“I’ve Gone Broke Buying Gifts But My Boyfriend isn’t Giving Me Anything for Christmas!”

I don’t want to sound ungrateful or anything, but my partner of two years isn’t getting me a Christmas present just like he didn’t get me a birthday present this year. I earn $304 a fortnight and he earns $500+ a week. We live with his parents so we don’t pay bills — all he has to do each week is put fuel in his car. I have spent over $1000 on presents throughout the year. I have a pretty big family, so I have to buy all these Christmas presents for people in my family plus we are going on a camping trip in January for which I paid for some new supplies, like an awning, camp oven, recovery kit, sleeping bags, and this brand new expansive tool kit.

I have been going broke in that I don’t buy myself anything anymore because my partner will mention something that he wants and I will be stupid enough to buy it for him and spend what little money I have. I need to save up to buy a car next year and don’t know how I will ever do it. I just feel pretty depressed because he isn’t getting me any gifts at all. When I spend most of my money on everyone else, I just feel very unappreciated. Please tell me that I’m not over-reacting. — Going Broke

There are two things going on here: your spending is out of control (and beyond your earnings, it sounds like); your boyfriend doesn’t get you gifts. The first one is entirely in your control; just stop spending so much!! You’ve internalized our consumerist culture’s message that buying new, expensive stuff is the best – or even only – way to show love. It is not! If you feel you *must* give all these family members gifts, you could make some gifts (like baked goods, a home-cooked meal, a hand-knitted scarf, hot chocolate mix in a decorated mason jar, a photo album with favorite pictures from the year), you could buy stuff second-hand (where a lot of times you can find items that are new with tags still attached), or give hand-me-downs. And I don’t understand why you went out and bought a bunch of brand new camping equipment for one camping trip in January. Why not borrow from people? Or tell others on your camping trip that you can’t afford all this stuff and they’re going to have to pitch in and contribute some things?

What are you afraid will happen if you don’t blow all your money on your loved ones? That they’ll love you less? Be upset with you? Not know how much you love them? None of this is going to happen. They will be glad you didn’t go broke buying stuff unnecessarily. People who love you want you to be able to afford a car next year. They want you to have an emergency fund. They really, really don’t want you going broke and then resenting them because they aren’t grateful enough for your sacrifice.

As for your boyfriend not getting you any gifts, that’s kind of lame. Have you told him it’s important to you that he give you something? That for you, gift-giving is an expression of love and when he doesn’t give you anything, it makes you feel unloved? Have you given him some suggestions of budget-friendly items you’d appreciate? Have you asked him why he’s not giving you anything? If he simply flat-out refuses and continues making excuses, you have two choices: suck it up that he’s not a gift-giver and you’ll have to find validation of his feelings for you in other ways or, if you can’t, you should move on. Stay with him and you will continue feeling depressed, resentful, and angry until he finally dumps you because he can’t take the drama anymore.

I recently extended an email invitation to my friends who are husband and wife with the proposed date being about two weeks out. After a week, I didn’t hear from them so I texted them both. The next day I received an email from the husband saying that they had moved out of state! He mentioned some of their reasons for leaving and that they “didn’t want to cause a fuss” by telling people and then he ended with, “Come visit!”
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So…we weren’t really friends then? Is there something I should do besides ghost them? They didn’t care enough to say good-bye, they took their time in responding to email/text, and now I’m supposed to visit them? I’m really tired of putting effort into maintaining friendships and relationships and not getting anything in return. There’s the same pattern with my brother (who has kids) as well as other friends. It is incredibly difficult to make and execute plans with adult friends here in Los Angeles, so I’m probably extra sensitive to it. It feels embarrassing to “chase” people who don’t seem to value the relationship as I do. I’d appreciate your thoughts. — Tired of Chasing Friends

It *is* weird that your friends would move without even saying anything to you, which leads me to believe they left under traumatic circumstances of some kind that they didn’t want to try to explain or discuss with people, or they actually forgot to tell you because they don’t consider you a close friend and so you weren’t on their radar. Either way, I think the long lag-time to respond to you is a reflection of embarrassment and/or rudeness and apathy. The invitation to visit is a way of covering those things up and not an actual real invitation. Sure, you could simply ghost them and that would be fine or you could send a quick text back saying, “What a surprise! Hope the transition is going smoothly and you have a happy holiday season.” Either way, no need to reach out again or try to maintain this particular friendship!

As for other friendships and relationships, if you value them and you genuinely feel like you aren’t getting the same kind of effort returned to you that you put in, you should talk to your friends and family about this. It may just be that they have different levels of emotional, physical, and logistical availability, depending on family commitments (parents of young kids, for example, are notoriously less available than kid-free people), job demands, and all the various other stuff that eat up adults’ time and energy. And if you’re in LA, I can imagine just the commutes alone can be daunting. But, you know, talk to your people – tell them you wish you could have more time together and ask if that’s a possibility — something you can both work on in the new year, discussing and taking into consideration how each of you would ideally like to spend time together (like having a regular lunch date, or Sunday night dinner once a month, or a movie date every season—-I’ve learned that having “standing dates” with fellow busy people is a great way to stay connected and sort of reduce the amount of time and energy we spend planning and arranging) — or if they’re already investing as much as they can. Even if they avoid answering this question, their non-answer will tell you what you need to know.

