Recently, I had the opportunity to publish a guest post on managing tricky gift situations in families on the wonderful Frugal Dad’s blog. I was impressed by the insights given in the comments section. One comment regarding family pressure to “figure out” Christmas well in advance by setting guidelines such as limits or exchanging names gave me a lot of food for thought. I’d always thought that such arrangements were a positive thing to help make things less stressful and more fair, but that comment made me realize that there are cons to these sorts of arrangements.
Even though the holidays are several months away, many people start planning for the holidays and talking about them well in advance of the season so now is a good time to start thinking about what you’ll do, if anything, to manage gift giving in your family or circle of friends. This list of common gift exchange rules/arrangements is meant to help you think about whether this kind of arrangement will work for you when deciding if you’ll want to suggest or participate in one this year.
A note: Although it’s tempting to dismiss a lot of concerns as being immature, I believe it’s human nature to want things to be fair and to get your share. Sometimes life doesn’t work out that way and it’s certainly better to handle it with grace and a positive attitude, but I don’t think there is anything necessarily wrong with addressing these kinds of concerns. And let’s be honest, we can’t always choose every person in our life and doing what we can to appease difficult people is sometimes necessary.
Limits on Spending or Kinds of Gifts
Many families and groups set a spending limit or decide that only certain kinds of gifts will be given, such as used items, homemade gifts or gifts from the dollar store.
- Avoids bad feelings on both sides when gifts exchanged are not of equal value. Nobody feels cheated or embarrassed.
- Can help keep spending in check.
- Can encourage creativity and it can be fun to see what everyone came up with.
- Might help keep the focus on being together instead of material things.
- Some will feel it’s too restrictive and would prefer to give what they feel they can afford, not what the group decides.
- The spending limits might still be too high for some members and although these are limits, they might feel obligated to spend at the upper end of the range lest their gift come up short.
- Not everyone will have the time or inclination to find gifts that meet the criteria.
- Enforces the idea that fair is always the same as equal, which isn’t always true in real life.
Only Buy for the Children
Some families choose to only buy for the children and not the adults, either within the nuclear family or the extended family/circle of friends.
- Children are generally easier and less expensive to shop for than adults who might already “have it all”.
- Many adults genuinely believe that the holidays should be focused on the children.
- If times are tight, most people are reluctant to disappoint children or have them feel left out when everyone around them seems to be getting tons of gifts.
- It cuts down on the time spent shopping and wrapping gifts.
- Those without children might not give and will get nothing in return.
- There can be disagreements on when a child ages out of getting gifts. Most of the time, the hurt feelings aren’t discussed which makes things worst.
- Families with more children will get more than those without and for better or worse grandparents might struggle with how to make this fair to their grown children.
- Many people find a lot of joy in finding that perfect present for somebody old enough to really enjoy it and almost everyone enjoys getting gifts, no matter how old they are.
Buying for Families
Instead of buying individual presents, each family group buys presents for all of the other family groups to enjoy together.
- The holidays are about family and friendship, so what better way to honor that than to buy a gift that encourages family bonding?
- Cuts down on time spent shopping and wrapping.
- One family gift is usually less expensive than several individual gifts.
- There is an opportunity to be creative in thinking of something the whole family will enjoy.
- Some people relish the opportunity to buy individual gifts, particularly for children.
- Single people might get the short end of the stick since they might very well get what they would have anyway.
- It can be a challenge to find an affordable gift that an entire family can enjoy.
- If the gift is a household item, like an appliance or towels, the adults might appreciate it but the kids might not.
Drawing Names/Secret Santa
Everyone draws a name from a hat and buys for that person. This is often combined with a spending limit and in some groups, only the adults draw names and everyone buys for the children.
- Get one, give one, what could be simpler?
- It’s often more affordable to buy one fantastic gift for one person than to try and stretch that to buy for many.
- Less chaos under the tree, more time spent enjoying each other’s company than unwrapping gift after gift after gift.
- Saves time on buying and wrapping gifts.
- The pressure is really on to make that one gift super.
- Some might wish to buy for everyone and either feel cheated that they don’t get to or go ahead and do it anyway and people feel awkward that they can’t reciprocate.
- If the person buying for you drops the ball or is the family cheapskate, you’re out of luck.
- For many, the holidays equal abundance and a feeling that dreams should come true and one gift can put a damper on that.
No Gifts at All
Generally, this is just the extended family/circle of friends and nuclear families and romantic partners do buy for each other and exchange gifts in their own homes instead of at the big gathering.
- Saves a ton of money.
- Saves a ton of time.
- Takes the focus away from gifts and back to simpler pleasures.
- No expectations means no disappointment.
- Gift giving is fun.
- Gift getting is fun.
- Somebody is bound to ignore the agreement and others might feel awkward about that.
- If you don’t like your family and friends, you’ll miss the welcome distraction of gifts and cleaning up. (Editor’s Note: Oh no…)
This list is by no means exhaustive and I’m sure there are several pros and cons I haven’t begun to think of. Ideally, the holidays should be a time where everyone feels welcome and secure and nobody is anxious about material things like gifts. The reality is that even those of us who are completely comfortable with the way we deal with our own finances in every day life can feel pressured by family and friends and welcome ways to keep things fair and happy.
Remember that ultimately you have to do whatever is right for you and your immediate family. If you aren’t comfortable with the proposed arrangements, feel free to decline to participate. It’s up to you to balance your needs with what the rest of your family wants.
Does your extended family have a holiday gift giving arrangement or rules? Would you prefer that they did or didn’t?
Photo Credit: wader