Updated on 09.22.07

When A Frugal Life And Social Gift-Giving Come Into Conflict

Trent Hamm

A reader wrote in with the following thoughts, which got my juices flowing:

It seems like I am constantly being invited to baby showers, weddings, birthday parties, graduations, and house warmings and that a gift is expected at every one of these occasions.

While I enjoy giving gifts to my close friends and close relatives it seems like the situation is getting out of control. Children get piles of junk at their birthdays, and I feel like that just because I was given a wedding invitation I am expected to send a gift even if I can’t attend the event.

My husband and I were recently invited to a house warming party that one of his co-workers is throwing for himself. On the invitation this co-worker actually solicited gift cards, saying that he preferred them over actual gifts. In the past I have given herbs from my own garden, or a loaf of bread as house warming presents – nothing extravagant, nothing that cost more than a few dollars.

My husband and I would really like to change this gift giving culture. Especially with the holidays coming up. We would like our children to be able to have birthday parties but we think a gift from the grandparents, and one form mom and dad is more than enough. Our children don’t need piles of presents to celebrate their birthday.

What is the etiquette for attending these types of gatherings and what am I obligated to bring a gift? Should I just decline these invitations if I want to stay within my budget for a given month?

My wife and I have adopted a policy for giving gifts to people that has served us well over the years, especially recently as we have become more aware of our personal finance and of our status as consumers.

First, we generally give homemade gifts. My wife used to give handmade soap out as a gift to people. I like giving food items myself, and that’s part of the reason why I’m taking a strong interest in baking at the moment.

We believe strongly in the idea that the gift you give is a representation of what you think of the buyer. I would far rather receive a well thought out $5 gift or a homemade gift that a person put a lot of time into than a $50 gift card or a $25 tchotchke that didn’t involve much thought. I’d also far rather spend a long time thinking of, planning, and executing a great gift for someone I care about than running down to the store on Christmas Eve and grabbing whatever is left.

In other words, dear reader, I agree with your gift giving philosophy.

Now, the problem comes when you interact with people who have a different philosophy. Someone who invites you to a housewarming party, then actually has the audacity to tell you to bring a gift card, has a far different philosophy than the one described above.

My advice is that if you’re going to make such a stand, you need to make the first move. Wait until you have the opportunity to have a celebration where you would receive gifts, then tell everyone invited that this celebration doesn’t revolve around exchanging material stuff. My wife has told people in the past, “Oh, please come! No need to bring anything – just bring yourself!” Then, individually talk to the people you invited and tell them that you’re simply burned out on the constant gift giving.

Also remember that people constantly use their peers as role models. Many of your friends might be feeling similar things, so if you start making such moves, others might follow.

I’m sure the readers will have plenty of comments on this one.

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  1. Daisy says:

    I totally agree with this! It irks me how some people will come up to me, inform me they’re having a party, and then say they will be offended if I don’t give them a gift.

    I generally knit gifts for people (hardly costs anything but time), or give really little things they wouldn’t expect.

    I don’t think this means we really have to be cheapskates though. A thoughtful gift may occasionally be expensive like something you can buy that you know someone has been wanting for years but can’t afford. But I’ll only spend that way for people really close to me.

  2. Mrs. Micah says:

    This is particularly on my mind as Christmas is coming up. Mr. Micah and I don’t have much money (and I found out that there’s no chance for a raise until the new year) and we’re trying to pay off as much debt as we can and save as well.

    I’m trying to figure out if we can opt out of traditional gift-giving. Perhaps I can make things for people out of my leftover fabric or other things (I have some nifty bag patterns which my female cousins might like). It’s just frustrating. :-/

  3. dong says:

    I’ve been invited to plenty of things, and usually bring a gift. Other than weddings, I almost never feel obligated to bring a gift. I certainly have never been solicited for a gift on an invitation – that’s just tacky. I think good friends appreciate generosity in any form – gift not required. However , if someone is only generous with themselves and not other than that someone is usually someone I wouldn’t care to have as a friend.

  4. Diane says:

    Add my name to list of people disgusted with children’s extravagent birthday partys. Google “Birthdays without pressure” and read the comments there. One women talks about being at a party where a 5 year old got a Louis Vitton handbag! Yikes!!!

  5. Margaret says:

    As far as ettiquette goes, you are not allowed to ask for gifts. For coworker housewarming (are they close? why are you guys invited? is it just to get more presents?), I would either decline to attend, or just bring whatever gift you were going to bring anyway — I think your regular housewarming gifts are great. If your host is gracious, then he will say thank you. If not, then why are you even worried about it? Worried that it will get around that people shouldn’t invite you to events if they just want you there for the gift?

    I am in my 30’s, and everyone I know has a lot of stuff. As far as I can see, we are not a generation that does without for long — if you need/want a blender, you get a blender. I know people who are on their 2nd or 3rd marriage and maybe 4th or 5th household, and quite frankly, they have received and discarded entire households worth of consumer goods by now. I really don’t feel obliged to give them anything else. Seriously — I know one person who has a housewarming party every time she moves — she will be up to something like the 6th one this fall. There’s this is my first house I have nothing in it housewarming, and there’s we just moved again, come and see our new house furnished in a way that you will maybe acheive in 10 years, if you’re lucky housewarming. I would bring a gift to the first, but not the second.

    It’s a great idea if you can start the no-gift or inexpensive-gift thing yourself at your own event. I did that before the kids’ last birthdays — emailed all the cousins and said it is crazy to give really expensive presents and we don’t have room for that many more toys, so come without gifts or if you must get something, then get something like a set of markers or an outside sandbox toy — under $10. Mostly people did, and I got several comments about what a great idea that was. We are now set up to give only small gifts to all that circuit of birthday parties too, which is awesome for us.

    I’ve also noticed there is a certain group of people who will always invite you to an occasion where you are expected to bring a gift, but somehow never manage to attend any event where they are expected to bring a gift. Of course, these are the same people who always need help moving or babysitting or lifting heavy furniture, but have yet to be seen rendering same services to anyone else. I have no qualms about stiffing those people in the gift department.

    Personally, I prefer to give generously on those occasions where I really wish to give a gift, and frugally or not at all when I don’t. If that is a problem, then people are welcome to cut me off and not include me on their list of free movers, free babysitters, free errand runners, free rides to the city, free dinners out, volunteer, loan centre, etc etc etc. If there’s nothing more to the relationship than the size of the gift, then I don’t really think the size of the gift actually matters.

  6. Mike626 says:

    When I moved into a new place I casually invited people from work to stop over for a ‘Housewarming Party’. I was shocked when they brought gifts. Some were extravagant. (e.g. 40 year old bottle of port) I felt like a jerk. I didn’t realize that people would feel obligated to bring something, I just wanted them to come over and see my new place.

    Though, that port was delicious!

  7. Empress Juju says:

    This is one I’ve navigated quite easily, with the help of Miss Manners: gifts are never obligatory. Or else they wouldn’t be gifts!

    Specifying “no gifts” is as impolite as printing a registry on an invitation, because it assumes that guest would have given a gift!

    When I host a party, I never mention gifts, and am always genuinely grateful if someone gives me one.I am a minimalist, and would much prefer receiving home-grown herbs to something else I have to dust! When I attend parties, I bring whatever I feel moved to bring, and call the host the next day to thank them for a lovely time!

    Ten years ago, I stopped exchanging Christmas gifts with adults. If asked, I explain that “My gift to people is that they get to cross me off their shopping list!” Close friends & family know not to, but occasionally an acquaintance will give me something, and I thank them genuinely, without feeling obligated to return the gesture, or to apologize for not doing so. I put my focus on the children, the celebrations, and the spirit of the season, and I never have debt in January!

    If people have had judgments on my gift-giving philosophy, they’ve fallen away without my noticing… I have a life *full* of amazing, warm people!

  8. Margaret says:

    Mrs. Micah — absolutely opt out! Can you imagine being offended if someone came up to you and said money is tight this year, I really can’t afford to give out presents like we have in previous years, would you mind if we did something else instead? I would be RELIEVED!!! If you are crafty, then by all means see if people are interested in a craft item versus bought gift. Another idea is to suggest a gift draw within the group or have a small get together and do a gift exchange (everyone brings a small gift, then you take turns picking one and opening it. I remember my mom’s family doing it once, and if you didn’t like what you got, you could exchange it for something someone else had gotten, and they had to give it up — or else maybe it was you could exchange your unopened choice for whatever they had received, and they had to take the new gift, but they could swap with anyone else first — I remember a lot of laughter). Or, as I intend to do with a couple of cousins whom I really like, but rarely see, I am going to suggest that instead of gifts, we go out for dinner or have a potluck supper at my house or something. I would rather get a chance to spend an hour or two visiting them than just pass along a gift to someone who is going to happen to see them over the holidays.

    Everyone I know either has debts and knows what it is like, or else has just managed to pay them off by being frugal and will understand. If you aren’t comfortable saying that you have too much debt, then you can either say you have financial goals that you are struggling to meet (they don’t need to know whether that is paying off credit cards or saving up for a round the world cruise), or else just say that you are unhappy with how commercial Christmas has become, and this year you just want to focus on friendship and visiting, not gift giving.

