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Giving for the Wrong Reasons this Christmas (Or anytime)

Christmas giving

In December, everyone’s focus is Christmas. There are so many activities to attend, so many destinations to travel to, and so much delicious food to consume. And there will be so much Christmas giving that takes place.

December is the month specifically devoted to giving. We regularly give in many ways throughout the year, but it all becomes focused during the December holiday season. Schools have students bring in clothing items for distribution to children in low-income families. Pastors preach sermons and urge their congregation to fill local food pantries. The Salvation Army kettles show up outside department stores. And of course, families celebrate the season by gathering around the tree on Christmas morning.

These are all good things designed to meet needs and bless people at a special time of the year.

However, if we are not careful, we can get hooked into Christmas giving for inappropriate reasons. This can have a negative impact on our budget, not to mention our emotional and psychological health. That’s why it’s important to analyze why we are giving in the first place.

Giving For the Wrong Reasons

Many people fall into a trap when they give, in that they do so for the wrong reasons. We’d like to think everyone has the best motivations when they are giving gifts at Christmas. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

Hopefully, you don’t see yourself in the list below. But have you run across any of these types of givers before?

The Guilt Giver

Reason for giving: This person gives to relieve their conscience, which is eating at them over some personal failure or perhaps a wrongdoing. They often give out of remorse and regret over a past action or to appease someone who is giving them a “guilt trip.”

It’s dangerous because: There is no end to the amount of guilt the mind – or other people – can place on an individual. Consequently, there is no end to the amount of giving that must take place at Christmas to lessen the guilt.

The Emotional Giver

Reason for giving: Christmas giving for this person is done in response to the feeling of the moment. It most often occurs when a person hears an impassioned plea that stirs overwhelming excitement or sadness.

It’s dangerous because: This giver doesn’t think rationally and only reacts to what they are feeling.

The It’s My Duty Giver

Reason for giving: These givers are strictly adhering to a personal conviction to fulfill a directive. It’s typical to find this thought process in church among members who believe in following the Biblical teaching of giving known as the tithe (giving 10% of ones income to the church).

It’s dangerous because: Giving is the law – an obligation only. It’s just like paying any other bill.

The Hoping For a Kickback Giver

Reason for giving: You may have done this one subconsciously without realizing it. Here the giver is looking for something in return for their giving. It’s the classic “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” type of giving.

It’s dangerous because: Sadly, this type of giving leads to anger and bitterness if the gift is not reciprocated like the person expects. You’ll be upset if you don’t get back the equivalency of what you gave to someone else.

The Pressure’s On Giver

Reason for giving: This is done to meet the perceived or stated expectation of the group. Everyone else in the office is giving $10 in the envelope for the bosses Christmas gift, so you must as well.

It’s dangerous because: The appropriate boundaries have not been built by this person so that they can say “No…I’m sorry, I can’t afford that now.” They may never be able to say “No” when faced with these pressure situations.

The “OK…If I Have To” Whiny Giver

Reason for giving: Here we have an extension of the “It’s My Duty Giver” and “The Pressure’s On Giver.” This person gives reluctantly and resentfully. They unwillingly and grudgingly hand over their money, never doing so cheerfully or lovingly.

It’s dangerous because: This attitude will never allow the giver to experience the feeling of joy that comes from willingly meeting a need.

The To Get Noticed Giver

Reason for giving: The only objective of this person’s Christmas giving is to be seen by others. They will go out of their way to make sure people know they have given. Why? Because their goal is to receive verbal praise and pats on the back from others. It’s their affirmation.

It’s dangerous because: Giving is all about receiving personal glory, not about meeting the needs of others.

The Ebenezer Scrooge Giver

Reason for giving: Just like Scrooge himself, giving only happens sparingly (if at all). It’s most likely done to appease feelings of guilt or obligation. The Scrooge giver will never give liberally out of their abundance.

It’s dangerous because: The need may go unmet without the generosity of donors who have abundant resources to give.

The Leftovers Giver

Reason for giving: It’s all about clearing out the wallet or change cup here. These people have no giving plan and no line item in their budget dedicated to regular or Christmas giving. They only give what’s left at the end of the month after all their other financial obligations have been met.

It’s dangerous because: Much like the “To Get Noticed Giver,” the focus becomes solely on personal needs and giving to others is only an afterthought.

What’s the Solution for Christmas Giving?

I can say that at one time or another in my life, I’ve given for each of these reasons. I’ve learned through the years however, they are all shallow reasons to give and do not produce long-term positive effects in my life.

