I had never heard of Joel Waldfogel, but I thought he had some great things to say in the interview. So, I wanted to tell you about a Christmas tradition in my family. A few years ago, many of the folks in my family on my wife's side were getting a bit stressed with all the Christmas shopping, planning, traveling and everything that we feel obligated to do. We discussed several gift exchange ideas to simplify things, and then someone had the idea to just give cash, but with a fun twist. Each year, when we get together for Thanksgiving, we bring cash for each person in the family. My mother-in-law brings an envelope for each person with our names on them. We all put cash into each person's envelope.
You can give as much or as little as you like, and no one really knows who gave what. Then we each secretly go buy gifts for ourselves, wrap them ourselves, and bring them when we get together for Christmas. As we go around the circle opening gifts everyone is surprised by what each person gets except the receiver. Everyone gets exactly what they wanted, and we have a lot of fun seeing what each person picked out for themselves. I should mention that we only do this for the adults in the family. We all still have fun buying toys for the kids, and they're generally easier to shop for anyway (not to mention that they will tell you exactly what they want if you need ideas). We've followed this tradition for several years now, and it really has been great.