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Finding Balance in the Holiday Gifting Madness

Are you having trouble dealing with the pressure and the obligation to buy presents during the holidays? Please welcome Jacob from Cash Cow Couple as he shares his thoughts and offers some solutions to the matter.

dog with scarf laying on a pillow,

Do you feel pressure to even give a gift to your dog this Christmas?

When I had been dating my wife just a few months, I told her that I sometimes refuse to participate in select American holidays. I expressed my opinion that people shouldn’t feel obligated to spend, buy, or gift things. Ever.

She probably thought I was a little odd at the time (it’s OK, I am), but I explained my reasoning and things worked out for us. It’s not that I refuse to participate in many holidays because we can’t afford it. Or because I think holidays are bad. Or because I don’t enjoy a good celebration with family and friends.

I hate it because much of the practice has become forced. There is a ton of great marketing and artificially-generated pressure to “buy something” or to “do something.”

The result is that many individuals regularly attend family gatherings, birthday parties, Christmas celebrations, Easter celebrations, Halloween celebrations, and a million other celebrations, and feel obligated to give gifts or spend money. That’s the wrong reason entirely.

Take Valentine’s Day for example.

Most couples have been trained to observe and partake in the big day. They automatically go out to overpriced dinners, drop silly dollars on ridiculous flower arrangement, some suckers even fill their cars with environmentally disastrous Mylar balloons all in an effort to impress. Even worse, many guys will drop big money on earrings, necklaces and bracelets. A large portion don’t have the cash to pay for these extravagant items, so they charge it to the credit card and pay interest.

Other holidays are just as bad. The gift planning for Christmas starts months in advance. Ears perk up at any mention of something someone wants to get. Then the stealthy shopping begins. Guys swing by Bed, Bath and Beyond on their way home from work searching for something, anything that will help them survive another year. The ladies bravely enter the normally forbidden zones of golf shops and electronics outlets where they blindly accept the advice of commissioned salespeople.

Then, in the dim light of a blinking tree, shiny paper is ripped from boxes, the most genuine-sounding “thank yous” are voiced and everyone breathes a sigh of relief that another year of frenzied holiday gift giving has come to an end. Of course, this experience isn’t yet over, because the credit card bill has yet to arrive and the gifts themselves have yet to reach their final destinations of Craigslist, yard sales or Goodwill.

There has to be a way out of this. This mindless, forced holiday gift giving process has to stop. Especially if you want to achieve financial freedom and enjoy your life.

Here’s one way: Declare a truce.

Look, we’re all in the same situation, trying to get through these holidays with our relationships and wallets intact. Holiday gift giving can add thousands of dollars per year for a family. That is insane.

Give these ideas a try and see if you can start to bring these special days under control.

  • Talk about it – Bring this issue out into the open. Decide together what you want to do. After you and your spouse have agreed, have a talk with your families if one is needed. Nothing will change unless you step up to the plate and share you state of mind with them in a loving way. Be ready to provide alternative suggestions that can take the place of endless gift giving sessions.
  • Limit the number of gifts – If you want to still give gifts and enjoy the occasions, talk about a limit to the gifting. Perhaps it’s one item per person?
  • Put a dollar limit in place – Agree on the dollar amount that is to be spent so the competitiveness and awkward value mismatches aren’t an issue.
  • Make birthdays the big holiday – We don’t spend a ton on birthdays either, but to the extent a splurge is in order, save it for the birthdays. After all, it’s the one day per year dedicated that person!
  • Agree on a nice joint gift – We often do this plus a few small items. It’s a nice way to justify buying something you need but haven’t wanted to spend the money on, like maybe something for the house. You might as well get something you need instead of spending your money on items that won’t be used.
  • Talk about waste – Waste is a real issue in all of this. There are thousands of gifts that eventually end up in the trash. Maybe you can even both agree to just enjoy an experience together instead of buying something at a store.
  • No cheating – If one of you can’t resist and splurges on something the other one really wants, that can put pressure back on the other individual. Try to adhere to the guidelines that you set with loved ones.
  • Cook at home for Valentine’s Day – It’s the worst, possible day for going out anyway. And what could be more romantic than a nice dinner at home?

The important thing to keep in mind, though, is that all of these ideas demand communication between the two of you. They don’t work if you’re not both on the same page. Which is true for most things related to money in a relationship. So perhaps this can be the beginning to a whole new approach to your joint finances as you continue on your journey together. Hopefully a journey with less waste and stress and more money and love.

Do you agree with my thoughts on holiday gift giving? Share with a comment below!

Author Bio: Jacob and his wife are known as the Cash Cow Couple. They deeply enjoy teaching others how to save money, make money, and enjoy a life filled with freedom.

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  1. Well said! Mr. Frugalwoods and I rarely exchange gifts with each other, but we always discuss our plans together in advance. We’d both much rather save the money and neither of us needs anything, so we’re pretty content with the arrangement. Our families are pretty practical and frugal as well, and we do like to get each person at least a small gift. I agree with you–there’s no need to give gifts just for the sake of giving gifts!

  2. All it takes is a little planning. We set budgets guide lines for Christmas for our family and stick to them. We openly discuss those limits with family members so expectations are out there.

  3. This is exactly why I have grown to almost dread Christmas. As a Christian, I love the reflection that the time brings and I love to see how folks change their moods. But the gift giving drives me insane. It’s this weird tit for tat of (often) junk and it strikes me as bizarre and unnecessary. While my immediate family isn’t really the issue – our in-laws are… Thankfully we don’t live close enough to easily visit with 2 small kids, so we have been getting out of lots of the forced present exchanges, but there will come a day…

    • Yes I know what you mean. It can be an odd time of year where the focus is on material goods and some families can’t shake that attitude. We continue trying to be open an honest, but we still participate with many parts of our family.

  4. I do think a lot of people feel pressure to give gifts. I try to give my step-nephews a little spending money but this year it’s not in the cards for me because of my budget. I straight up told my dad that because I felt guilty not telling him…and there is no reason I should. Those kids have everything they need and more and get plenty of stuff from the rest of the family. I think Christmas in general is about kids. They seem to really enjoy it, but overall I wish Christmas was more like Thanksgiving.

    • I know that kids really love the holiday. I sure did when I was a kid. But I think adults love it too and want to hang onto those feelings. Maybe that is why some can’t shake the idea of gifts and presents and material things being the focus of all attention.

  5. Lance @ HWI says

    With family we only do gifts for children now and not everyone buys a gift. We draw names for the children and then each cousin gets one gift from the other. With my wife she could care less about gifts now. I bought her a watch in early November and she said “this counts for Christmas” so I said okay, “those boots we bought me count as well.” It felt awesome to be done with it.

    • That is a great idea Lance, thank you for sharing. Vanessa and I share a similar view and try to avoid buying each other a load of unnecessary items. It’s the little things along the way…

  6. I hear you. I would say that over the years the amount of people we feel compelled to give gifts to has decreased, in large part due to having conversations with people like my sister and agreeing to not give each other gifts anymore. One of these days I will need to have that same conversation with my mother… But I’ve been putting it off because I have a sneaky feeling it’s not going to go very well.

    Also, my hubby loves getting gifts for our dogs. I have no idea why, but I don’t think he does it because he feels pressure. I think he just likes to 🙂

    • Sometimes I give gifts year around as well. I enjoy it. It feels nice to give someone a little something!

      I also understand that whole conversation thing. We were going to tell Vanessa’s side of the family that we didn’t want to give gifts, but chickened out and continue the tradition still. Maybe one day… 🙂

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