Along the way, my wife and I were exposed to some ideas about giving that changed our mindset about it. We realized we had much to give but were confused sometimes about how and where to do so. So we developed a giving plan. You can read about that at the link below. 

Related Content: How to Develop a Purposeful Plan for Giving Away Money

That might sound strange, but we wanted to stop giving haphazardly here and there and become more intentional with the giving process. Developing a plan for giving is not that much different than what one might do for budgeting or for investing. Just like those personal financial steps, it takes a lot of communication and discipline and must be evaluated on a continual basis.

As we put our plan into place, we were amazed at how it helped us deal with these giving issues. No longer did we give out of guilt or because our emotions got the best of us. We no longer felt pressure to give and were excited to see how giving became a blessing rather than feeling like an obligation or duty.

Christmas giving can be so much fun. The best part, is that giving anytime can be fun if done for the right reasons.

Leave a Comment or Answer a Question Below: Have you ever caught yourself giving for any of the above reasons? Can you think of any other wrong reasons to give? What do you enjoy most about the Christmas giving season? 

Image Credit: salvationarmyusa.org

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  1. Interestingly enough almost none of those examples are spoken by Jesus aka are not biblical. The only reason given in scripture is if you literally tell everyone about it aka make a show about it aka sound a trumpet. But Paul also says faith without works is dead aka i’ll show you my faith by my works i’m sure giving to the poor would be one of them. Also the bible says it will be rewarded. God is not a liar he will reward. Sheesh being a christian is the way to be rewarded with eternal life. The bible teaches giiving to the poor is going to be rewarded. heck why didn’t jesus correct the widow and say that was wrong to give your last two cents or why didn’t elijah say oh no thats all you have. simple his kingdom is not of this world. it is horrible that you deceiving people to not give. Seriously if you are giving without knowing what god breathed scriipture says about giving that is sad.

    • I’m not sure what you are saying here Joel. I simply stated ways/scenarios that affect our mindset when it comes to giving. We are influenced by many external factors that are unbiblical. This wasn’t meant to be a Biblical exegesis on what Jesus said about giving.

  2. Green Money Stream says

    I’ve also done most of these at one time or another. One of the toughest ones for me is “the pressure’s on”. The whole “frugal lifestyle mentality” I’ve found does not fit in well in a corporate office. So I usually just put the $5 in the envelope.

    • I agree with that. It’s tough when you are trying to live frugally and friends/family/co-workers are putting the pressure on to be involved with activities that require you to spend money.

  3. Student Debt Survivor says

    I’m totally guilty of more than a few of these. My most recent “guilty” gifting was a donation of clothing and toiletries to a friend’s church. She knows I’m a couponer and have a bunch of shampoo, soap etc that I get for cheap and free. When she told me she was collecting for the Typhoon victims I sort of cringed because I know that the people who were impacted need food, clean water and shelter (not summer tank tops and shampoo). I gave her some stuff, but wished I’d told her to keep the physical things for people in her church and made a monetary donation to another charity in her church’s name instead.

    • Thanks for sharing that KK. I’ve done that before to – looking back on some giving and wishing I could have done it differently. My post tomorrow is going to talk about how my wife and I developed a giving plan…that’s helped us avoid giving in the wrong ways.

  4. I have fallen under some of these giving types. Now I give because it makes me happy to give and I can. The feeling I get when I give without expectation is wonderful

  5. I used to have this coworker who was always selling something and passing it off at some good cause or another – I’d never pay into it because a) she was pressuring me and b) she was well off. Why support that?

    • That’s frustrating. I don’t like the pressure sales pitch when it comes to giving. Legit causes speak for themselves and don’t need anything other than awareness of the issue to effectively receive funds.

  6. I always feel at least a little uncomfortable when I get the direct solicitation to contribute to a cause I’ve never heard of, but I pretty much always say no. My rationale is that it’s my money and I want to be able to direct it in ways I truly believe in. That means if I’m giving to charity it will be one that I know and trust, not one that is arbitrarily presented to me.

  7. Holly Johnson says

    I am definitely a guilt giver! Christmas always makes me feel guilty for the blessings I have for some reason. That usually translates into extra charitable donations. I can’t stand the thought of kids not getting gifts on Christmas!

    • I’ve felt the same way Holly. When I get that way I try to evaluate why I feel guilty about my blessings. I really shouldn’t feel guilty because I haven’t taken advantage of anyone or done something illegal to get what I have. And I shouldn’t feel guilty because someone else has an unfortunate life situation. I didn’t do anything to cause that. I guess I’ve come to realize that guilt is more self-induced. In other words, it’s something we usually put on ourselves in response to external circumstances. And that’s dangerous because there is no end to the amount of guilt we could potentially heap on ourselves.

