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You Can Buy This For The Teens

My husband and I were late to marry and have children. So, his brother and sister and their spouses have children considerably older than ours (all teenagers while ours are in preschool). Over the past several years, we have been given missives about what to buy for the nieces and nephews for Christmas and, within our limited budget, we have tried to buy what they want (our first mistake, I know) and make the children happy.

Last year, SIL decided it was getting too expensive to buy presents for all of the kids. I wholeheartedly agreed. I suggested that children get presents until 8-10 years old and after that, if we wanted to have a drawing, great, or if we just wanted to get together and have a family holiday, that was also great. She was adamantly opposed. She decided (and bullied everyone into), having all of the kids draw names to buy presents for the other kids.

Well, based on the fact there are three preschoolers (who can’t get each other’s names because you can’t have a sibling’s name) and four teenagers, guess what all of my kids got for names? You guessed it!
We have the teenagers to buy for. Today I get an email from SIL (since my kids have her two teenagers), that reads:

Dear Cousins,

The holidays are approaching and I just wanted to remind you that you have Cousin A and Cousin B to buy a present for! I’ve asked them what they would like and the list is below. Remember–no giftcards as they aren’t any fun to open!

Happy Holidays! Love, SIL

All the gifts are between $50-100. With three kids in daycare, all of the gifts are way beyond our means. When we’ve been asked for suggestions for our kids, it is for playdough or craft supplies or a book. Certainly not in this price range!

I don’t know what to get them and it frustrates me that this “plan” which was supposed to eliminate everyone having to buy all of these expensive gifts really means that everyone else got to skip the expensive gifts (only one person besides us has to buy for teenagers) and we are on the hook for three of the four teenagers. And this, after years of us getting no gifts (as we didn’t have children) and giving out gifts to every one of the nieces and nephews.

It makes me not even want to go to Christmas this year!


I’d treat the email just like any other “gimme” list or registry foisted on me against my wishes. Ignore and buy what you can afford.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Cady December 14, 2011, 12:33 pm

    Buy them books or used DVDs. If they don’t like that, too bad, so sad. IMO, no one but parents and spouses should be giving each other gifts more than $20-$30 anyway.

  • Dana December 14, 2011, 12:45 pm

    I see I’m in the minority here, but I don’t think that her suggestion that only kids beneath the ages of 8-10 get gifts from everyone. After all, her SIL’s kids had the same privilege when they were younger and I see no reason why her children should be disadvantaged because they happened to be born later.

    And I sympathise with the teenagers’ wish lists. We have only been married for 2 years and have no children yet. Every year we have to buy for 9 children and the latest wishlist included surround sound system for the bedroom, designer jeans (specific label), PS3 and Wii – it went on for 2 pages. Needless to say, we’re sticking to our budget. Of course, since we have no children, we get nothing from most of the family, which is why we’re no longer wasting our hard earned money on the ungrateful. We’ll get them something small, a token to open on the day, but that’s it.

  • Emmers December 14, 2011, 12:47 pm

    NO wonder she dismissed and bullied you into her idea. She knew that it obligated you, and whomever drew her childrens name, to shell out for her kids. Which destroys the entire point of what you where trying to achieve!

    Boyfriends family does a wonderful ‘Secret Santa’ (which within 24 hours is no longer secret) where the older members of the family (young adults with jobs and upward) have their names put into a jar, and everyone (again the adults or young adults with jobs) draw a single name from the jar and instead of buying for everyone in the family they buy for just the one person. With a $50 cap on each person.

    Instead of trying to buy for EVERYONE, one would be buying for their immediate family like parents and spouses (or whatever they chose to do with that, Boyfriend and his siblings do not gift one another) and then for whomever they drew the name for.

    Everyone has agreed some years back that buying for each other was just getting too expensive, and came up with this fair idea that everyone agrees with.

    Buy for your own immediate family, and the one name you drew!

  • Amanda H. December 14, 2011, 12:53 pm

    This is why my family has a dollar limit on the gift exchange, much like Dominic’s family. It’s usually set at about $20 or $30, with the understanding that it’s not a sin for family members to go under that (especially those who are still on limited means, like my single younger sisters who are paying their way through college). This is just adult siblings, though. There aren’t currently enough neices and nephews to justify a gift exchange with them (I have three kids, one of my sisters has two, and one of my husband’s sisters has one, all under the age of five). Right now, aunts and uncles buy gifts for the kids at their discretion and no one’s hurt if an aunt or uncle doesn’t get the kids a gift that year. They’re usually small and easily mailed anyway, like a single book or a coloring book and crayons or a small doll. I figure when the kids get older and there are more of them, then we’ll switch to a name-draw like in my own (very large) extended family.

