“Do We Have to Keep Giving Gifts To My In-Laws?”


The holidays are over three months away and I am already stressing about buying my in-laws Christmas presents although I don’t feel my husband is on the same page. We just had a new baby, and I want our first family Christmas to be focused on our new little family and not on the financial burden imposed (and definitely not reciprocated at all) by his family.

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 wendy@dearwendy.com.


  1. dinoceros says:

    Have you ever talked to your husband about this yet? Not being financially able to seems like a pretty compelling reason. Don’t make this about you being bitter that you don’t get fancy gifts, though, because it’ll make you sound petty. Gift giving isn’t supposed to be able what you get in return. It’s about giving something that you want to give to someone. But I’d agree with Wendy. Whatever you propose for his family, you need to propose for BOTH families. I also don’t think that telling everyone they have to do DIY gifts is great because not everyone has the time, energy, or interest in making things. But if you want to do DIY gifts (despite the scorn you show to your relative who already does this), then go for it.

  2. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

    You definitely do the same for both families, whatever you do.

    Begin the talk with your husband by saying that you’ve been looking ahead at the Christmas budget and …

    you want to buy gifts for the baby
    both of you want to cut back on work hours so you have less money for gifts
    you need to cut back on the money spent on Christmas gifts
    you think you should go to gifts for children only at Christmas
    what does he think
    does he have any ideas on how to cut back work hours, buy the baby presents and afford the usual gifts for both families
    listen to his ideas

    Once you’ve come to a joint decision make sure both families understand that you are changing how you do things.

    Consider MIL and FIL birthday gifts separately at a later date when you see how our budget settles out but consider inviting them and the rest of the family for dinner or a BBQ depending on the season of the year.

  3. To me it seems like you are using the baby as an excuse to get out of something you have wanted to do for a very long time, and the reason you have wanted to do it is because you weren’t getting what you put into it, which is pretty much what Christmas isn’t about. If you feel like the financial part was really a burden all of those years you could have very easily spent less money on the presents, but it just seems you are not happy with somebody spending $50.00 on you.
    If you feel this way that is fine, and I think using the baby as a financial excuse to not give these people gifts anymore is the easiest way to do it… if your husband is on board. If he isn’t I guess you need to have a long talk with him to see why he wants to keep spending the money on these gifts. Maybe he thinks they deserve it since they can’t buy nice things for themselves or something like that.

    1. RedRoverRedRover says:

      It’s not what Christmas is about, but I can’t totally blame the LW for being upset. When your gifts are no longer received in the spirit of Christmas, and are instead expected, that’s a whole different ball of wax. I mean, the others are putting in their requests at Thanksgiving. Basically putting in their orders. They don’t care to have the LW put thought and love into it. They just want the stuff. I wouldn’t be happy with that situation even if I was receiving gifts back.

      1. Very often, when there is an expectation it’s really helpful to look for the source. Often “we’re expected…” turns out to be “I expect myself to…”

        I’m having trouble finding in the letter where the external source of the expectation. The husband and LW both have chosen to give the gifts they give.

        Lots of people would be happy to give a GoPro because they’re able to. The husband just needs to be convinced that this is not something they can afford.

      2. RedRoverRedRover says:

        I guess. But if someone hands me a list of what they want me to buy for them, then I’d certainly feel like there’s an expectation there.

  4. Stillrunning says:

    Giving gifts to the kids alone is a good idea, as is drawing a name at Thanksgiving and buying one gift instead of seven.
    You can set a budget and stick to it. If anyone complains just repeat what Wendy said, that you’ve adjusted our gift budget and can comfortably contribute $10. No other explanation needed.
    The first time you do less might surprise people, but they’ll get used to it.

    1. Even the anonymous one gift thing can be a minefield as I discovered at my first Christmas with my husband’s family where they openly derided the gifts in front of everyone if they didn’t like them. Did I say first? I meant only.

  5. I hate it when people criticise the way other people spend their money: like, “so we give them presents every year and they don’t but they just bought a motorcycle”. Well, guess what. What every person does with their money is their own choice, what if he had been saving that money and for that reason he was always broke? It has been your choice also to give them presents every year even if they don’t reciprocate, so it was their choice to spend the money the way they want. Just say no to presents, stop making yourself miserable over such a simple solution. Communicate that this year presents will not be a part of the celebration. Or like we do in my family, we set up a secret santa and that way each one gets at least one present and nobody has to spend that much money.

