How To Escape the Gift Trap

Amanda recently sent J.D. an e-mail looking for advice about gift-giving:

My husband and I have made huge lifestyle changes since our son was born with congenital heart disease four years ago. He's had five open-heart-surgeries, and we've had some killer medical bills. My husband stays home with both of our kids to help prevent Liam from getting sick too often, so we've gone down to one income, one car, basic cable, and a really aggressive budget.

One of our worst budget breakers however is gifts. I have eleven nieces and nephews, two kids, etc. At Christmas we've convinced both sides to just do a name exchange and then we only have to buy for two nieces/nephews on either side, which helps and we've just outright stopped exchanging gifts with our brothers & sisters, but there are still our parents, his grandparents, kids of friends who have birthday parties, and graduations, weddings, and baby showers!

We actually do plan most of these things into discretionary spending since we know when people have birthdays, but it's always those gotchas like weddings and new babies (and we didn't pre-think graduations with this year's planning).

Could you offer any advice on fitting generosity and gift giving into a frugal budget? No one wants to be a grinch, but it really adds up some months. Sometimes, it's half of our discretionary spending just to get small gifts (we only spend $10-15/kid!).

Ah, Amanda, I hear you! Gifts can be a budgeter's downfall! Many of us readily accept our own sacrifices in the name of being frugal, but don't want to seem “cheap” when it comes to giving gifts to others. I've struggled with both sides of this issue.

One side of me likes choosing and giving gifts, likes having those gifts appreciated, likes receiving gifts in return. But the other side opposes the commercialism and expectations that accompany holidays and occasions. Too often, hastily-purchased gifts can seem like a substitute for the spare time and energy we don't have to make a gift meaningful. These gifts can be merely an obligation, which is no fun for either giver or recipient.

For big family gift-oriented occasions like Christmas (Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc), you must have “The Talk”. In some families, money is a difficult subject, but your options are either to continue spending more than you want on presents, or to mystify everyone when you cut them off cold turkey. A good way to start is to explain your budget goals, as in, “We're starting to save for the kids' education funds,” “…to buy a house,” “to be able to afford to live on one salary,” “pay off the credit cards” or something like that — just make sure you're being honest.

Whatever you do, don't insist that everyone stop giving gifts to you (or your kids). You have the right to stop giving gifts, but for many people, being generous with presents is a true pleasure and you should avoid depriving them of that pleasure. It may seem wrong to accept without giving, but you can give back in other ways. Of course, your relatives and friends may be relieved at the prospect of the never-ending gift-exchange ending — maybe they were just too shy to bring it up.

If you don't want to stop all gifts, here are some ideas to cut costs.

Draw names. As Amanda does, this can allow you to focus on one or two recipients instead of the whole clan. There are various arrangements. Some families write their name and a gift suggestion or two on a slip of paper. In some systems, adults pick an adult and each kid gives to a kid (with adult help as needed). Or, if everyone is gathering together, each person can bring one gift (marked as adult or child) and you can do a sort of “Yankee swap” exchange where unwrapped presents can be stolen or traded until everyone ends up with someone.

Be creative. On J.D.'s side of the family, we have been doing $5 gifts for several years. Everyone (7 adults, 4 kids) buys a $5 (or under) gift for everyone else. (This was my sister-in-law's idea.) J.D.'s mother asked to be excepted — she loves piling gifts on everyone and exercises her grandmotherly rights to do so. The $5 limit has forced us to be bargain hunters and the results are often both surprising and hilarious. We found a practically new set of drafting pens for a brother's gift: $80 new, marked as $10 at a garage sale but we bargained it down to five!

Emphasize the experience. Some people have more time than money. If you fit in that category, you can use it to your advantage for all sorts of occasions. Do friends have a new baby? Deliver dinner to the new parents, then stay to hold the baby while they eat the meal. Clean up afterwards, of course. Nieces and nephews? For that special occasion, invite them to join your family for camping, a hike, miniature golf — whatever your family does for fun. You'll all get to know each other better, too. Parents and grandparents often would rather have you spend time than money on them, as well. Invite them over for brunch, or go feed the ducks at the park, or hear a free concert together.

