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This time last year I was several hundred dollars in debt – from Christmas presents. I couldn’t believe something that gave me so much joy in the moment could cause me so much pain only a few weeks later.
That was right before I got into personal finance and started feverishly reading all I could about budgeting and managing money. In January, B and I sat down with an Excel spreadsheet and ruthlessly went through my revenue and expenses. We found that it wasn’t necessarily day to day things that were destroying my budget, but rather these big purchases – mostly gifts!
It was about February or March when I realized, as I started to gear up for birthday and wedding season, that I needed to drastically cut back. For my budget, but also for my friends’ sake. I started to actually resent my friends – as if they were causing me to spend too much money on their gifts!
You may not believe it, but cutting back on gifts (either sending them something semi-homemade, or simply spending $25 instead of $50) didn’t impact our relationships at all. Most of my friends didn’t even notice I was spending less on them – as long as I still kept in touch, that was all that mattered!
Due to what I learned earlier this year, I came up with a list of ‘ruthless’ rules when it comes to gifts in the future. They’re ruthless because not necessarily everyone will agree with them – some might say I’m stingy or don’t appreciate the real meaning of gift-giving. I say my list keeps my sanity, and checkbook, in check – which makes me a happier, better friend and family member. Feel free to implement these rules as you wish!
Ruthless Gift-Giving Rules
Ruthless Rule 1: A rule of 3 – if I didn’t see you outside of work or group activities more than 3 times, I’m not getting you a gift. I love my friends from college and grad school, but last year I sent them all gifts – and they weren’t cheap gifts. While it’s a nice gesture, a card would have worked just as well. Or, even better, I could have saved that money and scheduled a trip to visit them.
In past years, instead of saving up for presents, I traveled to two cities (Portland and Washington D.C.) to visit friends (and both trips I was able to combine with family visits!). I was able to catch up with both friends and family, see their new apartments/houses, and actually spend quality time with them.
In 2015, I plan on taking advantage of my travel rewards credit card to travel even more and visit friends I haven’t seen in 2 years or more. In my opinion, this is a way better use of my money than buying gifts!
Ruthless Rule 2: No gifts for everyone in the office – okay, so our workplace is pretty small, but it’s also larger than 15 people. For some reason last year, 90% of the people in my office got everyone a gift – so I joined the 90% and got everyone a gift too. What a waste! Of money and of time stressing out about what to get people I hardly talked to.
Not this year! This year I’m only getting presents* for my team of 3 people. Furthermore, it’s a present with an asterisk. 2/3 people are getting Starbucks gift cards, because we all like to go to Starbucks together, and the other person is getting a gift card to the sandwich place across the street that he’s obsessed with. Practical, useful, enjoyable and affordable. $30 total!
Ruthless Rule 3: If you need it or it will improve your life, you’re getting it! – No more fluffy gifts that people like, but only for a little while. While blenders aren’t ‘sexy’, a blender is something my Mom wants but won’t get for herself – so that (might) be what she’s getting!
I have a few family members who are just getting started in the workforce and are moving into their own places. Target gift cards are maybe not that attractive, but will they come in handy when you need that shower curtain? You bet they will!
Most importantly, my family members have loved these gifts. Heck, I already asked my Mom for an electric toothbrush for Christmas – yes, a toothbrush. I love the toothbrush she has and my dentist recommend an electric brush for me, but I don’t necessarily want to buy myself an electric toothbrush… so why not receive it as a gift? I will use it, and I will love it! Win-win!
If you’re not sure what to get people, consider using these rules to make your list. If you haven’t seen someone in a long time, why would you get them a gift? Consider sending them a thoughtful card, or calling them – but maybe leave out the gift this year.
As for co-workers – really? Presents for everyone? You see them every single week, your presence is a present! 🙂 If it’s seen as rude to not get people at work a gift (and yes, I’ve experienced that at some offices) consider getting very small or affordable gifts for your immediate team – not the whole office. Better yet, bake something and bring it in for your coworkers!
I know some of these rules will seem not very fun, particularly not getting anyone fluff gifts anymore. A lot of people like to use the holidays as a chance to get fun, “fluff” gifts they typically wouldn’t get themselves – and that’s great! If that’s how your family and friends are, knock yourself out! Just know that it’s not your only option, and you might be surprised by how much people like the useful, practical gifts over the fluff.
No matter what your ruthless rules are, definitely read my How to Prepare for Black Friday post! While written for Black Friday, the websites I noted (particularly Poach It) come in handy for finding the best deals on gifts.
What do you think of these gift-giving rules? Have you come up with your own threshold of who gets gift, or do you do a Secret Santa among family members to bring costs down?