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Overspending and underspending on gifts

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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?

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."


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.

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. 

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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