Don't turn your nose up at used. Aren't we silly Americans! We talk about how great recycling is but we want everything we get to be new, new, new! It's all about mindset. For kids' toys, as long as they're in safe condition, the fact that they're “pre-owned” means little to a child — unless non-stop commercialism has already gotten to them! J.D. and I found two wooden sleds set out for the trash pickup in a ritzy neighborhood. After swallowing our hesitation, we grabbed them. With a cleaning and a few minor repairs, they were good to go — and looked great under the Christmas tree. Keep your eyes open all year for bargains, or arrange a toy exchange or toy hand-me-down system with friends and neighbors. Get to know people's tastes and decorating styles so you can choose gifts they will appreciate.

Kids love the dollar store. I know, I know — everything's made in foreign countries by underpaid workers. But seriously, if you are spending more than $3 for a kid's birthday party gift, you need to visit a dollar store. The kids I know are fascinated by dollar store stuff until age 6 or 7. The parents may turn up their noses, but what kid wouldn't love growing giant lizards or sharks (600% growth — just soak 'em in water!), red-white-and-blue glow necklaces, or a hundred fuzzy animal stickers?

Agree that gifts are only for the kids. Not having kids myself, I wouldn't vote for this option, but I know many families like it. I think a better choice if you're going to do this is to have adults buy small gifts for the kids ($5-10), and let kids make homemade gifts for the adults. I think this gets kids to think about giving as well as receiving.

Use homemade gifts. I'm a big fan for using the homemade gift for most every occasion. Special birthdays get a bouquet of garden flowers in a mason jar. Or, I take the time to write a sincere note in a beautiful card. If someone's a fan of sweets, I'll whip up a batch of cookies. If the season's right, I might present them with fresh berries or a holly and cedar swag. The cost for all these gifts is minimal, but the gesture is still meaningful.

Mass produce. Last year, English Major offered a great tip about gift-giving ideas. You can save lots of dough by the assembly line approach. Pick a gift that will be appropriate for your list of recipients and buy craft items, ingredients, or components in bulk. Before you start, figure out how many gifts you'll need and the cost per assembled gift. Check the figures against your budget. To maximize this idea, choose an idea that still allows for some personalization, say in the color or style of gift.

Just speak up. At my workplace, the envelope is constantly being passed for one event or another. The loss of a parent, a new baby, a retirement, etc. The flowers or gifts purchased with the collected cash may very well be much appreciated. But if your budget prevents you from chipping in, instead write a heartfelt note or tell the person face-to-face. A verbal expression of sympathy or support may be just what they need.

Shrug it off. Unfortunately, some people are all about the goods. If the people in your life aren't going to appreciate or adjust to your frugal mindset, you have a choice to make. Keep spending to keep up with the Joneses, or go your own way and hold your head high. Find ways to show you care that don't just involve handing over your debit card. Give when you can; give what you want to.

The side benefit of implementing any of these ideas is that it moves the whole concept of giving gifts back to thoughtfulness, effort, and individual creativity, rather than the focus on prices and packaging. Think of it as one small chink in the great wall of marketing and consumerism!

These are just some thoughts on the topic to get the discussion rolling. I'm sure there are scores of creative solutions out there.

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Rachel May
Rachel May
13 years ago

Great post! One of my favorite gifts to give to coworkers at Christmas time is to find a great recipe for a spiced tea or hot chocolate mix. I can make a HUGE batch of this for under $10, then put it in pretty canning jars and tie a ribbon around them. It ends up being very cute, and most people love to keep the mix at their desk because you just have to add water. For baby showers or things like that, I always offer to bake the cake. I can make a mean cake — it won’t be… Read more »

Jeff
Jeff
13 years ago

I’m somewhat disenchanted with gifts in general. I know that everybody likes giving gifts; in fact, every adult I know seems to like giving gifts more than receiving them. But the problem lies in finding gifts that the receiver will actually use. Isn’t that the most basic standard that we have for the things that we buy for ourselves? I know that just about every year I get something that I never end up using, and for awhile I thought that was just me. Then I started asking people about the gifts that I had given them 3, 6, or… Read more »

brad
brad
13 years ago

In my family we give gifts only at the holidays, not for birthdays or other occasions. For birthdays we just send cards, and that seems fine, even for my young nieces.

