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Ask Rene: Gift Giving – How Much Is Too Much

giftDear Rene,

I want your opinion on this….

A good friend is totally outraged that I spend and give my nieces and nephews expensive gifts and designer label clothes as gifts.

My husband and I don’t have children or a lot of money but we live comfortably. Before the big dip in the economy a few years ago, I was paid a great salary and would spend about $250 on gifts or give it in cash to each of my brother and sister’s kids.

All together my siblings have a total of seven kids; ages 3-20 years old. Needless to say every time you turn around, there’s a birthday celebration or Christmas gifts to buy. It does begin to add up.

With the downturn in the economy I’ve had to tighten my budget belt, so now I give the kids just $100 for their birthdays.  If it’s a gift they expect to get it from an expensive store or with a designer label, so I’ll end up spending quite a few dollars there.  I think the kids and their parents would be disappointed if I did less.

My girlfriend thinks I’m crazy. Since I’ve always given expensive gifts, I don’t feel comfortable giving them less than $100 for these very special occasions.

Rene, what do you think? Am I giving gifts that are too expensive to these kids and if so, how do I give or spend less now after always being so generous?

Sarah, Confused Auntie

Dear Auntie:

May I call you Auntie? Better yet, may I call you mom, seein’ as my fervent prayer tonight will be that you adopt me as your own. I must say your letter feels sort of all over the place to me. First you ask about your friend’s disapproval of your gift giving, the down turn in the economy and then you end with how to pull back the reigns on your generous gifting. Whew. Okay, first things first.

*IT’S YOUR MONEY, SPEND IT HOW YOU SEE FIT: On this front you need to be self-directed. Forget what your friend says, it doesn’t matter. It’s your money. If you want to light your cigarettes with one hundred dollars bills, who is she to object? Who cares what she says? Unless there’s a part of you that is wondering about this yourself, which I think is entirely possible.

*EXAMINE WHY YOU ARE SPENDING SO MUCH ON THESE KIDS: Being the aunt to a couple of great young men, I sort of understand your position and I think one of two things could be happening here. First, since you have no children you are totally in the dark as to the going rate for gift giving or two, you are trying to spend your way into the “Cool Auntie Hall of Fame”. Both of these have easy fixes. You can solve the former by talking to the kids’ folks about an appropriate amount to spend on a present and the latter by realizing you don’t buy the “Cool Aunt” status; trust me, this I know.

*THINK ABOUT THE TYPE OF GIFT YOU WANT TO GIVE: It makes us feel good inside when we please other people. Money does that for a lot of kids, especially when they’re inundated with all sorts of imagery about success and what it takes to be happy. But it’s on us as adults (less on you since you are not their parent) to model what happiness truly is and it’s not about stuff.

The other danger here is creating a sense of entitlement. One of my pet peeves is to see a young person carrying an expensive handbag or driving a brand new car. They have no idea about the extra work hours needed to earn the money for such an expensive item. Soon, as a result of “too much, too soon” they become allergic to hard work and before you know it, they’ll be expecting a big gift from you every year, maybe bigger than the year before. Are you ready for that?

The last part of your letter is where I think you have a real opportunity to teach. You mention the economy and that your finances were affected.  You could have a heart to heart with your nieces and nephews, and explain what’s going on with you on the job, though you really shouldn’t have to.

Hopefully they understand; if they do not, then I’m afraid you’ve already spent far too much.

Good luck Auntie!

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1 Comment

  1. Tiffany

    May 13, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    I agree about kid’s feeling entitled. I’m not sure if this applies to these particular nieces & nephews, but here’s my take on it.: Kid’s love consistency. (Heck, so do I.) When it comes to getting things that they want, kid’s love looking forward to that even more.

    I remember that when I was about 12 or so, my mom’s long-time boyfriend started to consistently take us out to dinner every Friday night for a long time. I always looked forward to it. One Friday, I remember asking my mom where we were going to eat that night & she told me that we weren’t going. No reason, we just weren’t going. I felt really guilty for asking & expecting that I would be “given” this. I was the type of kid who never asked for things, so realizing that I expected a free dinner out every week was a big deal for me.

    At any rate, my point is that kids will learn to expect things, good or bad, if that’s what they are consistently given. Most kids won’t feel guilty about it, though. It’s only natural, so I’d be cautious about giving huge gifts all the time.

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