How I stopped excessive gifting

Most of us struggle with some psychological aspect of money that can impede our savings. Whether it be the lure of clothing stores, nights out with friends, or stocking a top-shelf liquor cabinet, there tends to be one thing or another that creeps from our wants category into our needs. I've never been a compulsive shopper and always preferred voluntary simplicity, both in the kitchen and in my closet. This means that for most of my young adult life, I had good control of my finances.

Then I Started Dating…

Dating quickly made gift giving my Achilles heel. As with other debt-inducing habits, it seemed harmless at first. Here are some things I started doing, not realizing how much money I was shelling out:

  • I never liked to show up at my girlfriend's apartment empty handed so I always had her favorite Snapple or a magazine for her in hand. (Six bucks, just to say hello.)
  • I always wanted to pick up the check, even when we were out with a friend or two. (Could be upwards of $100, just to show I cared.)
  • I brought expensive bottles of wine to dinner parties, not to show off, but just to enjoy with everyone, even if I was just as happy with $7 bottle myself. ($25 to try to find community.)
  • I was sent to the store to get simple baking supplies, but instead of getting the normal vanilla extract, I would get the fancy packaged one for twice the price. Take that philosophy down the entire list of supplies and I'd racked up a pretty hefty bill. ($50 extra just so we could feel high society together.)

It was never about seeming rich to my friends or girlfriend. I took pride in my penny pinching in every other aspect of my life. I honestly thought it was about generosity and showing affection, nothing more.

My usual smart budgeting was out the door. If it began with my dating life, it quickly found its way into all my close friendships and relationships. If I were booking a hotel room for myself, I would find some side-of-the-road motel for $35. If it was for my parents, I'd charge a much fancier $300 room to my card. I wanted them to be comfortable, right? (I should note that my parents' honeymoon was a nine-month camping trip in a VW bug across the United States. They've grown up some since their 60s hippie days, but not all that much.) Technically, I could afford it. I just wouldn't contribute very much to savings that month.

As the gifts became a larger and more elaborate, my savings account stagnated. The want of purchasing gifts found its way into my budget as a need.

Providing the Important Stuff

If I look deep enough, I know that I have an engrained desire to be the provider in my relationships. I was stuck in a 50s mentality of the man as the breadwinner, and thinking that gift giving was my only way of showing financial muscle. I never wanted to buy the affection of my friends, but I got caught in a trap thinking that financial security was the most important thing I could provide. I ignored all the other myriad ways of showing affection, whether it be kind words, acts of service, spending quality time, or even a big hug.

I tried a spending freeze on gift giving and decided to come up with something different whenever I got the urge to spend for someone else. The experiment lead to the following new behaviors:

  • I accepted that showing up at her front door was hello enough, and I realized a smile and being genuinely happy to see someone went further than I'd ever expect.
  • I learned the fine art of the potluck dinner, and saw that people got so much joy just from sharing what they loved to make in the kitchen.
  • At a dinner party, I brought Apples to Apples. It was appropriate for the crowd, probably more appropriate than the bottle of wine I would've brought, and if you've never played it, it's the best thing ever to bring a group a little closer.
  • Instead of worrying about how fancy the baking supplies looked, I joined her in the kitchen. I never realized how much raw dough the woman could eat. I joked that it was a much truer way to her heart.

Ignoring these other ways of showing love had been getting in the way of my friendships and relationships. I learned so much more about the people around me and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves when I stopped worrying about how much they were enjoying themselves.

Tracking Spending

Since I identified the underlying cause of my stagnating savings account, I could go about fixing it. I started tracking the dollars that left my bank account each month and realized just how much was going to small gifts. Paying for gas for my girlfriend's SUV was an incredibly friendly gesture, but it hurt in the long run. This isn't to say I needed to stop with my generosity, but tracking my spending allowed me to create a column just for gift giving. It stopped being a mindless act and more a conscious decision, which in turn provided me with more joy in the activity. This way, I was giving something from my daily life to be generous toward others, which to me, seems a much truer definition of generosity.

Virtues in Excess

We usually think about our financial trolls being negative. Something like greed leads us to live in excess, buying new shoes or the new electronic. It's easy to blame. It's much harder to point your finger at a problem that seems virtuous. I started to see that I wasn't alone. My friend Tracy spends almost all of her disposable income spoiling her kid and yet complains about the holes in her own shoes. I had a family member almost go broke donating to the Doctors Without Borders. Such gifts of charity are easier to rationalize; they seem so nice, even if they are ruining your financial situation. It's never easy to change patterns, especially when the emotions of not only yourself, but of others are involved. As always, it's important to be honest with yourself and communicative with those around you.

I still have to remind myself that if someone is going to breakup with me because I don't bring Snapple to her door each time I show up, I could probably do without the relationship. I bring myself, and that's just fine.

What are some ways that gift giving puts you under budget? Do you have other “virtuous” that hurt you in the long run?

More about...Giving, Budgeting

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Justin @ The Family Finances
Justin @ The Family Finances
8 years ago

Kind of along those same lines, I know my parents are very strict about giving 15% of their gross (pre-tax) income as a tithe to their church. Typically this would be 10%, but my parents feel they should give more. I’m not going to get into whether tithing to a church is right or wrong. It’s a very personal choice, and it’s really up to my parents. But at the same time their giving that much to the church they: – Haven’t saved a dime for retirement (and my dad is 62) – Have no emergency fund – Have around… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago

Matthew 7:3-5. I don’t think it would be a problem either 🙂 I won’t comment on tithing either, but I’ve noticed people are better able to help others when their financial house is in order.

David
David
8 years ago

Those mega-churches don’t pay for themselves!

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago
Reply to  David

No church does.