Jill
Jill
13 years ago

Thanks for this! I’m SO SICK of feeling obligated to match the monetary value of gifts sent to me. With some friends the “cost free” option works well. One year for christmas my college friends and I (we’re all in our 40s now), drew names and exchanged “craptacular crafts”. these were all handmade and needed to cost less than 5$ for materials. We had a ball, exchanged photos of each others gifts. A few friends will not go for the homemade. With them, rather than focussing on each holiday, I pick up something on sale through out the year and… Read more »

Sam
Sam
13 years ago

This is a tough one, gift giving is such a part of our culture. In my family, we really only give gifts to the kids(who at this point are past gifts and now like $). We do give consumable gifts at the holidays to adults. My college friends do a $20 gift exchange, where we get together for brunch draw numbers and the lowest number gets to pick a gift (its wrapped so you don’t know what you are getting) and then the next person can pick a wrapped gift or steal a gift that has already been opened (a… Read more »

shawn
shawn
13 years ago

I agree with pretty much everything that’s been posted. I really would be shocked if your parents and grandparents really care about getting gifts from you. We do buy gifts for our parents, because we can afford it and I enjoy it, but if we couldn’t I have no dobut that neither my parents nor my in-laws would have any issue with it. Nieces and nephews can be a bit tougher. I would just say be creative. Instead of buying them something take them to the beach or some other low-cost activity. There’s no doubt that kids may feel cheated… Read more »

ChessIQ
ChessIQ
13 years ago

It is going to be tough the first or second time you cut down, the third time will be a lot easier. Before you know it, you will be wondering why you waited so long to cut down on this expenditure! Thing is, you are not doing it to be mean or cheap. You are being realistic about your situation. In fact, I would feel horrible if I received a gift from you considering all you are going through. I assume you have GOOD FRIENDS OR RELATIVES WHO SHOULD UNDERSTAND YOUR SITUATION WITHOUT YOU EXPLAINING YOURSELF. (Of course, explaining yourself… Read more »

April D
April D
13 years ago

I love finding stuff at T.J.Maxx. I buy clothes there for my nieces, and this is brand new designer stuff, too. I found a velour BCBG jumpsuit for my 6-yr-old niece that was originally $200 (yeah, I know that’s really insane) marked down to $25. I’d like to get the spending per person even lower than $25 this year, though. But it really was a cute outfit. Everyone thinks when I buy Ralph Lauren or DKNY baby clothes that I’m spending a fortune, but it’s actually really cheap when you know where to find it. I also found a Juicy… Read more »

Lisa
Lisa
13 years ago

Along with gift giving, how about greeting cards? They can be very expensive! In my immediate family, it is considered rude not to be acknowledged on birthdays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, anniversaries, and holidays? It’s draining me. I vowed that after the July birthdays are over, I am cutting back and budgeting gifts. My mother took that as an insult. She takes it as an insult when I don’t buy my parents an anniversary present! Your tips were helpful and will start putting them into motion! I have one tip — split the cost of a birthday gift with… Read more »

Melissa A.
Melissa A.
13 years ago

Great article! I’ve been thinking for a few years of introducing a one gift per person rule in my family, but I don’t know how to bring it up. I’m not sure if my parents (really my mother) would go for it. I think it’s silly to buy multiple gifts for grown children, and it’s hard for me to lug all that stuff home since my family lives in another province. Ugh. I also don’t really want to buy birthday gifts for people. I never know what to buy and often do it out of obligation more than anything. Is… Read more »

Laura Athavale Fitton
Laura Athavale Fitton
13 years ago

A loving and inspiring poem/note from a friend was THE most cherished (and remembered) gift we got when our first daughter was born. Our friend wrote welcoming her to the world and telling her about some of the most precious moments she would experience in life and all that lay before her.

Also commercial greeting cards are a huge stealth budget breaker, now easily $3-$6 bucks each!

Melsky
Melsky
13 years ago

It drives me nuts when people who are in debt give us extravagant gifts. Not only do they pay the price of the gifts, they pay interest on the cost of them every month. Plus, the things are not anything we want or need. We are obligated to give them something similar back, so in effect we are buying ourselves something we don’t want or need.