    My suggestions have already been addressed, but here they are anyway. First, try to institute a spending limit, now or next year. While the suggestion to cut off gifts at age 10 may seem gimmie-ish of yourself (since only you benefit from it, regardless of how many gifts the older kids have received in the past compared to yours), suggesting a dollar limit affects all equally. If the parents of the older kids complain that it’s easier to spend only $10 on a preschooler than it is on a teenager, they’re not trying hard enough. I can think of plenty of things I would’ve loved as a teenager that fall under $10.

    Other suggestions are to do as the Dame suggested and ignore the list, and to just get a gift card anyway (for whatever you can afford) and find creative ways to wrap it. Others mentioned nesting wrapped boxes to make it more interesting, and finding a gag gift to hide it in. They also have fun card holders these days, like cute stuffed animals and neat tins. Gift cards don’t *have* to be boring.

    Just because SIL expects you to foot the bill for some big ticket items doesn’t mean you have to cave and spend beyond your means.

  • AngieM December 14, 2011, 12:55 pm

    Hi, I’m the OP. I appreciate all of the suggestions so far.

    Just to clarify, I’m not trying to just get my kids gifts, just trying to make it fair. The other kids got gifts all the way through their teenage years and it was fun to watch them open and play with the many thoughtful things they got over the years. I want that same experience for my kids. And then when they reach the age for which it is difficult to buy presents or they age out of the “magicalness” of Christmas, they can move to the adult portion which is all about spending time with the family and togetherness. So, if you still think I’m a gimme pig, well, then…okay…

    The adults haven’t gotten presents in years, which is fine with me.

    I’m reading all of these suggestions and may put many of them to good use. I’m not sure how to deal with SIL..she’s sent out more missives in the last few weeks about other holiday related items.

    Keep sharing!

  • Snowy December 14, 2011, 1:04 pm

    The idea of buying for only kids under 10 may sound gimme, or may be gimme in a way, but remember that they’ve been buying presents for other people’s kids, with no reciprocation, for 15+ years. It might also be an attempt to set new, lasting rules, so in five or ten years when those parents become grandparents, and the current toddlers are teens, there’ll already be a habit of only buying for the wee ones, and the rest do a gift swap.

  • xallanthia December 14, 2011, 1:05 pm

    Time to insist on a limit for gifts. In my husband’s family it’s $30 among young cousins and $50 for adults (two separate draws, you move up to “adult” when you move out of the house). In my family the exchange is only among cousins and it’s $20-25.

  • Cat December 14, 2011, 1:14 pm

    For the teen-aged boys, home-made cookies. For teen-aged girls, a gift set of cologne or fancy bubble bath/bath salts 0r eye shadow. Teen-aged girls want to explore being women and teen-aged boys want to eat.

    I still recall a friend of mine whose nine-year old son insisted he wanted a trumpet for this birthday. Dad bought him the six-hundred dollar trumpet-no small feat on a teacher’ salary. The lad was musically gifted and could already play the piano and the organ.

    I knew he loved knights and castles so I spent thirty dollars for a wooden shield and two blunt-edged wooden swords. Guess which gift was sitting in the house with dear old Dad and which gift was in the lad’s hands outside as he and his friend were being knights.

  • Cobbs December 14, 2011, 1:29 pm

    Again and again I read these sad stories of greed and resentment caused by gift giving. Please consider not buying anything but a greeting card for your relatives. Now, hear the responses from the greedy. They care only for the gift. They are ready to drop and shun anyone who won’t or can’t give them a gift. Real love inspires many reactions the least of which is a gift from a store.

