We were thoughtless this year

We thoughtlessly set our 2018 Christmas presents for DH’s family at $50/nibling/sibling and $100 each for Nana and Grandpa, give or take (the Braille book subscription we give a niece is actually $100 and we donated another $100 to help defray the costs).  I’m not sure why we did this, that’s just what seemed like the right amount of books when we started with the youngest cousins.  In terms of monetary expenses for us these days with both of us working and the house paid off, this is not a big deal.  Our December expenses are high, but our January expenses are usually lower than usual so it works out fine (also in the last paycheck this year we got a little boost from no longer having to pay SS tax).

But then DH’s brother’s family spent the same amount on us(!) which seems really excessive on the receiving end.  DH’s brother’s wife doesn’t have an income and both their kids are special needs.  But DH’s brother does have seniority in a union job so maybe it doesn’t put a crunch in their budget either?  They have a very nice house that is packed with toys and other stuff and an SUV and so on…  In terms of consumption, they seem to be doing well.  (They never opened up 529 plans for their kids and eventually we gave up nagging them about it, so we can’t stealth-give there.)

I’m embarrassed at how long it took me to figure this out.  Since we’ve started being able to afford stuff, most of my anxieties about gifts have just disappeared… I no longer care how much we spent or if I get crappy gifts (though I still do prefer things off my amazon wishlist).  DH’s sister’s family is much lower income than we are (though as she’s been gaining seniority and step-raises, they’re above median household income now) and I would have noticed if they’d started matching what we spend and felt bad right away, but she’s started giving etsy-level crafts (among other things, she’s got some kind of setup where she can make designs for t-shirts– one of DC2’s favorite presents last year was a shirt that you can color in with washable markers and then wash and re-color… she also made Disney-themed family vacation shirts for everyone last year) which I think makes everyone happy.

Anyhow, I told DH to bring up that they don’t need to match our spending with his brother sometime when they were alone over break and to let him know that they really don’t need to spend the same amount, or if they prefer we could cut back on them.  (The problem with that being that we actually enjoy getting stuff off their wishlists because DH wants his brother to play those games and I want SIL to read those books because she has good taste in books.) DH did and said that BIL basically brushed it off, so maybe it’s ok?

What do you do about spending on presents when there are income disparities in the family?  Do you feel like you have to match what the other person spends, or is it more about your constraints?

11 Responses to “We were thoughtless this year”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    I never spend as much on my niece and nephew as they spend on our kids but we all have tons of toys. I do try to make the gifts thoughtful and good quality though. I have a secret 529 for both of their kids that I started contributing to weekly this year. I was doing cheap gift +savings bond but the bonds got to be too much of a pain so I switched it up this year.

    I will probably let them know a year before college that these accounts exist but I think it’ll be a nice surprise getting thousands of dollars all at once rather than a hundred here and a hundred there.

    Before the kids were born, we used to get presents for way more people and once all the kids were born, sister in law, pronounced it was crazy and too much work and money so she made some running rules. No presents for adults, only kids. No presents for distant relatives (like her sister’s kids or her mom). It was so much simpler after that and I could kiss her for it.

    For extended family, we just do a $20 yankee swap. And everyone does one present on Xmas eve. It’s fun.

  2. M3runner Says:

    In my family growing up Christmas gifts were too much. There were always just too many, too much stuff. Christmas was important to my Mom, they could afford the gifts, and we grew up in a rural area (before the internet) so we didn’t have a steady stream of toys coming in, it was ALL at Christmas. I didn’t take my husband home for Christmas until my brother (9 years younger than me) was out of college because I didn’t want to subject him to it.

    Now that we are all grown (although I am the only one with an offspring) it has started to get bad again because my brother’s household and I can afford to be generous (and we are!), and my sister cannot (on disability). This year my brother suggested that we keep it to one item per person from each household and donate the rest of the money to a charity of our choosing. This suggestion was met with a great deal of enthusiasm on all parts (although I think my Mom will miss the huge pile of packages, so we shall see). Especially now that I have offspring and we live in a condo in an expensive city, I am into limiting what we bring into the house.