  9. Ali says:

    I agree that gift giving is way overrated. DH and I both come from large families and it is ALWAYS somebody’s birthday. We handle it like this: until a child is 18, we will spend $10 or less on a gift, homemade or otherwise. When they turn 12 or so, we just give them the $10 — teens usu. like to pick their own clothes, cds, etc. After age 18, we may send a nice card or phone them, but that’s about it. My sisters-in-law think its stingy but they make a lot more money than we do and spend more on gifts, but their gifts are often things THEY think we should have, not stuff we would have picked ourselves.

  10. Amanda says:

    I absolutely don’t think gifts are – or should be – obligatory. When I was 6, my mother bought me almost $1000 dollars of gifts for Christmas. She didn’t have $1000 (or even $100) dollars to spare, and though I was very young, I was cognizant of this and very embarassed that she should have given me so much. Believe me, if the kids (and parents) are well-raised, they will never miss the gift. If they call you on not bringing something, then they are really not the type of people with whom you should associate. Such rudeness is inexcusible.

  11. Mariette says:

    I agree that the best gifts come from the heart. I love getting homemade gifts! Because someone has put real thought and effort into it and I try to do the same when giving gifts myself. Most of my friends and I are pretty minimalist and aren’t big gift exchangers, unless you know it’s something the person realy wants or is a homemade thing.

    As for giving to people you don’t really know or that are just acquaintances – I’ve always thought homemade was fine and it’s usually really appreciated – in the instances where it’s not, I’m not that fussed since it means we aren’t really on the same page to begin with, and since I don’t really want to be on their page….

  12. Josh says:

    I’m with Amanda on this. There are plenty of people in this world who won’t expect material gifts from you. Don’t waste your time with those who do.

  13. Kristi says:

    If you like baking, here’s a YUMMY recipe for chocolate chip pumpkin bread:

    3 cups white sugar
    1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin puree (look for it by the pie fillings when shopping)
    1 cup vegeatable oil
    2/3 cup water
    4 eggs
    3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
    1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
    2 teaspoons baking soda
    1 1/2 teaspoons salt
    1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips (optional)
    1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)


    1. Preheat oven to 350 F
    2. Grease and flour three 9×5 inch loaf pans (DO NOT USE NON-STICK COOKING SPRAY)
    3. In a large bowl, combine sugar, pumpkin, oil, water, eggs. Beat until smooth.
    4. Blend in flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt.
    5. Fold in chocolate chips and nuts
    6. Fill pans 3/4 full.
    7. Bake for 1 hour or until an inserted knife pulls out clean. Cool for 5 minutes inside the pan, remove from pan, let cool.

    yummy yummy

    And cheap!

  14. laura says:

    My oldest daughter’s birthday is right before Thanksgiving. We always put on the invitation “instead of gifts, please bring a little something for the local food pantry.” That way, the kids invited feel like they get to bring something to the party and my daughter understands how fortunate she really is.

    I don’t even know what to say about the guy that wants gift cards!

  15. Ruth says:

    I’ve been thinking about this as I start making my Hanukkah/Christmas shopping list. I gave my parents a certificate for dinner with their daughter (me) one year, and they never used it (before you worry: I do see them frequently). I really like the idea of giving consumables (no stuff to clutter up the space!), and especially homemade ones, but at holiday time, more food is just about the last thing anyone wants. Last year, I gave little (less than $2) tangible gifts and donated to charities I knew people supported. I would love to go to something like a steal-a-gift gift exchange, or even move towards no gifts at all, but my extended family is pretty gift oriented. My cousin (who’s 27, lest you think it’s a kid thing) is very excited that it’s September because that means it’s her sister’s birthday this month, then her birthday next month, and then Christmas, so there will be lots of prezzies.

    We do wish lists in our family. The year before last, I said I wanted people to do something that makes the world a better place. My parents did donate to charity, but they still also gave me gift cards. Last year, I put a few things on my wish list that were practical items that people couldn’t screw up (I’m very picky) as well, and I got those instead of charity donations.

  16. Samantha says:

    I’m not to big on giving presents either. I like recieving them, but only if they are given fromt he heart. I have an uncle who always gave me money when I was a kid, it was always tucked inside a pretty card. When I turned eighteen, he gave me a beautiful bouquet of flowers, and has done so ever since. He gives all adult women in the family flowers for their birthdays, and I’m just as happy with that as with the money I got before. It truly is the thought that counts.

  17. JReed says:

    My sister lives in a big neighborhood of children where gift giving got out of hand for the children’s birthday parties. She specified on the invitation that no gifts would be accepted except for baby food items for the local food pantry. Everyone LOVED it…three pick up trucks of baby food, pampers etc. went to the food pantry, the kids really responded to the idea of “helping”, no money was wasted and the parents didn’t end up with a bunch of foolish junk. The little birthday girl was so proud.
    Other families have continued the idea with pet shelter themes and homeless shelter items for children.

  18. scramblingscrambling says:

    Great topic. I am all over the map on this one, for a lot of reasons, & think about it a lot. Here are my random thoughts. Would love people’s input or responses, especially to the last one:

    1. My loved ones & close friends live too far to see but once every few years, so exchanging gifts at b’days & Xmas is an opportunity for expressing your love & affection. We send carefully chosen, hopefully on sale, items & a card with a letter (not a form letter). I don’t mind foregoing gifts sent to me, but hesitate to stop the tradition because I’m afraid we won’t have any contact at all.

    2. My b’day is on Xmas Eve, so some people who send a b’day gift feel obligated to send one for Xmas too. I tried once to say to everyone let’s just exchange a little something on b’day & cut out Xmas (for the adults), but they can’t bring themselves to send me only one gift. I’m not a child–I don’t need that extra gift.

    3. For family members with several children, I’m about to institute a family care package tradition consisting of cookies for all–in some kind of usable container or basket–or one game that the entire family can play. But individual gifs for the parents and each child.

    4. This is the tough one. I am old enough to have supposed to have more money than a youngster starting out in their 20s. I have no excuse for not being able to give a gift. At this stage I don’t have the obligations that young families do. No one knows that I have incurred a lot of debt in order to fund (stupidly, I know) a self-employed career that has incurred a lot of working hours but has not really yielded enough income. At times you could say I’m underemployed. I don’t want to go into details; it’s kind of like a person who cuts into their workweek to gamble on themselves–spending a lot of time, say, writing a novel that they hope will end up being a pay-off. I know you can write a novel or whatever it is while also working a full-time-plus job. But I don’nt really want to go into it all. I’m just not where I should be & am scrambling to get huge debts paid off so I can start seriously saving for retirement (which is not that far away). So I’m living a lie of sorts. And to avoid anyone thinking I’m cheap or figuring out my real story, I continue to give gifts — trying and usually succeeding in landing bargins. But still, it does add up, and I should be throwing all of this money to pay off my debt. If I were to come clean & tell people I have to cut back on gifts for financial reasons, they would think “Wow, that’s strange. Wonder how they got themselves in that situation?”

  19. vh says:

    Thank you, and hear hear!!!

    What nerve some people have: “I prefer gift cards, puhleeze”? SIX housewarming parties? (What…didn’t get the giant Kitchenaid mixer the first five times around?) Invited to any such affair, I would come with a previous engagement–so sorry. And frankly, with all the other suckers forking over gifts, the parasites probably wouldn’t notice the absence of your contribution. If they do, honi soit qui mal y pense.

    I never objected to giving gifts to small kids. Problem was, as a corporate wife I ran with a bunch of society matrons, each of whom apparently thought it was her duty to outspend the others (ah, yes: the time one of them rented an entire skating rink for her little darling’s birthday…for the whole day…and stocked it with wine and beer for the parents. Remember it well…). That did get a bit tedious.

    It’s not easy to distance yourself from these customs within a small subculture: if you don’t pony up expensive gifts, provide your child with a different pair of Vans for every day of the week (yes! Literal Truth!), and at least finance an afternoon at the arcade for a party of 20 six-year-olds, your esteemed colleagues will behave as though you smell bad. Ultimately, I ended up distancing myself not from the customs but from the people whose values I could not share. And lo! The world is full of friendly folks who don’t behave that way. :-)))))

  20. Que-Sirrah says:

    My favorite Housewarming party ( 6 months after they moved in mind you), was when a friend wanted it to be a whiskey tasting. The E-vite included a LIST of acceptable the Scotches you could bring. In accepting the invite, you had to sign up to purchase a particular bottle of $30 to $50 scotch. The absolute audacity of this just flabbergasted me. Then the invite included a note that said something like –

    Please dont bring any gifts. The remains of your scotch bottle will be more than enough.

    Apparently that was the subtle was of saying – not only are you buying me all my favorite liquor, but you get the privledge of leaving it here to stock my cabinet!

    Tacky! Tacky! Tacky! I had an ‘unfortunate conflict’ on the date of that get together.

  21. scramblingscrambling says:

    I remembered another scenario & wanted everyone’s thoughts about it.

