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Author Topic: Overspending and underspending on gifts  (Read 5908 times)

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Overspending and underspending on gifts
« on: December 24, 2012, 06:32:27 AM »
I just had a somewhat longwinded question about gifts in particular about spending on gifts. Just a bit of background, my husband and I are in an odd position of being financially worse off than all other members of my immediate family and financially better off than all of our friends. We are by no means rich but we live in a different country to my family so have the expense of two international trips a year to see them. We also are a single income family with a baby daughter. We do okay financially because we don't overspend on gifts or live outside our means.

Every year we spend 25 to 35 on our friends gifts and 75 to 100 on our family members gifts. Every year our friends (who then whine they never have any money) give us 75 gifts and our family members will do things like say "Let's buy mom and dad an ipad for $600 (my family is in the US). It will only be $200 per person (150) if we split it three ways. Now we are under pressure to spend a large percentage more to go in on the big gift or get them a gift we can afford and look like jerks because we didn't go in on the family gift (and make my brothers pay $300 a person instead of $200.

I know that a gift is just that and should be appreciated no matter what the dollar value but there is how people say they'll behave on an etiquette site and then there is reality. Would you be annoyed if you spent more on someone else's gift than they gave to you? Also, what do you do in a scenario where you have both agreed not to exchange gifts and then the other person buys you a gift? Are you obligated to buy them a gift even though you made it clear you don't have the budget for it?


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Re: Overspending and underspending on gifts
« Reply #1 on: December 24, 2012, 06:48:53 AM »
You may need to either call a moratorium on gifts with both groups or set a spending limit that is below your current average.  I am not a believer in "giving until it hurts."


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Re: Overspending and underspending on gifts
« Reply #2 on: December 24, 2012, 07:12:34 AM »

There are circumstances where I have had a spending difference with no problem. This usually involves close family members where there is a difference in disposable income, and one side spends more than the other, but both are okay with it, because they know that there is an income balance, and neither side begrudges it.

With friends and more distant family members, I'm more comfortable with an even exchange of gifts, at the level that both people are comfortable with. I don't generally exchange large gifts with anyone but immediate family, however.

For your friends, I'd either let them give what they are comfortable with, while I did the same,  or offer to forgo gift giving all together - under no circumstances would I adjust my giving up to match theirs.

If you've agreed not to exchange gifts, and someone insists on giving one, no, you don't need to reciprocate. Either they are doing it because they genuinely want to give you a gift and don't care if you give one back, in which case all that's needed is to express your thanks, or they are trying to bully you into a gift exchange, and you don't have to give in.

For family, I think I'd be direct and say straight out that you can't afford to give gifts at that level. If they whine about it, I'd point out that if you spent that much on gifts, you wouldn't be able to afford to visit them.

I do find that family back home, who isn't spending thousands of dollars a year and most of their vacation time to visit, tends not to really understand the cost of those visits.  The visits are made gladly, but it can be at the expense of other vacations, and things like buying fun stuff, either for yourself or others.


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Re: Overspending and underspending on gifts
« Reply #3 on: December 24, 2012, 07:13:14 AM »
Don't spend what you don't have.  If someone gives you something, and you've nothing for them, you say a big thank you! And put them on your list for a small token next year. 


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Re: Overspending and underspending on gifts
« Reply #4 on: December 24, 2012, 07:25:30 AM »
I would not be annoyed to spend more on someone than they spent on me if I could afford it. I would absolutely be annoyed to feel pressured to spend more than I intended.  ;)

Figure out your budget and stick to it. It's okay to say something like "That sounds like a great idea, unfortunately, we can't afford to contribute so much. If you can wait until next year I'll start saving up, or, you two can go ahead without me and I'll get them something else. Let me know what you want to do."

I've been in the position of having someone gift me after we'd agreed not to exchange. It was uncomfortable. Don't let it make you feel bad. They knew you weren't getting them anything so they have only themselves to blame if they were disappointed. Chances are they found something at a great discount or it was even a re-gift they thought you'd like. Don't let it damper your holiday spirit.  :)


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Re: Overspending and underspending on gifts
« Reply #5 on: December 24, 2012, 07:28:30 AM »
My parents go INSANE on Christmas gifts every year.  You can barely walk into the little parlor where they keep their tree because they buy so many presents for their kids, sons-in-law and grandchildren.  DH and I are doing very well financially, but we could never try to match what they give us.* We give them each 3-4 modestly priced presents, including sentimental ones involving the grandkids.  I used to stress over it, until I talked to my mom about my concern about not being "equal."

Mom told me I was being silly and they didn't want us to try to match their gift-giving.  Part of their happiness of the holidays is being able to watch us open what they give us.  (After some childhood years of money being pretty tight, it's still a novelty.) "You give what's in your heart and in your budget and we appreciate anything we get.  Anything else is just unnecessary stress," she told me.