    1. dinoceros says:

      It reminds me a lot of poor shaming. Like when people don’t like seeing poor people buying luxury items because how dare they still enjoy iphones or going to movies. If a person without a lot of money is able to save some, then it’s not OK to demand that they first use the money to give gifts. Presumably, the LW has enough money to buy things for herself AND give gifts.

      1. That’s when fancy people use food stamps(forgot the new program name) though right ? Not usually about gifts just the opinion that they don’t need the governments money for food if they could sell whatever fancy stuff they have instead. I can see the LW point because they value other things when they do have money. So it feels like LW care more and the gift receivers care less. Hurt feelings due to not being appreciated and no reciprocation (other than the home made) when possible.

      2. I can see the LW’S point too. In the LW’s love language the fact that the rest of the family doesn’t give gifts in return means that they don’t care about her. But that is her love language and her family’s doesn’t have to be the same. What’s wrong is to criticise the things they do with their money because she probably doesn’t know the whole story.
        I was a big gift giver myself until I understood that I expected something in return all the time. And that is not the point in giving gifts or the point of Christmas for that matter. If you’re miserable giving gifts because they don’t reciprocate, then don’t give them. If you want to do something, don’t expect something in return.

      3. The Family members prepare lists, I guess they’ve just always done it but it does not seem to be the LWs idea

      4. Not her idea but she chooses to do it.

      5. dinoceros says:

        I’ve heard it used for a lot of things. I’ve definitely heard people wonder why a person without much money has an iphone or nice shoes.

      6. dinoceros says:

        It’s also the same general concept that a person is saying that another person or family portrays themselves as not having much money to spend on X, but chooses to spend money on luxury items. So, that person is judging them and being like, “I thought you were poor?!”

    2. That’s perfect as long as her husband is on Board

  6. LisforLeslie says:

    About 30 years ago my mom sent a letter to the family that basically said “We all have what we need, instead of buying gifts for one another, let’s take whatever money would be spent on gifts and donate to causes that help others.” Kids under 18 still got gifts and my mom still buys me and my sister something small like a pair of mittens. To give to charity and the choice of charity was entirely up to the giver.

    It worked. I buy my nephews gifts and I’m done for the year.

  7. Gifts which come with a heavy dose of resentment aren’t really gifts. Give fewer of them. It’s hard to shop for people you don’t like and don’t really know. Being a purchasing agent to complete a list of gift purchases the recipients have given you avoids unwanted gifts, but seems to remove the spirit of it, which is why many families stop doing adult-to-adult gifting. If you do continue gifting, assign your husband to handle the gift purchases for his family. You are going to object that I said you don’t like your in-laws, but your judgmentalism shines through your letter. I think they share that view, which is why they never accept your invitations. It seems your in-law family gets together the bare minimum. or do they get together frequently, but without you and your husband? It seems silly to give so many gifts which are not reciprocated to those you see twice a year and who decline all your invitations. Of course, it is a cheap (at least emotionally) way to maintain the illusion of family for those members of the family for whom the illusion is important. How close are you and your husband to your family?

  8. artsygirl says:

    LW – I understand your frustration. My sister-in-law informed my husband and I that they had a tight budget one year and asked if we could keep presents to a minimum. We happily agreed and bought the two adults a small gift and then gave gift cards to their three children along with something small to unwrap since they were all young. We gave the gift cards figuring that the adults could actually use them for necessities – all together we still spent about $200 on the family of five. Well low and behold two days before the holiday, they dropped $1,000 on a pure breed dog and gave us a holiday card (we are child-free) with a batch of store bought sugar cookies. I have tried to let it go, but it is frustrating and honestly hurtful.

    In order to keep my sanity, I have really stepped back my expectations. I no longer purchase birthday gifts for SIL and her husband (only the kids) and instead send them cards. From your description, is it only the younger brother and girlfriend who are stingy on the gifts (you mention that MIL and other BIL go Black Friday shopping with you)? If so, it does make it difficult since you can hardly give nice gifts four people and give smaller gifts to only two. If everyone is prone to giving smaller gifts, match that. Also, remember that they will have another person in your family to buy gifts for as well so they might appreciate setting a cap on the price of presents.

