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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Gifts, expectations, and what is right for our own circumstances

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?


  1. I think you are absolutely spot on in your analysis of this gift giving business. It is so nerve wrecking when your values are different from the recipient's. However, the most important consideration to me is not to "keep up with the Jones's", but be true to who you are. If giving modestly is what is comfortable than that should be all that is expected. We've had Christmas exchanges in the past where a family always seemed to have regifted their presents judging from the condition of the boxes, a bit tacky, yet they always gave of their time to help when we needed it most. Not even our family helped in a way they did. I will never forget them, till today my husband and I recall their generosity, not the token gifts at Christmas. We have our nephew's wedding in a couple months, for that I will let my husband decide since it is his side of the family. At this point in our lives, I feel my values about giving has changed (less on an equal basis), I want to be able to give as much as I want or as little without regard to expectations. In other words, give from my heart and with joy, and that to me is "appropriate".


    1. Hi YHF,
      Yes, I so get what you're saying! We remember the friends and family who were there for us, not what material gifts they gave to us.

      And with giving differing amounts, to different people, different circumstances, I feel that way, too. Especially with weddings. Sometimes, it looks like one pair of bride and groom will need more help getting started in life together, and so I'll be more generous with them, than another pair of bride and groom who already have much. It's nice to be able to vary the gifts that way.

      Giving from the heart, that's what matters.

  2. If you are accustomed to giving your children modest gifts, then it is most assuredly appropriate for you to do the same with your friends' children. My daughter once received a cash gift of $30 at one of her birthday parties. I quietly explained to her mother later that was entirely too much money. I think she did that because she thought my daughter was used to such gifts because her Dad (my ex) spent on her like that, at that time. I'm not sure though. It was just too much money. I don't want to set a precedent where those types of gifts are expected. $10 would have been appropriate in my opinion. I have scaled way back in the gift giving department with others over the years. I think a thoughtful gift, like a homemade meal, is a wonderful gift to give to someone. A basket of homemade items is also a terrific gift.

    1. Hi Belinda,
      Oh, it sounds like you handled that awkward situation, well. And it was probably something of a relief to your daughter's friend's mother, that large gifts were not expected. You helped her, too.

      I agree, a good home-cooked meal or some home-prepared goodies does make such a nice and thoughtful gift.

  3. I'll chime in on this one because it is a real issue in my life/mind.

    Giving gifts should be just that...a gift...without someone questioning its value. But sadly, people do that all the time. I have stopped gift giving to our kids about two years ago and when people ask "what did you get for Christmas" and our kids say "nothing" we are looked at like we are aliens. We help our kids all year long with whatever expenses they have and that is our "gift" to them. Many parents don't do that so giving big Christmas/birthday presents are what they do instead. For me it's a trade-off. My kids "get" this. They understand that they are receiving a huge gift and even thank us regularly.

    My parents and hubby's mother (his dad is deceased) understand that also and since they don't have a lot of money, they don't feel like they have to "make up" for what we don't do and quite honestly that is very refreshing. They don't give any of their kids/grandkids gifts either because they simply can't afford it. They take us out for breakfast just before Christmas and that is the "gift". My niece and nephew, however, have grandparents who are wealthy and they have always given the grandkids "big, expensive" gifts. Needless to say, the "poor" grandparents (my parents) mean absolutely nothing to these kids and exclude them from everything while the "rich" grandparents get all the glory. And that is what makes me mad about gift giving as it seems to buy a person's love.

    We give little gifts for high school graduation to our friends' kids and they do the same for our kids but we never give huge amounts--really just a token. I also like to gift my time to my elderly parents as that is what they want the most. My kids realized that only last week that grandma gave us a scare when she got a glimpse of heaven. They now realized that giving her a little more of their time is what they are striving to do. Hard to do as they are in college that is a bit of a drive but that's more important than any gift.

    I hope that makes sense.


    1. Hi Alice,
      That is wonderful that your kids will be making more time for their grandmother. They'll be the ones who benefit, years down the road, when they have these lovely memories, of their loving grandmother. It is sad that not everyone understands what is important in this life. Your kids sound like wonderful, responsible young adults. you've done a great job raising them.

  4. I am blessed to have in-laws who have a similar gift-giving values. However, I have a friend who is exceedingly generous in gift-giving. She has always been like this, even in college--it's just the way she and her family are. Lately she has been giving expensive gift cards ... I've been making hand-knit presents. I feel like my time is part of my gift (lucky for me, big bulky knits are popular right now, so I can come up with a nice looking gift quickly). I did splurge on her birthday--she and I love Downton Abbey, and she loves horses--I went wayyyyyyyyyyyyy beyond my usual level of giving and bought her a Downton horse pillow. I did it because I knew she would love it, and she did. It was fun to give her something that gave her such joy, and she and I both know that won't be the norm for my gift-giving.

