Gift giving contracts

posted by Jeff | Friday, November 23, 2012, 9:58 PM | comments: 1

In the madness (or stupidity) that has become of the long Thanksgiving with regard to gift purchasing, it's interesting that Diana and I have an interesting gift giving dynamic.

We grow up with certain gift giving contracts that are largely formed on the observational basis of what our parents and family members do. I've seen this result in families that try to out-do each other, or worse, are hurt if people do not receive gifts that meet their expectations. 

As a child, I remember having intense feelings of want for certain toys leading up to Christmas and my birthday, which are almost perfectly spaced apart by six months. Those feelings mostly lasted from age 8 to 12. In terms of giving, I never really had any money, but I remember my grandmother taking me and my brother out one time to buy gifts for my mom and step-dad. I remember her being frustrated that we had no idea what to buy with her money and limited budget. I don't remember what age I was, but I remember thinking that getting handkerchiefs for my step-dad was really stupid, and I resented having to do it.

When I got to adulthood, and went to family Christmas gatherings with Stephanie (my first wife), we didn't really buy people stuff. Between my $29k a year and her part-time earnings as a student, it just wasn't going to happen. With most of the kids being adults, or nearly adults, and the couples in my mom's generation often complaining about money, it seemed strange that the gift exchanges were still awfully expensive.

These days, I think it's OK to buy minor things for people, but I don't think it's necessary to go nuts. Diana and I have a particularly odd 40's house wife dynamic since she doesn't work at all, so she doesn't have money coming from a different place. She's free to siphon off money to a different account, but even letting me know implies something is going on, so there isn't much that's surprising.

This year, we actually came up with an agreement up front. I asked her not to get me anything at all (though jokes about red bows and missing clothes often come up in conversation). Saving money is a gift to me these days, and honestly we've gone all out in terms of travel with a Disney trip and a forthcoming cruise. It sounds cliche, but every day I get to spend with my little family is a gift.

On the other hand, Diana is getting into quilting, and she needs a good sewing machine. As I know from experience in my own hobbies of video and photography, good equipment makes a difference, so I want her to get what she really needs. So once she feels she has done the research and is ready, I want her to buy a good sewing machine as a gift.

I think the traditionalist would perceive this as crappy, but surprise isn't that necessary or as exciting in adulthood. It's easy to meet expectations when you simply sit down and decide what would be awesome.

I really enjoy giving people stuff, but I operate differently. I have bought Diana some big things that she didn't expect, but they're once every other year (or longer) kinds of things. I bought my mom a computer once in the middle of the year. I got a friend a day at the salon once for graduating. Sometimes you just buy someone a nice dinner. The point is that for me, gift giving is not an act of routine or obligation.

I'm not suggesting this is cool for everyone, but I will say that ditching the social contracts given to you may free you. Don't buy people handkerchiefs.


Brett, November 26, 2012, 9:46 AM #


I am a long time lurker of Coasterbuzz and Pointbuzz and happened upon this blog post. I could not agree more, and feel that the whole point of the Christmas/Holiday season is lost on the feeling of "requirements" for gifts. My family always went all out with ridiculous crap that no one needs, simply because that is what you were "supposed" to do. Now that I am in my mid 20's, my folks still go all out with wrapped gifts under a tree, when all I care about is getting a few days off work to go home and spend time with them. So nice to see someone else that "gets" my point of view.

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