    1. SpaceySteph says:

      I just don’t see what the dog has to do with the rest of this. I mean, surely you spent money on other things last year that were important to you. They wanted a dog, they bought a dog. They asked to keep presents to a minimum and they did exactly what they asked.

      It’s not a gift if it comes with the expectation that people will reciprocate. Your gift sounds very thoughtful and useful, but all it deserves in response is a hearty thank you.

      1. This doesn’t make much sense, but it seems like they asked you to do something, you agreed to it, then went against it, and then penalized them for sticking with the plan. Like somebody else said maybe they were saving the money from Christmas to get the kids a dog, and maybe they used gifts they got like gift cards to do that. It’s probably better to let it go in the long run.

      2. artsygirl says:

        I know that I should not complain, but it was hurtful and my husband and I felt conned. We felt so bad they were going through financial difficulties and intentionally tried to get presents that would help gap any issues with their expenses – why we got the children 2 presents – incorrectly believing that they really needed money. What they really wanted, was to splurge on a very expensive puppy (and there was no medical reason they needed this specific dog such as allergies). Unfortunately over the years, I have realized that this is pretty typical behavior for this couple. They constantly complain about money issues and guilt family members into loans, free babysitting, etc and then do something like this which really suggests that while money might be tight they always decide to lavishly treat themselves at the expense of their friends and family.

    2. I can sort of understand why you were upset about this, but I kind of think it might have been related to what Ale said above. People can spend and prioritize however they want to. Maybe your SIL’s family was saving all year long because they really wanted a certain breed of dog (I’d personally feel icky going to a breeder rather than a rescue, but sometimes people really want to know the history of their dog, esp with young kids). Maybe the *reason* their budget was tight was because they were saving to get a family dog. “Keep presents to a minimum” doesn’t necessarily mean “spend $200 on my family”. Maybe they were surprised by the amount you spent, and they felt bad that they didn’t spend similarly on you, but their money was already intended to go to the purchase of the dog. So maybe when they were presented with $200 worth of stuff, they just didn’t have $200 sitting in the bank to go out and drop on you and your husband, who presumably are not in great need of material things. (Or, maybe she’s a selfish B, I don’t know – just spitballing here.) I tend to think that the practice of only giving gifts to the kids is a great one. Very few adults are in need of more STUFF. We follow this rule in our family.

      1. SpaceySteph says:

        Also if someone is allergic to fur dogs, they might have gone to a breeder to be sure they had a hair dog (like a poodle). Or they wanted to be sure he would only grow to be a certain size (vs a mixed breed you never know what you’re gonna get). Or maybe one of them has always had a thing for [insert breed here]. We picked our pound pup in part because he looked like a German Shepherd (he isn’t, at least not full blood) and my husband just likes the look of them.

        I love the mutt I got from the pound, and he was cheap to get, but then had heartworms and intestinal parasites and hadn’t been fixed and needed all his shots even ones that he should have gotten years before. I spent about $1000 on him on those first few vet visits, so it’s not like I really came out ahead.

        I’m all for saving pound puppies (clearly) but I am not going to say it’s a money saving endeavor by any means.

      2. Oh, yeah – a rescue isn’t going to save money! We had to pay almost $200 in adoption fees for our cat. Not to mention the ridiculous vet bills over the years. Pets are expensive, period. And I totally get why people, especially with kids, would prefer a dog from a breeder. But it’s nice when shelter/rescue animals can find forever homes, too.

      3. SpaceySteph says:

        Absolutely. I definitely support rescue. But the OP is mad because they bought an expensive dog, when really all dogs are expensive.

        Our adoption fee was $85. But heartworm treatment alone was over $500. Another friend of mine adopted a dog that needed one leg amputated, can only imagine what that surgery cost.

      4. artsygirl says:

        Just as a quick note – they had not saved for the puppy. They had seen a post online for the dogs and decided to get it on a whim. At the time, SIL was also very pregnant with baby #4 (which is why we thought the budget was tight). There was no medical reason to get this particular breed since they already had one rescue dog and a rescue cat. Basically they are very impulsive.

