:::: MENU ::::

Gift-Giving (Second Try)


Editor’s Note: Sorry guys! I had intended for this to be published on Friday! I goofed and accidentally set it to publish on Thursday. I pulled it immediately when I discovered my error so I apologize to Stephannie (for hijacking her day!) and to you for the confusion! I still value any discussion surrounding this topic, so please feel free to comment! For those of you who commented yesterday, I did see your comments (and THANKS!!! for your suggestions). I just wanted to let you know they didn’t fall on deaf ears! When I pulled the post they were deleted but I DID see them!!

On Monday I’m going to do a full budget update so you can see how I did for the month of April (I already told you here that I went over budget in one specific category).

Something came up in the comments that I’d love to get readers’ opinions on…..


I had told myself that we were only going to do cards right now (from the Dollar Store – 2 for $1), until we get out of credit card debt. I’ll probably spend a little on Christmas, but not on regular birthdays and other special occasions.

Well, I’ll just admit….that didn’t go so well last month.

I’ll spill the beans and say the category I went “over” on in my budget was…miscellaneous. Shocker.

One of the reasons is I went out and got a couple gifts for people! I spent $15 each on 2 separate people (so $30 total) for birthday gift cards to tuck inside the cards. These are close friends of mine that have sent me things for my birthday and I feel indebted to each of them for going above-and-beyond to help me out when Chris was sick at the end of last year. We don’t live in the same city, but they sent care packages and cards and were just beyond sweet. All of this to “justify” (I know, there’s no justification!) why I spent the money.

Well, then May rolls around.

I check out the calendar and – to my dismay – realize that we have FOUR family birthdays this month: My Dad, my husband’s Mom, and both of husband’s brothers. Plus, there’s Mother’s Day.

If we were to spend $15 per person per event (birthday/mothers’ day), we’re looking at $90!!! Just so you know, my “other” budget only allots $125 per month, so $90 basically wipes it out!

What should we do??

The only answer is to NOT send gifts. I am struggling with it.

I know our parents want us to be out of debt more than they’d want some little trinket or something for $15 or less, but there’s an emotional aspect to a gift, too. It says, “I love you! I am thankful for and appreciative of all you do! I wish we were spending Mother’s Day/Birthday together! We miss you!!”

I feel like it’d be easier if we lived in the same place because we could cook for our Moms and have them over, or same thing for the birthdays. But we don’t. So……yeah. I’m at a loss.

What do you do for loved one’s birthdays/Mother’s Day/special occasions?

I’m leaning toward maybe sending some pictures for Mother’s Day inside a card (the cost would be less than $2 each for both cards & pictures). But what about the birthdays? I know my Dad and husband’s Mom don’t care about gifts (maybe I can send more pictures?), but the husband’s brothers probably expect some sort of gift. Ugh! This is one part of budgeting that is no fun! Surely everyone will understand in the end, but I still want to do more than just send a card with a couple pictures. I just don’t have the funds to do so! : (


Since this post is a repeat for those who saw it yesterday, I wanted to ask one additional “Bonus” question for your opinions.

Here in Tucson it is already H.O.T. Really hot. We had hit the mid-90s almost 3 weeks ago. This weekend was a bit cooler (mid-80s), but now we’re right back into the mid-90s.

I had been holding out on turning on the A/C for as long as possible. But when its in the mid-90s and upper-90s its too hot to not have air conditioning running.

So my question to you is…..At what point do you turn on your air conditioning? And what temperature do you have yours set at?

I have our A/C set to 82 degrees when it runs during the day (and turn it down to 78 at night), and I try to not turn it on for as long as possible in the Spring but I cave and turn it on when the outdoor-temperatures hit 90 or higher. What about you?


