If you are thinking about how to spend money for gifts this “holiday season,” consider yourself lucky. There are large numbers of people in America who have no discretionary income for gift giving this year.

What do you buy?

All year long, what you spend on is what you use. You choose where to buy and what to consume. By doing this, you as an individual do not change the world. But, what you do adds up over time. When you and your neighbors choose products that are sustainable and help support businesses that you want to see thrive, you influence what producers sell and which businesses thrive. When enough consumers vote with their credit cards, manufacturers produce products that those consumers prefer.

Information and the people who collect it:

We all can consume information online without paying. If you can afford to support journalism, support the publications that provide the kind of information that you want to see in the world. (A hint: when you get frustrated by a pay wall at the same publication three times, chances are, that publication has something to offer you. Consider subscribing. Consider gifting a subscription.)

What are you buying that is immediately thrown away. Plastic.

Recycling, as a business idea, has failed. There is too small a market for reusing all the plastic we throw into recycling bins. It is much better for the world if you choose to buy products with less plastic.

“EPA estimated 14.5 million tons of plastic containers and packaging were generated in 2018, approximately 5.0 percent of municipal solid waste (MSW) generation. “ [source] This does not include paper/plastic plates, which are in a different category.

  • There are systemic changes that have succeeded – like banning or limiting single-use plastic grocery bags. Support other initiatives to reduce single-use plastic in consumer products.
  • Choose items that are not sold in single-use plastic, or make a point of reusing that plastic. Frequently, you will find the same product available with less plastic packaging; buy that.
  • Consider dumping single-use plastic “zip-lock” type bags. Instead use washable containers.

Shop local:

Shop in locally owned businesses, as opposed to businesses owned by a national company. If you shift some of your spending to locally-owned businesses, you are helping your local economy be healthy.

On a dollar-for-dollar basis, the local economic impact of independently owned businesses is significantly greater than that of national chains, this study concludes. Analyzing data collected from 28 locally owned retail businesses in Portland, Maine, along with corporate filings for a representative national chain, the researchers found that every $100 spent at locally owned businesses contributes an additional $58 to the local economy. By comparison, $100 spent at a chain store in Portland yields just $33 in local economic impact. The study concludes that, if residents of the region were to shift 10 percent of their spending from chains to locally owned businesses, it would generate $127 million in additional local economic activity and 874 new jobs.  [source]

There are local shopping guides for many towns and cities. Here are some for eastern Massachusetts:



East Somerville, Union Square, Somerville


Local businesses are open and hoping for your business. There won’t be special shopping events to pack the stores, obviously, but local business needs you all the time, but especially this year. Many stores were closed in the spring. Some switched to part online sales or curbside pickup. Check out your local shops, either virtually or physically.

Now, the holiday shopping

Thinking about gift giving, this year, is different. Is everyone on your gift list financially sound? If not, how can you gift give in a way that brings joy and doesn’t cause shame? Think it through for anyone you care enough to buy a gift for.

I circulate this post about buying gifts that people don’t want every year in November. It is true in spades this year! We, as a country, waste $16 billion dollars on unwanted gifts each year.

2020 has been a year when people have spent more time at home than usual. It has intensified people’s feelings about what they want and need in their space. This is a year to ask before you buy for someone else. Otherwise, your relative may have spent 2020 de-cluttering the kitchen and will hate that gadget you found for them.

  • Consider purchasing food gifts, especially if you know your loved-one’s favorites.
  • Consider subscriptions to food gifts or information that they can use all year long.
  • There are theater and event Zoom meetings. This is the 2020 way to give experiences. Choose theaters or businesses that you want to support. Many are creating events to help support themselves.
  • Support non-profits who make products you can give away.

My personal favorites for 2020:

Non-profit food producer: WomensBeanProject They sell baking kits and soup kits, specialty chocolate and other sweets, spice mixes, and more. The food is not generic; it is personal to the women who developed the product. Their stories and recipes that use their products are on the website.

Local farm delivery service (eastern Mass): FarmtoDoor Kerry collects food from local farms and producers and delivers to towns around Boston. She’s created some gift items for the season, too.

Theater: Actor’s Shakepeare Project

There are virtual cooking classes and food events.

There are virtual classes available for to learn about wine, or do a virtual chocolate tasting, or learn how to cook a meal with the ingredients delivered. How do you find these? If you have a favorite “special dinner” place, this is a way to support them during this lean year for restaurants. Check your favorite restaurant or Google for “Boston cooking class.”