    3. Northern Star says:

      Sounds to me like your in-laws bought a family Christmas present, and in order to afford it, asked for the rest of the extended family to limit the remaining presents.

      You chose to ignore their wishes and then were hurt when they did EXACTLY what they said they would do. That’s not their fault, as far as I can see.

    4. dinoceros says:

      I think part of the issue is just that people perceive different things when someone says they have a tight budget. Maybe the reason they had a tight budget was because they were expecting to purchase a dog. I think a lot of people hear that and assume it means that a family does not have enough money for basic expenses, but it’s not always what they mean. I definitely have said I can’t “afford” something like an expensive ticket, and in reality, yes, I could pay for it, but it would be more money than I’d like to spend.

  9. SpaceySteph says:

    I bet that the Black Friday tradition is not just a materialistic thing, but that someone (MIL, maybe?) really enjoys the door-busting deal-shopping thing. (Although I personally cannot imagine why anyone likes that, ugh.)
    So if that is the case, try to work out a way that you can still make that part of the tradition without breaking the bank. Maybe you still go, but only buy one thing that you actually need to replace this year (maybe this year its your computer and next it’s your winter boots) or just one gift for your in-laws that everyone (well, everyone you can get to agree to) chips in on.

    Other than that I think Wendy is spot on. You and your husband have a child now, and you need to decide together how much $ for gifts falls in your budget. Then stick to it and don’t ask permission. I wouldn’t even announce it, I would just act like it’s totally normal that you baked cookies this year instead of giving everyone an iPod. If they question it, they’re the ones that are making it weird not you and you can simply say that your budget priorities changed + subject change.

  10. I’m guessing that the real issue here is that she is worried that her husband will not side with her on this issue. Perhaps there is a history of her husband choosing his families expectations over what is best for his nuclear family.

    1. Agree. She’s been keeping this bottled up for WAY too long. Mountains out of molehills.

      1. Liz yatsinko says:

        I feel the same way about my in life’s mil wants lavish expensive gifts and give junk in return how to be nice and eliminate gift giving altogether?

    2. I totally agree but she wrote paragraphs about the inlaws and nothing about the initial conversations with her husband or what his objections are.

    3. I think this is the real issue too. Why else would she buy a Go Pro for her BIL or contribute to it?

  11. This ties in nicely with yesterday’s column about making your life easier. I love the holidays but I hate buying gifts for adults who don’t need anything, who usually live far away from me, and whose tastes I don’t know. It’s exhausting and pointless. Luckily most of our family feels the same way. I would be super frustrated and frankly annoyed if my any of my husband’s 3 siblings/spouses or my brother/SIL insisted on getting me birthday and Christmas gifts. I don’t need any more crap to clutter up my small house, and do not want to spend the time and energy it would take to swap $50 gift cards in the mail. So we don’t. I make a “grandkid calendar” for our parents, the kids get gifts, and we all hopefully get to spend some time together. (If we are able to drop the $1500+ it takes to fly our family to visit, that’s more than enough!)

  12. LW, My family stopped the insanity years ago and it was great. My family did it first and it was an email from my brother that just said, lets dial it back. We all just go to dinner around christmas and do gifts for kids and dogs.

    When you talk with your husband, I think you need to have a full financial conversation in general without degrading his family. Simply say that you have financial goals and a baby. Honestly, you can list that you aren’t saving enough for retirement or college planning. That you don’t have enough in an emergency fund. But then, don’t do what some of these stories say like buy a new car or a really expensive dog.

    Then send an email before thanksgiving. Here is a very important thing, do not justify or ramble, just say it. Say, “Now that we have the baby, we don’t have the extra money this year for big presents. I hope you all can understand.”

    1. dinoceros says:

      Yeah. I think most families that I know, including my own, are moving toward giving fewer or no gifts. We draw names in my family. As families grow, most people don’t have the money or time to give everyone a nice gift. It also just results in people dumping whatever toiletries gift set or whatever into their cart just to check all the names off the list. For a lot of people, having too many gifts exchanged means that the true meaning of the holiday is lost.

      1. SpaceySteph says:

        I wonder if this is a concerted move or just cyclic– the kids get older and so the presents taper down. But then the kids have kids and it goes back up.
        We talked my MIL into the non-secret Santa thing (everyone exchanges names and gives/gets one gift) but then my SIL and BIL had twins last year and I know they were buried in gifts. At least the adults kept to the one present thing. But as there are more kids in the family, I expect we’ll be buying (and one day receiving) plenty of kid crap.