  • Reply Kili |

    I definitly like the photo-idea. I always find photos to be an inexpensive yet very appreciated gift.
    Regarding the brothers of your husband: Are they aware of your situation? Don’t you think it would be fairer, if everyone (Mom, Dad, brothers) were treated equal and not given a gift?!
    Can you guys maybe get off the hook with gifting the brothers something inexpensive (thinking maybe burning some CDs with music you guys already own, that sort of bring back the feeling of back in the day, when all the brothers were younger?) or something that’s more of sentimental value but cheap (some action figures they always played with as kids; some baseball with some meaning attached to it?)

  • Reply debtor |

    If your in-laws are close enough, can you give them like a home-made gift certificate for some service you can provide? Do they have kids? offer to babysit and give them a weekend off (or if they don’t live close enough, maybe you could host their kids for the weekend). Or maybe there’s something you cook really well. could you do that? Or bake them a cake?
    Hmm, all these won’t work if they are states away but maybe you could think alone those lines.

    • Reply Ashley |

      Yeah, they live in Texas (and us, in Arizona), so….yeah. Also, they’re both still single and no kids. Someone else suggested baking a cake and celebrating when we go back to visit, so that’s an idea (though…that could be another 6 months). I think ultimately I’ve just gotta get over it and simply send some cards. It’s my own personal problem (I feel….almost guilty??? I don’t know how to explain it), but I’m sure everyone would ultimately understand.

  • Reply Joanna |

    Do you really think your brothers-in-law are so shallow that they would be angry and/or upset they didn’t get a gift from you and your husband? And aren’t these the kind of expectations that got you in the debt situation in the first place? If you think that they’ll be that upset about not getting a gift, I think you should explain your situation to them. They will understand and if they don’t, that’s their problem. As far as your parents go, I bet they would love a card telling them how much you appreciate everything they’ve done for you.

    Please remember that a gift is NOT an obligation and should not be expected.

    • Reply Ashley |

      I don’t think the bro-in-laws will be upset or mad. But I would bet when they get a card in the mail they’ll assume there’s a little “somethin’ somethin” inside and when they open it up (and its empty), they’ll be a little disappointed.

  • Reply Mary from SC |

    Hi – while this will not solve your immediate need for gifts, you may want to consider this if you have the time. There are two programs that I use to score gift cards – Swagbucks and MyPoints. You can do surveys, click on links, etc. to accumulate points and then redeem those points for gift cards. I usually get Amazon gift cards with my Swagbucks and restaurant coupons with MyPoints. Some people are quite industrious with these programs and use them to pay for Christmas, etc. Either way, it may be a way for you to score some gift cards to put back for these times when you feel compelled to give a gift. Just a suggestion.

    • Reply Ashley |

      That’s a great idea! Like you said, may not help for this specific situation (the birthdays are coming up QUICK!), but I really like this idea for future gift-giving occasions! Thanks for the idea!

      • Reply Mary from SC |

        Something else I just thought of – I get $10.00 off $10.00 coupons occasionally from Kohls, Goody’s and JC Penneys. There may be other companies that offer these up as well. When I receive these, I use them to purchase gifts to keep on hand for those times when something is coming up. I just received a Goody’s coupon so it will be going towards a Mother’s Day gift.

        • Reply Shauna |

          JCPenney’s has been mailing out $10 off purchases of $10 or more coupons it seems like once a month. In the last 3 months I’ve spent a total of $6 there to get a combination of want/needed things. 2 winter hats, gloves, sunglasses, baby PJ’s, 2 kids outfits, and a 6 pack of socks. So that made my Easter present budget of $20 for everyone really stretch. Also if you are slightly crafty you may be able to do something with pressed dried wildflowers for little to no money.

    • Reply Jim |

      I used to do Swagbucks heavily and got some great gift cards. When I had a coupon site, the referral program worked wonders as well.

  • Reply Adam |

    For the AC, you could look into an evaporative cooler. Mine cost about $700 for a 5500CFM window unit that keeps 2000+sqft below 80 in the downstairs and probably low 80’s upstairs. With an AC cycling program it paid itself off in maybe 2 summers (depending on your electric bill now, it could be much faster)… It kept the house cooler and more comfortable than setting the AC at ~83 before the evaporative cooler.