    Someone I had once had a very friendly professional relationship with (but was not a friend) sent me an invitation to a house-warming party (for a new rental apt.). Hadn’t been in touch at all for years & was shocked to be invited at all. More shocking was that there was a wish list of gifts that was very very specific and lengthy. It sounded almost like it was for a wedding or shower, not two roommates who had moved into a new apartment together. I didn’t know the roommate at all.

    I wasn’t able to attend because of “a scheduling conflict” (ha ha — just kidding–it was because they lived too far & I had no car or way to get there). I decided to blow off sending a gift, anyway. I of course never heard from the person again. Probably mainly because we weren’t in touch anyway.

    This just came across a very nervy to me. I got the idea they had read about it in a book somewhere. It was a horrible idea altogether or else a somewhat interesting idea gone very wrong because of the blatant quantity and specifics of their wish list.

    Has anyone heard of this? These people were in their early thirties and had been on their own and lived in apts. with others for many years. Were employed. Not just starting out.

  22. Lisa says:

    I will add my voice to the chorus. At least we seem to have the holidays under control. Both sides do a secret santa with a pretty low $$ limit for the adults. Its so much nicer to spend some thoughtful time contemplating a gift that one person would really like, than running around like a mad woman buying nothing in particular for everyone and his brother.

    This year is the first time for secret santa for the kids. I am excited about it. I hope this will cut down on the over spending and over receiving.

    I am honestly starting to worry about the upcoming generation… will the understand what it means to really want something and not be able to have it RIGHT NOW?

  23. Marsha says:

    I think it’s amazing (in a good way!) the comments this post engendered! Really strong feelings here, apparently.

    Hopefully, the person who said he/she preferred gift cards said so only to help people who wanted to give a gift but was stuck on what to give. I’m admittedly optimistic here.

    This is a timely topic; it’s not to early to think about holiday gifts, for those of us who do want to give something. I do enjoy giving gifts, but I also do not want to go overboard for many reasons. I love all the suggestions here.

    I won’t have time to hand-make anything this year, but I can look for hand-made goodies at the weekly farmers/crafts market near me.

    Kristi, thanks for the super recipe! I’m going to try it this week. :D

  24. Margaret says:

    While I think it is incredibly tacky to send a gift list with an invitation, I actually like it when there is a list somewhere (e.g. person’s mother) where you can find out what someone really needs/wants. It’s not the creation of the list that bothers me (I think it is very practical), it’s the shoving it into someone’s face and assuming they want to see it.

    JReed — fantastic idea!

    scramblingscrambling — point #1 — why not just send the letter? I bet that is the favourite part anyway. Or commit to sending a Christmas letter and one other letter or piece of mail during the rest of the year. Stamps sure are cheap.
    — point #4 — I think you really should consider being honest about your situation. Not that you have to go into details, but just say you have changed your financial priorities and you cannot give gifts as you have in the past (or go out for dinners or whatever). You don’t have to say it is because your other enterprise didn’t work out or because there is debt. You can be vague or you can say that you did the calculations and you really need to work on your retirement savings (I suspect that is true for most people). I have a lot of debt, and while there is only one other person (besides my husband) in whom I have confided the total amount, I have started to say more often that we can’t afford whatever because we want to get some debts paid off. I get a lot of comments like “who doesn’t” and “of course, do what you have to do”. We’ve done that same thing — given more expensive presents or paid for everyone’s dinner or whatever because, oh, we make so much money — but really, when you factor in the monthly debt obligations, we are no better off than anyone else. But we act as if all the income is free and clear. Not good. If you are serious about getting your debts paid off and your retirement funded, you have to make a change.

  25. scramblingscrambling says:

    Thanks so much for your input. I really appreciate it. I actually have a box of already-bought sale items I’d gotten for gifts. It’s funny, ’cause with my bargin shopping, I only end up spending $15 per person, plus mailing costs. I might send those out this year since they are already bought. If I sell them on eBay I won’t recoup my output.

    One way I’ve cut back is to not visit anyone anymore. Haven’t been on a plane in 5 years, and I make excuses when invited to visit family for holidays. Because I just can’t afford it. Last time I took a short visit I had to spend $30 for the train ticket, and because my hosts took me out to dinner and to a concert and gave me a gift, I wanted to bring them a gift. It seemed the right thing to do! So I spent $30 on 2 books I knew they’d like. But I still ended up having spent much less than they did. I brought home-made cookies, too. That was $60 I didn’t have to spare. Like I said, if I were younger, had a family, had school bills, all the stuff other people have, it would be understandable. I’m supposed to be better off than I am. I had a windfall of sorts, too, that people know about through speculation (I didn’t tell them; they guessed). The windfall is gone and I’m in debt. It is too crazy for anyone to believe. I took a job route that hasn’t yet paid off. They would possibly think I spent it all on drugs or alcohol or gambling. Which is so far from the case! I almost wish I had that kind of excuse. I have my own stupidity to blame. Anyway, thanks again.

  26. scramblingscrambling says:

    Margaret, I thought of something else to add. It’s interesting what you said about most people probably being in the same boat, with debt or whatever. In my case, it’s the darndest thing. The people i know are extremely competent with their money, and thus are very free to talk about it. Not bragging about how much they have. But proud (and rightly so) of having lived under their means, put away $ for retirement, etc. And so they are not really understanding of people like me who don’t have a reason for being in such a hellhole of debt that I’m in. I have so many people like this in my life. It just creates more sadness and pressure in me to hide my situation; unfortunately that means I have cut myself of from them. I would love to find a blog or site that is for nearly retired persons who are in a bad way with debt like I am—not for sympathy so much as for tips as to how to dig out faster and quicker before we have to retire. Right now I can’t dream of retiring ever. I don’t mind the thought of working till I drop—but I don’t assume I will be all that employable for as long as I need to be.

  27. jen says:

    scrambling –

    You are a wonderful human being who (surprise) has made some choices that have not worked out the way you planned them to. I’m not saying that you have to tell the whole world you are in debt and don’t have this or that, but, having been where you are, I would encourage you to find at least one or two safe people you can be honest with. Just from reading your posts, I see you are carrying a lot of shame. And thinking that others will think you spent your money on booze and gambling…I have wasted a lot of time putting thoughts in other peoples’ heads. And if you think about it, that’s what you are doing…assuming what someone else will think or is thinking. It’s just not your right to do so. And not in a bad way. Do your best to practice being honest with yourself and forgiving yourself instead of wasting precious, God-given time trying to discern what’s in someone else’s head. I’m thankful you’ve posted. Remember, the thoughts you are having about gift-giving aren’t the real issue…just the symptom. You can do it! You can get out of debt! You can save for retirement! You can find safe people to talk to! You can find freedom by not worrying about what others think! YOU CAN!!!!

  28. Jasmine says:

    I often get exhausted by how often birthdays/xmas/housewarmings/baby showers/weddings are going on! And someone just recently told me that if one is invited to a wedding and doesn’t attend, traditional etiquette would say a gift should still be sent. I had no idea (not like I’m going to do this anyways).

    My close friends and I have each picked if we will exchange a small gift for our birthdays OR xmas. This way, we do one yearly gift exchange but recognize the financial/time constraints of exchanging gifts at least twice a year. Also, I give gifts for some friends on their birthday and others for xmas so it spreads them out throughout the year and I don’t have to buy a ton of things at Christmas. I’ve also found I’m able to think of more thoughtful and meaningful gifts this way, and that I enjoy giving them much more this way.

    I also let people know I do not need anything but their friendship, gifts are never required or expected. The best and most memorable gifts I have ever received were made specifically for me, which shows some real thought and caring, those are the best! :)

    Making someone a cake for their birthday (about 3-5 dollars) is fun and thoughtful. This is a good thing to do for birthdays, surprise them bring candles and sing happy birthday! I do this often and it really makes people feel special that you took the time out to do this.

    Somewhat related to ‘gifts’, what about all of the money that is expected to go towards gifts/lunches for co-workers that are leaving, promoted, birthdays, pretty much anything these days. I recently entered a new office where this is commenplace and I want to stay in my peer network at work, but am finding it difficult to keep up…I will be spending 30 dollars next week work lunches, which is a significant portion of my spending allowance for the week.

  29. Elaine says:

    Just a small detail, if you’re going to make edible gifts for people, please ask about dietary needs first! Personally I would appreciate the thought if I received, say, a pumpkin loaf made with eggs and butter, but I wouldn’t be able to eat it and would feel kind of silly going around saying “hey anyone want this pumpkin loaf? It’s probably tasty!” you know?

  30. deRuiter says:

    We’ve got so much stuff, don’t need any more. Same with our Baby Boomer friends. We no longer exchange gifts at Christmas. Instead we get together with friends, at our house for a home cooked dinner, at their homes for a meal or snacks, or we meet at the local buffet and go “Dutch” to celebrate the holidays. WE’VE TRAINED OUR FRIENDS WHO SEEM TO ENJOY THIS VERY MUCH ONCE THEY EXPERIENCE GETTING TOGETHER FOR A VISIT WITHOUT THE OBLIGATORY SHOP FOR “SOMETHING TO BRING AS A GIFT”. We will bring, and accept, home baked goods, herbs, flowers from the garden, that sort of thing, but no commercial items purchased from the “new things store”! We pick up a friend who no longer drives but loves local history and take her to the restored house museum which is decorated for Christmas, and to lunch or dinner afterwards. The point of the holidays is to enjoy each others’ company, AND NOT TO ACCUMULATE STUFF, PARTUCULARLY UNWANTED EXTRAS! When we make new friends, I explain our gift giving philosophy LONG BEFORE THE HOLIDAYS.

