(Robert Ghement/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
Columnist

It may be too late this holiday season, but you now have more than a year to prepare family and friends for your new reality -- a gift-free Christmas.

And before you call me Scrooge or the Grinch, hear me out.

We know a lot of people are not saving enough for retirement. Parents and students are borrowing record amounts for college. Surveys continue to find that folks don't have any money stashed away to help them when hit with a financial emergency.

But along come the holidays and the spirit of the season pushes people to overspend. Your retirement can wait, you reason. You don't want to disappoint the children, although you have nothing saved for their college education. An unexpected car repair of $400 has to be put on a credit card -- one that is nearly maxed out.

Never mind this: A poll by website Finder.com revealed that 56 percent of Americans say they have received at least one unwanted gift during the holidays, and 29 percent say they just keep unwelcome presents. Those who don’t shove these gifts in a closet exchange them (22 percent), regift them (22 percent), sell the stuff (10 percent), hand them back to the giver (8 percent) or just throw them away (6 percent).

Start 2019 with a commitment to get off the gift-giving train, at least until you've taken care of some important things like saving for retirement or building an emergency fund. (By the way, having a credit card "in case of an emergency" is not the same as having a rainy-day fund.)

Now, if you're going to do a no-gift Christmas, here are some rules you need to follow.

Give people plenty of warning. You’ve got to prepare folks for a no-gift Christmas, otherwise you risk angering family and friends who feel gift giving is, in part, about reciprocity.

"I am part of the no-gift resistance crowd, entirely because it keeps coming from one person without the buy-in of everyone involved, without the consideration of how other people will be affected, and always so late in the season that it's already past the point when lots of people have been making or purchasing gifts, already," one reader wrote. "I wouldn't mind it so much if everyone involved agreed to it at Christmas for the next year."

The truth is many people expect to give and then get a gift. That's not how it should work, but we've conditioned ourselves to this practice. It's why your holiday gift list keeps growing. Somebody gave you a gift last year. You feel bad that you didn't have anything for that person, so you add him or her to your Christmas list.

You don’t need buy-in from everyone. If you decide that you just can’t afford to purchase presents, why should you have to get a consensus from everyone in your circle?

You don't.

You can certainly invite others to join you in your mission to spend less, especially if you know they, too, are having financial troubles. Then it can be a family affair. However, if someone doesn't want to go along, that's his or her choice.

And if you are not struggling financially and you want to give, you don’t have to agree to a no-gift holiday. What happened to, “It’s better to give than receive”?

Don’t spring your no-gift idea while you’re opening presents. It just seems ungrateful to say, “Love your gift, but I’m not getting you anything next year.”

The start of the new year is a good time to share your new policy, because in all likelihood your friends and family will be making resolutions to handle their finances better, especially given the turbulence in the stock market.

A Fidelity Investments poll found that the top three most popular financial resolutions for 2019 are saving more, paying down debt and spending less money.

Don’t overshare. People don’t have to know all your business. Say something like, “I really need to focus on some financial issues right now.”

Don’t tell people what do to with their money. You can release people from buying gifts for you or your children, but don’t demand that they stop giving, too. If grandma is financially stable and wants to give to you and the kids, don’t take away her joy of giving.

Finally, a no-gift Christmas doesn’t have to mean you can’t be generous. Time is such a precious commodity, so spend more of it with the people you love. That’s a gift they can’t regift or take back to the store.