  • Hemi Halliwell December 14, 2011, 1:31 pm

    Sorry, just a couple more comments: I think we all have someone like this in our family. My in-laws are like this. For years, it was agreed that since many of us were raising families, we would buy for kids only, but there was always someone who agreed but ignored the rule and bought for everyone. Frequently, it was my FIL and MIL. (They are divorced). It made me feel really horrible to show up with gifts for kids only and then receive gifts from others while we did not have gifts for them. About 3 years ago, there was a huge deal when I flat-out refused to accept gifts. (I know; I was rude and its suppose to be about giving not receiving but still..) I told them that if we make a rule about gifts and you agree to that rule, you should follow that rule. Otherwise, why make the rule?
    Since my boys are teenagers and Christmas is not as exciting for them, we have a new rule at our house. You get to ask for 3 moderately priced items since baby Jesus got 3. Anything beyond that is a surprise and a blessing. If you behave, do well in school and do your chores without (too much) complaining, you will get the things you ask for and a couple of surprise presents.
    Just a funny little story- when my oldest was about 4 or 5 (he’s 18 now), he really misbehaved and had a nasty little temper for about 2 weeks before Christmas (still don’t know why). So I thought it would be a good idea to show him that misbehaving children did not get presents for Christmas. So on Christmas Eve after he went to bed, I went out and cut about 10 “switches” from a bush in our yard. I put them in a brown paper grocery bag, tied them with a gold bow and attached a note from “Santa”.
    He got up Christmas morning, went to the tree, saw the bag, his name on the tag, his eyes got real big and he asked his dad to help him read it. It said “I see you have been a little naughty this year so to help remind you to be a good boy, I left you some switches. If you start behaving better, I will stop by and leave you a few presents while you visit Grandpa”. No tears, no tantrums, no nothing. He just accepted it. A little while later, we were leaving for the grandparents and he got his bag of switches and carried them with him! It was (almost) like he was proud of them. When we got to the grandparents house, he ran up to grandpa, showed him the switches and note and said “Santa really is watching us and making a list!”. He showed them to all his cousins and said “This is what Santa leaves you if you are naughty so be nice!”. He took it in stride, behaved well while we were out and never complained or cried about Santa not leaving him presents so when he got home, Santa had come back with several presents for him.

  • Laura December 14, 2011, 1:32 pm

    We have a similar “name-drawing” tradition among the children in our family as well. The ground rules have seemed to work well over the years. First, there is a $25 limit. Second, there is never a list circulated as to what a child would like. However, often we will ask the child’s parent what the child would like to have (and this includes gift cards) and will accommodate it if at all possible. Our group has children ranging from 3 – 15, so a lot of the issues you mention apply to us as well (and yes, teenagers are a tricky lot, especially when it comes to gift giving). I also agree with the other posters that you should speak up now, especially if such expensive gifts would cause a financial strain. You’re under no obligation to spend that kind of money on anyone.

  • Ashley December 14, 2011, 1:39 pm

    This is why my family does a dollar limit on grab bags. It’s usually $25, and each person only buys for one other person. It’s actually really easy to come up with stuff in that range.

    I don’t understand SIL’s thoughts that gift cards aren’t fun to open. I get a gift card and my mind almost explodes thinking of all the things I want to buy with it.

  • Goldie December 14, 2011, 1:42 pm

    Agree with everyone else that said: 1) there needs to be a price limit per gift, and 2) teenagers love gift cards (I have two teenage boys). Really liked the suggestion of creatively wrapped gift cards. I once saw one wrapped in a small gift box, which was inside a bigger box, which was inside an even bigger box etc etc, so with a total of about ten boxes, plus gift wrap and tissue, it was a lot of fun to unwrap! The ABBA CD is pretty funny too!

  • Merrilee December 14, 2011, 1:46 pm

    I think the comment by Anonymous #14 is being rather unfair, since the OP spent years and years buying her nieces and nephews gifts with no reciprocation because she had no kids at that time. Narrowing the list down to 10 and under seems perfectly reasonable, to me.

  • Elizabeth December 14, 2011, 1:48 pm

    I feel like what no one has pointed out yet is:
    This family spent years buying gifts for each of the teenagers (two families, it sounds like). So if there are three related siblings, then each kid would have gotten two gifts each (from his/her aunt/uncle). So now, they’ve decided to do this weird gift exchange in which the “kids” buy gifts for the other “kids”, meaning that each kid (of whatever age) is no longer getting gifts from the two families but only one. This does seem pretty unfair, given that the OP’s kids are young and they bought gifts for the other kids (and not just some of them) dutifully for years. We’re still two weeks away from Xmas, so I don’t think it would be remiss to point this out now. Why shouldn’t the OP’s kids be showered with presents like the others’ were before? This might best be handled by the husband rather than the OP as an in-law, or perhaps through the parents who make for very good conduits for this kind of thing.

    If it falls to the OP, I would write an email, or better call and say something like this: “Dear SILs, I’ve been thinking about the way we’ve devised the gift-giving this year, and I’ve realized that I’m a little uncomfortable with it. Over the years, we’ve always purchased all of the children gifts. Now that we have little ones, it seems the rules have changed and they’ll no longer receive gifts from both sets of Aunties and Uncles. Since our children are such different ages, it seems silly to pretend otherwise – since our preschool aged children will in fact not themselves be purchasing their older cousins gifts. I think we should give all the children gifts up to a certain age (as the family has been doing for years) after which they can become a part of the secret santa that we do for the adults (and we can decide that age collectively).”