  31. Still Steaming says:

    This article was something I really needed to read this morning! We are going to my neighbor’s daughter’s fourth birthday party today and were actually asked to bring a specific gift because they are redoing her room. A $40 gift! Now, on top of her petting zoo, ponies, swimming pool, and ice cream bar for her party I think it is way overkill! For a four year old! Can you believe it?

  32. Zeca says:

    I ignore dates like Christmas (and they avoid all the stress gift buying brings. Besides, I am not Christian anyway), mother’s day and all the other “official dates”. But I do give gifts ocasionally. When it is unexpected it is so much more fun! However, I think when you are invited to someone’s home, bringing something edible for the night is a good thing. It isn’t really a gift, since you are just contributing to the success of the event.

  33. laura k says:

    scramblingscrambling, You said “I have no excuse for not being able to give a gift” but I would argue that you do. By working to get out of debt and live beneath your means, you are releasing those around you from possibly having to care for you financially in your later years.

    I agree with Margaret that it might be easier in the long run if you came clean with everyone. No details are necessary, just a “That money I came into a while back? Well, I found a great business venture, but it ended up not turning out as I planned, so I’m in a bit of a hole now. That said, I’ve turned things around and am climbing back out, but for the foreseeable future I’m cutting back on expenses as much as possible. I hope you understand. I figure it’s better to get my financial life into shape now than to have to depend on you guys for handouts when I’m too old to work. Since you all live frugal lives, I’m sure you get it. Things didn’t work out the way I planned, but I know it’s my responsibility alone to rectify it.”

    The people who care about you should appreciate you being so honest, and some may be proud of you for risking your money in a way they would never have the guts to (even if they wanted to)!

    Good luck!

  34. silver says:

    My church has many younger people, which means many weddings, bridal showers, baby showers, etc. There is an older woman who almost always crochets baby blankets for the baby showers. I can tell you that the handmade baby blanket is usually one of the gifts the new mom remembers best–not the $30 diaper trash can or the $150 carseat they outgrow in 6 months.

  35. scramblingscrambling says:

    Thank you, Laura. I’ll model my statement to them on your thoughtful words. I appreciate it, & your taking the time to respond.

    On another topic: knitting/crocheting. I have found the cost of yarn to be quite expensive; I couldn’t make a baby blanket for under $30 unless I used low-quality yarn. Now, if low-quality yarn holds up to machine washings without pilling, that’s fine with me. But I had the embarrassing situation where I used that kind of yarn to make baby sweaters & was horrified at how they looked after some washings. So, a note to people who receive knitted scarves, etc., as gifts: Please know the knitter probably spent a lot more $ on the yarn than you would have expected.

  36. Margaret says:

    scramblingscrambling — I was just going to post something like laura k posted, but she said it much better. Another thought crosses my mind — if your friends are good money managers but NOT boastful or lecturing, you could also ask them for help (advice, not financial). People LOVE to give advice. If you are really comfortable with any of them, you could even let them in on the whole financial picture (admittedly, I would not be comfortable doing that) and ask for help coming up with a plan. If they are known for living below their means, etc, then they probably know all the things about not buying gifts for everyone, especially if it is out of your budget, not making trips, etc etc, and they might come out and suggest it to you. It sounds as if you have been a generous person all your life. Don’t you think that those relationships would hold up even if you couldn’t give them presents? Don’t you think they would want to support you morally as you work on your finances? If you found out one of them were going bankrupt, wouldn’t you have some sympathy for them? I have one aunt who has had some really difficult times financially. She survives, but I don’t think she has anything put away for retirement. She used to always give me presents when I was a kid. She doesn’t anymore, or else she will give something small (like a $2 bottle of bubble bath) and say she doesn’t want to forget me. Do you think I care? Not a bit. I feel badly that things haven’t worked out better for her, and certainly looking back it is easy to identify some of the bigger financial mistakes and mishaps that have befallen her (some of her own choosing, some not), but at the time, she couldn’t see how it would turn out. I wish it were better for her, and I completely understand when she has to make choices based on finances (like not being able to drive out here for a visit because it would cost her $20 in gas or because she has to work).

    I am about to face a similar situation myself. I have a group a friends from university who have all been very successful financially. I, however, have ended up in a heap of debt. We live across the country, so every couple of years we plan a big trip to see everyone. At first it was just to visit, but then it started to be weddings. Well, how could I miss their weddings? I only skipped one of the trips, and that was because there was absolutely no way to go — I mean, I didn’t have the room on my visa for the plane tickets. So here I am, ten years later, and looking at two to three years just to pay off the credit cards, let alone everything else. I just found out another member of the group is getting married this summer. I am going to have to suck it up and tell them all that I just cannot afford to make anymore trips until I am debt free. It sucks, and it will be embarrassing, but if I don’t, I will never get out of debt, let alone save for retirement. I think I will be better off just saying I can’t go because of finances, because some of the group have started bandying about the idea that we all go on a cruise, or head to the carribean for a get together. I wish I had done this from the beginning, though. After all, they all knew that my career had taken an abrubt turn from theirs right at the start. Oh well, as one of my aunts says, sometimes you just have to draw a line on the past and carry forward.

  37. Eric says:

    I got married earlier this year so I have a few thoughts on this.

    First, I agonized over who to send invitations to because it almost felt like I was soliciting for money and not just inviting people to come to our wedding or reception. I have felt the same way about graduation announcements in the past. I don’t want anyone to feel obligated to bring gifts.

    Second, we had a small wedding and large reception so we got a lot of gifts. Most were cash and some were from a registry that we started at Target for kitchen items and such (wife had a shower). With about $3000 in gifts and $6000 in cash our favorite gift was a handmade cookbook from an aunt and uncle. Don’t undervalue the time and effort that goes into a handmade gift. Money is nice and it helped us buy our house but it is not a memorable gift.

  38. Linda Molumby says:

    My husband & I have started a new tradtion at the holidays. We adopt a family from a list of names the Salvation Army sends us. The family we chose can be between 1 person and up. The lst two years we have helped two imigrant familys.

    We are sent a list of items the family wants and try to get as many things on their list, but we are only required to spend $25.00 on each member and the buy a gift card from a local grocery store for their meal. The first year we did this we caught so much grief from our family members.
    It made me so angry.

    The in-laws kids were so angry at us. We have no children of our own and after giving gifts for so many years and getting no thank you’s we just gave up. The kids wanted us to buy them an x box on year!

    My M-I-L make gifts for Christmas, but there are to be used at Christmas. I told her not to give us a gift this year as we live in an apartment and do not have enough space to store these gifts during the off season.

    We stopped giving to each other a long time ago. For one reason, and that is because I have a S-I-L who will not display home made gifts. She’d much prefer a gift with a label on it. i.e. Polo, Coach etc. Although no one gives such gifts. teh hand made gift but once it is given you never see it displayed in her home. She usully throughs it in the trash b4 newsyears.

    So that is why I prefer to give to a family that appreciates anything you give them.
    As long as the can be with their family around the holidays, that to them is the greatest gift of all.

    As far as housewarming gifts I don’t give those, since so many of our friends and family have move so many times. I recently got a wedding invite for the daughter of a person my husband used to work with many years ago. I did not feel as though we should have even been invited to the wedding so i sent a card to the couple and left it at that. No gift, I didn’t know them and thought that the only reason they invited us was to get a gift.

    When I visit a friend and the are gracious enough to let us stay with them instead of staying at a hotel I give a hostess gift I usually give a hostess gift when ever I visit anyone. It’s a thoughtful way to say that I appreciate their hospitally, and friendship.
    When we get back home I send them a thank you note. My mother made sure that this was the most important thing to do after receiving a gift or to let the people you visited know that you care about the gift and also the being able to share their company.

    I refuse to give anyone who doesn’t appreciate a gift. Mostly the young people today who want it all and do not want to work for it.

  39. Elaine says:

    Yeah, I second the knitting thing. I knit a lot. Most people simply do not understand that I dedicate a lot of time to something I knit. And good yarn IS expensive. The next large project I plan on starting is a wool sweater for me and I expect it to cost at least $60, when I know I could buy a similar one for half that.

    So as a result I don’t knit things for people – immediate family only (because they are worth the extra effort), or friends who are also knitters (because they understand the extra effort). Other knitters are happy to make gifts for lots of people. If you are one of those lucky recipients, please recognize the huge amount of time that went into your gift.