I like white elephant gift exchanges, where you give something that is around your house that you don’t need. Dollar store gifts exchanges are fun too. Handmade gifts are the best.

Laura Athavale Fitton
Laura Athavale Fitton
13 years ago

One other thought is that even the homemade gifts (like any DIY) can be budget breakers if you could have “sold” the time you spent, say, working freelance or doing other paid work. So you have to strike a balance and not be pennywise/pound foolish.

Michael Langford
Michael Langford
13 years ago

Wedding, Graduations, New Babies = Cash. Don’t buy gifts for these occasions. Buy a card if you must, but just give cash. The new couple doesn’t *really* want that china (as will come out when they have to spend their money on it). The new grad can use that for partying or for paying off the bills that most people rack up in their final term, or to get started with adulthood. And babies are basically paper shredders for money: the new parents will use that money no problem. Even if the people “don’t need the money”, everyone can use… Read more »

Anthony
Anthony
13 years ago

The whole China products thing is really overblown, but if you’re buying things for little children it doesn’t hurt to be a little prudent. It seems like dollar stores are slightly riskier places with respect to hazardous products (toothpaste, right?), so I would exercise a little caution and make sure things you’re buying at the dollar store don’t have obvious problems like chipping paint or something.

Penny
Penny
13 years ago

Great article. My only concern is the suggestion to buy toys at the dollar store. Not only are they usually produced by underpaid workers, as you mention, but they are generally not manufactured according to American safety standards and many are downright dangerous (choking hazards, toxic ingredients, &c.). Buy carefully!

Millionaire Mommy Next Door
Millionaire Mommy Next Door
13 years ago

Excellent post. Personally, I enjoy giving (and receiving) the gift of TIME. My mom created a family holiday tradition years ago and dubbed it “The Gift”. She would invite family and friends to make simple homemade gifts. We’d car-pool to the homeless shelters, hospice, nursing homes, hospitals; sing Christmas carols with the residents, and spend some one-on-one time with those that craved conversation and company. Afterwards, we’d return to my mom’s house for eggnog and goodies. It was an annual tradition that felt like a gift for all of us. My mom recently passed away. I intend to keep her… Read more »

Millionaire Mommy Next Door
Millionaire Mommy Next Door
13 years ago

In regards to cards: Rather than send expensive and mass-produced greetings, I prefer to make our own personalized ones. My daughter loves to fingerpaint, and I love photography, so we often use these mediums. I think that our card recipients appreciate our homemade ones more than those we’d buy at the grocery store…
~Millionaire Mommy Next Door

Anne
Anne
13 years ago

For greeting cards, Trader Joe’s is a great place. The cards are only 99 cents, they have great images and messages, and they’re made for many occasions. They don’t look or feel like cheap cards. The selection changes all the time, though, so if you find one you really like, buy them up. Chances are you won’t find them again.

MVP
MVP
13 years ago

Excellent post. We’ve done many of the aforementioned suggestions since we began our debt-payoff plan two years ago, most notably: don’t spend more than $5 for the nieces/nephews, and we usually hit paydirt at the dollar store; make gifts – we made beaded Xmas ornaments that some of our friends and family now treasure; only buy gifts for the children and those without children. One important thing that’s been very helpful to us: we budget for and set aside $25 each month for gifts, which goes into an envelope. That way, we usually have money set aside for those surprise… Read more »

Liz
Liz
13 years ago

I’m in debt… and I’ve decided I just don’t give gifts. I try to for big accomplishments – like if someone does extraordinarily well on an exam, or if they accomplish something wonderful. Like most recently my nephew (same age as me) finished his ticket for his electrical journeyman… so I sent him a bouquet of flowers as congrats. I never send him a birthday card, or present. I don’t understand what the big deal is with fessing up that you are broke, and that someone else’s gifts aren’t on your priority list. I don’t scoff at anyone for saving… Read more »

Cheap Like Me
Cheap Like Me
13 years ago

Great blog! Gift-giving is a serious challenge. I have a relative (older adult) who insists that she deserves to be given lots of gifts — she is the wrench in the works when it comes to holidays. Last year, I knitted her a special pair of socks to try to save money — she didn’t even thank me and just tossed them aside. But I think we need to have “The Talk.” One idea I have suggested is a $15 per person limit — that way, perhaps we could get our holdout 15 one-dollar gifts and she could still be… Read more »