  • Merrilee December 14, 2011, 1:48 pm

    Oh, and I forgot to add: OP, if I were you, I’d email SIL now and head this off at the pass. And I’d use Margo’s wording.

  • Raven December 14, 2011, 1:52 pm

    Wishlists are another form of an invitation; you are permitted to say yes or no.

  • LaurenP December 14, 2011, 2:02 pm

    Chocolate and a ‘little something’ relevant to their interests – book, DVD, video game, CD, nice pen etc. – rarely goes amiss and isn’t that expensive if you use Amazon or similar. Older DVD boxsets tend to sell for about £10-£15, paperback books sell for £5. Sometimes a good quality 2nd-hand item can help save money if the recipient doesn’t mind it being touched by mortal hands prior to them using.

    The chocolate is also a good way of wrapping a gift card.

  • Margaret December 14, 2011, 2:15 pm

    I’m with the original letter writer in that I think it is unfair that the siblings’ children all benefitted from her generousity, but now her own children are not going to receive reciprocal treatment from their aunts and uncles. I also sympathize with wanting to cut down on the number of presents. Unfortunately, it simply sounds bad for the OP to make the suggestion that only her kids get presents. I GET IT that the idea is that the presents stop at age 10 or so, which means that the aunts and uncles wouldn’t have to buy presents as long as the OP did for their children, but it still sounds bad when your suggestion effectively means that only your own kids get presents.

    I also find it outrageous that people are asking for 50 to 100 gifts for their kids. And I think that emailing the list of things that your kid told you, without telling them to tone it down and be more reasonable, is YOU asking for expensive gifts for your kids.

    I was going to suggest that the OP contact everyone and say that she understood that the gift limit was $20 (or whatever the limit is that she had been requesting for her kids), and if that is unacceptable, then they have to withdraw from the gift exchange. However, I really like the tactful way Margo at #23 put it (“out of our budget but will give us ideas as to the sorts of things [name] enjoys”). And then next year, do not participate in the gift exchange. If your kids need something to open at a family celebration, you can supply it yourself. If you have the kind of family that would understand if you pointed out that you feel hurt that only your children were excluded from the family gift giving tradition, then mention it, perhaps at a more neutral time of the year. But if it isn’t going to help matters, then I’d just let it go and stick with spending my budget on my own kids. I probably wouldn’t totally let it go — I’d probably cheerfully and pointedly make a comment like, “Now that I have my own children and family, I can’t supply major gifts to other people’s children any more. After all, it’s not like when so and so were little and the kids got presents from everyone.”

  • Kat December 14, 2011, 2:16 pm

    Get them a gift card, arrange it nicely in a shoe box, and wrap the box. That’s fun to open. Problem solved, right?

  • Mamabulldog December 14, 2011, 2:21 pm

    Ahhhh, “the this is what my children want and you had better buy it or else list” – can’t tell you how much I hate these. In our family, we have the grandkids exchange names but thankfully we have a limit and I stick to it. My SIL right before Thanksgiving will send out an enormous list of exactly what her kids want for Christmas, the store, and the price. Many of these items are far more than our limit. I simply ignore the list. My gift to them is something I think they would enjoy or I know my kids enjoyed at that age and always within the limit.
    It drives me nuts because my MIL and SIL will then hound me about a list – I try to just generalize – as in, “Well, purple is her favorite color and she loves hats.” My advice is so like so many others – ditch the list and think of yourself as a teen. They may hate it, in which case, they will either act like ungrateful little brats or your SIL will throw a fit and then I’d say be ready for a very frank, honest discussion about setting limits. I would not make the suggestion to cut out her kids entirely again. Suck it up and realize that if the roles were reversed, you would have been offended by that suggestion too.

  • spartiechic December 14, 2011, 2:23 pm

    I’m with Laura. If the gifts are supposed to be coming from the cousins, then I’d have them make something. There are a lot of cute things they could make with finger paints, macaroni, clay, etc. How are preschoolers supposed to buy presents? Perhaps, if they get something handmade from their little cousins, then the rules would change for next year.

  • Missy December 14, 2011, 2:26 pm

    I agree with everything Bint said. Buy within your means and if the teens are disappointed, tough. They need to learn how to be grateful or to save up their allowance.

    “I suggested that children get presents until 8-10 years old”

    That takes the fun out of Christmas for tweens and young teens. They’re still children in many ways and look forward to opening presenting on Christmas.

    Teens can make a wish list, but they need to be considerate of what their relatives can afford. Maybe they can save the expensive gifts for their parents or ask if the family will pitch in for one gift. The latter is cheaper for relatives since they can put $10-$20 toward a gift. General rule used to be that if you want a big present, you can’t have a bunch of little presents and if you want a bunch of little presents, you can’t have a big present. If you want that game console, don’t expect to be opening up a bunch of presents.