  8. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says

    Love this, Brian!! We too, years ago, switched to intentional giving, and it’s so much more fun, less stressful, impactful, etc. Can’t wait to read the next post!

    • “…it’s so much more fun.” That’s one thing I’ve noticed also as we’ve become more focused on our plan. Giving can be incredible fun, especially when you surprise people who had no idea anything was coming.

  9. I’ve been guilty of a number of these and I think most have been guilty of at least one of these. I think this is a big one in America -> “The Hoping For a Kickback Giver” People just expect to get something in return for giving, which is wrong but is almost accepted in our culture.

    • It’s not only accepted as the norm, in most cases it’s expected. That’s what really gets us into trouble, when we set ourselves up by expecting something in return. That’s not true giving.

  10. Kim@Eyesonthedollar says

    I have been guilty of all those, especially the emotional one. When I see a natural disaster or people in a bad situation, I want to donate right then without thought of how it might affect my bottom line. For a while, I had an auto debit from our account that went to a charity monthly, but I have a hard time deciding between worthy causes. There are too many to choose from.

  11. Kali @ Common Sense Millennial says

    I definitely feel the pressure to deliver in a certain way. It’s completely overwhelming and stressful. I love giving gifts to make my loved ones happy, but between some family members gift-giving devolves into a competition which is so sad.

  12. I can identify with a few of these – especially the pressure in the workplace. I am so glad I left my last job when I did, as they were collecting $40 a person for gifts for my three bosses. That’s more than I spend on some family members! Sometimes, I do feel like we give because we’re obligated. My family has a long tradition of exchanging gifts on Christmas Eve, but ever since the kids have grown up (myself included), it’s not as fun. We find it more difficult to buy for each other, and sometimes not all the family can get together as my cousins moved away. It doesn’t seem as though we’ve adapted. I’d be just as happy spending time with everyone without the gifts.

    • $40…wow…that’s steep! We had similar family gift-giving traditions growing up but, like yours, ours has pretty much dissolved as my parents generation has aged and family has spread out across the country. We are focusing on establishing new traditions with our kids.

  13. You hit the nail on the head, Brian. There is a ton of pressure to give at Christmas and it can get overwhelming trying to meet expectations. It become more of an obligation or chore, rather than a true gift given without expectation but out of pure love. Looking forward to hearing more about your gift giving plan. Sounds intriguing!

  14. jefferson @seedebtrun says

    i do think that it’s a good thing that more people do give this time of year.. im going to share an opinion of mine that my wife thinks is totally jerky, but here it goes. i think that far too many people give to “toys for tots”. it’s pretty much the #1 charity here where i live. i understand the thought behind it, all kids deserve to feel special on the holidays.. but shouldn’t we make sure that everyone has food and heat, before we worry about the toys? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have a “Coats for Tots” drive?.. Don’t hate me.. Its just an opinion.. -jefferson

    • I would agree that is a more practical problem to solve. At our school, we’ve held clothing drives to help assist kids in foster care and it’s been a big hit. But if I was a kid waking up on Christmas morning, what would I prefer/be most excited about? Probably a toy.

  15. Cash Cow Couple says

    I think a major issue is the fact that many people give just to give. It’s what they’ve always done, and it’s what everyone else does, so it happens. I think most Christmas giving takes away from the Christian meaning of Christmas. It becomes more about gifts and trees and consumerism than Jesus, family, and true thanksgiving.

    • I would agree with those sentiments. There definitely can be conflicting messages surrounding Christmas. I don’t think there has to be though. It’s possible to keep everything in its proper perspective.

  16. Hmmm, such a loaded question. I’ve definitely had instances in the past where you felt pressure to “chip in” because everyone at the office was. Or where you go out to eat and you only had water but everyone wants to split the bill evenly. Yeah OK that’s kind of different. I do try to give when I want to and ignore any kind of pressure, but I think we are human and sometimes that’s hard. In some ways I think it would be easier if I had more discretionary funds.

    • “…we are human and sometimes that’s hard” (to deal with the pressure). That’s exactly right, which is why it’s so important to develop a plan for giving. Doesn’t necessarily make the pressure go away, just helps us manage it a bit better.


  1. […] from Luke 1428 had a wonderful two-part series on Giving for The Wrong Reasons and How To Develop a Giving Plan. Being philanthropic is important to me and I love how Brian and […]

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