So if you can't afford to contribute $150** to the iPad, tell your siblings, "We can contribute $XX to the gift, that's what in our gift budget." Or, "Sorry, we've already purchased Mom and Dad's presents." Don't worry about looking like a "jerk."  You're not out to impress anyone.  If the siblings can't deal with it, they should pick a more affordable gift.

With your friends, maybe you should talk about scaling back next year or doing a $25 limit secret Santa/yankee swap game?

*And to be honest, it wouldn't be fair to try doing "equal" gifts with my parents, because there would be a huge disparity between what we give my parents and what we give DH's parents who are much more modest in their finances/gift giving. And that's not ok. But I didn't bring that up to mom.
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Re: Overspending and underspending on gifts
« Reply #6 on: December 24, 2012, 09:10:20 AM »
Set your budget and stick to it.

I have a gut dislike for lets all go in presents. I had an Aunt by marriage that did that - but gave her family full credit for the gift. I was there when Nanna - basically said "I've known all along you have been taking money from all my kids for X presents, then saying they were from you. I'm not an idiot and I'm not rich. I'm leaving everything evenly among the 9 surviving kids and their kids" Aunt left in a snit. (Nanna had 2 government pensions from Pop 1 because he lost an arm and an eye in WWII and was considered 100% disabled. The 2nd because he worked for customs and died due to mistakes they made)

If you want to go in for a present I would tell your brothers I have x to spend and can not afford more. I would talk to them in early November next year.
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Re: Overspending and underspending on gifts
« Reply #7 on: December 24, 2012, 09:47:36 AM »
In your situation, like ours (we're in the same country, but at a considerable distance from our family, and the only ones that are not local) you have to factor in the fact that you are spending $$$$ to visit. Don't hesitate to say "I'd love to, but with the spendy plane tickets this year I only have $ to spend, not $$$ like you're asking. So sorry!". As my grandparents keep telling us, it's not about the money, it's about the care. Good luck!


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Re: Overspending and underspending on gifts
« Reply #8 on: December 24, 2012, 10:11:31 AM »
I agree with simply telling family, hey, while that sounds nice, its not in our budget.  we can contribute x towards it, or you can give the gift, and we'll do our own.

I used to get all bent out of shape when giving gifts, if I less than someone did on me. if i spent more, that didn't bother me, but i always felt badly for not being able to spend as much as someone did on me.  but I've gotten over that.

I will admit, however, that I still have some issues with one relative. I love coming up with gift ideas for various people, based on what they like etc. Half the fun for me is figuring out what to get, rather than the actual getting of the gift.  My relative, however, is cheap, except when it comes to herself, which alone is ok, I don't require someone to spend a ton of money on me, but what gets me is she just randomly gives carp without any thought to the giftee. one year, she didn't wrap anything, and I could tell she had just gone through her closets and drawers, and pulled stuff out she had bought for herself, as the price tags were still on it.  I was kind of offended she couldn't even be bothered to take the prices off, or wrap them

last year she gave me something I like and use, but didn't spend a lot on. I, in turn, gave her several nice things, and spent quite a bit more on her.  this year, however, she surprised me.  for both my birthday (whcih is right before Christmas) and christmas, she gave me some VERY ncie things, and actually put some thought into them. 


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Re: Overspending and underspending on gifts
« Reply #9 on: December 24, 2012, 11:00:38 AM »
I am a big believer in everyone doing what THEY can afford and want to give without any effort to make things monetarily equal.  I don't think there has ever been a single Christmas that I can think of that I received exactly what I gave to everyone.  It just isn't possible or practical, people have different means and different priorities. 

If someone spends a lot on us year after year, I'm going to assume that they simply love giving and just want to see the kids' smiling faces.  It's really a gift to them as well.  I'm not going to double or triple the amount I spend beyond what I'm spending for others and beyond what I can afford in order to match that, and I don't think etiquette requires it.  I think reciprocity in every relationship is important, but I really do not that that monetary value of gifts is what is meant by reciprocity.  I think people get hung up on that, but gift giving was never meant to be simply an exchange of equal amounts of money/gifts.  It's supposed to be fun and not produce anxiety like this. 

Do what you want and what you can afford, no more or less and relax about it because there is nothing wrong with that.


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Re: Overspending and underspending on gifts
« Reply #10 on: December 24, 2012, 11:13:56 AM »
You have set a limit per your budget on gifts. 

I think that before the holiday season even gets underway, I would send a friendly note to my siblings that this is what our personal, family budget will allow for parent gift giving and no more.   Please let us know by such and such a date if this will be enough for a group sibling gift or if we are going to each gift on our own.

As for friends, of our friends are having tough times right now.  We do not exchange gifts.  We get together for a Christmas gathering, everyone contributes somethng food/drink wise and we call it good.


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Re: Overspending and underspending on gifts
« Reply #11 on: December 24, 2012, 12:16:20 PM »
One suggestion, with your siblings: Just always say, "We never do a group gift for Mom and Dad. We like to give on our own, so that the gift will be from us." Make it a policy: you never participate in group gifts for the parents, you do those yourself, individually.