  40. scramblingscrambling says:

    Thanks VERY much to Margaret, Laura K., and Elaine

    About knitting/crocheting: I have struggled with the high cost of yarn dilemma for years. And I forgot to mention the labor factor. I don’t mind the labor for gifts — but in trying to figure out how to sell even a simple scarf on etsy, once I figure in the labor, I would only make a few dollars. I have a couple of office-y skills that can earn me more than $5 an hour, so I don’t have the luxury of spending time trying to sell things on etsy or eBay. I’ve made a couple of things for me I’ve gotten tons of compliments on (sorry, don’t mean to brag; it’s just I happened to find some yarn combos that stand out visually-who knew?) & one person said I should try to sell them. When I said I’d need to charge $15 a piece in order to make a 50 percent profit of $7 per item, she said she thought people would not pay $15 for it. She knows a lot about pricing of clothing goods, so I trust her opinion. And, over time, the item doesn’t hold up all that great (I guess because one of the yarns is cheap? If I had $ to experiment, I’d try various yarns. If I could get the cost of yarn down really low, I could probably sell them to college kids for $10 a piece I think. The mfg. no longer makes the yarn (I wrote to ask about a bulk price) & I just can’t find it cheap enough on eBay.

    There was a time in my more spendthrift days when I would spend $35 on decent, washable yarn and make a sweater for a newborn. The parents claimed to love it and appreciate the effort. But $35 is a lot for just yarn.

    I also spent $60 on gorgeous yarn to make a vest for a sibling’s big birthday coming up. I concluded I’d never be able to make it fit since we don’t live near each other & I couldn’t try it on. I decided to sell the yarn on eBay & because it was so unique, I guess, I got back $45.

    My overspending ways run along these lines. I haven’t been buying 500 DVDs that I never watch, or spending tons of money on fancy clothes. These little extravagances add up and become meaningful when you have underemployment and when you don’t watch credit card loopholes and minefiels with a very sharp eye. I was asleep at the wheel.

  41. Liz says:

    Agree on the knitting thing! I am knitting Christmas for family this year, and holy cow it’s more expensive. However, It’s also keeping me from doing things like going out to movies and other unnecessary purchases.

    Anyway, on the gift things. I *hate* *hate* *hate* gifts that were “unsolicited” as it were. If you think you need to get me or my husband something, ask our mothers. They will either a) correct you or b) tell you what it is that we actually need, as we deposit a short list with them yearly.

    We’re newlyweds in a very tiny apartment, and we got so many useless tchotckes and also things that we “needed” – silver for a party of 25?! in the ugliest silver pattern I’ve ever seen?! I don’t want to polish silver every time I wash it, for one. Two, I don’t like parties that big. Normally our hosted parties are triple-dates, we invite two other couples over and knock the dining out of the park. Three, you got us an ancient silver patter that is ornate and full of holes that are impossible to clean. And we lack a dishwasher.

    I want to appreciate this probably $400 gift, it was very nice of them, but it’s quite obvious that they just got what they get every newlywed. If they knew us, there would have been no question that that wasn’t even close to anything we wanted. I would have wholeheartedly preferred something handmade, or something worth not even a tenth of that off our list. Or, you know what would have been most awesome of all? A PHONE CALL. To TALK TO US. No gift necessary!

    Sorry, the (fairly recent) wedding still singes, as that wasn’t the only thing we got that will never do anything but collect dust in our otherwise-minimalist lives.

  42. scramblingscrambling says:

    Linda Molumby, your post was interesting to me in a lot of ways. I think some people simple do not “get it” when someone makes a home-made gift: “Why would you spend hours making something you could buy at the store?” is the response I’ve heard. Those people don’t get it, so they are worth spending the effort on. They won’t get an xBox, though!

    I too have a very hard time when people do not thank you for a gift or, when you e-mail to ask if the package got there, won’t even reply. With e-mail, it is so quick to tell someone the package got there and to say thanks for the gift. Even if they don’t like the gift. Some relatives don’t seem to say thank you unless they like the gift. It’s not just young people, either who are like this.

    I do believe in showing up with a gift when invited to someone’s house for dinner or as an overnight guest. The thank-you card/letter snail-mailed afterward is imperative, to me. So I always do that. Always.

    Sometimes with my relatives I get the idea if a person who has always sent a gift suddenly does not, it is because he or she is “mad” about something. It’s not that they expect “material gifts” to define the relationship, either.

    My family members are not people who try to outdo one another for the sake of looking wealthy. But it seems to be the case that if you put thought and care into buying and sending a gift, it means SOMETHING. No one cares if it is on sale or not all that expensive.

    Which is why I feel so bad about not even being able to maintain my usual $15 per person.

  43. scramblingscrambling says:

    Liz, I’m sorry to hear you received such an expensive gift that is so pointless. I have one relative who insists on buying gifts that she wants people to have & defies their taste & desires so she can impose her own. I’ve talked to her about this and told her it’s important to buy a wedding gift that you think the couple will like, not what you want them to like. She looked at me like I was insane at such an idea. She said her taste is universally thought to be quite nice, and she thinks you should buy a gift that you yourself would like.

    In your case, if the people are not as bad as my relative, maybe they just really thought they were giving you something “any couple” would love. One thought is this: Is it something whose value might appreciate enough that you could sell it and get something you want? Or that you might possibly like well into the future? I do realize that heavy, ornate silver is hard to imagine ever working with your lifestyle if your lifestyle is minimalist. But taste can change over time. You never know!

  44. scramblingscrambling says:

    Margaret & Laura K:
    I know I’m writing a lot today. I am assuming anyone who isn’t interested can scroll away from my posts. If there is another reason why I should not over-post, please advise. I really don’t know how these blogs work.

    About those relatives who have managed so well. It’s odd, but I think I am as thrifty as they are and maybe more so. I don’t think they are better off because they bought a cheaper brand of beans than I did. I might buy more tea than they do (lipton’s or generic), but they buy more soda than I do. So much of it equals out.

    I THINK they kept their eye on the ball about credit cards, making sure to not let interest rates climb sky high; they were not underemployed, either. The credit card cos. are very concerned about debt to income ratio.

    Some of them had a leg up on buying a home; however, I had a leg up with a windfall of sorts. So that washes out, too.

    I don’t have the traditional obligations they do, and am thus in general seen as someone who shouldn’t have ever gotten in a mess like I’ve gotten into.

    They would not be sympathetic. Unless of course the mess were due to something really substantial. If it were due to a spouse screwing up the finances, or a horrible health care situation, they’d be okay.

    In general they are not what I would call sympathetic people. It is n’t that they aren’t loving or nice. It’s more a worldview or personal philosophy. We’ve had a few relatives with emotionally unstable problems, very serious ones, and they simply dd not “get it.” “What’s the big deal? Why are they ‘depressed’?” Very unsympathetic. It’s kind of tough outlook.

    Some of the others who have had horrendous obstacles to overcome are kind of bitter and hard about the notion that other people can’t do the same. I don’t ask for advice but have heard them hold forth on how anyone can live under their means, etc. I don’t think their tips are current .

    I think the kind of help I need is sort of a credit-card-lingo guru! Someone who could look at my statements over the years and, like a sleuth, find out where it went wrong–what was the fine print that warned me that if I missed a payment by one day it would make the interest rates on all cards leap up and the minimum payments on all cards double.

    Going forward what I need is the brain cells, or again a guru, to look at the fine print and the chart I’ve made of all my debts, intrerest rates, etc., and tell me if it’s smart or foolish to roll some of them onto a low-interest-rate card offer I’ve gotten — or are there loopholes that will bite me in the butt in 3 months. I just don’t trust any credit card offers anymore.

    I have not addressed the underemployement issue and will not take up time here to do that. I do realize that is a huge huge factor. I’m not ignoring it or minimizing it at all.

    I do appreciate the advice and tips and have not discounted anything that has been offered. I hope I don’t sound like a naysayer who is “yes, but …” to every suggestion.

    I think sometimes people who have overcome financial obstacles are not necessarily empathetic. They worked too hard to solve their problem and don’t understand why everyone can’t do it a they have. While I don’t begrudge them this attitude per se, it doesn’t make me want to open up to them.

    I may just take the silent approach at the holidays: send a card with a letter and will not send gift and will not explain. People have done that to me in the past, suddenly not sending me a gift anymore, and I have never been upset. What upsets me more is when people just drop you altogether from letters, e-mails, etc. You know, when people drift apart and move on from former friends.

    Thanks for listening, everyone. And thanks for all tips. It means a lot. Have a great day.

  45. scramblingscrambling says:

    Oh, no: It’s ME again. Sorry, I just had another thought.

    I thought about Larry Wyngut, the financial guy. How he has said if you are in a big hole, you need to throw every single dollar at getting out of the hole. You don’t spend a dime on nuttin’ except rent & rock-bottom essentials. He says you budget $ for food for the month and if it runs out before the month is out, tough. Don’t eat.

    I think he has some good points along these lines. So, by his standards, I HAVE lived extravagantly — by not throwing every dime toward the debt. I had no business knitting $35 baby sweaters when I was in that hole.

    So, I’m not really all that extravagant, not a shopaholic, not addicted to shopping, don’t buy things to make myself look wealthy … but for someone in a hole, I have overspent. Because I should not have spent an extra nickel on anything.