Andrea >> Become a Consultant
Andrea >> Become a Consultant
13 years ago

For greeting cards, I just hand some crayons or fingerpaints to my kidlet. No one’s going to look down on that kind of card. I don’t buy kids’ gifts at the dollar store, as they are shoddily made, end up in the landfill quickly, and may include toxins and pesticides, due to container ship and foreign country standards. If you are looking to give a gift to parents, I heartily recommend offering to babysit. Where I live, it is $15/hr with a minimum four hour booking for a regular babysitter! So it costs $60 to go out…we just don’t go!… Read more »

beth
beth
13 years ago

I’m pretty up-front with new friends that I only give gifts to my immediate family. I figure that way they won’t be too shocked if they give me something and I just give them a thank you in reply. Though I *do* sometimes take friends out to dinner for their birthdays. Suggestions I’ve tried or want to try: 1. when it’s my birthday I usually just get people together for beer and socializing, and specify that I don’t want any gifts. One year I asked for invitations to home-made dinners and that went over well – those who were so… Read more »

Bonnie
Bonnie
13 years ago

I mostly lurk here, but this post really hit home. I’m getting married for the second time in less than a month. A big stress for me isn’t all the stuff that you “have” to do before hand–it was how do I tell well meaning people that I don’t want gifts. There’s such a “traditional” taboo about this whole thing. Really though, we don’t need anything. It was such a strain trying to figure out the ettiquette of saying this. Finally I put up a website via the idofoundation that offers no guest registry but does offer some charities they… Read more »

Kristina
Kristina
13 years ago

Also, I think we should all do our part to STOP the insanity of gift giving around weddings. It used to be that most people had modest weddings and people gave a modest gift at the wedding. Now it can extend to gifts for engagement parties, multiple showers, the bachelor and bachelorette parties, the wedding, and the list goes on and on. I think it’s embarrassing. And now people have gotten as crude as just asking for cash. The spirit of giving and receiving with gratitude (versus expectation) has been largely lost. It’s sad. When I get married, I will… Read more »

trb
trb
13 years ago

@kristina – my wife and I went this route, and I was amazed at how much resistance there was [to not registering, requesting no gifts]. Many people think they must give a gift, and want it to be easy, and essentially thoughtless – even after you’ve told them explicitly that you want and need nothing. I’ve stopped giving gifts entirely, but I make and send cards with real messages printed inside, not just a note. A few people have called me on it, and it usually ends in a productive conversation. Some people will always be miffed, though, but unless… Read more »

Patrick
Patrick
13 years ago

J.D. and Wife,

One of the reasons I read this blog everyday is because you emphasize the human side of money more than the numbers side of money.

That is something most people, myself included (blog and personal life), need to work on. Thank you. 🙂

MoneyNing
MoneyNing
13 years ago

Great post! It is so fitting that the wife of JD’s personal finance blog be a great personal finance article writer!

Eric
Eric
13 years ago

My wife and I are trying to get in to giving experiences and investments to each other. For our anniversary we treated each other to a mini-vacation that envolved some biking and exploring. It was great. We got to reconnect. I feel that was more valuable than just giving her jewlery or something else that would sit and accumulate.

plonkee
plonkee
13 years ago

@trb – I’m not (and never have been) married, but I’ve been to a few weddings and I always want to give a gift. I don’t like giving money because I always have a small budget and I don’t want to look cheap (I don’t really enjoy giving money anyway). I prefer to give something that the couple want and find gift regsitries very helpful especially if I am fond of the couple but don’t know their personal tastes very well. For general giving I also like TJ Maxx (called TK Maxx over here). Stuff is usually a bargain and… Read more »

Eric D. Burdo
Eric D. Burdo
13 years ago

My extended family does a “Yankee Swap” with a pricetag of $15-$25 dollars each. And participation is optional.

