I've recently been in an uncomfortable situation where I was giving gifts to a few people, but feeling like my gifting abilities might be falling short of the recipients expectations. It wasn't that I felt they were expecting me, personally, to give a more extravagant gift, but that in general, they were accustomed to more extravagant gifts.
I engaged many around me in discussions of what would be appropriate, and just how much would be enough to satisfy expectations. This was an emotionally grueling decision for me. I think I spent more hours trying to decide what would be enough of a gift for this occasion, than I spent on last year's tax preparations.
This expectation to give more, comes up in a variety of settings. Our church will sometimes call out to the congregation to search within, to see if we can't increase our giving, temporarily. Or, a phone solicitor for a very worthwhile charity may phone and request a donation. Or, we're invited to a wedding where it does seem that a hefty gift to the bride and groom is in order. Or, what about when friends keep doing extravagant things for you, but you really don't want or can't reciprocate at the same financial level.
These touchy situations aren't going to go away. They will keep appearing, and I will have to continue making internal negotiations over how much is "enough".
This last time, though, I finally had to change how I thought about the value of the gifts I was giving. The change was from what is "enough", to what is "appropriate".
It is appropriate for me to stay within my budget. It is appropriate for me to be a cheerful giver. It is appropriate for me to choose a level of gift that falls in line with my other gift-giving.
In our own family, for the most part, we don't give extravagant gifts to our children or each other. And we don't feel guilty about that or feel we're displaying less love for one another.
In some families, large gifts between each other are the norm. And that doesn't mean they love each other more or less than a family who chooses to use their money differently.
It's easy to get carried away in the moment, and be more extravagant than appropriate. But if my values are to give my own children modest gifts, then doesn't it seem appropriate to give friends' children modest gifts, as well? Even if those same children were accustomed to receiving extravagant gifts from others?
It's really not even a matter of who is wealthier and who is not. It's all about personal values related to making gifts.
For me, it feels easier to give my children just exactly how much I feel is appropriate for any one occasion. So I use this as a barometer, when I am in doubt. Just how much would I feel is right with my own kids for this occasion? That thought, alone, will often help me set the scale for gifts.
In the end, on this particular occasion, I went with what my gut was telling me was an appropriate amount to spend, regardless of what friends or family might be accustomed to. Yes, it was far less than what I'd read was typical or could be expected. But it was in line with what I might give to my own children for a similar occasion.
I hope that my more extravagant friends will appreciate my friendship just for what it is, a person who will be there to help and support them through trials, and rejoice with them in their good fortune, and not measure my friendship by the money I spend on them or their families.
With charitable gifts, our family does place a high value on giving to mission-related purposes. But I also feel comfortable telling a phone solicitor that while I appreciate their charity, we may have already allocated our charitable giving for the year. I am happy to take their organization's name and number, in case something changes. And sometimes, I do end up giving to one of these organizations, later in the year. But sometimes, I don't, and I try not to feel like I have to save the entire world.
And with wedding season just around the corner, I'm already looking to our budget, anticipating a couple of weddings. Fortunately, most of our friends' kids won't have extravagant weddings. And I won't be in that awkward position of feeling like I have to "pay for my plate" at the reception with an equivalent value of gift. But if that did come up (and it could with one of my family member's kids), I would have to really give thought to whether I wanted to attend that wedding, or perhaps I could just send a gift, appropriate to my gift-giving values.
With regards to friends who keep doing extravagant things for us, well, we're in that murky area right now. Reciprocating, in fashion, would run counter to how we choose to spend our money. But we do appreciate their kindness and generosity. I think the most satisfactory answer, though, is to continue expressing our friendship in the ways that are most comfortable to us. True friends will value who we are and not how much we spend.
But it's still a difficult internal struggle for me.
How about you? Have you ever found yourself faced with expectations to spend more on a gift for someone else's child, than you would spend on your own? How did you handle this? How about those super generous friends who keep inviting you to expensive restaurant meals? Are you okay with reciprocating with a home-cooked meal?