When I first met my husband ten years ago, I would help him buy Christmas presents for his family. He doesn’t have a large immediate family — just two brothers and their respective wives/girlfriends, a niece, and his mom and dad. And the budget isn’t major either, usually around $50 or so per person. What is annoying is that as time has gone on: We are expected to continue to give nice $50 (at least) presents to each of his family members every Christmas while no one else in his family reciprocates. (The other family members either don’t have jobs or don’t have jobs that make enough income to buy presents.)
His younger brother and on-again-off-again girlfriend basically always are broke and can’t buy anyone anything, so they usually do DIY presents, like cookies, homemade towel animals, etc. However, when they do have money, they don’t hesitate to spend on themselves and not save it (he bought a new motorcycle, she got a boob job, etc.). I don’t understand why it’s ok for them to give us homemade cookies but in exchange we have to contribute to buying them expensive gifts.
The other thing that’s bad is that over the past year, the only times we see my husband’s family has been on Thanksgiving and Christmas. They get together at Thanksgiving to give everyone their Christmas lists, and then my hubs and I, MIL, and his older brother all go shopping on Black Friday to fulfill the requests of the rest of the family. It’s a lot of work to do this, especially for others who will not be reciprocating. Throughout the rest of the year, we make it a point to give my FIL and MIL birthday presents and Mother’s Day/Father’s Day presents and we give his brother presents whenever we see something we think he may like or need. We have invited my hubs’ entire family over for various events (summer cookouts, birthdays, special occasions, etc.) and they always come up with excuses and reasons why they can’t attend (even though nothing is required of them to attend, we just want to spend family time with them).
We just had our first baby and are so excited and over the moon in love and we are really looking for ways we can cut back our working hours to spend more time as a family, which would greatly decrease our income and therefore our Christmas present budget.
Now that my son is here, what I would really like to have happen this year is for us to still get together with his family for Christmas but not exchange any presents (except maybe we could all give presents to his niece since maybe it’s not fair to not give kids presents at Christmas?), just maybe have a shared meal and spend quality time together. If I am really pushed for a compromise, I would propose that maybe if we do exchange presents, they should all be of the DIY kind (maybe we all bake cookies and exchange them?) Or maybe we can buy small presents and play a game of some kind (my husband is the ultimate strategic board gamer, so he could make us a really a cool game) to exchange them.
I want to keep the family relationship and holiday time/memories (almost at all costs) but remove the ridiculous price tag and potential financial burden to us (that is clearly not fairly or equally reciprocated). I am asking for advice on how to convince my husband this is a good idea, and how we should tell his family our plan and convince them to do it, and keep the peace among everyone so no one goes crazy and we keep growing relationships going forward. I believe that love always wins, and I want to raise my child to value his family members, not things. — Torn Up About Christmas In September
Well, this sure is much ado about nothing. And I don’t mean to diminish your obvious anxiety over this, but, really, it’s at least mostly self-created, and can be avoided if you simply practice a few techniques that will make your life easier in general and certainly easier where your in-laws (and finances) are concerned. First: just say no. If someone asks you to contribute money for a joint gift or whatever, tell them how much you can contribute (if anything) and that’s that. You can say, “I’d really love to pitch in $50, but we’ve adjusted our gift budget and we can only comfortably contribute $10.” When it comes to the holidays, specifically, inform everyone before they give you their gift lists at Thanksgiving that you’ll be giving gifts to kids only from now on. In addition, you’d love to start a white elephant gift exchange tradition where each couple (or adult family member, if not everyone is currently coupled up) contributes one gift valued at no more than $15. If people aren’t happy with this, tough! What are they going to do? Stop giving you gifts? 0h wait, they already don’t give you gifts. Stop attending your summer cook-outs? Oh, wait…
As for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and family member’s birthdays, why not, instead of giving gifts, you invite the honoree over for a home-cooked meal (or take them out)? That way, instead of your money going to more stuff, you’re investing in the family time you’re craving. If no one takes you up on your offer for a meal, that’s their problem. You’ve made the offer and that’s all you can do. As a gift-giver, YOU choose what to give, and, if a meal and time together is your choice, your in-laws can choose to accept that or not.
You want to know how to convince your husband all of this is a good idea? Remind him of financial goals you’ll be sacrificing or extending as long as you keep spending hundreds of dollars a year on gifts for his family, such as: a one-year emergency savings account; college savings for your baby; a once or twice-yearly weekend getaway; and monthly babysitter nights for the whole year (because you know you can’t count on your in-laws to help out), just to name a few.
Of course, all this convincing will be much more persuasive if you’re already practicing a kids-only gift rule with your family. Are you? Because if you aren’t, you better be proposing exactly the thing for them as otherwise your husband will have every right to be offended, reciprocity among family members be damned (you shouldn’t really be giving gifts based on whether or not you get them in return…).
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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.