The Gift Guilt Complex

Gift ribbon heart and bokeh

“Gift Ribbon Heart & Bokey” by Moa Maria on Flickr

When it comes to gifts, I have two distinct personalities: The Receiver and the Giver.

I’m the easiest Receiver in the world. I’m very grateful for every gift I receive no matter how small. I don’t care if you got it at the thrift store, a garage sale, or Neiman Marcus. I love handmade. I just very much appreciate that you took a moment to think of me and let me know with a gift- any sort of gift.

As a Giver though? Well, I have a bit of a problem. Gift-giving to me is very stressful and it has to do with one major flaw in my thinking.

I pay attention to the cost/value of the item I am giving.

It’s not the only thing I look at, granted, but I have shied away from certain gifts because I was afraid they would be perceived as cheap. Price is a determining factor.

This sort of thinking is partially the reason I loathe gift cards. There is a price tag right on the gift! I was brought up in an environment where it was always tacky to leave the price tag on.

I find it strange I have this issue as a Giver because it doesn’t figure into my experience as a Receiver. I’m not even sure where it came from exactly because my parents, and the majority of my family members, aren’t the materialistic type. Actually, I’ve always thought of my parents as pretty thrifty people. My mother is a bargain-hunting queen!

The thing is, I don’t want to do this. I feel as if my gift is less sincere if I shy away from an item because of its cheap price or gravitate to a different item because of its higher price. Just typing that makes me feel somewhat petty and childish.

There is one huge exception to my price tag problem, handmade gifts.

I don’t feel awkward or cheap giving them. And when budgets have been slim, I’ve done those gifts in the past. But this year, I’m completely wiped out and I just know gift-making is not going to happen. So, working with slim budgets is my only alternative.

And I feel so weird about it.

Yesterday, I wrote up a budget for Christmas. It’s $1500 and that’s with slim individual gift budgets that I am not comfortable with honestly.When I was married, we gave much more extravagant gifts- especially to our immediate family.

The killer is, that amount is very high and is really not even very realistic for me. I have a lot of expenses this time of year outside of Christmas and I haven’t done a good job at all of saving money for things.

Right now, I was on Amazon because I had a great idea for a gift for my Mom. It’s the kind of thing I know she’ll really enjoy and I know it’ll show her I know what she loves and enjoys and it’s directly tied to a couple of conversations we had ages ago. It’s the kind of gift I feel only I could give to my Mom if that makes sense.

Well, when I hopped on Amazon I found the price was very reasonable. But right away my brain noted it was only half of the budget I had designated for my Mom. Instead of being happy about this, I got nervous and instantly thought of ways I could supplement the gift to reach the budgeted amount.

And that’s when I had the ridiculously embarrassing “Duh” moment that prompted this whole post.

I’m glad I caught on to this early in the shopping season. I’m glad I realized it because I don’t think it’s healthy.

I don’t have $1500. I fully intended to have Christmas saved up for and yet all I managed to squirrel away was about $200. If I manage to actually spend the $1500 for Christmas, which is NOT hard to do with a family the size of mine, I know it’s going to cause more stress and leave me with Post-Christmas Guilt and Depression.

I really love my family. And I really love to give them gifts.

But I need to let go of the Price Tag and Budget thing I have going on.

My budget is not an amount I am obligated to spend, it’s a limit to how much I can spend. And this distinction is one I have problems with over and over again. Even while creating the budget, I found a flaw in my thinking.

Let’s say I assigned Co-Worker a $10 budget. My brain right away started brainstorming ten dollar items that would be suitable. I didn’t even think about sales tax if the item is purchased locally, or delivery charges if the item is purchased online.

I do that all of the time and then get frustrated and confused when my budget is blown. People tell me I’m really smart, but when I have these “a-ha” moments, I really feel I should disagree.

What about you? Do you wing Christmas? Do you budget every cent? Do you write a budget and blow it consistently?Are you already done with Christmas? Any advice?


24 thoughts on “The Gift Guilt Complex

  1. I am a horrible gift receiver. I usually have something specific in mind, and if I don’t get that specific one, I am unhappy. Like I pick out an XYZ, and then someone gets me a different XYZ….I am terrible.

    As a gift giver, I always torture myself. I want to find the perfect gift, and it has to be different, and it has to be budget friendly and not look cheap. I put alot of effort into gift giving…and get upset when I am handed something generic and lack-luster.

