Monday, September 22, 2008


I've been thinking a bit about the dilemmas involved in exchanging gifts. I recently celebrated my birthday and was given something rather extravagant and wonderful by my sweetie, who then added another small but thoughtful gift at the last minute, which really put things over the top. Of course I enjoyed this on one level, but in another way, it made me squirm a bit. Why?

I think it can be difficult to accept gifts when there is a sense of not being able to reciprocate financially. Sometimes one person literally can't afford to match the dollar value of the gift. Sometimes it is more that they prioritize their spending differently and would prefer not to spend so much on gifts, as it might cut into savings plans.

But either way, many people will counter this by saying "it's the thought that counts." And yes, this is true. But if one person spends more on gifts, it can leave the other person feeling like they have to be extra creative, extra thoughtful, and extra unique in their gift giving to make up for it. Now which do you think is easier, spending the big bucks, or being incredibly creative, thoughtful and unique with a birthday or holiday deadline looming?!?!

I'm already racking my brains about Christmas!


Anonymous said...

The most precious gifts to give or receive are always the ones that say "I know you!"

I prefer not to receive expensive gifts (I'm a simple girl and have pretty much everything I want, which is not all that much...)

If somebody really wants to spend money on an expensive gift for me, I prefer the gift be an experience that we share together... Such as a fancy meal or special vacation, etc.

I guess I may be at an extreme in that I don't like expensive stuff and I find the giving of it un-sexy...

Anonymous said...

I (used to) have a friend who was pretty, lucky and rich. The gifts she gave me are most designer accessories. I received from her 2 Hermes scarf, 1 burberry scarf, 1 bvlgari sunglass etc. I guessed some of them are used because I didn't see the product from that season's catalog. But I never mentioned it, of course. To be frankly, they are nice but not all of them are my style.
In return, I remember I just bought something like Crabtree and Evelyn gift set. It's a good gift but it can't be comparable to her gift in dollar. I was a little embarrased.
But if I spent too much money on the gift, it's not only beyond my budget, I'm also feeling like I spent money just to exchange for some expensive stuff I don't really like. If I want/need a Hermes scarf, I would rather save for a while, then go to the store to buy one I really love.
The gift exchanging is a burden. I guessed that's one of the main reason I seldom contact that friend recently, besides I moved away.

Anonymous said...

I think it is easier to spend big bucks than to be thoughtful and and creative.

Recently, I find that people enjoy more on "experience" gifts, rather than object gifts. Traveling, spa, concert tickets etc. Some object gifts are actually experience gifts. Like flowers, they die too soon, but it is the experience of getting flowers that makes is wonderful.

For Christmas, you can think of something to do together?

Anonymous said...

I didn't used to think about the cost of gifts but to buy/make whatever I think my friends would like.

Then one Christmas, I gave my friend a bath hamper that cost about $70. She gave me chocolate drink powder and cookies from Godiva, cost about $15-20, I think.

On the way to dinner that day, she asked me to stop the car at a mall so she can pick up something she had ordered. Turns out, she ran in there to buy me some Italian brand lip gloss and more chocolate just to match the value of my gift.

I felt that her gift matching act had devalued my good will and our friendship. Made me realized that she intentionally bought me cheap gifts because I had given her handmade things the previous year.

So that's the story from the other side. Don't make too much effort to match the dollar value of the gift. Just get something that can provide the receiver with equal level of satisfaction.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be great to have transparency in gifitng? It would be great to have a blanket $25 rule?

I worry about my elderly folks on fixed income feeling they have to get multiple gifts for their 5 children and 12 grandchildren.

And what is it about the beginning of fall that has me too, freaking out about holiday shopping? I'm starting my shopping now -- bargain hunting for at least stocking stuffers...

Anonymous said...

I agree that it's a very delicate thing to give and receive gifts - it actually says more about your relationship than people think. If you don't spend as much money or aren't creative enough, does that mean you value the relationship less? It's hard to be thoughtful all the time and continue to find new ways to show people you love and care about (the same people) time and time again how important they are through gift-giving.

Your post struck a chord with me because I've been dealing with exactly this issue for as long as I can remember. I'm on the other side of it, though. I don't spend money on myself, but I spend every penny I can on giving the best gifts. I know people appreciate them, but I realized a few years ago that people always felt that they couldn't 'match' my gift when they shopped for me, and that left them feeling guilty. Obviously, I didn't want to do that! It's counter-productive. So, I came up with a new way to give gifts - easy and thoughtful, but not necessarily expensive -- so it takes away a lot of pressure. The idea became such a hit among friends and family that it turned into a website where anyone can give thoughtfully, easily. It's called Wishwrap, and it's exactly what it sounds like, you wrap your gift in a wish to express your thoughtfulness. You can combine different wishes to change what they mean, you can give gifts at any price point, etc. It's easy, even fun to do. This is not meant to be a promo, but I wanted to respond because I completely understand where you're coming from. If you are so inclined, check it out:

Good luck with Christmas!!

Madame X said...

I didn't mean to imply that the expensive gift was impersonal or ostentatious-- it definitely said "I know you" and actually was a lovely shared experience. Which of course raises the bar even more!!!

3beansalad said...

I recently saw a Suze Orman episode where Suze proposed that women are better givers than receivers and suggested that when your husband or significant other (S.O.) gives you something really nice, accept the gift, be thankful and know that this gift is symbol that all the little things you do are appreciated. Since this came from your S.O., and assuming he can afford and occasionally extravagance, I think it's great. Extravagant gifts from random friends are different.

Anonymous said...