      2. dinoceros says:

        I’ve thought about that too. For my family, it’s just been that the number of people had risen a lot. On my dad’s side, it was him and his sister, their spouses, me, and my four cousins. We did the regular gift thing. Now, it’s all of us plus 3 of 4 cousins have spouses and 1-4 kids each. So, it’s just not sustainable. There are more children below age 5 now than there were before, but there’s a much bigger total number of adults too.

        I also think society makes the shift because gift-giving has changed. When my parents were kids, they didn’t give as elaborate or as many gifts. I hear from a lot of families that it got to a point where folks were spending thousands of dollars on gifts and hours and hours shopping. I think that’s a result of the nature of gift-giving now and the numbers needed.

        But who knows! It’s fun to speculate.

  13. WWS, but I have to say WOW on grownass adults giving Christmas lists to other adults with no intention of reciprocating. I can’t think of any scenario where I could do that, unless maybe I was giving them a list for my child. Entitled much??? I love giving gifts and could care less if they are reciprocated, but if an adult gave me a list of what they wanted for Christmas, expected me to buy something worth $50 off of it, and never reciprocated, I’d be more than a little put off. It’s not the gifts, it’s the attitude. Once again, WOW

  14. And we moved to gifts just for the kids a few years ago and it’s great, us adults don’t really need to buy for each other

  15. Say that you are minimalists, you are no longer giving “gifts” but happy to spend time with one another. Stick by this, and I would also advise make it clear they don’t need to buy your child things either. Children are over saturated with toys and clothing, and you should try and refuse. If they do give you a gift, I have an “in-out” policy. If I get something new, I have to donate something to even it out. If you are given two toys for your child, pick one and donate the other. Check out http://www.theminimalists.com they are way more knowledgeable than I am, but you can use the opportunity to set up some good “rules” for living a simpler and frankly better life. I have donated over half of my belongings, and I am much happier after doing so, and I also have barely noticed.

    Stay strong!

  16. Cheesecaker2911 says:

    We used to go all out on my inlaws. Then, about 4 years ago, we went all out spent about $250 on their family of 5 (which was a lot for us back then), and they gave us $1 earrings (sticker was left on) and a $2 coffee cup (my husband doesn’t drink hot coffee) that they got from a local construction company as swag. The rest of the family at the exchange was getting $75-100 gifts from the same people that bought us those gifts (per person) but my husband and I, well, apparently we aren’t worth more than $3. This was on top of some other things that were said that day, and well, our relationship with my husband’s side has continued to get worse and worse. It’s not all about the money, but you should have some equality when purchasing gifts that will be opened in family settings. Obvious favortism is something that I can’t stand, as it’s the biggest issue with my side of the family. We used that year as our reason to justify gifts for just the kids, and then when they stopped inviting us to any holiday celebration 2 years ago, we put them on the Christmas card only list. Saves us money, and stress. Why waste time and effort on people who don’t really care to see us? Is it worth the twice a year headache? We didn’t think so.

    My family is also all about the matierialistic nature of the holidays, and it makes me SICK. Amongst the favoritism that we witness throughout the year, I have a family that does the black friday thing to buy a whole bunch of crap they don’t need, spends more money than they should to get those bargains, and doesn’t understand the “quality over quantity” philosophy that my husband and I follow. So, we decided to follow the same practice that we originally used on his family. We spend no more than $25/person, or make them something (my dad for example loves my biscotti’s, so he gets a batch all to himself every Christmas.) But the point is, we set our boundries, stick to it, and it makes it more enjoyable for us. I avoid the black friday madness, shop on amazon, or bake. Last year, I was on disability from my weightloss surgery and money was beyond tight, and we decided to surprise them by visiting them on Christmas morning (it’s about a 2.5 hour drive) and making a breakfast. cost around $40 including gas, and they loved it. It was still the opposite of the crazy Christmas gift nonsense they try to force me into, but it worked.