Another Kate
Another Kate
8 years ago

I’m a Christian who believes in the notion of a graduated tithe — I try to give at least 10%, but if I can give more, I try to do that. I think there is a mistaken notion that this giving is lining preacher’s fat pocketbooks or building fancy churches, but, first of all, while some Christians disagree with me, I don’t believe all of my giving needs to go to my church. Secondly, my church itself passes money on to various charities (for instance, we have paid for wells to be dug in Africa, and we support charities that… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Another Kate

I think people also mistakenly believe that money they donate to charities (outside the church) goes directly to help those in needs. In both cases, there are salaries to be paid, buildings to pay for, supplies, advertising, etc. In churches where there is a hierarchy (like in the Catholic and United Churches), money goes to each organization up the food chain.

I think there are always going to be administrative costs regardless.

Paul
Paul
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

Isn’t there a tax break when giving to church?

Another Kate
Another Kate
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

Yes, Paul. To any nonprofit. For now I’m declaring my charitable giving, but I have wondered if I should choose not to declare it.

Get Rich Point
Get Rich Point
8 years ago

Let me tell you one thing,your parents are a gem in this world. I don’t know how God is going to bless you but certainly He will not let His obedient ones keep wanting. Now coming to giving 10% instead of 15%: Do you really think that they will be able to save the 5% which they decide not to give to the church? Why haven’t they saved from the rest 85% of income. I think you need to coach them properly about the importance of saving, without going to the tithing issue. If they realize the importance of saving… Read more »

Daniel
Daniel
8 years ago

This is one thing my wife and I struggled with. We’re both practicing Catholics and want to give, but are also in debt due to medical bills and us immigrating. We spoke with our priest and his response was the Church ask you to support it, not give 10%. In addition, money to live, money for bills, and taxes, that money doesn’t belong to you, so it’s wrong to steal to give to God what belongs to someone else. Thus, what we’ve done, minus rent / mortgage, bills, and loans, we then take 10% from the remaining amount. Half of… Read more »

Anthony @ EachPesoCounts
Anthony @ EachPesoCounts
8 years ago
Reply to  Daniel

I think you should continue with that percentage of giving back. I also set aside money for Tithes and Charity and I started with really a small amount. More of just 5% of my money for each category. Then when I was able to pay off debt and free up more wiggle room, I was able to put 10-15% of my money separately for Tithes and Charity. I think you’re in that transition now and will get to your desired percentage if you continue what you’re doing. You’re doing a great job!

Frankie
Frankie
8 years ago

Some people lose sight of the fact that all the money which comes into your possession ultimately belongs to the Lord. We are merely stewards of said money and possessions. Giving a tithe to the church is merely a small allocation of using our money wisely and in a Christian manner. Romans 13:8 states, “Owe no man anything…” Being a good steward does not end with a tithe. The Bible is filled with admonitions to guard against debt, and to provide for your home. Proverbs 27:23-27 says, “Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well… Read more »

JuliB
JuliB
8 years ago

Justin – how good-hearted of your parents! However, I think that they might want to look beyond the money category of tithing. My parish (I’m Catholic) has a Stewardship note in the bulletin. We are to be good stewards and give to the Lord of our first fruits. However – that it time, talent and tithe(money). Perhaps they are guilty of focusing on money to the exclusion of everything else. If they decrease the dollar amount, they can more than make up for it by a tithe of time (maybe 4 hours of volunteer time a week, or 2 days… Read more »

Megan
Megan
8 years ago

Gift-giving kills me because it seems my list of gift recipients grows every year. It is hard to keep it under control when I am adding people at every turn. If my daughter is invited to a birthday party, that is a gift. If a friend or relative gets married or has a baby, that is a gift.

I enjoy giving gifts, but I tend to feel overwhelmed, especially around Christmas.

Get Rich Point
Get Rich Point
8 years ago
Reply to  Megan

It seems that giving a gift has become a burden instead of joy and happiness. I don’t to what to do about it but it really hurts when I am financially tight and I have three marriage parties to attend.

El
El
8 years ago

Christmas, birthdays, holidays; I want to give gifts that will mean something to the recipient but have had some lead balloons recently. I need to plan better, and maybe just be a little more sanguine about the whole thing. It feels like a real waste of money when your efforts aren’t appreciated.

Amy
Amy
8 years ago

I gift for similar reasons that the writer does. I’ll pay large sums of money to buy family members nice things, while denying myself the same generousity. I justify it by saying “well I do earn more than sister 1 or brother 2, I should be able to afford this…..” And I can, at the expense of not meeting some of my personal financial goals. This year I’m trying to focus on *giving* less and *engaging* more (I don’t live near my family, so I can’t just drop by and visit). So I am working on being there emotionally, instead… Read more »

Another Kate
Another Kate
8 years ago
Reply to  Amy

I think this is a great idea. There are people who just want really pricey stuff, but most of the gifts I’ve valued most (and some of the gifts I’ve wanted most) involved the person’s time/creativity/love rather than a lot of money: a box of little love notes from a sister, a romantic homemade-breakfast-and-cartoon-from-my-childhood gift from my husband, some really yummy chocolate-raspberry jam from a dear friend. What I most crave right now (if someone would ask me): a long massage, which could be given to me by the person (doesn’t have to be professional) but would have to be… Read more »

TB
TB
8 years ago

My wife and I were donating money each month to St Judes and the Nature Conservancy, but finally when we did our taxes this year we decided to add up what we were giving, and guess what? It was ALOT. We just didn’t realize. For this year we decided to give to just 1 charity and budget it better, instead of just giving random amounts each month.

Annelise
Annelise
8 years ago

I think a possible alternative reason for all the ridiculously lavish gift giving you describe is because it made you feel like a big shot who could afford those things, even though you really couldn’t. Saying it was out of generosity is just a way of making you look better. Sorry to be so blunt about this. It’s just that we all have our faults, and it looks like you’ve learned your lesson, so it’s better to cut to the chase and be honest about your (former) motivations. I know this is a trap many fall into, myself included. One… Read more »

Mark
Mark
8 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Conspicuous consumption is alive and well. Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conspicuous_consumption if you aren’t familiar with the term.