  3. ellie Says:

    My guess about your husband’s brother is that it does put a crunch in their budget and that the consumption that you’re seeing with your eyes is evidence of financial missteps, not financial security. But I also think that they may not recognize it themselves, or they may not be okay with saying that it’s a problem to you/your husband. Money stuff between siblings can get very sensitive.

    The income disparity in my family has been that I’m the high earner compared to the others, and I’ve mainly handled it by being really aware of what I’m giving people and how much it costs. We had a “one cost-limited gift to one assigned adult/unlimited gifts to kids” rule in our family for a long time. The gifts to adults fell by the wayside in the last year; the kid gifts are continuing. When I was a single person, that one gift meant a lot to me, because it was the only gift I received from anyone at all. As a married-with-kids, I’d be happy if the extended family gifts went away entirely. We have a lot of well-meaning junk that comes into our house, and I don’t see a way to stem the tide with all the loving aunts/uncles/grandmas in the mix. Not without the adults feeling unhappy about it.

  4. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    We assume there is some income disparity between the siblings but we don’t know what it is. The COL and spending disparities are a huge gap though. We prioritize our savings and paying off debt on our own two salaries, which leaves some amount left over for discretionary spending. Gift money is treated as a windfall to save and service debt. They have different circumstances including wealthy parents having subsidized their savings and possibly even debt servicing for many years, I used to hear a lot more, and I presume they feel secure because they spend at, to me, well over millionaire level on luxury goods and entertainment.

    They set the gift limit at $100 per adult but still insist on doing gifts for kids too and it’s kind of a horrific mess of too many gifts. From my side, we get a big pile of used books and clothes each year and I think that’s plenty but JB does really enjoy the toys too. Then again, ze gets so much stuff ze forgets what all ze was given and to me, that’s a sign of having far too much. Unfortunately there’s also extended family gifting to kids as well and I don’t know how to stem that flood. At least it’s only once a year?

  5. rose Says:

    January is the month to establish non-aggression pacts about spending and who will be given gifts by whom. NEVER put it in terms of ‘I think you are overspending’ because that involves shame/embarrassment/oneuping etc. Start from the quantity of goods coming into your family and values about material goods and then come to agreements that work for both sides. Maybe it is time treats of going places with people, maybe it is family events but scheduling can be hard, maybe it is cost limits, maybe it is no adult exchanges, maybe it is requesting snapshots of children for adults … but focus that your family needs to de-emphasize material belongings! Because material things need to be NOT THE POINT. CA wildfires, hurricanes in those areas, floods and tornados are all reminders that material things can and will disappear but family love, support, caring, values about others, education, are what we carry inside ourselves and are what sustain us in troubled times.

    Which leads me to again thank N&M for this blog, the time they put into it, and the many commenters who add their own wisdom. PS: I HAVE ZIP MEMORY OF WHAT I GOT FOR CHRISTMAS AT AGE 10, BUT I REMEMBER WHO LOVED ME.

  6. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    It’s a new year and our US readers may be wondering what you can do to help the country. Indivisible just sent a helpful email with instructions for folks with both democrat and republican senators.

    Here are scripts for talking about the shutdown and the wall: https://act.indivisible.org/call/cr-reject-trumps-deportation-machine-and-wall/?t=6&akid=40318%2E189502%2Eorus-5 (scroll down for blue-state script)

    “If you’ve got a Democratic Senator, thank them for standing strong against Trump’s continued tantrum over the wall funding. When you’re done calling, let us know how it went by filling out the ‘report the call’ section on the form and hitting submit.

    “And if you’ve got a Republican Senator, tell them to tell McConnell enough is enough — that he should put the House-passed legislation to a vote in the Senate. “


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