    My point is that you and your husband have to set rules, boundries, and stick to them. You don’t want to do Black Friday, then don’t. Work on saying no, and meaning it. Eventually, they will stop expecting you to cave in. If you need to use your child as your justification, go for it. But, just as you side eyed them for their choices, they may do the same. In the end, what really matters is you, your husband and your infant’s happiness, not their opinions.

  17. I personally don’t like when I am told to stop offering gifts or only for kids at Christmas. Some people like making gifts. The only think you can control is what you give yourself as gifts. You can make it smaller this year and say so in advance, but 10$ is really small if you have a good income. What you don’t say is: are you both wealthier than your in-laws, do you have a good income? If yes, I understand your husband’s wish to make them gifts. Especially to his parents and to his jobless siblings. So let him do, but downsize it a bit. But please don’t try to impose on the whole family your rules for gifts, that is insufferable. Especially if you ask people to offer DIY. Who wants to do that: not me!

    1. Wendy (not Wendy) says:

      Plenty of people literally do not like receiving gifts. If someone tells you they don’t want to receive gifts from you, you should respect that. And if that interferes with your giftgiving hobby, start giving to people in need instead.

      1. Of course I won’t make gifts to people who ask me not to. But I don’t like such requests, especially from close family. Giving and receiving is a fundamental social exchange, and it is important for many people, but the amount spent should be appropriate. This is a matter of balance. So imposing a “no gift” or “DIY gift” rule would hurt or at least displease many people in this family, in my opinion. Just downsize it in a reasonable proportion and accordingly to the financial capacity of each is, for me, the way to go here.
        This doesn’t exclude giving to charities. By the way, the LW didn’t speak of that option. And why do you think I don’t, I wonder.

    2. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

      I’m one of those who would rather receive no gifts. My house is full of stuff and I keep having to decide what to get rid of next. I have no use for more stuff just because someone wants to give it. I buy what I want and what I need when I want or need it. I am tired of people giving me things I don’t want and don’t need because they like it and want to give it. Their giving has nothing to do with me except I’m stuck receiving. That might sound sour to you but I don’t feel I need to bolster someones giving by being the recipient. Then I also feel obligated to give a gift in return which is a pain to do.

      If she doesn’t want to give gifts she shouldn’t have to and she shouldn’t have to spend on their wish list if she feels it doesn’t work for her or her family.

  18. I like Wendy’s suggestions about how to talk to your husband. I wish you LW were more specific about his stance and how you have discussed this. My husband gave some family members large gifts that won’t be reciprocated and to people who either don’t act like they care or are friendly but not at the level of his chosen amount. I didn’t say anything because he is the breadwinner at this time. I thought about it and felt he did it for pride/honour/politeness/imply he’s doing well. Anyways for those one time gifts I didn’t pick it as a battle and have never mentioned it (I only know the amount because I was the one who got it from the bank. ) I have a couple random suggestions that are more indirect. Admittedly, depending on your husband , he may find it rude or sneaky but it may put his family’s Christmas lists in a different light. One is to spend a similar amount on your 4 closest friends or their kids, or even a coworker or new friend’s kid. After all they are in your life more than the inlaws. Will he care? will a budget talk happen? Maybe it will just make the whole thing seem less unfair to you. Maybe they will return the favour on your bday and he’ll notice the difference in reciprocation. Another thing, is to start or return to a hobby if you’ve been wanting to. Decorating cookies? Sewing dishclothes? or making soaps is apparently really easy for example . If you can prepare a nice Gift which they would like the scents or ingredients of your husband may accept that instead of paying $50 for what’s on the list. If he doesn’t like your idea or what you made he will at least feel obligated to explain his values about it all nicely, after you went to all the trouble. I wouldn’t start a hobby just for that conversation but maybe it’s some motivation if you never find time for something you want to do/make. He could see the homemade gift , think of the homemade gifts he’s received and maybe He’ll get that the big gifts aren’t as necessary as he thought. Sometimes it’s easier to show someone than tell, when telling makes you look so petty. (Not that you are petty about this!)