    • Reply Ashley |

      We had evap cooling in our previous houses (this is actually the first place we’ve lived in Tucson with A/C). I’ve gotta say….it was absolutely miserable! Even when they work properly, they only cool the air about 15 degrees cooler than outside. When its 115 degrees (yes….it really gets that hot), then its still 100 degrees inside!! It feels dangerously hot, especially for babies. I’d be open to an air conditioning/evap combo (there are lots of those in Tucson), but we don’t own our home (we’re renters), so this is not a realistic solution for us right now.

  • Reply Shoeaholicnomore |

    I agree with Mary, use swagbucks in the future to pay for gifts. One thing I did this year is the 52 week money challenge (putting $1 the first week, $2 the second week, etc) into a jar. I ONLY use this money for gifts and I ONLY put money in the jar that comes from extra things, like babysitting friends’ kids or when I judged at a local event and got $30 or snowshoveling for the old lady next door and she insisted I take $10. Those little bits do add up. If I follow the plan exactly I’ll have about $1400 for gifts at the end of the year (minus what I spent on birthdays and holidays throughout the year).

  • Reply Alice |

    Wow. I thought we were super efficient because we only set our A/C to 76. Anything above that indoors and I’m what I call, “above my threshold.” I don’t turn the air on until the temps get above that indoors. My husband isn’t a fan of having the windows open, so we typically have a couple of weeks where we are going from heat to air, possibly in the same day and back the next. That’s just the nature of springtime in Kentucky, though. I can’t imagine living where it’s as hot (already!) as what you wrote about.

    In the winter, we have the heat set to 70 or 71.

    • Reply Ashley |

      I really try. I work from home so its rough sometimes. I’ll be sitting at the desk working on the computer and sweating (not even doing anything physical!) But we’re lucky to have tile floors and relatively high ceilings so its actually not as hot as some of our previous residences have been. As an aside, I LOVE keeping the windows open (especially in Spring/Fall), but haven’t been able to this year because my allergies are KILLING ME!!! I’ve never had terrible allergies in the past but this year has been awful! (That’s true in all of Tucson – this is a brutal allergy season). I tried a couple times to open the windows and was forced to shut them because I have such a physical reaction (eyes itching/watering/swelling, throat scratching/sneezing/etc.) Terrible!

  • Reply debtor |

    ooo, i just thought of something else. You might want to check living social and groupon for their area and get them something good. They often have some decent deals on restaurants and stuff like that that are not too expensive.

  • Reply Misti |

    I am willing to bet unless your family is completely debt free that they too would welcome not giving gifts for birthdays. You may even inspire them to look at their finances differently. We made an agreement once my brother and I had children that we would only buy for the kids for any occasion and not the adults. Everyone is much less stressed and happier with this arrangement.

    • Reply Janet |

      Yep, we’ve always had this arrangement in my family too, so when I hear of adults giving presents to adults I always wonder how they afford it!!

  • Reply Christi |

    I have a much lower tolerance for heat, but live in Alabama so the humidity is much higher. I set ours at 74 when we are gone, and 72 when we are home. I also use thermal curtains to block the direct sunlight and help keep it cooler. But in the winter we keep ours set at 63 day and night and just dress warmly and snuggle under a blanket when we’re watching TV.

  • Reply Helene |

    So here’s the rub. My family knows I just bought a house within the past year and now that I’m divorced, money is a lot tighter. But …….. they also know I have a good job that pays well, and they know I still spend money on things for myself, for the house, etc. So I can’t see anyone not grumbling if I were to just send a card and not a gift. My family is a big gift-giving family. Always has been. My mom gives gifts for everything (and no, she is not in debt, happily). But with 4 kids, it always meant the gifts were for us and not for her.

