I know we just had a deliberately controversial post, but Mel’s comment got us thinking. Specifically the parts where she writes:
I guess I don’t really see the point of gifts for adults. Either you have the money to buy yourself something when you want it (or the ability to save to get it), or you don’t but there is the expectation that someone else should spend their money on you for something you want.
Later she adds this about kids:
Our kids are saving all of their money for a big trip when they’re in high school, as Josh and I did when we were starting high school. I want them to have that experience of travel, so I feel okay purchasing toys and such now. Again, I rarely do it on their birthday. It’s more that they express that they want X, and if I think it’s a sound purchase, I get them X. In that way, they are never disappointed.
So that’s actually two potentially deliberately controversial statements there if we add them up.
First: Should we give gifts to adults at all?
This one is a hard one. Over the years the number of adults we exchange gifts with has gotten smaller. We have stuff. They have stuff. We’ve moved, they’ve moved, we’ve met a lot of other people with whom we are at the same level of intimacy and we couldn’t possibly give gifts to all of them. And so on.
DH and I don’t really exchange gifts, but #2 and her DH do. This partly matches our different financial situations — DH and I share finances and #2 and her DH have more separate finances. Except DH will often do something for me for Christmas and my birthday– like he’ll do some icky chore we’ve both been putting off, or he’ll buy me something I’ve been wanting out of his allowance (often sleepwear), or he’ll do something that makes me cry like turning my name into a poem to hang on the wall. I suck at reciprocating. We also bake cakes for each other on our birthdays. And it is true that we could do these things at any point during the year, but it really does take one of these standard gift deadlines to, for example, clean out the shower grout.
I would be perfectly fine stopping gift exchanging with DH’s family, though I would have to come up with some other way of delaying purchases given that they have pretty well learned just to buy things off my Amazon list (though DH’s brother always ends up getting me duplicates because he doesn’t buy them directly off my wishlist, and my SIL is especially good at picking things off my list that say “lowest” priority or, the one time nothing is labeled “lowest,” giving me a generic item that isn’t on the list and gets given directly to charity*). I would also be fine stopping gift exchanging with my sister who refuses to use my amazon wishlist because it is too impersonal and then demands to know what I want instead.
#2 and I have exchanged gifts for many years. There are three reasons for the gift exchange over the years. 1. Back when we started we were both poor and I, at least, had a guilt thing about buying myself stuff I really wanted. So near the end of the holiday season, we would both sweep in and buy books on each other’s wishlists that said “highest”– maxing at just enough to get free shipping. 2. At other points one or the other of us will be making real money while the other is still in school/unemployed/on leave/etc. In those cases, the rich one would sweep through the amazon list and the poor one would send thoughtfully curated used books (like Ex Libris or a biography of Dorothy L. Sayers). 3. Imposing our preferences on the other person. You will own this book because I say you will. Mwahahaha.
I like giving gifts. I like giving gifts that make people happy. Mainly though, if I’m being honest, I like imposing my preferences on the people I love (or at least who I like). Gift giving is a time that I can indulge in that whim in a socially appropriate way. There’s also a small element of charity with some of our gift giving– holidays are a time that we can write a check to badly off family members and they can give us something nominal in exchange (like fudge).
Receiving gifts is a bit bittersweet. I love getting stuff off my amazon list from #2 or from my family or DH’s parents. I love getting thoughtful stuff from DH and the kids. But… we’re doing a lot better off financially than DH’s siblings and I’d rather they kept their money, especially if we can’t give more than we receive in terms of dollar amount. I just do not understand the large amount of gift-giving that their family does each year.
So I guess bottom-line here is that I don’t know. Among people who know each other and can afford it, these special times work as a nice way to be nudged into thinking about doing some gift giving. Some people prefer no gifts at all or prefer to give “whenever” gifts. But “whenever” gifts can be uncomfortable if they’re extravagant because the reciprocity aspect can be confusing. So who knows. With adults, you do you and be gracious about others doing what they do.
#2 says, for me it’s really just fun to give and get gifts. I have money to buy my own books, but it’s a nice treat when someone buys them for me. I like finding a gift that fits the person I’m giving it to, something I think they’ll enjoy that they haven’t thought of. I also find it sweet and wonderful when people donate to charity in my name, particularly charities I support such as kitty ones or child’s play.
Should we batch up children’s gifts for standard gift-giving holidays (birthdays etc.) or should we give them throughout the year when requested by the child?
This probably depends on the family, but I like batching up the gifts so they’re only given at Christmas, birthdays, and to a small extent Easter. (Though my MIL does send small presents somewhat randomly throughout the year.) In the same way that my amazon wishlist keeps me from spending throughout the year, the hope is that getting presents later at specified times will teach them patience and give them the ability to delay their wants when they are older as well. Anything that they want sooner, they will need to use their allowances on, possibly saving up to buy.
I realize this is an empirical question and I have read precisely zero research on the topic, so who knows.
So there, that’s our second deliberately controversial post about gifts.
*Every year I fight the suspicion that my SIL doesn’t like me and convince myself that it’s just that we have really different tastes. Every year it is a fight.
What do you think? Should we get rid of adult gift giving entirely? Should children get gifts throughout the year or only at specified times?