    “Remember–no giftcards as they aren’t any fun to open!”

    False, SIL. My favorite post-Christmas activity is hitting Borders and other stores for a spree 😉

  • QueenofAllThings December 14, 2011, 2:32 pm

    I don’t find the initial idea that you only give to kids until their 10 ‘gimme’ at all, because I assume the OP gave to her SILs kids when they were that age (and she was childless). It’s what we do in our family. As my children are the oldest, they no longer receive, but I still give to my younger nieces and nephews, as my sister gave to mine when they were younger.

  • gramma dishes December 14, 2011, 2:33 pm

    I think this is one of those cases where you need to polish up that titanium backbone of yours and just say no. This is ridiculous.
    I think it would be very fair for you to point out that you have always given gifts to their children when you had none. Now it’s your children’s turns.
    And I also think you should just say very bluntly and matter-of-factly that you were shocked at the price range of the gifts your nieces and nephews had chosen for you to get them. Just be very open that those gifts are far out of your budget right now.
    Your SIL sounds like a real peach. She’s reaching new heights of entitlement and apparently passing along that unfortunate trait to her kids.

  • kudeebee December 14, 2011, 2:49 pm

    Email sil back, using margo’s suggestion. Then buy the gifts you can afford. Based on your suggestions for your preschoolers, I would opt for a $10 to $15 gift card. Then the kids can color the outside of the envelopes to use to put the gift cards in.

    If anything is said or trouble arises, let your dh handle this as it is his family. Be sure to sign the email from both of you, dh’s name first. Sit down and talk with dh so that you are both on the same page about this and discuss what response you will use with her.

    Sounds like time for dh to suggest forgetting the gift exchange between the cousins. If sil brings it up for next year, have dh tell her that your family is not going to exchange anymore.

  • Roo December 14, 2011, 3:03 pm

    Honestly, I totally sympathize. I’ve got five siblings and my oldest sister, the first to have children by a long while, decided to phase out gifts to each other and make it “kids only” the year her first was born. So we all bought gifts for her little ones for a few years, while she bought nothing for anyone. Now that the time has finally come to start reciprocating, she decided that exchanging gifts at all is too expensive and she can’t do it. I agree with her in theory; there ARE a lot of us, money is tight, and I don’t want a gift from anyone who can’t afford it, but it’s certainly aggravating to come from the one who happily accepted everyone else’s gifts for years but conveniently finds reasons not to reciprocate. And it’s sad for the kids who don’t get to experience all the fun and generosity that was displayed toward their cousins years before.

  • Bernadette December 14, 2011, 3:19 pm

    Since you spent years buying gifts for the now teenagers, your SIL should be more than happy to buy gifts for your little ones. Lumping small children in w/the teens doesn’t seem quite fair to me – especially since you suggest inexpensive things for your kids. My hubby and I don’t have kids, but I happily buy gifts for his 4 nieces and nephews (ranging from 8 to 13). Their parents usually give us a gift (like movie passes, restaurant gift cards) although every year I tell them it’s not necessary. I love picking out something special for each child, and use some ‘suggestions’ from the parents as a guide. I don’t need anything in return – except hopefully a big smile when the kids open their presents.
    Good luck this year – I hate it when gift grubbers put a damper on the true meaning of the day when they don’t get ‘what they asked for’. And by that I mean your SIL, not her kids!

  • Toni December 14, 2011, 3:30 pm

    The Holidays: All about the gifts, huh? Pretty pathetic.

  • Allie December 14, 2011, 3:46 pm

    As soon as my nephews hit about 10, they get cash. Crass? Maybe, but they seem to love it and my husband and I don’t mind. Their eyes light up and they hug us and thank us and tell us all about what they are saving up for (they’re always saving up for something).

    I agree that you should ignore the ridiculous lists (teenages with wish lists? puh-lease! time to grow up) and get them whatever you feel is appropriate and within your budget. Christmas is about spending time with loved ones, not about presents.

  • Amy December 14, 2011, 4:41 pm

    I have teenagers and last year they both looked at me and asked if there was any nice way to say that they really just wanted cash as their uncles (both childless) are totally clueless as they have repeatedly shown over the years :). I told them no, and they would be their usual gracious selves with whatever and we would find nice homes for the gifts afterwards.

    Well I guess the uncles picked up on something from the year before, because last year they got creative and gave the kids gifts jointly. And for anyone looking to give cash a bit more creatively…. they gave each kid a pad of 50 $1 bills held together with rubber cement. They had a lot of fun going into a store and literally peeling the money off the pad to pay for something.

