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How Do You Handle This Situation?


When it comes to our holiday finances, we like to have a budget in mind. That’s why we set a budget of $150 for this year. I had to say it was tentative to allow for other things that could pop up.

One such thing would be being approached by other relatives to split the cost for a big gift for another relative. Since we live far away, the gift is already determined by the time we are contacted. Same goes with the price. In the past, we haven’t had a say in the gift selection and are only contacted to contribute money.

It’s a very awkward position to be in. If we contribute, we spend a lot more than we wanted to spend and it doesn’t leave anything for getting gifts we may have had in mind. If we don’t contribute, then we get a bad rap because the others have to pay more since we didn’t contribute (it is often worded that we all have to contribute a fair share to make it work).

We haven’t heard about anything happening for Christmas this year. Usually we hear sometime after Thanksgiving. It is tough being a frugal family when others are not as frugal. I know there are a lot of frugal readers out there that may find themselves in a similar situation. How do you handle it? Do you contribute to keep the peace or do you have a good response to decline participation?


  • Reply MB |

    I’m going to tell my extended family that I really need to keep it simple this year. I’m of the opinion that the Most Perfect Christmas Present Ever is a pair of warm, cozy socks.

    I’m extremely fortunate that my extended family tends to agree with me.

  • Reply Mike D. |

    If I understand correctly it seems like you haven’t been contacted yet about this years gift. Since you know the gift is usually picked out and prices determined before you get contacted you should get proactive. Call whoever usually contacts you about the gifts and tell them the position you’re in and say that you’re willing to pay X amount. They can then do whatever they want with that information and if they choose to buy an expensive gift than everyone will know you’re pitching in less meaning they’ll have to pitch in more.

  • Reply creditcardfree |

    I don’t have a good response for you. We have been put in the same situation unfortunately. I think we have caved just about everytime.

    The advice of the previous poster about being proactive…is most likely the best approach. Good luck!

  • Reply Tricia |

    Mike – no, we haven’t been contacted this year for Christmas yet. It doesn’t happen every year. My husband has suggested sending an email out saying that we will not be participating this year if they decide to do anything. Part is me would love to do it, but then the other part wonders how a letter like that would be received. I am probably thinking into it too much.

    MB – I couldn’t agree more about the socks. I’ve had someone laugh at me when they asked what I wanted for Christmas and I said socks. I was dead serious. They told me that socks are not a gift.

    I’m used to them being gifts. My dad always got his yearly stash of flannels, socks and long johns at Christmas time πŸ˜‰

  • Reply Shawna |

    I totally agree with Mike. Perhaps even offer to pick out the gift yourself to save everyone the work.

    Another idea that I had (that I have done myself and it was by far one of the best gifts ever) is ask everyone right now to send you their favorite recipes. Type them all up, print them out (I had mine printed at Kinkos) and put them in a pretty binder. Actually, I just used binders from the dollar store…they weren’t even pretty. I gave one to each person in my extended family, along with some very close friends. Now everyone has all of those “hand-me-down” recipes in one place! To the best of my knowledge, everyone that received one still has it…and I for one use mine on a very regular basis!

    Finally, what my family does now is a white elephant gift. Everyone brings a generic $10 gift (wrapped), and we draw numbers to see who gets to pick a gift first, etc. Then we draw again, and when your number comes up, you get to choose whther to keep your gift or steal someone else’s. It’s so fun, and everyone is happy. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Elithea |

    I recommend telling a little fib and saying you really got a jump on your Christmas shopping this year, and have already purchased all the gifts you will be giving.

  • Reply A.B. |

    I definitely agree with Shawna about picking the gift out first. If you pick out a gift, based on a “great deal that you found” people will usually be more than happy to go along with it, and is better for family relations than an e-mail that could be considered separating yourselves from the family.

    Another great thing is appealing to people’s guilt, er, conscience, suggesting that because with the economic situation, many food banks and charities are suffering, you think it would be great if instead of giving gifts everyone donated what they could to a charity and sent each other a nice card.

  • Reply Nine Circles |

    I second Mike D.’s suggestion for pre-emptively letting relatives know what dollar limit you’re willing to go to.

    My extended family used to exchange gifts, then last year we drew names so we only gave one gift. This year, though, I’m trying to convince everyone to just do charitable donations. I’m not trying to guilt anyone. Frankly, I’m just sick to death of the whole crass Christmas frenzy. I’d like to try to get back to what is supposed to be the true spirit of Christmas, and shopping ain’t it.

  • Reply Mary |

    This might sound crazy, but I’m having a hard time seeing the issue.

    If you’ve only contributed in the past when someone else has contacted you for money, it sounds like you haven’t had a vested interest in getting a gift for the person(s) receiving it in the first place. If that’s the case, don’t contribute. Gifts should come from the heart and not be given out of a sense of obligation just because someone else contacts you.

  • Reply Leah |

    This is definitely a tough situation, but I think the best route is being proactive about it, like Mike suggested. Since you’re already thinking about your budget, call whoever usually organizes it and ask if he/she had any ideas yet.