    Yeah….I am that rotten.

    I do account for tax and shipping, but in a separate line item on my budget. So $10 for the “gift” and $3 for shipping. I find alot of nice stuff on Etsy.

    • Mysti that is hilarious! I never really give out many hints because I never really settle on specific things. it goes with my indecisive nature. I totally sympathize with the effort put into but I don’t really get too worked up if I don’t get something awesome too. I think of gift-giving as a talent or skill and know not everyone has it LOL

  2. I.feel.your.pain. Seriously. Why do we do this to ourselves? My husband doesn’t feel this way. Is it a woman thing? I would be thrilled if I knew exactly what my Mom wanted for Christmas. Lucky you that you found it for a decent price. Your Mom won’t care, especially because it’s your Mom. And don’t you think she went through the same thing too?

    My Mom sends us one big check every Christmas. It’s nice. I wish I could do the same, but I can’t (it would be cheaper too!). Oh well.

    Just buy from your heart, and make sure you use CASH. That will control the overspending for sure! I’ll do the same.

  3. OH GOD, The holiday season…. I dread it!!!!!!!!! I’m already looking at $100 per parent (5), $50 per sibling (5) and at least $200 more for everyone else, oh well hopefully we can use cash this year and not credit cards.

    By the way My cc debt is 8300!!! I remember one of your comments about me not wanting to add it up and you goind, it’s way over 10k! LOL


    • No way can I spend that much per parent or sibling. I used to when I was married and even then we couldn’t afford it. But no way can I afford it now and I don’t feel the pressure to pretend otherwise. I have a huge family so I have to get creative with little things. I jump-started my Christmas cash fund with a garage sale!

  4. I don’t like gift giving either. I am so afraid I will disappoint. I always end up over spending. It is so hard. I will make the kids give me their lists at Thanksgiving. Then I will go from there. One way I save is to cook almost all goodies from scratch. We do have a big seafood meal for Christmas eve. But I will even cut back there. I don’t know what to do but the oldest is in the first year of college and the other two have really good jobs, it is not like they need anything. I am really going to try and cut back this year. I say that every year and I never do. Bah Humbug!

    • Our Christmas Eve meal is the traditional Cuban feast with the roast pig. Thankfully, I don’t have any part in it. I say it every year too. This year I’m trying to get creative. I saw a phrase on a blog that was a Victorian Christmas tradition. Three gifts: Something you want, something you need, and something to read. That really resonates with me and I’m going to try and keep it in mind for the kids.

  5. I used to do the same thing. But now I set my budget and try and get the gift even cheaper if I can. Its almost a game for me. Plus I knit and crochet alot of things.

    Good luck

  6. A problem for all of us. Friends and I have ruled that nothing exceeds 10 bucks. And homemade goods and baked items or a clever bookmark or a handwritten story or poems in one of those blank page books are cool too. I know you may think I am a jerk but I am probably one of a dozen people on the planet that thinks getting a dopey fruit cake is a great gift. I love fruitcake. My friend was insistent in bringing me back something special from his trip to Egypt. I’ll never get to travel anywhere but what I wanted was a little baggie with a small scoop of sand from the Great Pyramid at that’s what he gave me and I am just thrilled. I am going to allow you to speculate about the problems he had getting through customs….

    • I have a couple of friends I could totally do this with. I don’t think I’ve ever actually had fruitcake but I love getting food for gifts LOL The souvenir from Egypt is awesome. I’d love that and the story with it!

  7. I absolutely hate shopping for Christmas, and I’m actually happy when people tell me what they want. Similarly, I love receiving gift cards (I’ve received some hideous gifts. I appreciate the intention, but what’s up with people buying you Christmas decorated sweaters? Two years in a row!). At work, we stop doing gift giving after the 2008 crisis, we just go to lunch at the end of the semester. That has probably saved me $200 in the budget. Nowadays, the only problematic gift is for a friend who lives in San Francisco and makes half a million a year. What do you give to somebody like her. What I’ve discovered is that not all gift cards are created equally. People appreciate if you buy a card from a store they love. So last year, this lady got a $50 gift card to and loved it. This year, I’m researching fancy spas in San Francisco. It doesn’t matter if it’s obvious how much money you spent, as long as there is some thought behind what store you chose from.