Gift giving should not be an "arms race". Give from your heart and don't worry about trying to match the other person, on any level.

One of my Christmas traditions is to not exchange gifts with the people I'm closest to. Those who know me well know that the only gift-giving holidays I care for are people's birthdays, because that is personal.

Every day is special. The more we show our love and appreciation for others on as many occasions and in as many ways as possible, the less we need to try to cram things into official holidays. Besides, holidays have mainly devolved into a racket for companies to get us spending money....

Gord said...

People who know me also know I don't give gifts for birthdays and Christmas. I don't much like getting gifts either; they're usually from people who don't know me. Giving is in my budget (10%), but it is used people I don't know who are in dire need of food or medical attention. I can't justify giving a $35 gift to a friend or family member when I know I can support a child in the third world for 30 days for the same money. It doesn't make sense to me.

1001 Petals said...

It's not always easy to simply receive a gift and be thankful, but I think that is the point.

I also think that ideally, one would give gifts they felt were appropriate -- not because the occasion called for it or because they had a need to reciprocate.

I try my best to remember what gift giving is truly about and live that ideal. Life is already complicated enough without creating extra drama imo.

Of course not everyone feels the same way about gift giving, but hey, we can't live in a manner that continually attempts to conform to some status quo, which does change over time anyway. Why not live by one's own rules -- after all, someone has to establish them.

S said...

It is so much easier to just go out and get something that is so expensive that the person receiving it knows that it is expensive. I alwyas pride myself on getting people gifts that are thoughtful, creative, and useful. But after so many years of knowing these people it is getting pretty tough to keep it up.

Anonymous said...

I always give the best gift I can think of for the people that I care about. I never, ever think about what I get in return because it's irrelevant. If you recieve a gift from someone that makes you feel uncomfortable its on you. Its not the gift givers fault. Its your reaction to it thats the problem. Think about why it bothers you and go from there.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a pretty reasonable reaction on your part. Most people go through this and it's probably part of what made your sweetie go a tad overboard.

I agree with optioned unarmed: My favorite gifts are the ones with meaning. I'd rather have something small and thoughtful than something big and expensive.

So if I were you, I'd just start copying down notes to yourself whenever your fella mentions something. Maybe there's a book to the film he loved so much. Or he talks about something he used to have and lost. That kind of thing.

Nothing fancy to think of .. said...

I hate to sounds like a curmudgeon but I honestly hate gift giving/receiving. The original point of a gift was to give something to someone which they could use. We have unfortunately bastardized it to the point now where we give gifts to show how much we love someone or some non-voluntary social requirement (birthdays, showers, weddings, mom/father's day).

I don't do gifts. My son might be the only exception. Birthdays? I take my family out for dinner (and I buy for everyone) one time a year. My gift - family time. My son got guitar lessons for his birthday. He makes money mowing the lawn so he can spend it on stuff that he wants.

My sister/sister-in-law usually get me in the gift exchange for the middle adults and every year what ever I get goes right to the goodwill. I don't need more picture frames, or flower pots, etc. I ask them that to give me something practical like a video game (my son and I play together for hours), or even a gift card which I will use. I give gift cards to everyone I have to buy presents for. All my nieces and nephews all get $100 savings bonds for Christmas and no birthday presents. When they are 16 they will have about $4000 dollars after interest is calculated and they will have enough for a used car should they choose to purchase that.

I guess the who measuring yourself by the gift I have gotten over. My time and my company are more important than some pot or photo album I will look at once and hide. That is the gift I have to give and I am generous at other times.

Take it or leave it :)

Anonymous said...

My partner and I have the best valentine's day gift-giving tradition ever. Every year, we take turns giving each other the SAME frozen entry (a swansons hungry man chicken dinner), which the receiver keeps in the freezer until the following year, when it becomes their turn to gift it over for valentines day.

This is to honor our first date, where we watched and really enjoyed the movie "Never Been Thawed", which is a mockumentary about a fictional subculture of people who collect frozen entries.

(Woe is the day when our power goes out....)

Anonymous said...

How nice indeed that you have a sweetie, Madam X! Anyway, enjoy your sweetie!

Slinky said...

Gift giving has been distorted to the point where it's now some strange obligatory social ritual that causes unneeded stress and drama.

Even if I discarded social convention and gave only to those I really wanted to, I am always lacking in either time, money, or some combination of the two to give everybody nice, meaningful gifts. So I usually get nice gifts for those that mean the most to me (fiancee and mother) and then everybody else gets gifts depending on what's left over. I've been campaigning for a switch to a name exchange style of gifting for a few years now. I would rather spend all year working on one special gift, than whatever generic gift that I have time/money for that I thought of that year.

MEG said...

This is one thing that does not suck about being single.

In Europe this summer my sisters were frantically trying to find the perfect thoughtful gift for the perfect not-too-expensive price for their BF's while I happily frittered away my money on myself, stress-free.

Anonymous said...


I hope you enjoy your gift AND your sweetie. ;-)

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Anonymous said...

Funny that someone has already mentioned Suze Orman. One of the things that popped out at me as I was reading this was how Suze talked about gift giving as a way to bolster her womanhood when she was younger. She would give gifts she couldn't afford because she knew that's what good girls did and that people would like her for it.

She bought people with her gifts.

Those relationships, in my opinion, aren't worth having. DH and I set limits around holidays for spending (low limits like $25-$50) and my friends get small tokens at holidays (candles, lotions, frames) from clearance sales the year before. I'm happy to give a gift to someone if I see something they'd really like but forced giving to appease some holiday tradition or win over friends is foolish to me.

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