    Weddings are tricky. My husband's cousin got married a couple of summers ago--it was a destination wedding in wine country in California. No way could we afford the trip. I wanted to send a gift, but she had an online-only registry that made what I consider to be a high-end gift look paltry. I talked about it with my MIL and she said not to worry about it and not to send a gift. At that point, it would have been giving her a gift because I perceived it as the "expected" thing to do--it was beyond our means and I didn't have any sense of joy in helping her start off in her married life with what she needed--she was marrying a very wealthy man and had it all, anyway. Tricky, though. Thank you for your thoughts (and I enjoy reading other's thoughts, too) for what can be a difficult area to navigate.

    1. Hi Kris,
      I've seen a few of those ludicrous wedding registries, and an equally ridiculous baby registry on one occasion. With the baby registry full of over the top requests, I sent my usual, modest check and a card wishing them well. There comes a point when the registries and destination weddings are simply too much.

  5. Like a commercial, couldn't help but chime in, in case you missed it: got 2 a few minutes ago


    1. Hi YHF,
      My daughters told me about this yesterday. Thanks!
      Coupon for a free burger from Jack-in-the-box. Going fast!

  6. This is one of those tricky questions. I love giving gifts much more than I like receiving gifts. I have found a lot of times the gift presentation is worth as much as the gift itself. Several years ago we were facing a very difficult financial time and it was right at the time my friends kids began to marry. I made a few "go-to" gifts that were well received and years later I still get an occasional call about what I put in them. It seems presentation can make the difference between a simple gift and something spectacular.
    One gift was a cast iron medium skillet. ($7-8 bucks) I put a wooden spoon, cornbread mix, homemade potholder and trivet (tile square with glued on felt bottom) inside the pan. I wrapped a red check dish towel (Dollar Tree) around the pan part, gathered the remainder at the handle and tied a big red bow around it. It was very well received.
    Another go-to I used was an inexpensive metal colander filled with an inexpensive cruet, salad tongs,vegetable brush, a bag of croutons, a shaker (dollar store) of spices , homemade lettuce storage bag (made from an ikea dish towel,
    $.59) I had a ton of muslin on hand so I sort of encased these in the muslin and pulled it up over the colander creating a Pebbles Flinstone "pony tail" I tied it off with kitchen twine and attached a couple of nylon scrubbers as the bow.
    The 3rd go-to was a variation on the colander theme but was filled with spaghetti noodles, and items for a spaghetti meal
    All of these idea has very little cost but all the brides really did love them, they looked cute and I didn't exceed my limited budget. Plus they remember the gift rather than just being another dinner plate or goblet.

    1. I'd be interested in seeing a mock-up of your gifts and presentation. I'm not good at wrapping but this appeals to me. I did something similar several years ago as a housewarming gift (I saw a picture and got the idea from that ... ). I gave a home-baked loaf of bread on a new cutting board with the bread wrapped in a tea towel. I think I tied it up with a bow. Inexpensive and fun. My friend loved the towel and ended up making a wall hanging out of it--definitely not what I expected!

    2. I just LOVE all these ideas. I just think young couples today don't think about what it entails to "make a home" and opt for the blingy type stuff. My daughter was invited to a wedding of a college friend and they registered for about 15 different types of wine/shot/brandy glasses and little of anything else. Really? You want to make a home out of drinking glasses? She ended up waiting until after the wedding to see if she could give them something they decided they needed. It was closet storage bins for their apartment. Daughter was glad she didn't buy beverage glasses!


    3. Anne, those sound like very fun ideas, and would make great housewarming gifts, as well!

    4. Another fun, frugal gift is the Red Plate. This is a special plate to be used at family celebrations for someone's accomplishments, etc. (Google "Red Plate Poem" to find a fun poem to attach explaining the gift.) At times, it has been difficult to find a place to buy a single red plate, but for the last few years, Walmart has had a red plate available for individual purchase. What I like about this gift is that you are encouraging others to build relationships in a fun way.

    5. Lisa, I love that idea! How fun, and perfect for a couple just starting out!

  7. Lot's to add, however I don't have the time right now. However, I will comment on one of my pet peeves. Used to be a wedding gift was enough. Now there's an engagement party, a bridal shower, and a wedding gift that are expected. Really?

    1. Hi live and learn,
      And sometimes there are multiple bridal showers! I personally think the engagement party should be a no-gifts affair, and just an open-house sort of thing, where people can drop in and meet the other side of the family, no pressure, just a nice casual time.