    • At work, we have a Secret Santa so that helps but I do plan on giving something to a few people who have been particularly kind towards me. I think you’re right about the gift cards but I still prefer items. And I only hate Christmas shopping when nothing works out the way I’d planned. Otherwise, I enjoy it because it feels like the only time of year shopping is justified LOL

  8. We do not budget at all. Sometimes we give $13, sometimes we give $200. It just depends on if we find the perfect gift or not. When we *don’t* find the perfect gift, we tend to spend $50 on a giftcard or a check. We’re doing better than most of our relatives and we don’t want them to feel like they need to spend more than $50 on us, but at the same time we feel like we have to spend more to make up for the fact we gave up that year. $50 seems like a good compromise.

    There’s also no way we’ll be able to match what the inlaws spend on our son… we don’t even try.

    • I wish I could not budget but I’m not there yet. Thankfully I have family who gives me the $50 checks and I know they don’t expect it in return. My family’s generosity with my children is one reason I feel ok cutting back on how much I give them. They really just get too much stuff at Christmas time when I go nuts and my whole family gets in on the act too. I really do think I’m going to force myself to stick to the three gift rule– something they want, something they need, and something to read. Those will be from me. Usually, their great grandparents give me money to buy them something on their behalf so they’ll have those gifts as well. And I’ll put some fun stuff in the stockings. But given the fact my whole family will be coming over that morning with their own gifts, I don’t think I have to go crazy.

      • At our place, Santa *only* fills stockings. We didn’t plan it that way, but DS gets so much stuff from DH’s generous relatives that we just shift that money into other directions.

  9. I have some people where it’s all about the price tag. One of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten was a photo of my mom, uncle and my mom’s twin together. They all hated to be photographed and to get all 3 together and smiling was a miracle.

    To me, it’s much less about the $$ amount than having something fit the personality of the receiver…and if you don’t know a person well enough to know what they’d like, I wonder why give a gift at all..or why not find out what they enjoy.

    This is truly tough, although I don’t have a set budget I spend. One relative last year was visibly dismayed when her total amount of gifts was less than last year. (normally I kick in a gift card or two on top of everything else and last year I didn’t). We even talked about not going overboard last year, but I guess that just meant her and not me. That’s what I hate about the holidays…some people feel entitled to a certain amount of stuff and it’s annoying as heck.

    • I think this is where it helps to be the poor one in the family LOL A lot of people give me a pass because they know my situation. A photo like the one you got would mean a lot to me as well. I’m sentimental that way.

      That’s so crazy about your family member but I believe it. I keep worrying about my kids and whether or not they’ll react poorly if I suddenly slash back the number of gifts given. Talk about a first world problem!

  10. In my family (siblings / parent), we don’t give gifts to each other at all. We sort of grew up not getting presents or very few and we didn’t go to stores to shop until we’d left home, so it’s kind of normal to us I guess? And most of my friends didn’t grow up doing Christmas (lots of Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists…) so we don’t do gifts at all with each other.

    If my kids were in any kind of debt, I wouldn’t want them to get me anything, it would make me feel extremely guilty. But since they’re not, I think I’m getting a new George Foreman type grill – yay! 😉

    I don’t have a “budget” really. But my kids are super easy to buy for – the oldest one just wants a magazine subscription this year and the youngest wants a Wii game. I slashed on the number of gifts given when my oldest was about 10 or 11 I think. The youngest has grown up having only a couple of presents every year at xmas and is just as happy on xmas day as any other kid that gets 50 presents I think. I don’t know, maybe we all lack spending imagination because even though they get money from my dad at xmas time, they don’t explicitly spend it on anything right at that time.

    • Yeah I really think if I cut down, they wouldn’t notice because of how much they get from the rest of the family. We’re definitely a family of gift-givers and I don’t mind.

      I still have no idea what I want for Christmas other than a new camera. I mean, I want lots of stuff but I can’t seem to prioritize it to save my life!

  11. MSM, maybe try doing something where you compare two presents, flip a coin and then go with that (if you don’t want to pick what the coin shows, that’s your decision right there), then compare that one with the next one and so on…
    We do that with movies and restaurants sometimes and it works pretty well.

  12. Pingback: Christmas Shopping: The Update | Mutant Supermodel

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