    I’ve started doing donations to charities for a few of my family members– grandparents, mostly– because I don’t know what to get them and would rather give money to a meaningful organization than buy something thoughtless. I find that if the recipient’s heart is in the right place, there’s no need to worry.

    On the other hand, one of my aunts refuses to abide by the dollar limit the family set for the kids’ Christmas gifts. By doing this, though, she makes the other aunts and uncles look cheap, which they’re most certainly not. My mom has tried talking to her, to no avail. Unfortunately, her behavior is just accepted as is. It’s caused tension, but we haven’t found a way to dispel it.

  • Reply Tricia |

    Mary – the person(s) getting the gift would normally get something regardless from us depending on our budget and our idea for a gift.

  • Reply Krista |

    You can either let them know that you have a set amount that you are willing to contribute, or let them know that you are just not going to contribute.

    We don’t exchange gifts with extended family and haven’t for years. I think the whole practice is silly, really… We never see or talk to half of them, but I was expected to get them a gift? Not going to happen.

    I do make fudge to give to people, though.

  • Reply Brack |

    I’d definitely be pre-emptive about it… bring it up, instead of letting them bring it up…

    or, take the amount you’d like to contribute, and let everybody know you’d like to get the gift this year, and have everybody contribute your amount…

  • Reply Jeremy Bettis |

    Just say no, get over the guilt and shame and you will find that next year they don’t ask you at all. And then you will wonder why you didn’t do that years ago.

    My wife’s brother and sisters do those group gifts for their parents every year, just like you describe, and I don’t think they have asked us to pitch in for at least 7 years.

  • Reply Susan |

    I feel your pain. I come from a family where a Christmas gift would run about $25. I married into a family where gifts are $50 each and although given to the kids only, there 8 of them. Now I could just buy the kids $25 gifts, but since they like gift cards, it’s pretty apparent that I’d be known as the cheap aunt. Plus my husband would never agree to that.

    Last year I tried giving my parents and my in-laws a charitable gift from heifer.org and my parents loved it, but my in-laws looked at me like I’d lost my mind (you gave us a piece of a goat)?

    I wish the commercialism of the holidays would go away. It makes it very stressful.

  • Reply Craig |

    Whatever you decide it has to be early. You could mention how you have already gotten a gift or have something that is on its way informing everyone else that you already went out and got something. That way they don’t think you are shoving them off but already went in with a different plan.


  • Reply Nine Circles |

    Krista raises an interesting point about gift-giving to family members that are miles away. I feel that sometimes I’ve clung to the idea of sending gifts to family members I rarely see or talk to because the gift exchange was the last real connection I had to those people. What I want to do now is make an effort to have another connection to those people–either with a phone call I wouldn’t otherwise have made, a letter, or baking some goodies to send. I want to make it clear (to them as well as to myself) that just because I don’t shop for and send a gift, it doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about them.

  • Reply Mike |

    Fortunately, our extended families are small enough that we can arrange the group gifts easily, though we generally work instead to come up with complementary gifts. Pick a theme, and each person can contribute something to match.

    For example: One person gives gift certificates to a play, another person gives gift certificates to a restaurant, etc. Then you can tailor how much you spend a little more easily.

    It also helps that our families know that we have a budget that we stick to, and they know approximately how much that is, so they don’t come asking for contributions to a huge gift.

    Of course, this year we’ve decided to increase that budget. Family members will still get their presents, but they’ll also be getting gift certificates to Kiva as well. Just a little something to help think of others and to try to help improve someone else’s life….

  • Reply Tracey |

    Don’t contribute. You have your finances to think of first. It’s like when someone plans a big family dinner at some fancy restaurant and you have no say in the meal, then have to fork out $100 for two dinners — it’s rude and insensitive. Politely decline and explain that if you had been asked to make a gift suggestion, you would have come up with something in your budget. The rest of the family should not be relying on you to participate. Visit http://debtdoofus.blogspot.com.

  • Reply Raised Path |

    Hi Tricia,
    I think Tracey is right you should think of your finances first. I think it would be irresponsible to place others needs over your own family.

    In my family, we have pretty much stopped giving gifts altogether. We are happy to have the time to spend with each other.

    Tell your family that you are not contributing this year. Tell them that you have significant bills and are not doing an extravagant Christmas.

    If they are honest and loving family members they will understand. If not, then they won’t. You shouldn’t feel obliged just because you are related by blood.

    Start your own tradition with your family. Something like each person gets one gift of their choice. Simple right?

    Have an awesome day.


