As I mentioned last month, Thanksgiving is my very favorite holiday. It's about food and togetherness, not gifts. Sometimes I think this makes me sound like a Scrooge. But it's not the idea of gift-giving that I dislike, it's all the stress that surrounds it.
Here's an example. My husband and I have been together for almost 10 years. During the first four or five years, we did the whole gift-exchange thing. For me, it was kinda fun. I don't mean to brag, but I'm pretty good at getting people something they'll love. I take into account all kinds of stuff: hobbies, lifestyle, conversations from six months ago about the thingmajig they've always wanted. All year long, I update secret Amazon wishlists for each person I buy gifts for; so when a gift-giving occasion pops up, I have plenty of options. I also scour the ‘net for coupon codes and rebate offers, so I stretch my dollars a little farther.
My husband, on the other hand, has a harder time with picking out gifts. That's why, when we got together, I took over the gift-selection duties for him. But he was still on the hook for picking out my gift, and I could tell it wasn't easy. Then there was the issue of having joint finances. I review the credit card purchases regularly, so it would be difficult for anything to be a surprise unless he paid in cash at a brick-and-mortar store.
We did the gift thing for a few years anyway. But then there came a point when neither one of us wanted or needed anything. I realized that we were exchanging gifts because we were “supposed to,” and that we didn't have to do it if we didn't want to.
“What if we just went out for a great meal instead of buying gifts?” I suggested.
My husband was game. This was perfect because we cook 98 percent of our meals at home, which we love to do, but we also love trying new food at a really great restaurant. So that's what we've done every year since, and we do the same thing for our anniversary and our birthdays. I've found that I'm far more excited about these events than I was when they centered around a gift. Going to my favorite restaurants makes me downright giddy.
But, there are still plenty of other gifts to be given during the holidays, and it can be stressful. For instance, how much do you allocate per person? What if they always buy you expensive gifts, but you just can't afford to buy them one in return? What if they're difficult to buy for, and you have no idea what to buy?
Sure, the only thing you can do is try your best and spend what you can. But I venture to say that you will still feel a tad awkward if someone gets you a $100 gift you absolutely love and you got them a $25 gift, and you can tell that they're just being nice about liking it. Sometimes you can suggest gift limits, but even that isn't a guarantee. For instance, my mom can find a great $200 purse for $30 on clearance. Also, it might be uncomfortable to impose limits on others.
Then there are all of the the return-and-exchange issues, like whether you should include a gift receipt (especially if you got the gift on deep clearance or something) and what to do with that light-up reindeer sweater your aunt gave you that you will never, ever wear. One option is to donate it to Goodwill, but it makes me feel bad to dump a gift at the donation center. I do it, but I feel bad about it.
Many people have gotten rid of their gift-giving obligations altogether; but for many, it's still a tradition in their family, and they're not willing to be the one person who bucks tradition and refuses to buy presents. It just feels too “bah humbug.” So they participate, even as they worry about their budgets or stress out about what to buy each person.
I'm sure I really do sound like Ebeneezer at this point, but here's where I'm going with this: Gifts just aren't that important to me, but I buy them because it's what my family does and wants to keep doing. It's important to them.
Which brings me to my question for all of you: What things do you feel obligated to spend money on but secretly wish you could skip? Gifts, holiday travel, or something else? Tell us about it in the comments!
Author: April Dykman
As a freelance writer, editor, and blogger, April Dykman specialized in personal finance, real estate, and entrepreneurship topics. Her work has been featured on MSNBC, Fox Business, Forbes, MoneyBuilder, Yahoo! Finance, Lifehacker, and The Consumerist. Now she does direct response copywriting but, in her free time, April is a wannabe chef, a diehard Italophile, and a recovering yogi.