    Soooo … I always told myself that when I got a good job, I would get my ma some nice things to make her smile. My dad is a cranky old fart and she deserves a medal for staying with him anyway, lol! So since my very first job, I’ve wanted to spoil my mom. And I have. I’ve lived far from my family for the last 12 years, so the pressure is even heavier to commemorate holidays.

    So, I really feel like I can’t not buy / send a gift, but especially for mother’s day. I always pick out a heartfelt card, and yesterday I decided I will downshift this year’s mother’s day gift to the $50 range from the $100+ I’ve spent in the past. It’s the best I can do. My son’s birthday is the next week (urgh).

    It’s the best I can do right now.

  • Reply Helene |

    Oh and I will add that I have somehow earned $384 through eBates in the past few years – wow – and I am very conservative with my heat/AC too, and power. And water, lol — I am the one with the home depot bucket in the shower catching all the cold water as the hot water heats up, and I don’t take any showers longer than 5 minutes.

    Last night out of sheer exhaustion I used the dishwasher for the first time since I moved in 7 months ago. But it took almost 2 hours to complete the full cycle including drying. I felt so horribly guilty knowing how much water it was using and then the power for the drying. Blergh.

  • Reply KLM |

    Do your parents and your parents in law really want anything? I understand the instinct to give, but honestly, my mom is at the point where she’s trying to downsize. She just doesn’t need a scarf/vase/necklace, whatever. I’d be inclined to do photos for Mother’s Day in inexpensive frames, and celebrate with a home made dinner or something when you see them.

    • Reply Ashley |

      I know they don’t want “stuff.” In the past my sister and I have gone in on gifts together (tickets to a play; gift certificate to a bed and breakfast), and I know our mom has really enjoyed these “experience” gifts (though – they have also cost much more $$). I’m sure all the “adults” (My dad, mom, and mil) will understand just receiving a card. But the bro-in-laws (age 21 and 24) really probably do “expect” some cash or a gift card. I know that’s not right to “expect” it, but I’m being honest (and I think anyone would “expect” it when that’s what’s been given for the past several years in a row). All this being said, I had to mail out both BIL cards today to get there in time….and they were totally empty. I felt really bad on my walk to the mailbox. I’m hoping I can just put it out of my head and forget about it and move on from here. I know they won’t be mad or upset, but they’ll for sure be disappointed and I feel bad about that!

  • Reply Kerry |

    For AC, I like it about 85 in the house with the air circulating. I lived in a house in Cleveland built in 1913–it was routinely 90+ degrees on the second floor in the summer and didn’t have air conditioning. Here is AZ, as long as it’s getting below 90 at night, I don’t really need ac but it is nice to have. I also don’t turn on the heat most of the winter.

    This is another issue where behavioral changes in response to the environment help a lot. Do you have special meals that you eat only in summer when it is too hot to cook? How do you make your home’s interior cooler and darker? What are you wearing, clotheswise? (I don’t know how people can wear jeans in AZ in summer.) Do you take a quick cool-down shower before bed? Put a frozen washcloth on your neck, any classes or cups you’ll use in the freezer, spray water on your sheets before bed for a little evaporative cooling as you fall asleep.

    • Reply Ashley |

      Wow! So many fantastic ideas!!! I’ve never had special “summer” meals…but I do tend to use the crock pot a lot more, does that count? And I totally agree about wearing jeans in the summer = nuts! Its way too hot for that nonsense!

  • Reply Connie |

    I live in central California where it gets really hot too. Last summer I didn’t run the A/C at all, but I do work in an air conditioned office and I have a pool. I keep the drapes closed and the doors shut and until we have a run of multi-over-95 degree days, the house stays pretty cool. Anyone who visits is told to bring their suit. I have a shade structure on the back deck and anyone who gets too hot can jump in. The double benefit is that my pool got a lot more use last year!