  8. This area is touchy. I love giving and sometimes I need to be creative because of our budget. I have made diaper cakes
    for baby showers. I started making these along time ago before they were popular. I had fun making them and they
    are very cute and well received. I also make nursing covers cute practical and a beginner can make these it take one yard of material,2 D rings and a small amount of boning. check You Tube lots of tutorials. I also used to make a setting up your home basket. I would normally buy a laundry looking basket from the craft store using my 50 percent off coupon and then add things I was able to get with coupons at the grocery store or playing the drug store game. T.P.,paper towels, light bulbs batteries,laundry soap,soft soap,broom,dust pan(think dollar store),mop,measuring cups,dish towels.etc. The things you need when you move into a new home. Today I think I would put in some homemade jam and homemade tea towels maybe do a breakfast theme or a dinner theme. Annabell
    over at(The bluebirds are nesting) has some wonderful ideas on gifts and presentation. Lili you make your own vanilla maybe a bottle of that with how to make it in some
    sort of baking dish or pan and the items to make the dish.
    All tied up in a some cellophane. I have also bought a crock pot on sale put shred in the bottom added the dry ingredients to make the dish included a recipe and wrapped
    the whole thing in cellophane. Lili you have such great recipes I would love a collection in a book or binder. For most new brides are not wonderful cooks. It took me at least 10 years before I could make a O.K. loaf of yeast bread. You could even face time with them to teach a cooking class. So many 20 and 30 somethings do not know
    how to cook anything. My step mom made me a cookbook with
    all her recipes and other family members ( just a few of the grandma and aunt) recipes when I turned 18. I still
    have it and treasure it to this day. Sometimes you just need to pray about the gift and amount and unfortunately
    sometimes the person does not care for the gift I made or purchased and that is OK and sometimes I skip the event and do not take a gift because with some people it is just about the money. It is sad for them .:( For the most part people are very gracious and thankful.
    Have a blessed evening.

    1. Hi Patti,
      You've given me so many ideas! I do think those diaper cakes are cute. Something I do for baby gifts is use those $10 coupons to Kohl's, and buy a Carter's outfit. When I've done this, I wind up spending about $1 to $2 for the amount over the coupon. And often times, I don't need anything from Kohl's, so the coupon would just go to waste.

      I love the idea of giving family recipes to a bride who is new to the family. I have a nephew who will likely be getting married in about a year and a half or so. This would be great for his bride. I'm also thinking of monogramming (with embroidery) a set of cloth napkins. Homemade vanilla sounds like another really great gift idea.

      Thank you for the reminder to simply pray for what to do. I am still wondering how to handle this one set of friends who keep doing extravagant things for us.

  9. I totally agree... this is a really thorny topic. I tend to agree with Alice, that once receiving something becomes an expectation, it's no longer a gift.

    I guess my rule of thumb is to tailor the gift to the needs of the recipient, rather than to the expectations or the occasion. I try to be outspoken about my gift giving feelings just in general, so that when an occasion arises, people will already know where I'm coming from.

    I mean, I had a friend - more of an acquaintance actually, who was getting married... she and her partner were both adults with six figure incomes, they were merging two households and having a destination wedding. They got my sincere well wishes, but I didn't feel like a gift was either needed or appropriate.

    On the other hand, when a young woman that I worked with was having a baby - she was in a terrible situation. She was escaping from an abusive relationship, already had two other children, and was barely keeping it all together. But she was a dear sweet person and I really wanted to support her decision both to get out of the abusive relationship and to go ahead and have the baby. So I gave her blankets, and diapers, and baby clothes, and a $100 in cash, and spent an entire weekend helping her move.

    And then there's the whole topic of gifts to organizations. OY! Having seen that one from the inside, I have to admit that I have a somewhat jaded attitude toward the whole thing. The board of directors for the music school where I used to work was always trying to figure out how to get more people to donate - this generally resulted in hiring some sort of overpaid consultant or development director, who would hound people for money, but after we paid their salary or fees, we'd end up with less money than before! It's one of the reasons I left the job, I just had a real ethical problem with the entire thing.

    I could go on and on, but my general rule of thumb is that I don't give gifts in response to solicitations - I just feel that it "rewards bad behavior." And when I do give a gift to an organization, I always ask not to be put on their mailing list, and request that they don't share my information, because otherwise they'll end up spending more than the value of my gift asking me for more money... and it's just counter-productive.

    1. Hi Cat,
      Interesting observations that you've had, having worked for an organization which solicited donations.

      And I wholeheartedly agree about tailoring gifts to a person's/couple's needs. And I think especially when weddings are between two older people, who have lived on their own for many years, and have complete households -- they don't need a crockpot from me. But if they were close friends or family, I would love to be there to witness their wedding and help them celebrate.