So, not only do we get a gift (and a chance to buy one for someone), we get the fun of the swap. 🙂

April D
April D
13 years ago

I AM getting married in 9 months, and honestly, I would prefer cash if someone is going to get us something, but only because I have no room to store anything right now and I have this fear of accumulating “stuff.” That said, I would never, ever suggest that people give us cash out loud or in writing. I was also a little against the whole registry thing, but I have had such a hard time convincing family members that I’m going to give in and just do it. I’m a pretty low-key bride, and it’s not worth the hassle… Read more »

Shaz
Shaz
13 years ago

I pretty much stopped gift-giving to any and everyone. Even my parents. I give a card and that’s about it. My reasoning, especially with my parents around the holidays is that I’m an adult. If I need anything I can buy it myself. They aren’t rich and have major medical bills. I’d rather they save whatever money they would have spent on me and use it to pay a bill, or better yet, gift themselves. Another idea? Instead of the family giving gifts, wouldn’t it be nice if, as a group, we pooled our money to fly in a family… Read more »

Michael Langford
Michael Langford
13 years ago

@plonkee: You might like giving a gift. But if you don’t keep in mind what the couple needs, you’re just assuaging your own ego, not helping them. When trying to plan a registry, especially if you realize china is not something you need and pass on it, you have to put out a *large* amount of effort finding 5-25 dollar items you “want” so small gift givers aren’t frustrated. This just wasn’t our experience, this was some frustration we found out 3 of our married couple friends also shared. We end up putting a list of small items we might… Read more »

RazzBari
RazzBari
13 years ago

For her birthday last year, my mother (in her early 70s) asked for 2 hours of time from my sister and me, to be spent identifying and organizing her loose photographs and sticking them in albums. We had so much fun that we went way past the 2 hour time frame. My favorite birthday gift in recent years was when Mom & Dad replaced the ratty old cotton cord clotheslines in my basement with 4 nice long vinyl-covered wire lines strung high enough that my sheets didn’t touch the floor. Dad also moved a fluorescent fixture so it was right… Read more »

Jill
Jill
13 years ago

I am always on the look-out for discounted baby clothes at Target, TJ Maxx, etc. Oftentimes I can find nice outfits for under $5. The key to this is to plan ahead. I have a whole plastic tub full of baby clothing in different sizes, so that when a friend has a baby, I just have to look in there and pick out something appropriate. I also do this with books. You can often find a regularly priced $6 board books at TJ Maxx or other discount stores for under $3. Then I pair an outfit with a book. It… Read more »

Bloggrrl
Bloggrrl
13 years ago

Great post. I’ve noticed that several other people have also mentioned the dollar store/China connection. The thing is, try to find a store where everything ISN’T made in China. TJ Maxx has mostly inventory from China as well, as does Walmart, Sears, Best Buy, Lowes and just about any other major store you can think of. Even small boutiques in town often order merchandise from China or other countries where the wages (and usually the quality) is very low. I just had to point this out, as outsourcing is something that concerns me very much right now. As far as… Read more »

Michael Langford
Michael Langford
13 years ago

@Jill: “One more thing, even if you are anti-consumerist or anti-gift giving, please don’t show up at a shower or a wedding without a gift. It’s just tacky and almost insulting. I speak from experience. If you really feel that way, it would be better not to attend.” At a shower you *might* have a point in some circles, as if you’re just local to the bride and groom you can go to the wedding. If the shower is in a different place than the wedding (eg, the wedding is in MD and the shower in GA), go to the… Read more »

Amanda
Amanda
13 years ago

Hi, I’m the Amanda who wrote the original question. Thanks to JD & wife & everyone for your ideas. I do shop at TJ Max & Ross & the local outlet Carter’s or OshKosh stores for baby gifts. I actually got my in-laws a really nice silverware set for a good price three years ago at TJ Max after shopping ALL OVER TOWN at Christmas. I’ll try to get over there for Christmas this year. I usually buy my nieces & nephews classic books under $10 for their birthdays, unless there is something else I know they really really want.… Read more »

Erin
Erin
13 years ago

My family (husband, sister, and parents) get together to buy one big gift for each of my parents. That way they get something they really wanted for $35 and we each only end up spending about $12/kid. I also check the Toys R Us, Amazon, and Target catalogs, websites, and inserts to find the best deals on gifts for the six-year-old.