RachH
RachH
8 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

Could not disagree more–seems to me that it was driven by a lack of self-esteem, i.e. “I am not enough on my own”-ism so he brought gifts. Buying expensive wine to share with friends and enjoy was likely both in an attempt to help his friends enjoy themselves and also to buy comfort when he felt his presence wasn’t enough. Spending a lot on people you love isn’t always a show to make them love you more. Sometimes it’s just because you love them so stinkin’ much and you don’t know how to let them know, because in your gut… Read more »

cc
cc
8 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

mhm!! pre-recession i bought elaborate gifts for everyone, esp at christmas, hundreds of dollars of gifts. post-recession, i am usually at $20 and under for a gift. i’d like to buy nicer things for everyone, but it would be suicidal for me to do so. thankfully my family knows my financial situation and will get excited about my inexpensive gifts anyway :):) my husband? oh man, i stress about that a little- he’s great with gifts and has a great job, i can rarely match gifts dollar-for-dollar. i try to put a lot of thought into it though and usually… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

Hmmm… no, I don’t think it’s a lack of self-esteem or the need to boost self-worth. It also goes beyond the 50’s mentality. It goes deeper than personal issues, it’s a bigger force than that. Wooing women is one of the things that will make young men lose their minds and all sense of restraint. Feats of strength, absurd hair, rock stardom, dangerous sports, extravagant spending, knights battling dragons, Romeos climbing walls (this is now known as “stalking”), heroic missions for humanitarian ends, dreadful love poetry– its all in the game and it has been for millions of years. In… Read more »

RachH
RachH
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Again, I politely disagree. I am a woman, and I am just like Tim in the gift-giving tendencies. I think basing it on gender and primal behavior is ill-advised. Furthermore, dreadful love poetry will be around as long as people with dark humor or sardonic wit–or starry-eyed, earnest, naive people with no love but active imaginations–are around. Actual love or seeking it is immaterial for bad love poetry. Sometimes a poem is just an exercise in writing, a social experiment to see if the writer can fool the audience, or a doodle while something boring is going on. Knights slaying… Read more »

Viverrine
Viverrine
8 years ago
Reply to  RachH

Lighten up!

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  RachH

Tim was buying his girlfriend too many Snapples, people blamed it on self esteem, I shifted the blame to hormones. I was once his age and also single, and I haven’t forgotten what it was like. Maybe that makes me a primitive ape or something–I’m fine with that. And maybe Tim actually have self esteem problems, but I seriously doubt it. Of course, that doesn’t meant that different kinds of people don’t try to ingratiate themselves to others or help them with gifts, but that’s beyond the scope of what I was writing about, which wasn’t a theory of gift-giving,… Read more »

RachH
RachH
8 years ago
Reply to  RachH

Hormones can cause a number of things. I will happily concede that point. My point was merely that they cannot be to blame for all of the things you listed in every instance. I understand more of where you are coming from now, though, El Nerdo. I appreciate the clarification, and the Onslow reference 😀 As for the “lighten up!” comment, perhaps I should; however, discussions not about mood (unless that is the topic), they are about discussing. My apologies if I have offended anyone by getting too into the discussion instead of rolling with a “whatever guys, let’s all… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  RachH

Yeah, all I meant to illustrate was that courtship tends to be exuberant, extravagant, and excessive, in whatever form it takes, and that should be taken into account in Tim’s case.

And I can’t speak for others, but I wasn’t offended–usually if I get offended I’ll immediately reciprocate the perceived insult with another, ha ha ha. And I hope that wasn’t the case!

Alright, I must flee the internets now, but I’m glad we could understand each other. (What I’m not glad about is the result of the Bayern-Dortmund game today, but that’s another story…!)

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

To El Nerdo: All good until the last paragraph, and then you lost me. I don’t care how secure a relationship is, there’s no excuse for “letting yourself go.”

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  chacha1

Exactly, ’cause god knows we can’t get away with that. A “beer belly” on a woman, even after three kids means she’s lazy and ‘not interested in keeping her man’. Premature graying (before the age of 30) doesn’t exist if L’Oreal has anything to say about it, If she’s no longer a weekend warrior, she’s not ambitious and so on.

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago
Reply to  chacha1

Don’t you recognize satire when you see it?

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  chacha1

Haa haaa, I was joking of course, I merely wanted to point out that mating behavior is not the same as nesting behavior, but I didn’t write a whole essay about it, and I thought a humorous example would suffice.

Of course I had an Onslow type in mind when I wrote this. You know Onslow, right?

Anyway, I’m glad some people got the joke.

And funny thing…! I just met my wife for lunch at a bar to watch a soccer game, and we both had a beer. True story. 😛

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  chacha1

I got it too, just didn’t think it was funny. I still love you Nerdo!

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  chacha1

Ah, it’s cool, not everybody needs to laugh, I just don’t want it to come across as if I was advocating neglect or double standards. Whether I conveyed it correctly or not, I do think that the contrast in stereotypical male behavior from the mating to the nesting phase is funny though.

Poor Student
Poor Student
8 years ago

My mother is very frugal so I can save money on her, she doesn’t like us spending lots on her. My sister is the big spender. Her accounts are always hovering around zero but she always manages to buy a great expensive gift for every occasion.

I was lucky to find a relatively cheap girlfriend. Usually the only cost is the gas of transport.

I try to donate a little too much to charity, but it hasn’t sunk me yet, so I guess I can scrape up that money to give still.

Anthony @ EachPesoCounts
Anthony @ EachPesoCounts
8 years ago
Reply to  Poor Student

I think the numbers for you will change also. But you are getting it done. Looking ahead, health care for you mom, combined financial goals for you and your girlfriend and also great job with sticking to giving back to charity. Not so many young people do this and that I think is remarkable.

