Ask people about Christmas giving this year and you're apt to hear one great sigh. "I don't know how to beat it," as one father of two groaned. "I can't aford it, but I feel that the only way I can show that I care is to give, give, give. But I'll be paying for it into March."

This equation that things equal love and caring -- the bigger the gift, the bigger the love -- psychologists say, is the main pitfall of holiday giving, and is often behind the depression that follows.

Things "give no lasting satisfaction," says Manhattan-based psychotherapist David Wyner. "It's the loving memories that are enduring. That 'diamonds are forever' perhaps refers to the payments."

Although their aim isn't exactly to "beat Christmas," here is a sampling of families creating their own counterpoints to Christmas at the cash register:

The second annual newsletter from S.C.R.O.O.G.E., and its co-founders Chuck Langham and Terry Pettit, of Charlottesville, Va., picks up where it left off last year. Namely, that S.C.R.O.O.G.E. (the Society to Curtail Ridiculous, Outrageous, and Ostentatious Gift Exchanges), still advocates the celebration of Christmas in a "sane, sensible manner, emphasizing traditional values."

Langham, 39, and Pettit, 41, both technical editors for the Department of the Army in Charlottesville, risked the wrath of the world a couple years ago, when they both decided that they were tired of spending -- and watching others spend -- too much money at Christmas.And they decided that, with solid support, even the grossest over-spender can be rehabilitated, if he wants to be.

Almost as a private joke, they announced to the local paper their intentions to form a loosely-structured group. There were to be no formal functions, no duties and no elected officers. Just card-carrying members (lifetime memberships are available for $2.50), who agree in principle, that they would like to see "a return to the old ways," instead of today's commercialized marketeering.

The response was immediate. From around the community, came multitudes of inquiries and membership checks.

From Kansas City and Newport Beach came confirmed word that others shared their less-than-fashionable philosophy. Then Toronto. And from Liverpool, England, came a call at 5:30 a.m. Charlottesville time. From the British Broadcasting Corporation. They wanted to know "What have you got against Christmas." Someone else accused them of being communists.

"Well, we're certainly not anti-Christmas," says Langham today. "And, more important, we're not anti-kids . . . just the 'buy, buy, buy.'"

This year's newsletter offers support to backsliders as well as imaginative alternatives for those several hundred members who need inspiration to keep them from dipping into checkbook Christmas cheer.

What helps: a) confining gifts mostly to small children; b) shop only with cash -- no credit cards; c) gifts of time and thought.

Langham and Pettit (whose Christmas gift this year -- and undoubtedly his favorite for years to come -- will be the arrival in late December, of his and wife Judy's first child) present this list of ideas in the time-and-thought categories, garnered from other S.C.R.O.O.G.E. members:

Make a gift of a contribution to the giftee's favorite charity -- in his name.

Give your wife a long weekend away with you, instead of a $400 gold chain. "That takes planning and, of course, your time. Your time with her" says Langham, is the gift.

Prepare a family scrapbook. Find that photo of a great uncle in his World War I Austro-Hungarian Army uniform. It will be passed along and enjoyed for years to come.

Take a friend or relative to a special event they usually wouldn't attend.

Clean up and restore an old family keepsake. (One father presented his daughter with the trunk his parents had brought with them from Europe when they immigrated to America at the turn of the century.)

Use your talents. (One photographer made arrangements to visit her niece's schoolroom and took candid photos of the child. Then, she framed the best and presented them to the child's mother.)

Give membership in an automobile club to a single family member who drives a lot.

Agree -- and stick to it -- to give up one habit your partner can't stand. Or to do a chore he/she abhors. Garbage detail, anyone?