MVP
MVP
13 years ago

Michael, Sorry to burst your bubble, but a lot of gift-giving involves both obligation and pleasure. I appreciate your idealism, but like other commenters, I wouldn’t be caught dead showing up at a baby or bridal shower or wedding without offering at least a modest gift. While I sometimes grumble a little inside when another one of these occasions comes up, I just remember how unbelievably generous all our loved ones were when we got married. It’s sort of a what-goes-around-comes-around thing. While it did feel somewhat uncomfortable registering for and accepting SO MANY gifts for our wedding and my… Read more »

Kitty
Kitty
13 years ago

My mom’s side of the family no longer does holiday or birthday gifts at all. Instead, we all donate to a charity in the family’s or birthday person’s name. Even my younger cousins (ages seven and nine) love this – for their birthdays this year, one of them chose to sponsor a zoo penguin and receive updates on it, and the other donated some chickens through Project Heifer. Rather than stressing out over finding a toy for under $8, those of us on a tighter budget can give what we can afford and feel like it is going toward something… Read more »

Michael Langford
Michael Langford
13 years ago

@MVP My point is not that there is not merit in helping new people get ahead. My point is that *if you do not believe people should be giving gifts for occasions like that or are in a place unable to give a gift you still should show up if you’d like to*. If you really would have wished a guest away at your shower or wedding who didn’t give a gift, you are a horrible person who doesn’t value their friends for the right reasons. Friends and family aren’t there to be gift giving machines. Sometimes they do, but… Read more »

Sue (Mom)
Sue (Mom)
13 years ago

“J.D.’s mother asked to be excepted – she loves piling gifts on everyone and exercises her grandmotherly rights to do so.” I am that guilty party. 😉 I am one of those people who gets a lot of pleasure out of giving gifts. I appreciate this article very much, Kris, and it and the comments following have triggered a few thoughts of my own. I feel that drawing names can work well, but sometimes with families spread far apart geographically, it isn’t possible to physically draw names. In my birth family, my siblings and I rotate family names rather than… Read more »

Catherine Darrow
Catherine Darrow
13 years ago

When I was growing up, my family did a Christmas gift exchange with our cousins — 4 kids in our family, 3 in the aunt/uncle’s. But the catch was, we did our shopping in July & August at garage sales. Mom and dad gave each of us kids $5 to get all our gifts with.

It was actually great fun. You can find some awesome stuff at garage sales for ~$1 when you’re a kid.

Liz
Liz
13 years ago

@ Michael, Jill, MVP et al – re not showing up without a gift… So, if I travel, say, 1000km to visit whomever this person is that is having a shower, and don’t show up with a gift, is my presence not wanted?? Cause that’s what I’m doing in August and I’ve been told that my presence, which is going to cost me probably $500, is going to be appreciated. @Jill’s comment about weddings: I don’t know how many weddings you have been to in the past while, but any weddings that I’ve been to, the couple have been around… Read more »

Jill
Jill
13 years ago

Michael Langford says “If you really would have wished a guest away at your shower or wedding who didn’t give a gift, you are a horrible person who doesn’t value their friends for the right reasons.” A horrible person?? Come on. I never said a gift had to be a serious monetary strain. But bring something – even if it’s a card with something that you made. And for those of you who travel a long way and pay a lot – then just give a little present. And if you are truly destitute, your friend will most likely know… Read more »

Marcy
Marcy
13 years ago

As a brand new parent ( 3 months next week!), gifts are an awkward thing. We live in a cute little house with limited storage. We can afford to buy lots of things for our baby but we still appreciate the gifts we have been given, as it saved us a lot of money. Some people gave us cash(much appreciated for purchasing baby furniture) some people gave us their gently used larger goods(swings,crib, bedding and clothes- very appreciated) and some people gave us cash. However, other people kept showing up with new toys that he won’t use for a long… Read more »

MVP
MVP
13 years ago

Jill, I agree with you on ALL points. For those who are traveling, I’m hard-pressed to understand how, if you have enough money to travel a great distance, you can’t afford a simple $10 gift for your loved one. No, you don’t HAVE to, but it’s certainly a kind and thoughtful gesture. Liz, I think it’s pretty cruel to deprive your mother of showering you with wedding gifts. Unless it’s truly out of hand, the polite thing to do would be to say “thank you” – once you get off your soap box. Where are your manners? Also, the entire… Read more »

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