You don’t get to tell other people how to spend their money

Every Christmas and birthday since we’ve had a child, DH’s parents have gone crazy with presents for DC.  They must spend something around $1K over the course of the year (including Halloween, Easter, etc.) on fun toys and clothing.  They give more than I ever got from all sources when I was growing up.  At first it was a bit overwhelming and we worried about rampant consumerism, but we adjusted to it and DC is still a sweetheart so we’re fine.

I mentioned this on the GRS forum the other day when the post was asking how much people spend on Christmas.  We don’t spend much on Christmas– the grandparents crowd out our own spending so we just fill up the stocking.  Someone was shocked and suggested that we sit down and have a talk with the in-laws and ask them to give money to DC’s 529 college saving plan instead if they’re going to go overboard like that.

Thing is, you don’t get to tell other people how to spend their money.  They want to spend money on toys, not on education.  That’s ok.  It makes them happy.  We don’t feel the need to pick out toys ourselves so we take the money we would have spent on holidays and clothing (and actually quite a bit more than that) and put it in the 529.  We can do that.  We appreciate their generosity.

It might be different if we were needy– we might say, gee, toys are great but we’d really love to be able to give our kids a great Christmas dinner or to be able to travel to see the relatives or afford after-school care.  But we’re not.  We can fund our own kid’s education, we can give hir the necessities, and we have no business telling other folks what to spend their money on.  If they want to buy toys that make noise, so be it.  We just won’t buy gifts ourselves (and we may fail to buy batteries…).

Now, we don’t have to actually give all the toys to DC, and (shhhh), sometimes we don’t.  Sometimes a small subset goes straight to the gift-closet to be regifted at parties, especially if we already have a copy of the item or it’s something we disapprove of (DH is anti-weapon-toys, but many other parents aren’t).  We don’t get to tell other people what to spend their money on, but we can decide what our child is allowed to play with.

That’s pretty much Miss Manners’ rules too.  You don’t get to tell people what to give.  They don’t get to tell you what to do with the gift.  Nobody is a jerk about it.  And those are the rules of polite society.  They’re working well for us.

Do you “suffer” from this first-world problem?  Have you ever had a conversation about it as the giver or the giftee?  Did it go over well?

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26 Responses to “You don’t get to tell other people how to spend their money”

  1. Practical Parsimony Says:

    Actually, I do think I had a right to tell people how to spend their money when it came to my children. My husband was a minister, so every person in the church would give my daughter a doll. I had no chance to hide the doll or exchange it. They presented it before Sunday School or before church during the whole month of December. The doll Santa already had for her was so anti-climactic on Christmas. She had so many and remembered them all, even though her only “playing” with them consisted of stripping them naked and leaving them lying about. My husband kept up with her dolls and if one got “lost,” I had to produce it. Finally, I told a few women of the church, separately, how I felt. The next Christmas, she got clothing. Most was horrid, but there were some things I could never have afforded to buy.

    When I was a child, I got one doll each year–from Santa. Period. Aunts, uncles, grandmother gave us games, toys, other things, but not a doll.

    Then, there were the inlaws, or more correctly, my husband. The mil would buy clothes too small and out of season. How does a corduroy outfit in size one sound for a very healthy one-year-old in late April in the deep South? According to him and his family, I was obligated to allow the child to wear an outfit that would not even snap over the shoulders, had no diaper room in it, and was stifling hot. No, I would have quietly put it aside except for the row husband caused and made his mother cry.

    Then, when my son took his toy pistol, a gift from his uncle, pointed it at me and told me he was going to kill me because he was mad at me, I took the gun away. According to husband, I had no right to remove a toy that his brother had given our child. Oh, the tiny license plate with son’s name for putting on his tricycle was not going on there. Husband and I had row over how I could not deny my son advertising his name to all who passed.

    MIL gave two-year-old a marionette with sticks, wires, and strings, but I was castigated for not allowing him to have it in his toy chest. He never, ever played with it because I “disappeared” it so that husband forgot about it after three years of griping.

    I did not try to tell them how to spend their money, but that is what I was accused of doing. No, run the ideas past me since the inlaws had horrible ideas for toys. They and husband also had a strange notion that I should give up all my ideas of what I thought was safe, age-appropriate, and wholesome. Nothing could silently disappear because bil, mil, and husband kept tabs on their toys, essentially trying to cut me out, even though I cared for the children all the time.

    No, I was not overly-protective and too cautious about how safe their toys were.

    My daughter lives in an apartment and specifies “No Toys.” She can only handle so many riding toys, stuffed toys, and large things at any one time and knows what she wants her children to play with. When her children were small, books and clothing were their gifts from others. Even though I wanted to buy toys, I respected her decision and knowledge of her floor space. I sent books, puzzles, and anything she suggested. I got to pick the things out…lol. So, it was not so bad.