  • Library Diva December 14, 2011, 4:55 pm

    It seems as if holidays have nothing on funerals and weddings for exposing all the family drama that simmers the rest of the year. While the letter from SIL does seem a little nervy, the OP’s general tone also speaks volumes. I may be making an interesting assumption here, but it seems like there’s little love lost between OP and this particular SIL, and that OP has resented buying for the teenagers for many years now.

    I’m not necessarily faulting OP for that attitude. Some relatives really are relatives by blood only. My cousins are kind of like this. They know my address very well whenever there’s a wedding or baby shower coming up, but that’s the only time I hear from them. Even when we’re at the same gathering, they largely exclude the rest of the family, and just stay in one corner with their own siblings. So buying for people who aren’t appreciative of the gifts and don’t have much of a relationship with you is less rewarding than just simply setting the money on fire, for sure.

    But trying to redesign the exchange so that only one’s own children benefit isn’t cool either. No one in this story has exactly covered themselves in glory. I suggest this year, get the teens something that’s within your budget and either fits with the list or is generic enough that anyone could enjoy. Reply to your SIL that you appreciate the suggestions, and that you’ll keep them in mind although your shopping is nearly complete. Next year, tell everyone that you want a $20-$25 price limit on the gifts. If people balk, you can just say that that’s all your budget will allow. If they put up a lot of unreasonable resistance, and it’s clear to you that they’re just being greedy, then it’s time to withdraw from the exchange and accept the fact that it means your own children won’t get anything, either.

  • Miss Sweetbones December 14, 2011, 5:34 pm

    I can see both sides here. It wasn’t especially graceful to agree that it was too expensive to get gifts for all of the children and then suggest that people only give your kids gifts. (That may not have been your intention, but I’m sure you can see how SIL might have interpreted it that way.)

    On the other hand, getting a wish list populated with really pricey items would put me off as well, especially if the reason for doing a gift swap was to keep costs down. I don’t think you should feel obligated to get your nephews/nieces really expensive items. If SIL complains, well, that’s her problem.

    I’d suggest using the gift list as hints about what sorts of things the kids are interested in. If your nephew is asking for an expensive new video game, he’d probably enjoy a strategy guide or subscription to a gaming magazine (magazine subscriptions are nice because it’s a gift that keeps on giving). Your niece is asking for a necklace with an inspirational message? Find the book that the quote comes from and buy her a copy.

    You could also directly address the kids. “Your mom gave me a list of items that you wanted, but most of them are out of our budget. Do you have any other hints for me?” Maybe you’ll find out that they love a certain musical artist/style or that they’ve been reading a new series lately. Books and CDs make great gifts for teens.

  • Jays December 14, 2011, 5:58 pm

    “I must say, I find your first suggestion of only buying for kids younger than 10 pretty gimme as well, since your kids are the only ones who would fall into this category.”

    Not gimme at all! The OP has been buying for the others kids for years (while they were within that age group) … They just happen to be teenagers now. I must stand, I don’t understand why you think that?

  • Momus December 14, 2011, 6:06 pm

    I understand you! The last few years, my in-laws did both Christmas and Hanukkah separately (they’re an inter-religious household). It was really financially hard for my husband and I since we’re newly-weds and I’m in graduate school, and it was hard on my sister-in-law and her husband since they have two small pre-school aged children. Thankfully, we worked it out and now we celebrate both holidays, but with significantly fewer gifts (we no longer give gifts f0r Hanukkah), and everyone seems happy with the arrangement. My father and mother-in-law have also started donating money instead of buying gifts for their siblings and nieces and nephews, and that also seems to be working out well.

    I would ignore their gift list if it’s out of your price range. I often get gift lists that have many gifts that are too expensive, and instead I try to brainstorm gift-ideas that are related (for example, if someone asks for the Harry Potter movies on blu-ray, I might buy a Harry Potter scarf for that person). If they don’t like it, tough. I do really like Margo’s idea for wrapping gift cards–I LOVED gift cards as a teen, since I loved shopping and didn’t have a lot of money. I remember asking for gift cards, and my mom telling me they were rude and refusing to get them for me. I think Margo’s idea for wrapping them inngag gifts circumvents the “they’re no fun to open” idea. :p

  • Rap December 14, 2011, 6:06 pm

    “I must say, I find your first suggestion of only buying for kids younger than 10 pretty gimme as well, since your kids are the only ones who would fall into this category.”