  19. This letter was a bit difficult for me to follow. If I understand correctly, the letter writer is currently spending around $350 at Christmas to give all members of the family a $50 gift (2 brothers, 2 others, 2 parent-in-laws, 1 niece). Nobody else is giving the letter writer or her husband a full $50 gift, but the letter writer’s husband, his brother, and their mom are all going black Friday shopping together. I’m wondering if the thanksgiving list is a family tradition that was originally meant to be helpful and save time.
    It isn’t surprising at all that the letter writer wouldn’t want to think about black Friday shopping after right after having a baby. I think it’s completely understandable that she would want to think about cutting back on work and being able to spend more time together.
    It does sound like the letter writer and her husband make more money than the rest. Perhaps in the past, her husband has enjoyed being able to give nice gifts to his parents and his brother’s families. If the letter writer as regularly gotten involved when none of the other spouses did, I wonder if she enjoyed it, too. If not, I wonder why she did it?
    I think there might be a few issues which are getting tangled up. First of all, she resents the lack of interest she perceives from her husband’s side. Secondly, apparently neither her nor her husband was ever comfortable addressing the discrepancy between what they spend versus what ALL the other members of the family spend. I don’t understand why she and her husband didn’t bring up moving the limit down? Does the husband enjoy spending the extra money or does he feel a sense of obligation or guilt because he makes more?

    If her husband does enjoy giving gifts, then perhaps she can suggest a gift exchange per family (instead getting gifts for each person). Then they would only be spending $50, and the other families would have an expectation of only receiving one gift. If her husband doesn’t even like giving gifts, then perhaps it might be time to suggest a no gift Christmas or something simpler like a cookie exchange.

    But the other family members might decide to continue their tradition (assuming some of them actually do buy smaller presents for the others). If this is the case, I think the letter writer should avoid putting this in her resentment pile.
    “except maybe we could all give presents to his niece since maybe it’s not fair to not give kids presents at Christmas?”
    This line makes me wonder if the letter writer is worried too much about what choices other members of her husband’s family make. Of course it’s fine to have an opinion, but the letter writer isn’t obliged to live up to all the wishes of each member of the family, and they aren’t obligated to live up to hers.

    1. I apologize for my poor grammar.

  20. Once my mother passed away, our family stopped giving gifts, which was such a relief (although young children still receive gifts from their parents). Gift giving had become nothing more than each individual compiling a list and sending to others to purchase. The artificial construct had simply become a seasonal chore. We now look at holidays as a time to share each other’s company and not the great merchandise swap.

    Gifts should be given without expectation of return. Once there is an expectation of what to give, when to give and how much to give, the whole exercise becomes one of personal politics, and not a heartfelt display of personal affection and appreciation.

    With expanding family and financial responsibilities, the LW and husband can now use this as a rationale to preannounce a limit for their gift giving to establish a new norm. Of course, this can only work if the LW and husband ask for, and expect, nothing in return.

  21. Anonymous says:

    LW, you are stressing over nothing. Get a small inexpensive gift or make something homemade. You don’t have to explain anything to anyone. We do small things for family such as a candle, a fun tshirt that reminds us of them, a fancy soap, a good book, fancy candies, a fuzzy blanket, etc. Spend $15 or less. The holidays are not about gifts…that is superficial. It’s about quality time together. No one should care about the “Stuff”. If anyone is rude enough to mention it to you then say , Sorry, but that is what your budget would allow. You can even say something sweet like we hope you know how much we love and appreciate you. Sit down at the amazon website with your husband and pick out the 5 or so gifts you need and order them with free shipping. Easy. Tell him his job is to wrap them this year. Also – the inexpensive gifts we get are for my husband’s family. We actually usually only give one gift for a husband/wife couple, although not always. In my family we pick names out of a hat for the kids (so that is one gift). The adults don’t give each other anything most years except we do get my mom a gift. No adults care about the gifts. That is the way it should be.

  22. I would get for the kids in the family and the MIL and FIL. I can’t imagine not getting Christmas gifts for my or my husband’s parents. I would cut the others out.

    I was going through a similar dilemma this year about whether to get gifts for my adult nieces and nephews who have nothing to do with me. Only one stays in touch with me online. She gets together with me once a year at a restaurant for a Christmas dinner, but that’s expensive with her four kids and spouse, and I’m not rich. I was also getting her kids, spouse, and four other grand nieces gifts. None of them ever reciprocated or thanked me. And when my niece posts Christmas photos on Facebook, showing the kids’ presents, I never see any of the gifts I gave them. So I’ve decided to cut all of that out this year, including the dinner. I don’t even want to get together with them this year.

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