    Does that make sense? I didn’t want it to sound like (to you or to me) that I really hadn’t overspent and it was all the fault of the credit card companies.

  46. Ruth says:

    On the subject of knitted things and homemade gifts: I hate knitted things. I don’t like the way they feel or the way they look on me, and I don’t wear them. Luckily, I happened to mention this in front of my sister-out-law (my brother’s girlfriend; my mom likes refers to family members’ unmarried partners as the out-laws) the year she made scarves for my parents, so she didn’t make me one. A friend, though, didn’t know that, and gave me a scarf. I finally gave it away, but I felt guilty about it. My thought here is: If you’re going to give homemade gifts, make sure it’s something the person will really like and appreciate, and not something that will turn into a piece of guilt-inducing clutter.

  47. Isis Uptown says:

    My fiancé and I are getting married in November. (We are having a party, for which we are not going into debt.) We are both 44, I’ve been married before, though he hasn’t. We opted not to register for anything; we have a house and all the household items we need, and not enough room in the house for things we don’t need. People may give us gifts; if they do, we’ll be grateful. Some people may not give us gifts; we’ll still be grateful they came to the party.

  48. Isis Uptown says:

    Wanted to add that I am one of five siblings, so starting when we were children, we’d pick names, so each of us would just have to give one sibling a gift. Since then, we’ve lost one sibling and gained brothers-in-law, so we still pick names. (Though if you get your spouse’s name, you put it back and re-pick.) It’s a lot easier than seven people each giving the others gifts.

  49. Sue Pamp says:

    I agree so much with the gift giving. I am so burnt out on it. When my husband and I got married, we didn’t want or need anything, so we just said ‘We just want Best Wishes Only’, and then we had a potluck finger food reception. Granted we only had about 10 guests, so it was a very small affair but the food was the best idea and it made less work for me! My daughter, however, when she had her birthday party invited 28 kids! I dreaded the whole thing because I knew that would mean 28 items coming into our house (we have a very small house and her room is 9 ft by 6 ft). Fortunately only 15 could attend (phew). Next time I will have a bring something for charity, because I really don’t need any clutter! Although I make her go through her stuff and part with things at Christmas and at birthdays now so that she can still get into her room. It might be rude to specify no gifts or bring something for charity, but let’s face it, most people will and do bring gifts. The thing that is interesting about English birthday parties is that the child does not open the gifts in front of the party guests. They do it after the party is over as well, they don’t eat their cake at the party, it gets sent home in the treat bag (yuck). I fed them the cake at the party though, otherwise there woudl have been no cake and a lot of mess in the treat bag. It is a tough call I guess, and sorry Liz to read about your wedding gift nightmares. Unfortunately from what I know of weddings, that happens so often (3 electric knives, 15 toasters, 2 kettles etc and the ugliest bedsheets you’ve ever seen!) Maybe you could sell the silver on ebay and put the proceeds towards something you really want/need (joking of course). I tried selling stuff on ebay that my daughter doesn’t play with, it didn’t sell and I still had to pay the listing fees :-(

  50. newlywed says:

    I got married last month, and wanted to share two of my favorite gifts. For my bridal shower, one friend wrapped a box of canning jars and taped a home made gift certificate to the top with a magazine cutout of strawberries. The idea was that she would take the jars back and return them filled with freezer jam. This was doubly awesome because I used several of those jars as little tokens of thanks for people who helped with the wedding. I took scraps from my sisters’ bridesmaid dresses (all needed to be shortened) and used them to be the little fabric squares that often decorate homemade jam. I wrote “Thank You!” with a mettalic pen and felt so clever that I was able to give a homemade gift that didn’t cost me a cent, I didn’t need to find room to store all those jars of jam, and my friend was very pleased I was able to appreciate her gift in more ways than one.

    The wedding gift that will be the most memorable is largely because it came with a riddle. The giver wrote on his card that it is his family’s standard wedding gift. He wrote that it’s something that can go in nearly any room of the house, something it would be difficult to have too many of, and something that he’d be more than happy to see has never been used even if he comes and visits 10 years from now. However, should he learn we had made use of it, he’d be very glad to hear it was a “life saver”. The gift?

    A fire extinguisher!!

    One last thing – I’ve never had a housewarming party but when I bought my condo, one friend surprised me with a potted plant. A plant can be purchased for a dollar or two, but with a note about wanting to help the new place feel like a home, it should certainly fulfill any (inappropriate) social obligation to bring something to a housewarming party.

  51. Anita says:

    I loved reading everyone’s posts…this is an issue I have been coming to terms with for my whole life…the social pressure to give gifts combined with my own desire to please people I love by giving to them mixed with the increasing desire to have less stuff weighing me down and being naturally frugal. Wanting to be frugal includes both with my money and with the environmental resources required to produce stuff to give as gifts.

    Hitting 40 was a significant turning point for me…something about recognizing that my life being definitely half over let me give myself permission to not do things I didn’t want to do, esp if I was doing those things to please people I didn’t especially like. ie, I too would have been unable to attend a sixth housewarming party for anyone who included a gift list or gift card request.

    By now (just hit 60) my friendship pool mostly doesn’t exchange gifts regularly. Of course we still do gifts but they are irregular and depend on having an inspiration for the perfect thing. And generally the very best ones are the ones that cost nothing. In my friendship circle the current winner is my 60th birthday gift of 60 washed and rolled up recycled airline washcloths. Those little hot cloths you get at the end of a long flight are tossed into the trash so a flight attendant friend saves the occasional bag to wash and reuse as rags. She shares this loot with her friends so I had asked for a bag or two before she retires this month.

    My best gift recently was to a bride who loves to cook on the occasion of her first marriage of a fabulous kitchen tool I no longer use along with the story of why I bought it and some recipes (ok, it was a huge copper egg white whisking bowl and I bought it because I was so vain I wanted this symbol of being a serious cook.) I have gotten three mentions of what a great gift it was so I think it was a good one.

    I am pretty careful about who gets homemade gifts because, as all the knitters have pointed out, they are quite costly in terms of time and sometimes materials too. And not everyone is a good candidate for recycled gifts either.

    It is tricky weaning people of the gift exchange thing…esp when they are in the habit of spending a lot more money than you are comfortable with. I ran into this a few years ago when I gave something funky and fun to a new friend for some occasion and then on my birthday or Christmas received a $60+ gift. YIPES! I gave her several more simple, super thoughtful with story included type gifts. It took a couple of rounds before she stopped giving me expensive gifts.

    And I have to comment re the silverware….someone gave you service for 25 of real sterling?!! WOW. Too bad it is a pattern you don’t like. My sterling is a pattern I picked out and love. I keep it in my kitchen drawer and use it for every single meal. Never polish it. Well, not quite never but, seriously, if you use it everyday just washing it keeps it from tarnishing. Unless you use the fork to beat up raw eggs. Beautiful silverware and pretty plates makes meals more of a treat..in the French sense that everything about each calorie you put in your mouth should please all the senses. I wonder if you could exchange your ugly pattern if you haven’t used it. It would have to be the store where it was purchased. All of the sites I know of that deal in ‘preowned’ silver buy at about 10% of retail and sell at more than half. Not a good exchange.

    One of the best things I have seen recently…was at a family get together to honor the birthday of the daughter of friends we happened to be visiting and most of her gifts were cards with homemade gift cards for lunch with that aunt/grandparent/other adult and an afternoon outing of some sort. And this family is pretty open about gifts so everyone knew what she wanted & most included a bit of cash towards the one thing this kid wanted (a nano iPod. The whole gift thing was so simple and so oriented towards spending time together rather than collecting stuff. What a great tradition to have!

    Another idea for gracefully bowing out of the gift exchange is to write your usual chatty holiday letter and include a comment about how you are becoming more sensitive to green issues and how much need there is in the world and that this year you are giving to charity in lieu of buying gifts.

    The responses you get will be interesting! I would be surprised if a number of people you used to ‘gift’ didn’t cheer you for not burdening them down with more stuff.

    and for the knitters I would like to mention that yarn marketed to weavers is often the same yarn (but in different packaging) as the yarn sold to knitters. And you will not believe how much less expensive it is. So look for weaving guilds & events, esp if a guild is having a ‘bring and buy’ sale at one of their meetings.

  52. brent says:

    “no presents please, only your presence is desired.”

  53. I disregard traditional gift givng days and have created my own day. Once a year I say Thank You to the people I love with a note saying why I am thanking them and why they are so important to me, and a special little gift that I know they will love.

  54. Monica says:

    On the high cost of yarn for knitting/crocheting: Yes, people do not realize how expensive good yarn is. I have often spent more on a handmade knitted gift than I would have purchasing a gift from a store. Instead of overspending or buying cheap acrylic yarn, I have found another solution. I go to secondhand stores and purchase wool sweaters, unravel them, and use the wool for my own projects. You just have to look at the seams to make sure it’ll be okay to unravel. Here’s a tutorial: http://neauveau.com/recycledyarn.html I recently bought a sweater for $3.99 which I’m going to unravel and knit a vest with.

  55. Margaret says:

    scramblingscrambling — I posted a huge message back to you yesterday, but it seems to have disappeared into cyberspace. I may have gotten distracted and closed the window instead of hitting submit comment.