    Re not gift giving, everyone gets over it. Really fast too. I now only buy my daughter a birthday gift and I give her and her husband a joint gift for Christmas. I’ve done this for years now and no one takes offense because everyone is treated equally. I do send small gifts or re-gift stuff throughout the year to my closest friends, not necessarily for anything special but to let them know I’m thinking of them. A surprise box is sometimes much better than getting a gift that you “expect”.

    • Reply Ashley |

      Very true (regarding the “surprise” gift versus “expected” gift). Makes a world of difference!

  • Reply hannah |

    This sort of question is why I say that adult relatives need to have a frank discussion about gift giving. Lay the ground rules that gifts aren’t required or necessary, and that no one feel obligated to give a gift just so that the receiver knows that they are cared about.
    If you have that many relatives, and you are in debt – it stands to reason that they are in debt too.
    You could suggest to them that if after talking, they still feel they need to get you a gift, ask them to instead make it a donation to your favorite charity.
    I have done my best to get the adults in my family to not give gifts to each other, but hubby’s side of the family this is a big challenge.
    Some people express love through gifts, and want to give them no matter what you say.
    As for my own parents, they know that we are broke and trying to save, and are perfectly happy with me remembering to call and talk with them on their special day.

  • Reply Den |

    Just a thought about your nephews – would you be comfortable talking to them about your debt journey? Maybe when you call them to wish them a Happy Birthday you could explain your situation – might be a wonderful chance to teach them a bit about some of the things you wish you would have done differently financially……could be a great learning opportunity.

  • Reply Paul |

    Here in PHX I start running the A/C Mid late April. Its currently at 75 when I am home and 74 when am sleeping. I’ll bump it up a degree or two as the heat rises. My highest electric bill last summer was $160 . I do have Plantation shutters which helps keep the sun out and interior temps down.

  • Reply emmi |

    If it makes it easier to abstain, thanking people with money actually moves the interaction OUT of the social domain and into the money domain, which is WAY more impersonal.

    You’ve been programmed to SPEND to THANK. That is so off base. Sit down with a sheet of stationery or a nice photo of your family printed out with white space around it, maybe on card stock, and tell people how much you appreciate them, from the heart. Send that as a gift. It will mean 100x more. It won’t cost much (okay, printer ink is more valuable than blood), and it keeps your interaction in the social domain, where it belongs.

    Anytime you feel like you should send a gift card, ask yourself why you aren’t sending cash. Cash would be crass as anything, right? Why is it crass? Because it pushes things out of the social domain, no different than trying to do a sales pitch to someone at your friend’s bbq. If you realize that a gift card isn’t really different than cash, it might be easier to think of something personal you can do instead that will mean more.

  • Reply Slinky |

    I’ve never liked obligatory gift giving. It doesn’t say, “I love you”, it just says, “I’m supposed to.” I always say that you shouldn’t need a special day like Valentine’s or Mother’s day or whatever. Special stuff like weddings and baby showers are different. For the most part, I do very minimal gift giving of the “mandatory” kind. We do some Christmas gifts of course, but mostly we celebrate by spending time with people, going out to dinner, etc. for special occasions. With family out of town, that’s a lot tougher for you though.

    I would still much prefer “just because” gifts though. My mum won’t be getting anything on mother’s day (which she works anyway) except an I love you. But I also have a skein of sock yarn and a beaded, lace cowl kit with her name on them, and a shawl that I spent months knitting for her just because she asked for one in black/grey some day when I have some time. I’ve got three hats for friends queued up, a lace scarf in progress and another skein of sock yarn for my MIL, yarn for a sweater for my niece, and a lace cowl for my grandmother started. These projects will all get done when they gets done with no hurry as I feel like working on them and be gifted on a random day of no consequence. To me that’s what really says “I love you.” It says, “I didn’t have to do this, but I did and I spent a lot of time on it, because you’re awesome.” So, wait a few months till you find a few extra dollars, and maybe send the brother’s something nice when they don’t “expect” it. It’s way more fun, and you can work it in the budget when you can actually afford to.

So, what do you think ?