Tie the Money Knot
Tie the Money Knot
8 years ago

Good for you that you recognized how unnecessary it is to bring gifts at every meeting and to pay for things all the time. This isn’t the 1950s as you say, and you don’t need to be a sole provider/spender. Anyone having an issue with your new approach is not a good catch.

Harmony
Harmony
8 years ago

He might not have to be the “sole provider”, however if his ideal mate is a woman interested in having children and staying home to raise them demonstrating that he could support her is going to help his courtship.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago

Every guy I’ve dated would be horrified if I tried to pay for “my share” or the entire meal. “Horrified” is too strong a word, but they would immediately and politely let me know I am not paying for it. Maybe its the age range/generation of the men I generally date and its never in my own age group…

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago

Travel is the killer for me. Of course I should go support my mom at her sister’s funeral. Plane tickets killed my entire travel budget, though. And then there’s a family wedding coming up and if I don’t shell out for the destination wedding it will mean I don’t love my brother. So I guess we don’t get to fix the bathroom this year… The necessary family gifts for the materialistic side of the family come out in $75/person increments, and we can budget for them (though I resent it – all of the adults would be better off just… Read more »

RandyC
RandyC
8 years ago
Reply to  Rosa

IMHO, ‘destination weddings’ are thoughtless at best. I send the couple a reasonable gift and my best wishes.

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago
Reply to  RandyC

for other people I would do that. For a close family member, the real cost of that approach would be decades of drama.

When I was working, the issue was time – as the working parent of a young child, all my vacation/sick days were 100% spoken for. Now that I’m not working I have time but not money. Either way, people who decide to have destination weddings should foot some of the travel bill if they really want people to show up.

Anonymous
Anonymous
8 years ago
Reply to  Rosa

My wife’s dad’s girlfriend’s daughter (follow that?) is having a destination wedding in St. Maarten next year. Of course, the girlfriend says we all “have” to come.

Dad and girlfriend live in town, and the daughter is someone we’ve only met once or twice. IOW, we’re not really close. There’s people’s weddings who you “have” to go to, and there’s people’s weddings you don’t have to go to.

I have really thick skin, so don’t feel inclined to do these types of things for appearances.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  RandyC

My thoughtful friends had a destination wedding, but it was just the two of them. When they got back to the mainland, they planned a local reception for friends and family. I think that’s a much better idea, especially if you’re hell bent on having a destination wedding. I think expecting people to spend thousands of dollars for a wedding at a location that not everyone would want to go to is incredibly selfish and elitist. I have elderly family members who would not be able to shell out that kind of money and/or expend that that type of energy… Read more »

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

To be fair, this is a couple where each family is from a different continent, so there was no “local” place to have the wedding for both sides.

Some couples I’ve known have just traveled themselves, and done it twice, once where she is from and once where he is from. But that is taking on a lot of expense and trouble for the marrying couple, just to avoid expense and trouble for others.

Anne Cross
Anne Cross
8 years ago
Reply to  RandyC

Someone I know had a destination wedding last year. I had never heard of this before. The bride and groom plus all their family and most of their friends live within 250 miles of each other in New England. She had the wedding in a remote beach location in the South on a Thursday night. To go would have meant taking time off work, staying in the remote hotel that was the only form of accommodation in 100 miles, flying, plus renting a car to get to the destination. I asked if she was doing that because she didn’t want… Read more »

slccom
slccom
8 years ago
Reply to  Rosa

If not coming to the destination wedding for eight grand is meaning that you don’t support your brother, then your brother is a really, really shallow and thoughtless man. Support needs to go both ways. If he isn’t mature enough to realize that he is putting a major burden on you with his plans (or, more likely, hers…), then he isn’t much of a brother and deserves only a cheap gift. I would say thanks, but no thanks, can’t afford it either money or time-wise, and here is a nice gift to get you started and I look forward to… Read more »

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago
Reply to  slccom

And yet, still my brother. Still my mom’s darling little boy. Still my child’s godfather. The effect of not going would be, seriously, YEARS of emotional fallout. If we just didn’t have the money, I’d say so. But saying “I actually wanted to save some money this year, dude” doesn’t have the same effect. At least not in my family. In the same way, my partner’s sister-in-law floated the whole “you know we spend all year scrimping and saving for this Christmas extravaganza and it might be nice to scale it back so we could do other things sometimes” and… Read more »

slccom
slccom
8 years ago
Reply to  Rosa

How sad that your brother holds grudges over things like that. I’m not close with my brother, but he is a good, mature man who I really respect.

I can understand your reasoning. I’m just sad that he can’t see that your having some money saved might keep him from having to support you someday…

jim
jim
8 years ago
Reply to  Rosa

Rosa, I come from a very large family and all the “mandatory” Christmas gifts were killing our budget. 3 of my siblings and I “asked” the others if we could just stop sending each other gifts every year (which no one really liked – either giving or receiving) and one sibling was sooooooooo upset at the very thought – it was ridiculous. So we continued to do it for a few more years and then we just said “No. We’re not doing it” (had more important things to spend our $ on (like kids’ education funds). Wow – the fallout… Read more »

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago
Reply to  jim

Yeah, my preference would be to not buy presents for adults – if the older folks were on a fixed income, they might have an unfulfilled want, but everyone’s quite prosperous – and continue to buy for the kids, who actually appreciate the heap of stuff.

If it were my family, I might just opt out…though, I am folding on the stupid cruise, so who knows. I don’t get a vote on how we deal with his family, though.

Get Rich Point
Get Rich Point
8 years ago

Don’t set bad precedence. You will pay for your friend the first time out of etiquette. You will pay for your friend second time out of love. And if you are unable to pay the third time, then he/she will think that you have changed. You no longer love him/her.

Don’t just take out your purse just because you can afford. Think what precedence you are going to set.