    Anyway, here are more thoughts for you:

    First of all — I want to say that I admire you for taking steps to fix your finances now. It’s easy to just keep going the old way until you reach a crisis where you HAVE to change. Second — financial mistakes do not make you a bad person. They’re just mistakes, and things happen when you are a human being. Third — congratulations! You are making a plan, you are cutting spending, you are focusing on retirement — things are going up from here!

    So — where are you? You have credit card debt, you have lived beyond your means, you don’t want people to judge you, you have made a career move that didn’t pan out. It’s too bad about the career, but, after all, your career is more than just making the maximum number of dollars, and if you were trying something that would have been more fulfilling, it wasn’t necessarily a bad idea (although you might not feel that way in hindsight).

    You don’t want to be judged — based on what you said about those people not being sympathetic, I change my advice — DON’T tell them. Your finances are your private business, and if they are not going to be supportive, then don’t tell them. I think you will have to be clear that you are doing some financial belt tightening, but if it comes up, all you have to say is that you have done some retirement planning and you are not where you should be (or where you want to be), and you are determined to get back on track while you still have time. That can mean anything from you have a mountain of debt to you have only saved your first million. Either way, it is your financial future and your choice as to what you do with your money. If you find some sympathetic people, then you can decide if you want to be more forthright. As far as gifts, there are lots of ideas in this thread about how to deal with that without actually saying you can’t afford them anymore — from burnout to going green to choosing to support a charity instead. If you don’t choose to explain why you are stopping the gift giving, I suggest that you send your letters early and either say you aren’t doing gifts anymore or else just let them see that there are no more gifts — that way they will see they don’t have to buy you something and then you won’t get mired in guilt if they send you gifts.

    You have lived beyond your means, but not extravagantly. I’m with you on that. I am mainly not extravagant (compared to the regular world, not compared to super frugal people), but there’s a lot of stuff here and there that adds up. There are tons of resources on the web with tips for living frugally. You just have to decide whether you are going to go black belt frugal and cut out EVERYTHING (like that guy you quoted who said don’t spend a nickel), or just cut back. I am working on being more frugal, but I am far from black belt, and I am comfortable with that. I have a plan for how long it will take to pay off the credit cards, then the student loan, etc etc, and although I could shorten that by a few months by going totally black belt, I won’t (although partly that’s because my husband would never go black belt frugal with me, and I can’t see it working out if I scrimp and save and he keeps spending the same amount — there would be too much resentment). You sound like a sensible person, so no doubt you will find what works for you.

    I have total sympathy with you on the credit cards. I have also let them get away on me. I have put a few large purchases on credit, but I would have to say at least half my debt is from the little things that you buy here and there — purchases that don’t seem much at the time, but when they add up, it is the same as making a few really big financial blunders. Your comments also make it clear that you fell into all the bad traps — fees and rate increases for mistakes on other cards. Nasty credit card companies. The first thing that springs to mind is that you should call them and ask for lower rates. Particularly if you have been hit by the punative rates (over 20%) for mistakes that have happened in the past (e.g. a missed payment) and you have not made those mistakes again. Again, there’s lots of advice about how to do this on the net and in personal finance books. There’s a post somewhere on the simple dollar about it too, but I can’t remember where because I have been reading the archives. As far as transferring to a low introductory rate card — generally, I would do it. Some people say only to transfer if you are absolutely sure that you will have it paid off be the end of the low rate period, but I am carrying a lot of balances, and I figure that even if it is not paid off, as long as I ended up paying less interest on that part of the debt for some months, it is worth it. So — look at the difference in interest rate. How much interest will you save on that balance by transferring? What is the transfer fee? You have to look in the fine print — and if you can’t find it, I would phone the card issuer and ask what it is. Sometimes there is no fee, but a lot of the time there is a charge of 1 or 2 or 3 percent, sometimes there is a minimum or maximum fee as well. If you transfer a $5000 balance but there is a 3% fee, you are paying an extra $150 right off the bat, so you have to make sure that the transfer fee isn’t more than what you would save in interest. If you are going from a 19% card to a 3% card, and you will save $400 in interest over 6 months, then it is worth the transfer fee. HOWEVER — if you are even ONE DAY LATE making a payment, you will LOSE your low interest rate! Also, if you use the new card for any purchases, your purchases are going to be charged the regular rate of interest and your payments are going to be applied against the lowest interest balance first. Also, what will the interest rate be after the introductory period? If it is the same or less than what you are currently paying, then fine. If it will be more than what you pay on your current cards, then you will want to transfer that balance back onto the old card again at the end of the introductory period. That probably means more transfer fees. If you think you will be overwhelmed by having more credit cards to keep track of, then it might not be a good solution, unless you are transferring the entire balance of a card and then closing that account (but remember that your credit score is affected by how long you have had your accounts open, and newer accounts don’t score as well as established accounts). And I think the most important factor is — will you run up the other card again as soon as you have made room by transferring some of the balance? If yes, then DO NOT DO IT — that is just giving yourself more rope to hang yourself. If you have not plugged the leaks in your budget, then getting more credit at whatever rate is just going to land you with a bigger total debt. $10,000 of debt at 4% is worse than $5000 of debt at 19%. If you want to post the numbers on your offer (the amount you are thinking of transferring, the current rate you pay, the rate of the offer, the length of the offer, and the transfer fee), I would give it a shot figuring out how much it would save you. (And then the people who are really good at math would correct me.) Another thing that you could look into is a consolidation loan from a bank. Again, though, you have to be absolutely sure that once you consolidate, you don’t end up running up the credit cards and end up with the same debt PLUS the consolidation loan. I have been thinking about doing this, but because we have some debts at higher interest rates but some still on low rate offers, it looks like the interest rate savings would be a wash for us. If I did do a consolidation loan, I would then cancel all my credit cards except one. I’m not even sure, but cancelling all the other credit cards might even be a condition of getting a consolidation loan.

    Anyway, I’m interested in how you make out with all this. Good luck!

  56. laura k says:

    Great thoughts, everyone!

    I can totally relate to the cost of knitting. I learned to knit less than a year ago and have been keeping all my receipts since I started so that I could track my expenses. A couple weeks ago I stuck them all into a spreadsheet, and holy cow! I now have a separate line item in my budget for knitting/crafts! (Not that I’m necessarily able to fund it, but since it’s there, it’ll remind me that I need to be careful.)

    scrambling – It sounds like you are still uncertain about whether your gift-giving philosophy is appropriate. I think you know exactly what you want to do but are worried about how your friends and family will react. Maybe you just need to make a decision about it, let people know, and stick with it. If you are wishy-washy about it, people will continue to question you, which will make you all the more uncertain. If you tell people “this is how it is for me for now, take it or leave it,” people will appreciate your strength and learn to accept you. Those who don’t may not be worth your energy. (Don’t expect immediate acceptance from everyone, but also don’t allow people to try to change you back for an indefinite period.) Allowing others to ask questions will help them understand while it helps you solidify your own feelings on the matter.

    On receiving gifts that reflect the giver’s tastes rather than yours, I think it is hard to buy for someone whose tastes are the polar opposite of your own. The giver may not be trying to change your tastes but rather may truly believe that the gift is beautiful. It is hard to see things through someone else’s eyes. My mom gave up on buying clothes for me from the time I was quite young because I hated (color-wise) everything she picked out. Several years ago she made a quilt for me but was smart enough to know that she should ask about my color preferences! It’s absolutely beautiful, and I appreciate it even more knowing that she spent countless hours working with colors that she doesn’t really like.

  57. Dana says:

    I feel your pain. This Saturday and the following one will be my ninth and tenth weddings of the year. We didn’t even go on vacation this year because we had six solid weeks of weddings in the summer.

    As if that isn’t enough, the first couple we celebrated with is already pregnant. Here comes a slew of baby showers! AUGH!

  58. scramblingscrambling says:

    Thanks VERY MUCH to Margaret, Laura K., and Jen (whose response from the weekend I didn’t see till now!). How kind of you all to spend your time trying to give me some solutions. Thanks too to Monica about the recycled yarn information. Great great tip!

    As Trent once said somewhere here, you have to take a step, almost any step–actually I think he said a plan, not a step–rather than just remain frozen (my word, not his). I’ve been frozen with indecision, fear–and paranoia that credit card co. staff will outright lie if I ask THEM for info. I have tried to read blgos and books about credit card stuff but frankly find that my situation doesn’t seem to be what people are talking about. That surely is not true, but it’s been my experience so far. But I had to do something.

    I did take a step & call for info about the 0% and the 3.9% percent offers I’ve been getting. And asked also to lower my rate.( I’ve asked constantly for several yrs. & have been turned down flat. ) This time I made a huge point to sound extremely nice, polite, and calm. I got lucky & spoke to people who were the same, as well as competent & for once, sounded not terse, robotic, bored, or unintelligible. This is one of the big major banks.

