Obligatory Gifting is Out of Control

pile of gifts

Holiday time means family, giving and togetherness… for some. For others it means uncomfortable dinners, inappropriately drunk uncles and awkward conversations with relatives you barely know. Regardless of your experience, I guarantee that holiday time means a hit to your wallet. You may be OK with this. You may even love it. I do. I admit it. The feeling of searching high and low for the perfect gift for my mom or my sister makes me so excited. Then seeing them open it on Christmas Day and have the delighted reaction I anticipated is so awesome. I even love putting together little gifts to show my appreciation my kids teachers and our neighbors.

But here is the problem.


Let me tell you a story. The other day I picked up the newsletter from my child’s preschool. Usually this contains pertinent dates of school closings, teacher of the month awards and reminders to wash hands when you enter the room. However, this particular newsletter also contained an entire section dedicated to giving to the teachers. Apparently the staff had all typed up lists. Oh, and there were copies available to us. Wait. What?

I’m not a Scrooge. I get it. You should show your appreciation. Don’t get ahead of me yet.

Lists? The pressure to give to every person you possibly encounter already exists. Articles pop up this time of year talking about the proper increases to your tips, suggestions for how much to give service people like doormen, house cleaners, etc. I usually scoff at these and pass them off as guides for the insanely rich people who live in penthouse apartments on Park Ave in New York City. They can afford to give their doorman $100 to say thanks. I can’t. (Forget that I don’t have a doorman… but I wish I did. Wouldn’t that be fun?) I’m lucky if I can spend that amount on my own kids.

Wait. what?

Are you feeling pity for me now? Don’t. It’s not that I can’t afford to spend money on my family. It’s that we place the importance of our own financial future ahead of this one day. We set a strict budget every year and agree on that amount. If I am able to save in one area then I can afford to spend a little more in another. It limits our exposure to the snowballing gifting pressure.

Let’s say, for example, that I were to give in to the pressure of the school newsletter and buy gifts for all it suggested…

  • 2 Teachers per child’s room x 2 kids = 4 teacher gifts
  • 2-3 Floaters that attend to the rooms = 3 additional teacher gifts
  • 1 Cook
  • 2 front office staff
  • 1 music teacher

That’s a total of 11 staff members. Each has a list. Mostly it includes restaurants and stores they enjoy. So if I were to buy them each a $25 gift card to their restaurant, I would be spending an additional $275 this Christmas.

Friends, that is a quarter of my total budget.

Instead, this year they will get a small goody bag with candy in it and a nice note. Think I’m horrible yet?

Now that let me suggest that these teachers were simply filling out a form that was given to them. I don’t believe any of them expect anything. In fact, I am quite sure some of them found the exercise of filling out the form to be silly. However, I do believe that the school was responding to some requests by other parents for lists, etc. I think they made the choice to do the lists.

Someone needs to just say no.

So here is what I do. I try to focus on the purpose of the gift. I want to express my sincere gratitude for all the hard work that the staff puts in throughout the year. Yes, it is their job. Yes, they are paid. However, I believe the love behind their efforts is invaluable and for that, I am grateful.

Here are my suggestions to help you beat the out of control gift giving fever:

  • Set a total budget first.
  • Make the list of the people you’d like to buy gifts for.
  • Set individual budgets being careful to stay within the total number you’ve set.
  • Research sales and coupons to help you save on those gifts.
  • If possible, ask others to pitch in on a group gift. This allows you to still purchase the large item without blowing up your budget.
  • Evaluate every gift and make sure you’re not giving out of obligation but it is really coming from a place of gratitude.

Have fun shopping!!


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