Mom of five
Mom of five
8 years ago
Reply to  Get Rich Point

Way back when I was single and student loan broke, the bar across the street from our work had happy hours with dollar beers and free appetizers. Another friend (also broke, but from an upper middle class family and NO student loans) and I would occasionally make a dinner of it for $5 total for the two of us. (one or two beers a piece plus a dollar tip). We generally each paid our own way, but several times my friend didn’t have any money so I covered for her and told her not to worry about it. Then one… Read more »

Get Rich Point
Get Rich Point
8 years ago
Reply to  Mom of five

It really takes time to understand who are friends are and when we do realize it hurts. But I am quite sure that after those years you are now more skilled in choosing friends. An unbalanced relationship hurts.If I love unconditionally then I expect unconditional love in return and if I don’t get it I get hurt.Its strange but its true.

Mom of five
Mom of five
8 years ago

We were much more generous when we didn’t have control of our finances. I think having an understanding of how hard we worked for our money and a clearer ability to assess others’ misuse of their money made it easier for us to say no to relatives and to charities. I’m not entirely comfortable with our new found sense of responsibility as it has by definition made us less generous both in fact and in spirit.

Jessica, The Debt Princess
Jessica, The Debt Princess
8 years ago

this is why I don’t have 3D people in my life. So much cheaper! 😉

Well Heeled Blog
Well Heeled Blog
8 years ago

I really, really, love giving gifts, especially to my parents. When I book hotels for my parents, I try to find a good deal, but I also try to put them in nice places like the Omni or Hyatt (I do this with hotel points or Hotwire or other booking sites to save some $$). I know that’s luxury that they’d probably not splurge on for themselves. And being Asian parents, they will talk about my gift to their friends, not so much to brag (OK, maybe a little), but more of an acknowledgement that they have done their job… Read more »

Annelise
Annelise
8 years ago

To me, it would feel WRONG for me to be paying for my parents’ accommodation. As Judge Judy (sorry!) once said: Parents pay for kids, not the other way round. I would never take a penny off my children, unless it were some kind of dire emergency that I can’t even imagine right now. It’s my job to provide for them, and when they’re grown up and married with kids, their responsibility will be for their own children. I noticed paying for parents’ accommodation was mentioned in the article but let it pass, but now that it’s come up again… Read more »

Bella
Bella
8 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

I think that if your parents did well by you in giving you a start to make a significantly better life for yourself than they had themselves (IE: I make a lot more money than my parents do) there is nothing wrong with paying back some of that good fortune that surely your parents had a hand in.

Judy
Judy
8 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

I had to read your post a couple times because it confused me. Why do you feel the need to come out and judge the relationship a stranger has with their parents?

There was no reference to whether a child “should” pay for their parents accomodations at all. These are GIFTS. They were only referring to their own feelings on how big/luxurious a gift they felt they wanted to give their parents.

Why bring such a negative response to a personal story?

Nancy
Nancy
8 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

I’m Hispanic and don’t agree with this at all. As soon as we become adults we are expected to “help” our parents in any way we can(whether than means giving them $50 a month or buying them groceries once in awhile.) I love my mom and am glad to help her out with a few bucks now and then.

Marianne
Marianne
8 years ago

Lucky lady!! I wish my husband would buy me presents all the time. 🙂 Actually I say that and just realize now that he often picks me up a Skor bar or some other equally yummy treat when he goes to the grocery store- that’s pretty cool of him. I’m probably on the other end of the spectrum- too stingy in my giving. This was never a problem in my own family since gift giving is not a very big deal for us so we are all quite stingy but my husband’s family is quite extravagant with gift giving (sometimes… Read more »

Another Kate
Another Kate
8 years ago
Reply to  Marianne

This is a really good point. I have a loved one who has become a bit more generous than he used to be but is known for being stingy. Quite frankly, if you are well off, you don’t have shower someone with lavish gifts all the time, but he has done things like taking a dating couple out to eat and then only paid for his blood relative, not her boyfriend. There’s a time to loosen up a be a bit more generous.

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago
Reply to  Another Kate

There’s stingy, and then there’s rude. I mean, my family is ridiculously cheap. One of my uncles and his sister traded the same $5 bill back and forth for birthdays for maybe 30 years. My immediate family doesn’t even exchange gifts, just phone calls and e-cards (though like I said above, they do expect us to trek cross-country at least twice a year, small child in tow, and spend every hour of PTO on “family time”.) But inviting someone out for dinner and not paying for their partner is rude, like not tipping, or hiring a professional to do work… Read more »

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago
Reply to  Rosa

We are still spending about 50% of our PTO and travel budget on family. Not for their expenses, but to get US to where they are, because none of them can or will travel. It’s a PITA. We love ’em but at the same time we feel our relative prosperity has created the expectation that we can always be the ones coming to them. There’s usually some kind of guilt-inducing comment when we tell them about a non-family vacation. Basically (analyzing here) it’s not so much that we have to spend our travel time and money in destinations that wouldn’t… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago
Reply to  Rosa

That $5 bill sounds more like a long-running joke than anything else, like the apocryphal fruitcake that never gets eaten but ends up as a Christmas gift every year.

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago
Reply to  Another Kate

@Andrew – it ended up as a joke, but when they started (in the late ’60s or early ’70s) I’m sure it was for real – I was born in 1974, and my baby book has a page where my mom listed all the visitors and gifts they got*. $2 in a card was a pretty common one.

*probably so she’d remember to write thank you notes.

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago
Reply to  Rosa

My grandfather sent me $4 every Christmas from the year I was born until the year he died, 27 years later. I appreciated that money as a child, ignored it as a young adult, and remember it fondly today.

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago
Reply to  Marianne

Perhaps they think that your stingy priorities are the ones that are skewed. The truth probably lies in the middle.