    Its only a gimme if the OP has not previously been buying the SIL’s kids gifts while recieving nothing. Trust me, when you’re a person with no kids with brothers and sisters who do have kids, you do get magically on the hook for buying the nieces and nephews a gift at the holidays.

    Perhaps the best option for next year is setting a “cost” limit first. However, I’d also respond in kind this year – send your own little note of “I didn’t realize we were spending one hundred dollars on each child, so let me readjust my kids wish lists and thanks for being so generous!”

  • Phitius December 14, 2011, 6:11 pm

    “I must say, I find your first suggestion of only buying for kids younger than 10 pretty gimme as well, since your kids are the only ones who would fall into this category.”

    I must politely disagree. The teens have already gone beyond the 10 year age cap and thus have recieved more gifts than the younger kids will under this arrangement. If you look at the bigger picture, the older kids are certainly going to come out ahead.

    I have a feeling that no matter what is done these younger kids are going end up getting the short end of the stick. After all, when the teens reach ‘adulthood’ they no longer have to draw names meaning that the youngest kids are left with nothing from them, likely before that 10 year age cut off.

    I do like the idea of having the little ones make something for the older kids. Maybe not as the only gift, but something to go along with a reasonably priced gift supplied by their parents.

  • Nancy December 14, 2011, 6:21 pm

    Your SIL needs a reality check, and I feel for you. Also (in my experience) teenagers DO get excited about gift cards because they’re a gift of independence and self-determination. For an adult, buying stuff isn’t a big deal. For a teenager, the power to make your own buying decisions is a huge deal and a reason to be excited.

    There are plenty of inexpensive teen-friendly gifts that aren’t gift cards, though. I’ve given a Party In A Box– a box full of Chips Ahoy, Oreos, chips, different flavors of hot chocolate, different kinds of popcorn, gummy worms, silly string, streamers, etc. It’ll run you anywhere from $15-50, you can make it as elaborate as you want, it’s clearly a thoughtful gift because it’s unusual and unique. Teenagers love hanging out with other teenagers, and teenagers love to eat. Whether they’re watching a movie or playing video games or just sitting around, a box full of snacks and silly string will be enjoyed. You can throw in a few movie theater gift certificates if you want to hedge your bets, but the Party In A Box has always been a hit for me.

    The family Secret Santa has also had a bit of drama in my family. Judging by the comments here, it’s always adopted as a way to make things more fair and less stressful, but it always leads to stress and allegations of unfairness. Interesting.

  • Anony December 14, 2011, 6:31 pm

    First of all, the names should be drawn kid for kid. So your kids ‘buy’ presents for the names they draw. Their presents are ‘bought’ by the cousins who draw their names. That way 1 present given = 1 present received/per kid.

    2nd, why no preset $ limits? This is crazy.

    3rd, I’d be inclined to contact the sister-in-law and tell her. Our budget allows us to spend $X per gift this year. Would your kids like to send me a new list that fits within that parameter? Or, if not, where would they prefer gift cards from? I’ll wait to hear back from you…” (That makes it her problem to deal with, not yours. )

    4th, You’re coming off kind of rude yourself by cutting the age limit off at 10-years suddenly with no warning, which benefits your kids and hurts hers. Next time, try suggesting the age limits ahead of time. Like for next year. Again, this plays into my 1st point: Gifts given = gifts received per family.

  • Anony December 14, 2011, 6:32 pm

    Amazon gift cards should work well for teenagers. They can spend on pretty much whatever they like.

  • AS December 14, 2011, 7:14 pm

    Awful! My sympathies for you, OP.

    I liked what admin said – ignore the list and just buy what you feel like. If the parents want their children to receive gifts worth $50 to 100, they should get it for them, and not expect other relatives to get them.

    Also, I don’t understand what the deal with gift cards is. I’d love to get a gift card anyday to something that I’d not use. Most of the people who’d give me gifts know that I love books and board games, and hence give me a gift card from B&N, and rest assured that you’ll have a very happy recipient who’d actually use the gift you spent money on.

  • Jessyy December 14, 2011, 7:47 pm

    We have this in my family – my brother and I are the “older” ones. Except, my parents made a point of buying “extra” presents for my younger cousins as and when they were born, to make it fair.

    Try talking to the teens themselves? Maybe that was their complete “fantasy” list and don’t really want it all…

  • starstruck December 14, 2011, 7:58 pm

    can i suggest itunes? you almost can’t go wrong!! i know your sister in law said no gift cards but , sorry sister in law. teens , as well as adults love itunes. and you can get a card for as little as ten dollars. with a song being only 99 cents, thats pretty good.

