even deeper into debt. “Create memories not debts this Christmas,” wrote the original poster under the handle “txholdup.”

And the festive-yet-frugal thread is full of ideas for giving without going broke. Here’s five of the most creative.

Go for experience gifts. Many parents suggested giving one or two “big” presents that their children want but then devoting most of the holidays to activities such as baking holiday cookies to give to friends and neighbors, going ice skating, or making something from the heart, which is only as expensive as you make it.

For example, one person noted that their grandfather couldn’t afford presents one year, so he wrote a letter to his wife and three daughters describing what he finds beautiful and special about each of them. “Meant more than any expensive gift could ever mean,” the person wrote. And research shows that sharing an experience with someone can make them happier in the long run over giving them something like a purse or smartphone.

Related: These are the world’s best gifts to give, according to science

Try a Secret Santa swap. Shopping for big families or large groups of friends gets very expensive, not to mention stressful. So getting a group to do a Secret Santa or White Elephant swap — where everyone just needs to buy one gift or regifts something they already have (often a gag gift, depending on the custom of the group) for the name they draw — makes things much more manageable. Many of the posters in the Reddit thread said that such gifts were capped at $20 to $40 — and the point is to great creative, not fancy.

“Secret Santa has saved me a fortune,” said one commentator.” Another said that they gave an aunt $40 worth of ketchup during a similar gift exchange last year, and she appreciated it so much that she’s asking for ketchup again this year.

Stick to necessities. Another person suggested using the holidays as a time to buy the necessary things that they’ve been saving up for throughout the year, such as upgrades for the house, replacing appliances or electronics that no longer work, or buying new clothes for ones that have worn out. “In a way, Christmas costs us nothing because all of our gifts are things we would have bought at some point anyway,” they wrote.

Read more: One-third of Americans admit to making this costly mistake during the holiday season

Follow the “rule of four.” Adding to the idea above, many parents recommended the “rule of four” for their kids, which entails buying: “Something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read.” A Phoenix mother previously told MarketWatch that when she stopped buying her four kids 10 or so gifts apiece, and pared the presents down to the “rule of four,” less really was more. “The kids actually had a more enjoyable holiday than years when we spoiled them,” she said. And science is on her side, as one study found that toddlers with fewer toys were more creative and focused than those kids pawing through more playthings.

Read more: Science says to stop buying your kids so much crap

Remember: You don’t always HAVE to buy gifts. Surprisingly, most of the comments in the Reddit thread about not going for broke this holiday came from parents who were begging people not to buy their children anything. In fact, many moms and dads were looking for advice on how to tell their own parents, friends and family to stop buying expensive presents for their kiddos, which end up being donated or thrown out after the children inevitably lose interest.

So if your sister tells you that her three kids don’t need anything, take her at her word. Or, if you simply must give something, ask about putting money toward their college funds.