  10. I'm late to this discussion, but I, too, have suffered much angst over the years in regards to this topic. I used to do a lot of homemade gift baskets, but I really don't have the time for that anymore. I never passed a clearance table I didn't like. I ALWAYS check those out--you never know what you might find that could be repackaged or added to something else to make a substantial looking gift. For my own kids, I buy most of their gifts at yard sales or thrift stores. I felt tacky about this at first, but I'm finding quality things at a fraction of the cost of what they'd be new. For instance, I bought a big box full of Nerf guns and bullets at a yard sale a couple of years ago and gave them to my boys that Christmas. Those things are crazy expensive. I would never pay retail for them. But my boys were thrilled with the used guns (all in good working order). Last summer, I found a beautiful All Clad roasting pan, brand new and in the box, for $10 at a yard sale (I confirmed it was new and had never been used with the seller). I bought it for the daughter of my friend for her wedding. As an avid cook, I knew what a good buy that pan was and I knew that it would be used over and over again. (It was too small for my family, otherwise I would have kept it for myself :) At first I felt guilty only spending $10 for this wedding gift, then I realized I had nothing to feel guilty about. This is how I do things. It does feel awkward at times with certain friends and in certain situations, but the budget I have is what it is. And I agree with EcoCatlady, sometimes certain situations require more generosity than what one would normally give. For instance, I have a family member going through a difficult time right now. My husband and I have been sending her a Walmart gift card every month to help her out. It's above our normal threshold for giving, but it's needed and we're glad to help her during this time. These types of things are more important for us to spend money on than an expected expensive gift that the recipient doesn't need anyway.

    1. Hi Melissa,
      Oh, I am so with you on clearance racks, tables, bins! I am drawn to them. Like you, Ive found if I keep an open mind about how items can be paired, bundled or used, I find some really terrific giftable items on clearance.

      This is what I think about gifting something that is new and in the box, bought at a yard sale. Your time is a commodity to be spent or saved, depending on which resource is greater, time or money. Every purchase price is a combination of time and money. Someone with lots of money, but little time, can spend more from their "money" bank than they can their "time" bank. Those with more time than money can do the reverse, and spend more from their "time" than their money. Finding the roasting pan at the garage sale required a time expenditure. You didn't just drive to your neighbors' garage sale, needing a wedding gift, having a roasting pan in mind, and knowing that very roasting pan would be there. You likely spent a fair amount of time, in the shopping process, to buy that roasting pan. It's the same with shopping second hand stores. You may have to hit several second hand stores, over the course of several weeks, to find just the jacket you've been wanting. You may save a lot in money buying second hand, but you will spend more in time.

      You only spent $10 for that roasting pan, in money, but you put a lot of time into finding the right gift, in your price range. And I would think the recipient would appreciate your time taken to find the right gift for $10. Many newly married couples aren't good shoppers, yet. And if you had given them $10 cash, to buy their own gift, what they'd have found likely would have really paled in comparison to what you were able to buy for them for that same $10.

      The same holds true for giving home-baking to friends who don't bake. A loaf of good whole wheat bread and some home canned jam may only cost us $1 or less in total. But to buy that same quality of bread and good jam would cost perhaps as much as $8, I'm guessing. (I happened to be in Cost Plus the other day, getting ideas, and found myself salivating over some strawberry jam, selling for $3.99 for a small-ish jar. I realized that was nuts, I could buy frozen strawberries at Dollar Tree and make a batch of several jars, in the afternoon for about $1.50, or wait 3 months until the June crop of strawberries are ready in our garden, and make the same jam for about 30 cents. Add to that a good loaf of bread from a bakery, likely a few dollars per loaf, and you're up to about $8.) We short-change the value of our work and time when we feel inadequate about our gifts which do take our work or time.

      Anyways, this has been one of those tough issues for me. I find I have to think all through each and every time. Thanks for adding your thoughts, Melissa.

  11. I run into issues with how to handle gift giving too. Fortunately in our family most of the weddings are all done now except for cousins children that we hardly know anyway. We always get invites to their weddings & showers, those are always easy for me to decide & I decline attending & just send a small gift. I never feel guilty in those situations as we hardly know the people anyway. I have a harder time with friends who have larger incomes & budgets then we do when it comes to giving gifts.

    1. Hi Rhonda,
      You know, I really try to make my gifts meaningful in some way. But sometimes the meaning is lost on the recipient. But a lot of times, they understand my intention. I had some feedback from the recipient of a red envelope of cash, given on Chinese New Year. The young woman who I gave one to did "get it"! And she was thankful for the time I put into it. That's always nice when that happens!
      I think if we give from our heart, that's all that really can be expected.


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