  • Stacey Frith-Smith December 14, 2011, 8:30 pm

    It seems to me that the gift recipients in question and their extended family have rather exhausted the goodwill that goes with giving gifts, the recipients by being extravagant in their demands, the LW by “counting” the gifts her children have not received, and even the errant SIL who doesn’t hesitate to reshape custom as long as she is in charge of doing so. For my money, I’d give modest but loving gifts this year (and every year) to the teens, only as reminders of your affection and the joy of giving. I’d omit entirely the idea that your group is going to arrive at any real consensus on the “rules of the road” for gift giving and refocus my energies on allocating my money, energy and time as I personally saw fit. (And feel free, of course, to disregard taking note of what others DO or DO NOT give to your children…that road only leads to frustration, as you see.) A few thank you notes in wobbly crayon… and the season may yet be rescued!

  • Lynne December 14, 2011, 9:26 pm

    I agree that in this situation, being upfront about your budget (the sooner the better) is the best way to address your concerns, rather than just ignoring the list.

    However, if the idea really was for the children to draw names and exchange gifts among themselves, I don’t understand why a sibling can’t draw another sibling’s name — and the teenagers should also be forewarned that their preschooler cousins might be giving them gifts from the heart that might not appeare on their ideal wishlist. In principle, a gift draw among the children seems like a good idea — if it also comes partly from the children themselves.

  • Goodness December 14, 2011, 9:40 pm

    I agree with Margo! My family had a tradition of giving good but small gifts in a creative way, and I’ve continued it. One year I gave my then-boyfriend a lift pass at the local ski resort, in the sort of box usually associated with neckties. Also in the box were several small pieces of plastic, so it would rattle. The Gods must have been smiling on me when I handed it to him about a week before Xmas, because he dropped it. Come Xmas morning I get this phone call: “You rat! I’ve been gently shaking that box ever since you gave it to me, hoping whatever was in it wasn’t broken too bad! That was just mean!”

  • --Lia December 14, 2011, 10:57 pm

    Here’s an idea: Buy presents for people only when you want to, have thought of something perfect, and when you can afford it. Do this without any thought of return on your investment no matter how old you are, how old your children are, or what you might get back later. Do this without checking with anyone in your family and no matter whose house you’re going to for whatever holiday. If you get a gift from someone and don’t have one for them, thank them sincerely, and return the favor only if you want to, have thought of something perfect, and you can afford it. (Yes, I know I’m repeating myself.) Be generous with your kindness, your sympathy, your humor, and your good mood. If you’ve given gifts for years to people who don’t give you gifts in return, this year, give the gift of erasing the debt. Announce your new policy– or not, as you see fit. Within a year, your budget will be in better shape, and your relationships will likely have improved too. You’ll be able to visit with your relatives knowing that they’re glad to see you and without wondering if they only have you around because of the money you spend on them. It’s a liberating experience.

  • babs December 14, 2011, 10:57 pm

    I feel your pain. We have an 8-year-old granddaughter, who gets a pile of presents (so much out there for a little girl) and an almost 16-year-old grandson whose small wish list includes expensive video games, musical instruments, gamer gift cards, etc. We are usually at a loss, and the granddaughter is getting harder as well. They are getting one expensive gift each from the other grandmother (smart woman!). But I make it harder on myself by wanting them to have a lot of things to open. There is just nothing reasonably priced out there! We used to be able to get older nieces & nephews CD’s and DVD’s, but nowadays, it’s all downloads – but that would mean iPod gift cards for you which, apparently, is a no-no. Come to think of it, I if I were you, I’d forget the “gift card” rule and get an iTunes gift card that they can use for music, movies, apps, etc. All teenagers appreciate that! There is NO shame in admitting that something on a wish list is out of your budget.

  • KitKat December 14, 2011, 11:09 pm

    I absolutely loathe gift exchanges. To make things fair in my family (when my aunt started a Secret Santa exchange just between the cousins), we had a limit of $20. That got upped last year at Christmas by another $5 because it was hard to be creative in a $20 range. My aunt keeps track of who people already bought for so that you don’t have a repeat. I admit to currently being really obnoxious for two reasons. 1) Last year my list apparently didn’t get read (I stated that I wanted something that really would cost nothing except maybe a couple hours of time) and 2) I loathe gift exchanges. However, I get stared at if I don’t participate (though the cousins now know my loathing for it).

    And there should be reciprocation. SIL needs to get her head out of her behind and see that she needs to do reciprocate.

  • missminute December 14, 2011, 11:18 pm

    Lord this makes me mad. Email her back and say ‘I cannot afford these gifts, can you make some other suggestions?’ or just get one gift from that list that all three can share.