    Okay, I guess this was longer than your post. Sorry. And, he is ex now.

    • Holly Says:

      Funny, except your IL’s were my parents (specifically, Mom). Yes, we had the same marionette experience. How fun was that every second it was tangled in a heaped mass of toys?

      We also had the rejected Santa doll experience after others gave them much nicer dolls a day or two before Christmas.

      But yet they’ll never understand our ire.

    • Practical Parsimony Says:

      If my mil had ever shown any interest in my babies, it might make a difference. My ex had to grab the baby from me, thrust it into her arms while she had a cocktail in one hand and a cigarette in the other. She looked rightfully confused and thanked me when I rescued my three-month-old infant. She lived 1000 miles away, but ex was the one who started the crap about my/his/our child MUST be given the gift, inappropriate, dangerous, or too small. I thanked everyone graciously and did not mention the lack of taste they had. Yes, I gave things away. Ex ran and rescued all the stuff we could not even use. MIL wanted to be the one who bought our first ornament for our tree, sort of gloating that my mother had not.

      The whole family of inlaws wanted to beat my parents all the time. They had lots of money. Mine did not. Yet, guess who loved my babies, rocked them, talked to them, and was all about being a grandparent, not buying the first this and that. My parents were the beloved grandparents who made memories with my children.

      Only one doll each year, all year, was my way of limiting my daughters’ playing with and caring for her dolls instead of just throwing them about, naked and never playing. It was never about the nicest gift. It was about too many dolls. Until I took a stand, toys were presented to my children because people knew it would be difficult for me to take it away in front of the child. Later? Well, the ex took care of that. He protected things from “his church members” and yelled at his wife. Nice man.

  2. feMOMhist Says:

    I can’t tell you how much I agree (to pp HOW your kids use the stuff they get IS totally up to you of course). My ILs are in financially limited circumstances. Every year MIL spends almost as much sending the gifts via mail than she does on them (sends HUGZE box priority). For years I wanted to tell her to shop online or to tell me what to buy and I’d get it locally. Then I realized 1. that shopping for the kids was part of her very limited holiday fun and 2. It wasn’t up to me to tell her that she was wasting her money on postage. thankfully the rather inappropriate clothes are too big usually and saved for when we visit them once a year. I can totally live with that to keep the peace. Thankfully my sis does the $ for education :)

  3. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    I remember being on a forum after DC was born and some of the new moms were complaining that their MIL bought THE “Baby’s first Christmas” ornament. That THEY wanted to buy. How selfish could MIL BE?

    I didn’t really get that. I’m guessing it has something to do with brainwashing by Hallmark. Still, I bet Hallmark supports the idea of buying more than one ornament.

    Our first Christmas together we got about 20 “first Christmas together” ornaments from DH’s various relatives who remembered that DH got married. Of course, we didn’t have a tree since we weren’t spending the holidays at our place and had no money and no space in our tiny apartment. But they kept (in my parents’ basement) until we did.

    • Leah Says:

      I don’t get the ornament thing either, but I realized it’s important this weekend when I was talking to soon-to-be MIL. She was upset because she couldn’t print out a hallmark coupon online. Later on in the day, I mentioned that we had bought a 2011 ornament because we figured we would put a wedding picture in there (we’re not normally into those sorts of things). She then exclaimed “oh, that’s why I was upset about the coupon!” I told her she could still get one if she wanted to buy one for us — there’s not a limit of one ornament per occasion.

      And I’d say the same thing to those new moms. It is *touching* that their MIL wanted to honor the occasion. I bet they’d complain a lot more if MIL was blase about their baby. Honestly, many people have not fussed about my wedding. My cousin is just getting into it this week (helping me figure out hair styles), and I am honestly thrilled because I was worried no one even cared. It’s not that I think everyone has to care, but I am excited to have some people other than me getting excited about details.

      • femmefrugality Says:

        I completely agree. My mother still hangs the 7 baby’s 1st ornaments every year despite the fact that I do not have 6 siblings. And I plan on doing the same with my children.
        I also agree that we shouldn’t try to tell people how to spend their money. I like the gift closet idea. And most people include gift receipts. Graciously accept the gift. And get over it. Someone is getting you a gift. That’s a generosity, not a given. If it’s someone you’re close enough with that no offenses will be given, like Practical Parsimony and her daughter, that’s great. But I tend to think that’s the exception more than the rule.

  4. First Gen American Says:

    I had a big long response, but I guess the one question I struggle with is what if someone buys you things you don’t need/want, but doing so puts them at risk? Like, they have a shopping compulsion or they aren’t working, etc..