Sarah L
Sarah L
8 years ago

I hope you still bring the Snapple every now and then!!! Little things mean a lot!! And the longer people are togehter, the less they tend to remember those little things. We do give 10% to our church each year, and we also sponsor a child through Plan USA, and we budget for that, but the thing that gets REALLY tough, is I hae a hard, hard time not giving and giving and giving to toy drives, food drives, clothinjg drives, etc… When I see a food drive, I tend to feel like unless I’m giving 2-3 bags full of… Read more »

Mom of five
Mom of five
8 years ago
Reply to  Sarah L

Sarah – you took the words right out of my mouth. I always warn people not to start expensive charitable giving traditions with kids to teach them the true meaning of Christmas. Two years ago, I calculated that all our Christmas and Thanksgiving “voluntary” giving came out to nearly $1500! That’s when I told our kids that we were discontinuing our family tradition of each child pulling a name off the giving tree at church. Last year we pulled only one name off. There’s so much school, sports, and workplace giving that’s not really voluntary at Christmastime. Particularly at the… Read more »

SAHMama
SAHMama
8 years ago

We don’t belong to a church, but we give 10% tithe between several local charities that feel do good work (our library system, no-kill cat shelter and Goodwill).

I make many of the gifts that I give. Felt play food sets, bookmarks that go with purchased books, etc.

Barbara
Barbara
8 years ago

I think my gift giving is in part guilt because I have been “lucky” (meaning got a good education and worked hard) and I am financially more successful that most of my family. I have the same thoughts that someone else mentioned in that I think I should pay because I make more money. This was a good article and food for thought!

NK
NK
8 years ago

Gary Chapman’s book “The 5 Love Languages” has some great insight to why people do what they do. Sounds like gift-giving is your love language! Of course, as you’ve discovered, there are other love languages, and there are other ways to give gifts without spending lots of money.

Em
Em
8 years ago

This year I resolved to only give gifts that I made myself. There are lots of positives that came along with this. I learned several new skills and crafts, people actually *remember* what I’ve given them, and I honestly believe they appreciate more than a store bought gift. This has greatly cut down on cost and the number of gifts I give.

Lisa
Lisa
8 years ago
Reply to  Em

I agree, homemade gifts are great to give. However, the costs of buying craft material can really add up

Frugal Portland
Frugal Portland
8 years ago

What a great story! I love giving gifts, and have gotten rather good at making them all myself. I found that if I show up to a dinner party with wine, fine, but if I show up with salted caramel sauce and a pint of ice cream, I’m a hero!

B. Dub
B. Dub
8 years ago

2 Corinthians 9:6-7. Generosity is a good thing as is knowing when giving is not a good thing. Isn’t it usually about the motive? Not always simple to figure out but worth it.

Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
8 years ago

I spoiled my girlfriend for quite some time before figuring out how expensive it was. Now, we both enjoy conscious spending together, as I’ve converted her to the dark side: frugality. It has brought us closer. Also, when I do spoil her now, she knows how much it means to me to spend that much money for, say, concert tickets. She appreciates it more.

amber
amber
8 years ago

Tim you sound like a super sweet boyfriend. I hope you keep it up sometimes in husband-mode. I am struggling with this right now big time planning the bridal shower and bachelorette party for my best friend. I am trying so hard to keep in check and stick to a budget but every time I see something cute but a little too pricey I think how much I love her and how I want it to be perfect for her. I know really she will not care if the invitations match the balloons or if we have little favors or… Read more »

Paula
Paula
8 years ago

Some of us have giving as a part of our culture. We give to our church because we believe it is right for us to tithe. The giving that I am speaking of is never showing up at anyone’s home without a gift, showing appreciation for a kindness with a gift and gifting back to someone who has given me a gift. This type of giving is still a part of my behavior, but like Tim Sullivan, I have curtailed my excessive giving. Others, who do not have my cultural background, felt uncomfortable receiving gifts that were too grand or… Read more »

zud
zud
8 years ago

what a great article, one that struck me personally. within my group of friends there is one who gifts excessively. last year we agreed on a group gift where everyone would contribute X dollars. the excessive gifter went on impulse with a large purchase, thus leaving the rest of us to cover a larger sum. this caused a huge rift in the group as the delinquent had good intentions but negative impact, and was a chronic issue. i’ve since stopped gifting for birthdays, christmas and yearly events. as i get older i have the cash to buy myself what i… Read more »

betsy22
betsy22
8 years ago
Reply to  zud

I have a similar issue, though in one of my social circles, I’m the odd one out. The other folks all spend a LOT of time and money picking out/sending cute little presents for everyone else – and it’s not just birthdays and holidays, it’s also ‘thinking of you’ type presents. In this group of friends I’ve noticed that the ones that are most enthusiastic about presents for other people are the worst about taking care of themselves. For example, one will spend a lot of time and money buying cutesy presents but won’t spend that time to cook for… Read more »

amber
amber
8 years ago
Reply to  betsy22

If you want out I suggest you speak up now. I recently made a new friend (well, last year sometime) and as the holidays were coming up she said casually that she doesn’t do any gifts. This didn’t come as a huge surprise because she is not really into any holidays. But her saying something directly help me avoid embarrassment of giving her something (which I had already purchased, but was easily able to re-direct to a luckier friend). I’m sure once you make your wishes known, your friends will honor it.

Priswell
Priswell
8 years ago

As far as gift-giving, I try to give friends and family things often, but they are usually a frugal option: Hand made soap (they always LOVE this!) a loaf of machine-made bread, a pot of chicken soup/stew, a brick of frozen homemade spaghetti sauce, etc.

Food still costs money, but in comparison to other options, I prefer it.

Get Rich Point
Get Rich Point
8 years ago
Reply to  Priswell

I think that such gifts bring more happiness than those which we bought with money. Our loved ones not only like such gifts but also remember them for a lifetime.