  • Reply Rachel |

    I think the smartest suggestion was the preemptive strike. Mixed with the idea that you don’t have to give anything at all. We only buy for kids in our family and we started doing that a couple years ago. If any adult whines about it that’s pretty lame. And if anyone questions me why I’m only giving $25 to their child when other Aunts send $50 then they can get over themselves too. I really don’t put up with that crap when it comes to Christmas. I give because I want to so I give what I can and what I decide. Don’t like it – then give me the gift card back, I could use a new pair of socks from Old Navy πŸ˜‰

  • Reply mimi |

    At some point, someone needs to break the cycle. And it’s a particularly dysfunctional cycle given that 1) you don’t get any choice in the gift that is supposedly from you and 2) you don’t get any say in the cost. How meaningful can a gift possibly be if you didn’t put any thought or effort into getting it? I suggest that the next time you’re asked, you cheerfully say, “Thanks for asking, but we already bought her a gift” or “Thanks for asking, but we already have a gift that our hearts are set on. We can give our gift as a group gift if you want.”

  • Reply LA |

    This happens in my husband’s family frequently. Someone suggests a gift that we all go in on (fyi, in this family, spouses are counted as separate contributors!), but inevitably it’s too rich for someone’s blood or they have something else in mind. There’s grumbling, a flurry of huffy emails back and forth, etc., but eventually everybody does what they choose to do, either contribute or not. By Christmas, it’s all forgotten who said/did what, and all that matters is Grandma got something nice.

  • Reply Cathy @ Chief Family Officer |

    I was also going to suggest that you contact the person who usually tells you how much you “owe” and let them know that you’re planning your holiday budget. Ask if there are any plans already in place that you haven’t been told about yet – if they say yes, you can ask how much and let them know whether you’d be able to participate. If they say no, you can set the expectations ahead of time.

    You can always blame the economy: “I’m so sorry, I’m sure you understand that with the economy things are especially tight this year and so we can only contribute $X this year.” If the gift has already been decided on, graciously apologize for not calling sooner, and ask if something less expensive can be substituted. Hope that helps!


  • Reply Raj |

    Thanks for posting on this topic. I talk to many people in debt who are wondering how they can cut back on spending on holiday gifts. How should one prioritize who to not give a gift to this year? How should one avoid offending someone if they decide not to give a gift this year given that gifts have been exchanged in the past? What are the best alternatives to an expensive gift if you still want to show someone that you care? Any thoughts on this would be helpful.



  • Reply Heather |

    Just be honest and say that you don’t want to participate anymore in obligatory gift giving, that you have your own gift ideas. Then choose some nice used books or movies on Half.com or somewhere that the recipients would enjoy.

  • Reply Anne |

    I don’t understand. Wouldn’t it make more sense to ask each family member how much money they want to contribute to a specific gift and then pick out a gift based on that amount?

    I do agree with those who suggested a preemptive strike. Personally I would just buy my own gifts for whoever and then when the subject comes up I would just tell them that. There would be no need for discussion that way.

  • Reply Tricia |

    Anne – it would make sense to do that.

    Preemptive strike is in the works! Thanks everyone!

  • Reply Mrs. Accountability |

    This has only happened one time in our family. One of my sisters decided she wanted to buy our mother a mother’s ring for Mother’s Day. She ordered it around the first of the year, and around March started asking the rest of us to chip in. I could have afforded to help out, but I thought it was rude that she’d come up with the idea all by herself, and then expected the rest of us to chip in. I guess I thought about it as setting a precedence. I don’t think she’d do something like this again. I always get my mom a gift at Christmas, and sometimes send cards to everyone else, sometimes not. I always buy Christmas cards at Target at the after Christmas 90% off sale, so it’s only a fraction of the cost to send out (plus the ever increasing postage). We do the Secret Santa thing at work, and we’re supposed to stay around $15 to $20. I’m curious how it will work out for you. Let us know.

  • Reply Colleen in MA |

    We got married in October so, to keep things simple and relatively inexpensive, we’re going to gift pictures of the wedding (official poses to close family members and more fun ones to friends). The photographer gave us the disk with the pics on them so we can shop around for prints and I’d like to buy the frames in bulk. So that solves this year.

    I do agree about warm, fuzzy socks! I love getting them and giving them.

    Every year my family seems to do less expensive gifts. None of us have a lot of money to spare right now especially so I will probably take take a little extra time with the Christmas cards for people I don’t buy gifts for this year and write personal notes about memories from the past year and include pictures or little fun enclosures (I’m a graphic designer so I like to play with photographs from family/friend’s Flickr sites and make b+w or sepia tones with fun borders or other effects). It takes a little more time to be creative but saves so much money and I think makes an inexpensive gift more personalized and meaningful.

  • Reply DebtLessDuty |

    My suggestion would be to communicate with the family that due to uncertain economic conditions we are having to cut expense this year. Therefore, this $$$$ is all we are able to contribute this year. By informing them early then they can plan according. We just did this with both my husband and my family. Everyone I have been talking to lately regarding the ecomony and Christmas are expressing the same concerns.

    Hopefully the family will be understanding…..

    Good Luck!

  • Reply Ladona |

    You could always say that you already bought a great gift, whether you have or not. And maybe mention at the same time how you are never consulted in advance regarding the cost or choice of gift.

  • Reply CheapBastid |

    If you still haven’t been contacted then get the jump on them. Give them a call and mention you already bought gifts for everyone this year.

So, what do you think ?