    • Leah Says:

      If someone has a shopping compulsion, you can certainly talk to them about it. But that doesn’t mean you can go to them and say “you can’t buy stuff for my kid for the holidays because of your shopping compulsion.” Again, tho, you *can* decide not to give your kid all the toys all at once.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Probably the best time to address that kind of thing is before the holidays and as a mutual thing. Things are tight this year, let’s not exchange presents. Or if it’s really a problem and you’re close, stage an intervention. But if you’re not close, then they’ll probably just waste the money some other way… you probably won’t have an effect. :(

      When #2 was unemployed and I was making (relatively) big buck$ we discussed how I could buy her gifts but she couldn’t buy me gifts. I believe she compromised by sending me a bunch of previously-loved books. (I believe that may have been the shipment with Ex Libris and that book about Dorothy Sayers, but I may be misremembering.)

  5. Dr. O Says:

    Mine and Hubby’s families are all super-concerned and thoughtful about this kind of stuff. Grandparents, aunts and uncles all ask what we’re getting for Monkey, what Monkey *needs* (clothes or toys), and plan accordingly. My parents always reserve money for the 529 as well, since they have the means to do gifts and college money. Likewise, we always ask lots of questions about what our nephews/nieces need and want. Sometimes we give outside of the request, but we wouldn’t be offended if they traded it in for something else. So I guess this just hasn’t ever been a problem for us.

    My brother’s parents-in-law are pretty silly, though. They gave my nephew for his first birthday a ginormous rocking horse. The thing was twice as high as he, had large metal springs (that could pinch) connecting it to the base, and was all-around completely inappropriate for a barely toddler. The *gift* had “we’re the better grandparents” written all over it. I think my brother and SIL held onto it for one visit, then took it to Goodwill. Nobody complained, at least not out loud, but there were lots of eye rolls.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      My relatives also check with us before committing most of the time. My parents also do not buy toys because they know that the in-laws will more than provide. They buy books instead. :)

      We also check in with our brothers and sisters before buying for our nieces and nephews. But I don’t think they’d be offended if we didn’t. They don’t tend to check in with us, but that’s ok. I think it’s just a cultural difference between our two families.

    • First Gen American Says:

      what’s the deal with people thinking “huge” presents are actually good presents. I have had a similar thing happen…that bigger is better when it comes to kid’s toys. I can’t think of a time when a parent was glad to receive some gigantic toy for their kid that takes up half your family room.

  6. Joseph Connor Says:

    This is just one of those cases where choosing your battles becomes the question. Is this a battle worth fighting? In my opinion when it comes to my children (I have a 10year old Boy & a 6mth old Girl) I just never seem to have any problems speaking my mind, even about what I think people should buy them. Lol. Sometimes it is necessary to do so in order to keep a good communication with all involved. But hey, it’s all ones perception what they decide is worth the trouble.

  7. doctorbeckybecky Says:

    i must be just a big scrooge, but honestly i do find the over-giving of the holidays oppressive. DH says that is dramatic, so maybe i’ll just say that it is annoying. i will admit that i have serious issues about clutter – and i just can’t stand any more plastic-toy-crap. so this year we’ve asked people to *consider* giving to a charity instead of gifting – a memorial fund that benefits kids in need, established by one of my relatives. sure that contravenes miss manners, but i think some of her rules to be updated for modern times (i.e. i also fully support people asking for cash only as wedding presentes if said partners have been cohabitatin’ for several yearsand have no desire to register for a bunch of new crap)

  8. MutantSupermodel Says:

    I don’t know what’s up with me but this year I’m sliding into a weird place about the kids’ gifts. I’m really struggling with what to get them because I’m so tired of my house being a huge mess with crap everywhere. And I’m tired of buying gifts that get played with a couple of days and then forgotten. They started writing their letters to Santa. I’m encouraging a lot of movies and books and even video games. I have some family who have asked me for ideas and I’ve given them some suggestions for toys the kids will love. Usually I keep the best ideas for myself but this year I’m struggling to bring myself to buy them any toy. I figure I’ll let the family have the glory if you will. It all ends up the same anyways regardless of how they got it.

  9. Comrade PhysioProf Says:

    I f*cken hate receiving gifts. I don’t want anyone giving me any f*cken gifts other than to shutte the f*cke uppe about what f*cken gift I want and to leave me the f*cke alone.

  10. Carnival of Personal Finance | Afford Anything Says:

    [...] and Maggie rant about people who are preachy about how others spend their money. Girls Just Wanna Have Funds is a fantastic blog title, and the [...]


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