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago

I guess my upbringing skirted the whole gifting thing. Our family *never* routinely gave gifts outside the family, and within the family it was always at a level appropriate to our means. My parents contributed to a couple of causes (they supported their church, though not through a tithe; the local community theatre; the Nature Conservancy; and a couple of others) but looking back, it is clear to me that they BUDGETED for this. It was never impulsive. I think that impulsive, reflexive, bandwagon-style giving is rarely truly effective and can be quite damaging to the giver – as the… Read more »

Get Rich Point
Get Rich Point
8 years ago
Reply to  chacha1

Impulsive gift-giving is a symptom that should be dealt with as soon as possible lest it begins to hurt badly.

Lori Blatzheim
Lori Blatzheim
8 years ago

Thank you Tim,

I really like this post, with your honesty and willingness to share your experiences.

I enjoyed the suggestions you made and how you showed up with yourself, not just expensive gifts.

I am writing for a web site dedicated to the experience of retirement and Senior living: http://www.retireandrenew.com

It occurs to me that Seniors may be looking for ways to visit with a friend but lack the money to buy gifts.

Your suggestions will be really helpful.

dipo318
dipo318
8 years ago

Very interesting, I think I may do this by going out to lunch with friends instead of just getting together to talk. I need to take a look at this.

Lori
Lori
8 years ago

I used to buy birthday and holiday gifts for relatives’ step kids – more out of guilt and obligation than out of love. I never received acknowledgement or thank yous. So…I stopped. And I don’t feel guilty! Why give gifts if they are not appreciated? Similarly, I used to do the same for cards and choose the perfect Hallmark card for any and every friend and relative for every moment to celebrate or offer comfort. I find that I don’t receive cards much myself anymore, so I have stopped that. A happy birthday phone call is enough for some people.… Read more »

Lori
Lori
8 years ago

My ex-husband showered me with expensive flowers and had them delivered to the office (even more $!) to make a show.

What means more? The first gift my current fiance gave me was a piece of tupperware I’d been searching for to carry my lunch to work each day. Much more about how much he cared and thought about me.

Lucille
Lucille
8 years ago
Reply to  Lori

Lori….wish someone would put on a show for me…never had flowers delivered to my office. I don’t want the sentiment, I want the bling!!

Another Kate
Another Kate
8 years ago
Reply to  Lucille

Lucille, I had to laugh at your posting, because, while I do tend to most value gifts that aren’t necessarily extravagant but are well-thought out, I’ve been wanting my husband to send flowers to the office for years now and have let him know that, but he hasn’t fulfilled that wish. I’ve tried to explain to him that when one woman gets flowers in the office, it is almost a status thing: “Oooh, look what my (boyfriend/husband) did for me. He thinks I’m special. What a great catch I have.” My husband is a wonderful man and has done some… Read more »

Lucille
Lucille
8 years ago
Reply to  Another Kate

Just gotta have the flowers and some romantic dinners wouldn’t go amisss…followed by a walk on the beach to watch the sunset….and then being wrapped up in two loving arms….am I asking too much???

Krantcents
Krantcents
8 years ago

If you are spending lavishly on friends or girlfriends, I wonder if they are really friends anyway. Real friendship or relationship is not dependent on spending money.

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago

In a romantic relationship, just buying things seems like an easy way out– especially if eventually finances are combined… who is really paying for the gift at that point? There are lots of other ways to be thoughtful and show you care than just buying flowers or Snapple, and in the long run those are probably more important. Show you can cook a meal (if you can’t, learn how to cook!) and that you can give time and encouragement when it’s needed and can remember important events… things that don’t cost much in money terms, but mean a lot more… Read more »

Amalgamated
Amalgamated
8 years ago

I grew up in a pretty frugal household. We didn’t have a lot of money. Gifts were never extravagant. Eventually, I met & married my guy. His family is just too much in terms of parties and gifts. We are going to a baptism next weekend and the party will be on a boat with catering, a DJ, etc. For Easter, every child received an Easter basket from each family and other additional gifts. My jaw dropped when my guy said he wanted to give his goddaughter $50 for Easter because, “that’s how it was when he grew up.” God… Read more »

Another Kate
Another Kate
8 years ago
Reply to  Amalgamated

Good gravy! What I really don’t get is why the parents don’t rise up in protest. I grew up in a house where you got one (modest) Easter basket. I planned to continue that tradition, but my MIL insists on also giving our child (her only grandchild) an Easter basket with lots of Stuff. Even my kid, who is now 13, recognizes this as excess. This year the Easter basket included a little candy, pajamas (she did need those), earrings and the ugliest decorative clock we have ever seen. My MIL seems not to be able to stop shopping. I… Read more »

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago
Reply to  Another Kate

we protested. Now the grandparents bypass us and give stuff directly to the kid. Then we have to be the big bad guys to say no.

Nick
Nick
8 years ago

To be perfectly frank, I think overspending while dating is fairly normal. There is a difference between being ‘frugal’ and being ‘cheap’, and you certainly don’t want to give off the impression that you are the latter. Lord knows I spent quite a bit of money when I first started dating my wife, but over time thats generally something that cools off in the natural course of things. We still go out to eat on ocassion, but not nearly as frequently as it once did.

Frugal Chick in Indiana
Frugal Chick in Indiana
8 years ago

I also used to battle with this. I have 9 nieces and nephews! Finally, I told my sister that I wasnt buying for her and her husband and my brother and his wife anymore. She still buys for me and I just say “thanks.” Birthdays- I give all the nieces and nephews a $10 bill. Christmas- I give them all a $20 bill. Makes life easier. I wish I could make their parents (my siblings) put their birthday/christmas money in savings accounts or 529 accounts but I cannot control the world (unfortunately). Also, I think it is a lot easier… Read more »

amber
amber
8 years ago

My bro said the same thing. Don’t buy for us just buy for the kids. I still buy for all but the scale is much smaller what I give to bro and S-I-L than what I give to the kids.

