Kids often are asked what they’d like for Christmas. Toys usually top the list when they’re young. As they get older, electronic gear, sports equipment, and clothing become more desirable.

Perhaps there’s a “toy” or two on your own wish list this year. That’s all well and good. However, before you get too busy with the hustle and bustle of the season, it’s healthy to pause and think about what you really want for Christmas.

What most people truly treasure about this time of year can’t be gift-wrapped and placed under the tree.

Wishing for a do-over

Several years ago, I teamed up with a market-research company and sent out a survey just after Christmas. We asked a nationally representative sample of adults, irrespective of their spiritual perspective or religious affiliation, about their holiday regrets — what they wish they had done more or less of during the just-passed holiday season. Their answers may prove helpful to you as you plan for this year’s Christmas celebration.

The top three answers of what they wish they had done more of were: “Spend time with family and friends” (54%), “Spend time reflecting on the religious/spiritual significance of the holiday season” (40%), and “Give money to charity during the holiday season” (31%).

The top three answers for what people wish they had done less of all had to do with gift-buying: “Spent money on gifts” (30%), “Spent time shopping for gifts in stores” (28%), and “Spent money on myself while holiday shopping” (23%).

As you think back on past Christmases, can you relate to these answers?

Plan now for a regret-free Christmas

The end-of-year holidays are crucially important to all kinds of companies. The makers of toys, electronics, jewelry, and more — along with the retailers that sell such items — count on the year-end holiday season to deliver 20% to 40% of their annual sales! So, it isn’t surprising that they pull out all the marketing stops to drive year-end sales. (With this year’s shopping season compressed due to Thanksgiving falling late in the month, you can expect an even stronger marketing push.) And every year, we buyers do our part, often leaving us over-spent, over-tired, and disappointed that the holidays didn’t live up to our expectations.

To have a regret-free holiday this year, plan ahead. Which of your family members or friends doesn’t need yet another new sweater, but would greatly value some quality time with you? How could you build that quality time into your preparations in the weeks before Christmas? I know a family that makes pies for their neighbors each Christmas and involves all of their kids in the baking and delivery. It’s become a much-anticipated tradition in their family (and among their neighbors!)

Are you planning ways to soak in the spiritual significance of Christmas with the same rigor that you make your Black Friday or Cyber Monday shopping plan of attack? Since Christmas is one of the prime occasions when people who don’t go to church regularly are most likely to attend a service, are there friends or neighbors you could invite? What a memorable gift it would be — to them and to you — if this year’s Christmas turned into the most important day of their lives.

Have you thought about your year-end giving with the same care that you trim your holiday tree? This year’s strong stock market may make it an especially good year to give an appreciated asset to your church or to a donor-advised fund. Remember how the market fell apart at the end of last year? Maybe now’s the time to make that contribution!

Also remember the three activities people wish they had done less of, and make plans to keep them off your list of regrets this year.

What could you do to reduce your overall spending on gifts? If you have kids, the earlier you help them set realistic expectations about the number of gifts they may receive, the better. Are there people on your gift list who might actually welcome the suggestion to stop exchanging gifts each year, perhaps in favor of a low- or no-cost get-together? Could you do more of your shopping for the gifts you do plan to buy online, thereby avoiding the headache of trying to find a parking place and navigate the crowds at the mall?

And lastly, there’s been a growing marketing effort in recent years to encourage “self-gifting” — treating yourself to something special as you shop for others. Apparently, that push has been effective since self-gifting made the top-three list of post-holiday regrets! Of course, if there’s something you’ve budgeted for and you find a great deal on it, there’s nothing wrong with making that purchase. However, for items that aren’t in your budget, determine before you shop not to let the festive holiday spirit induce overspending that will leave you with post-holiday regret.

The goal is not “less”

As you plan for Christmas this year, keep in mind that these suggestions are not about “less.” Sure, you may decide to shop less (especially in stores) and spend less. However, the main point is that by doing less of certain things, you can have more of what truly matters — more meaning and more joy in your celebration of the most amazing gift the world has ever known — God’s gift of His Son, Jesus Christ.