    First, they agreed to lower the rate from 29% (yes, I have this rate on several cards; are you still standing?) to around 27 (I don’t have the exact figures in front of me). adjustable. The conversation was lengthy and I took notes and typed them up later, but it is too much to go into here. I asked tons and tons of questions about every conceivable loophole, scenario, etc. I did’t sound like a crybaby but like someone who was very very much wanting to make the right choice. I should get a freaking Oscar! Because it is easy for me to let my anxiety and, at times, exasperation, creep into my tone. NOT a good idea. Anyway, I I ended up kind of with the scenario Margaret said would not work; this is what you said, Margaret:

    $10,000 of debt at 4% is worse than $5000 of debt at 19%.

    Well, in my case, it will be around $10,000 at 3.9 instead of $5,000 at 29. The bank calculated a huge savings in interest.

    This, by the way, is only a fraction of what I owe.

    Margaret, I assume you meant it would not work if I were ever late, even by a day (less than a day, actually-I’ve been late by 15 minutes and that was that–case closed, rates zoomed everywhere).

    It’s a step, and even if it is not in the best direction, it is not avoiding creditors. At 29% I just don’t know what else to do. So I am praying that was the right decision. If people here think I’ve goofed big-time, let me know. I can handle it.

    Other tactics I now implement: I have made copies of the calendar & write in red the amount due on each date it is due; when it is paid off I put a green checkmark. I look at the calender every day & know how much I need to cough up, from somewhere, to make my payments for that day/week. I can see ahead what my story is. I am no longer in the dark about the bb and flow.

    Also. I write on each bill’s envelope the exact deadline for paying in person, by phone (if there is no fee), or online. I have a separate sheet with the precise rules by each bank as to when a bill is considered on time; this varies greatly, so I have to know it. I can’t pay when the bill comes in; I need the flexibility of going closer to the deadline–but not too close. My calendar helps enormously because I have a visual reminder.

    I also have a list attached to the calender of incoming money owed me (I get paid erratically since I am working solo). I just don’t do the Quicken thing and all that. It is low-tech, for me: The notebook, legal pad, and pen is my thing. I keep this calendar, list of incoming money, and stack of bills with dates due on them, with a calculator, in a basket. That basket is the first thing I think of when I get up. It’s my go-to basket.

    I’ve also done a total of amount due, percentage rates, etc. I know I must pick which plan is the best one as to which card to pay off first. I tend to think for me it might be paying off the higher interest ones.

    I have many more things I must implement .

    Oh, yes, I do write down every single dime I spend. Started this on 9/l and at the end of the month will add it all up and categorize it. And see where I can cut some more.

    I am not at the point where like Larry Wygnat I am going to sell all furniture and sleep on the floor — literally he said that. I think since my furniture is so cheap, it would only bring around $200, and then I’d have to rebuy it again, and pay for delivery. I just find it hard to sell things that I’ll have to rebuy again. I think Larry’s suggestion pertains more to people who bought valuable things that might recoup a significant amount of money. MIne would not.

    Interesting how the frugality of not tossing things out so that you won’t have to replace them can collide with the goal of paring down and selling so you aren’t in debt. A weird conundrum.

    I have to sign off and am hoping eyes are not glazing. I appreciate the practical advice, the time spent on thinking about this, and the moral support given to me. Thank you thank you.

  59. Margaret says:

    scramblingscrambling — 29%!!! What a nightmare! Oh, you have my sympathy. I can see how that would be overwhelming. Congratulations on being able to call the card companies and get all that information — it must have been very intimidating. That’s wonderful that you have a system for getting the bills paid on time. I guess I don’t need to tell you to be absolutely dilligent about that. ABSOLUTELY it was the right move to take up the low interest offer. After a very quick and rough calculation, you will pay about $200 in interest on $10,000 at 4% over 6 months. $5000 at 29% interest would have cost you about $770! Presumably the other $5000 was transferred from another interest bearing cards, so you would also have paid interest on that (about $490 if it was $5000 at 19%). What I meant by the 10000/5000 statement is that it is not worth it if you transfer the money AND THEN add another $5000 of new debt by running up the old card. If you have just moved a total of 10,000 of your old debt so that it is attracting less interest, that is GREAT!

    I have to wonder — if that is just a fraction of waht you owe, and if you are talking unsecured debt and not mortgage, are you able to pay any more than your minimum payments every month? I have a lot of debt myself (way more than $10,000 on the credit cards alone, alas), and I know that it gets to be a stretch just to make the minimum payments. Fortunately, we are making enough income to pay more, so we can dig our way out of this. But if you are talking about that huge of balance and that high of interest rate, you may need more drastic action. If you can make the minimums plus some more, then you can do it. But if you are just making minimums, you will be paying that for decades. I think you should get an appointment with a non-profit credit counselling service just to talk about your options. I assume you are in the states, so I don’t know where you would go, but I think there is one main one — I am pretty sure it has been referred to somewhere on this site. If I find the name, I will post it (or someone reading this probably knows it). You may still decide to dig yourself out on your own, but I think you need to at least be aware of other options.

    I agree about not selling your furniture. If you were 20, then maybe you could sleep on the floor for a few years, but at the age of 35 I wouldn’t do it, and I think you said you were a little older than me.

    Anyway, I will keep looking here to see how you are doing.

  60. scramblingscrambling says:

    Thanks, Margaret. Your calculations are what the bank told me. I THINK I got a trustworthy person; she was extremely thorough & there was nary a note of salesperson or slickness, like many you talk to. I pay slightly more than the minimum on some cards, but certainly no way close to double. I’m in a big ditch. Whenever I’ve read up on credit counseling sites, I get the idea they prepare a budget for you, which I think I could do for myself (as nuts as this may sound, coming from me, I don’t think they would know more than me where to find beans that are cheaper, or how much to spend on toilet paper….). I’m uncomfortable with them rolling everything into one big ol’ ball o f wax payment because my income doesn’t come in, in the neat and tidy predictable chunks that non solo workers’ income comes in. Does that make sense?

  61. scramblingscrambling says:

    I’m checking out credit counseling sites & will make an app’t. Also have job interviews I’m going after. I’m in Chicago (thus all the knitting and crocheting talk! which I’m abandoning any thoughts of selling since I just saw someone wearing something with the combo-yarn that I thought I had created & was so one of a kind; so much for thinking you’ve reinvented the wheel). Moved there from Florida (most people do the opposite!) after the divorce. (That’s another story.) Family and friends mostly in Florida and Massachusetts. The kids are another story, too…. Anyway, I’m not going to clutter up this site anymore with my stuff as I’ve said too much for this forum that started out on gift giving!! Thanks for your insights and to all else who suffered through the potholes on my side road from the original topic. So I’l sign off and get cracking….

  62. Deborah says:

    That under employment is huge, far more than people anticipate.

    The thing is, the economy has far more people who have been disadvantaged due to under employment than people realize, and not for lack of ability or qualifications. There simply isn’t enough of the good life to go around.

  63. Margaret says:

    scramblingscrambling — the credit counseling may be able to help. You can look it up on Wikipedia for a good overview and criticism. In Canada, there is a provision under the bankruptcy act where you can go through a credit counselling service and apply for Orderly Payment of Debts, which reduces your interest rates to 5%, and you pay through the credit counselling service. I don’t think it is legislated in the States — you are just counting on the clout of the agency to negotiate a lower rate with the creditors. I have also heard that there are many groups that charge outrageous fees, so you can pay and pay and pay and then find out that nothing went to the creditor. Still, if you can find a legitimate one, I think it is definitely the way you should go. It just makes me sick to think of you having to pay 27 and 29% interest. I really hope you can bring that down. Even if you don’t go through credit counselling, hopefully as your balances decline and you maintain a good payment history, your credit score will improve and you will be able to get your rates lowered more and more. It’s tough, though, when you are maxed out. That’s my case — my credit score is the pits because I have lots of credit and it is all near the limit. Oh well, I’ve got a plan, just need to stick with it.


  64. BigBlue says:

    Please put me on the list of those who don’t buy in to the whole gift giving thing. However, I do make an exception in a few cases. Small children always get a gift for special occasions. As for adults, here is “The Big Blue Guide to Creative Gift Giving”. If I happen to come across something that is absolutely perfect for someone I know, I get it and give it to them no matter what time of year it is. However, it can’t just be cute or interesting. It has to fill a specific need or interest; something you KNOW they would buy for themselves if they saw it. Most of the time I don’t enconter such a treasure but when I do, it is a great joy for me to give and obviously wonderful for the person receiving it. Other than that, forget it. I’m not going to give you another widget you will end up throwing away just because you were born X years ago or the retailers are trying to whip everyone into a buying frenzy. This strategy has worked well over the years.

  65. EsH says:

    I usually donate to charity in honor of people for gifts. When I was 17, I had saved enough money to buy a goat from Heifer Project and I sent cards to my relatives that year for Christmas saying I had donated a portion of that money in their honor.

    More recently, I have donated books to our local Boys and Girls club in honor of my friends and family for whom I wish to purchase gifts.

    The advantage? No worries about unnecessary clutter, and many of the people I do this for talk about it all year round as one of the most thoughtful gifts they receive.

    If you have a charity budget already set aside, why not donate in honor of a loved one?

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