Lucille
Lucille
8 years ago

What’s money for if not for a few treats, whilst dating or not?? I’m speaking as a person who’s been thought of as “a cheap date” as I never expect anything lavish….and since I don’t expect I don’t get!!? I envy those women who elicit extravagant gestures from their beaus…20 red roses, helium balloons, champagne and oysters. The guys I’ve met are all saving for retirement….youth is wasted on the young!!!

Jenna, Community Manager at Adaptu
Jenna, Community Manager at Adaptu
8 years ago

Home baked items, like banana bread or home brewed beer go pretty far at parties.

Susan
Susan
8 years ago

This is a good post and there are so many thoughts that accompany gift-giving, etc. that I don’t know if it’s possible to really understand motives for lavishing others to the point of not saving. I’ve overspent and been broke most of my life so I truly understand the desire to save and I can always justify blowing money on my adult children, but at the same time, I feel like there’s something there that I’m not recognizing, like my own goals? Yeah, that’s it, put your babies before yourself, isn’t that what parents are supposed to do? Frugal Chick… Read more »

Frugal Chick in Indiana
Frugal Chick in Indiana
8 years ago
Reply to  Susan

Hopefully my kids will appreciate it when they get to college age and realize that I have been giving monthly to their college accounts..since they were both less than a year old. I have also gotten them birthday and Christmas presents from garage sales before (*they looked new*) Instead of lavishing them and others with gifts, I am saving for them in a way that they cannot appreciate until they are old enough to understand! Hopefully they won’t hate me! = )

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago

@Frugal Chick

Being able to go to the college of my choice without having to worry while my friends ended up having to go to the place that gave them the most money or a community college or ended up with huge amounts of debt… that made a lot of my childhood absolutely worth it. Plus I grew up with the skills to survive being broke in graduate school!

elysia
elysia
8 years ago

I agree gift giving (and mens’ 50’s mentality) are complicated and I’d love to simplify all this in my family.
That said – the good vanilla, IMHO, is totally worth it. I currently am making my own, but I also have a bottle from BJs (like Costco or Sam’s Club) and another that’s a double bourbon Madagascar vanilla. And I can *totally* tell the difference :-).

stellamarina
stellamarina
8 years ago

I grew up in a one child family that had modest spending habits. Only one main xmas gift or birthday gift etc. As my kids grew up we kept it to modest spending as well. Now there are grandchildren….who are American kids with big expectations. It seems that they have so many toys and clothes that I feel like I do not want to add to this consumption. Plus I am now retired and it is time to cut back on our own expenses. After all, my mother has been sending me just a birthday card for my birthday and… Read more »

laura
laura
8 years ago

hi everyone. tim’s girlfriend here. i want to elucidate a few things for those keeping track at home: 1. tim did not win my heart because he brought me snapple (or anything at all). he won my heart by being the most gracious, intelligent, funny, caring, loving and amazing person i have ever met. he was not the first person to buy me a snapple but he had every other quality i was looking for and so the snapple became absolutely secondary. 2. he knows good wine, good vanilla, good living in general but is the most humble, confident man… Read more »

Funchilde
Funchilde
8 years ago

GREAT article. Just what I needed to hear. I’m female and I still have that “provider” instinct you speak of because in part I out-earn my parents and siblings. I just love little “I was thinking of you” gifts and as I tracked the spending in March….damn! I decided to cut back in April and though I have cut back, I can see the creep in my budget. for me the gifts also come with a postage price tag since i live far from my immediate family and loved ones.

mjs
mjs
8 years ago

I used to spend and spend and be nice..Most were not grateful, never even got a thank you..Now and early on I believe in Karma I give out to the world only what I truly can afford, hubby is retired, spoil him a lot, our only child who will be 35 at the end of the year..spoil my hubby’s youngest brother a vietnam vet with ptsd still and just got ptsd benefits from the va in 2007 after working to get them for about 30 or so years..I help people anonymously, my hubby is generous and sweet and kind to… Read more »

Brian
Brian
8 years ago

Great article! I’m also guilty of excessive gift giving and it certainly hinders my financial freedom and savings goals. I too tend to pick up the bill at dinner as a nice gesture even if subconsciously I know I shouldn’t be eating out myself let alone paying for a friend’s meal. During the holidays I tend to buy expensive gifts for my family rather than focus on the real gift which is spending quality time with them. I liked your thoughts on “tracking my spending allowed me to create a column just for gift giving. It stopped being a mindless… Read more »

WWII Kid
WWII Kid
8 years ago

What a sad post. I hope you and your money will be very happy together.

Jim
Jim
8 years ago
Reply to  WWII Kid

I don’t think that caustic comment was called for. Sounds to me like the people who are living within their budgets aren’t being “guilted” into giving senselessly are being responsible. They’re sticking to their budgets and doing right by their kids – who do come before siblings, parents or friends.

Rezell
Rezell
2 years ago

I am also into a limbo about gift-giving. I’ve watched too many Hallmark movies since we got internet connections in our house this year, and boom, one day, I was just making a list of Halloween Candies I should give to select kids in need. When I was in High School, College & Med School, I always shell out money in restaurants just to give my friends a good time. Now, none of those friends I treated out became my loyal friends, they’re even nowhere to be found. In Med School, I randomly gave chocolates, cookies & other sweets to… Read more »

Rezell
Rezell
2 years ago

Also, beware of items you cannot stop thinking about. Items that can make you deliriously want to buy them, especially, when it is very expensive. Because almost always, there’s a similar item available somewhere that is much cheaper. Like when my mother and I shopped for a Guess bag as my gift to her. She chose a bag which we thought was unique but a family friend gave her a small purse from an unpopular brand which had the same color and texture that matched her 6Kphp Guess Bag. And you would think, you paid for the quality and originality… Read more »

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