Then it doesn't matter what you have or haven't spent relative to your siblings. (or, it shouldn't, if your parents have their heads screwed on straight)

(That's the kind of gift-giving and -getting I prefer anyway--it's not about how cool the stuff is, but the fact that when I use the smelly soap, I think of you; or every time I use the ice scoop, I remember that you noticed I needed one.)

With friends, I think you can say, at some point if it arises, "I'm uncomfortable when you spend so much money on us at Christmas. Especially when it's so clear to us that you're struggling a bit now and then. I hope you don't feel pressured to spend a lot--or even to buy us a gift at all!"


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Re: Overspending and underspending on gifts
« Reply #12 on: December 28, 2012, 11:03:27 AM »
Have you ever said to your siblings "An ipad sounds great, but our budget for Mom and Dad is $100.  Would you still like us to contribute or should we get our own gift?"  They may not mind chipping in more. I know I don't with my brothers.  If they do mind, then you just opt out.


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Re: Overspending and underspending on gifts
« Reply #13 on: December 28, 2012, 11:28:38 PM »
Great advice here so far. One side of my family always promises up and down that there won't be any gifts exchanged at family Christmas (except for those given to the little kids), so my parents and I don't bring any. Then, of course, one or even two of the other groups hands out gifts to everyone, including me and my parents. (Usually they're small-ish gifts, like $5-10 range.) This makes my mom really uncomfortable, and she sometimes wonders if she ought to bring gifts anyway. I think that would be silly; everyone's saying there aren't going to be gifts, let's take them at their word. If I receive a gift, I make sure to tell the giver thank you in person, and if I didn't feel able to adequately do that, I'll write them a nice thank-you note. This has been going on for several years now, and I figure that if they're somehow mad they aren't receiving gifts from me, they are free to not give me any next time; then they will be happier, and I will be fine either way. I don't think their motives are malicious at all, more on the side of just wanting to give without receiving, and sliding somewhat into poor communication (like we're supposed to know "no gifts" somehow really means "small gifts"  :P ).

I do think there's an interesting reciprocity with gift-giving amounts, particularly between friends who choose to socialize (vs. family, who may not have as much choice). I try to take my cues from the other person, but also of course my own budget and desires, first and foremost. Example: Jill and I used to be best friends and roommates, and we would spend about $50 on each other for our birthdays and then another $50 on each other at Christmas. As we drifted apart, both physically and emotionally, I started resenting spending $100 on her, when I spent less on other people I felt closer to, so I finally suggested combining birthday and Christmas gifts as the dates were somewhat near each other. She reacted with relieved enthusiasm. So then it was down to $50 just once a year. I was still taking a lot of time and care spending that $50, and again I started feeling resentful, because I felt like she wasn't putting that much time/effort and possibly money into it. One year I shipped her something I thought was quite nice, and never heard a word from her about it, not even that it had arrived safely, until I had asked her several times. And that year she didn't "get around" to sending my gift until February, and it seemed to me like something that didn't cost nearly what I had spent on her.

I don't mean this in a whiny way, just that all of these things were telling me that she wanted to lower the amount of time/effort/money we spent on each other. At least, that's what I was hearing, whether she really meant to tell me that or not. I have no idea about her finances or other stresses she may have been experiencing at various times--we had drifted so far apart that we didn't even discuss those things, in fact we hardly communicated more than a couple times a year. I found that I was much happier with the arrangement if I lowered my own time/effort/money. So nowadays I send her a $25 gift certificate to a store with a lot of options; and the only effort I make beyond that is glancing at her wish list and suggesting something that money could go towards, though of course she can spend it on anything she wants. And, every year I now wait to see if she is going to mention gifts, because if she doesn't, one of these days I may stop sending her anything at all. Again, not punitive or anything, but it just seems silly to me to spend $25 on someone with whom I might literally exchange only two emails since the last Christmas. I spend less than half of that on a co-worker whom I see five days a week, eight hours a day, who is a great person and lots of fun to be around.

Oddly enough in the last couple of years Jill has sent me more thought-out and perhaps expensive presents, but still hasn't increased her communication with me, so I haven't changed my own pattern yet. As a PP said, it's not just about the monetary reciprocity on a specific occasion, but also about the relationship during the rest of the time. Getting nice gifts from a near-stranger doesn't really encourage me to send nice gifts to that stranger in return, you know?

Anyway, sorry for the saga.  :P I think what it boils down to is you spend what you can afford (not just, what will let me pay the rent, but also, what will let me not be mad about spending that money this way) and you accept what you receive graciously, and if you want to have a relationship with the person, you do other nice things for and with them the rest of the time as well. And if they seem uncomfortable or impolite about it, well, there's several options, but vague discomfort or rudeness would not make spend more money on someone--just the opposite, in fact.