Regardless, it sounds like you could use some new friends whose availability and interest in hanging out matches yours. People who live in or close to your neighborhood would be a good bet. Here are some tips for making friends as an adult. Good luck!

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.


  1. anonymousse says:

    LW1- Why are you spending all of your money on other people? You can make gifts, as Wendy said or – not buy people shit that they don’t even need! No one is going to love you less if you tell them you can’t afford to buy presents this year. As for the bf- stop buying him stuff. Maybe you grew up in a house with people who managed money badly (I did!) but retail therapy is not a real thing. No one needs physical gifts to feel loved by you. Wasting all your money buying things that you actually do not physically need is foolish. Yes, companies want you to buy all their stuff. All the ads on TV, the internet and social media are just hoping you will spend your dollars on their shit. That’s how They make money. You don’t need it. Your bf doesn’t need it. He has no expenses and can buy his own shit.

    I want to challenge you to return your recent purchases if you can and stop buying non necessary items until February. You can buy food, pay your bills and transportation but don’t buy gifts, makeup, new clothing or anything that is not actually necessary for you to live. Write out a budget. Start being really strict, save your money and sell things you don’t need. Look for a better job with higher pay. Save for that car (do you really need a car?) and honestly, I don’t think you should be living with your shitty bf in his parents house. I think he’s a shitty bf because it sounds like he’s taking advantage of you by having you buy all his junk. Why so he getting or making or taking you out for a Christmas present? Why are you buying all the junk for the camping trip? (Please return all that you bought for the camping trip.)

    1. anonymousse says:

      Save all your receipts and find a free app to track your expenses. Take out books about money management and being thrifty from your local library. Find a better job!

  2. I think we missed an important part of LW1’s letter. She lives with his parents “so we don’t pay bills,” found the money to buy what sounds like expensive camping gear and other expensive gifts, and has no money saved to buy a car needed for next year?? I got stuck on the mooching off the parents part of this. I just did the math, and they collectively make about $2,608 a month. They chip in NOTHING toward their living expenses? She has nothing saved at all? What kind of a job does she have where she is making $152 per week? Are they students? It just seems so incredibly weird to me that she is worried about gifts when she can’t support herself. How is she going to buy a car earning $608 per month? Gas, insurance, car payment… Maybe I’m just crabby this morning, but this letter really struck me the wrong way. She is only able to maintain this spendthrift lifestyle since she is living off his parents.

    1. Get a new boyfriend. Get out!! Run!!

  3. anonymousse says:

    Maybe that’s how he feels he supports you, through his parents? I agree you have a lucky situation, but to be a real, responsible adult you need to figure out a way to support yourself on your own. Move in with friends or family if you can. But pay your own way and set a realistic budget.

  4. LW1: Nowhere is it written that you must bankrupt yourself buying gifts for people. Shop within your means. And for Pete’s sake, stop buying your boyfriend things. He’s a big boy, he can buy his own stuff. Start saving money for that car and make getting out on your own a priority. Living off someone else’s parents only works for so long, and what if you and your boyfriend break up? Where will you live then? You need to able to take care of your yourself so you will never be dependent on others. It’s okay to have a partner to rely on, but that also means that he does things for you when you need him to. It sounds like this guy doesn’t. He’s taking advantage of you. (And I think on some level you know that, since you said you are “stupid enough” to buy things for him when he asks. You’re not stupid, but you are dependent, and that needs to stop.)

    1. First, I am not a therapist, psychologist, or otherwise, the statements made here are my opinion and I cannot and will not be held responsible for any comments made here,as they are an opinion only.
      My opinions about this issue first: For the person who wrote in about her boyfriend not giving her gifts-this is the main concern in my opinion. I believe, the point of it being mentioned they were living with his parents is to provide a picture, if you will, that he really has no other expenses and he doesnt get her a gift. Regardless of what she is spending it is rather rude and inconsiderate, in my opinion that he doesnt get her any gift. What is he doing with the money that he makes , or is he saving it so that they can get their own place? In my opinion, this is a discussion they need to have, since they are a couple as stated in the post. I understand what she is saying when she says she spends money on gifts and she makes less than he, therefore, it seems she is saying if she can get him a gift, and he makes more-why he is not even attempting to get her a gift?

  5. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

    When your partner mentions something that he wants to get that doesn’t mean it’s a command that you must follow. He’s expressing his interest in the item. You need to say I can’t wait to see what you get. Don’t run out and buy it.

    You sound like you are trying to buy love and approval. If you can just give him enough stuff he will love you. The fact that he buys you nothing feels like he doesn’t love you, and maybe that’s true. You need to understand yourself. Why are you spending so much on gifts? What do you think you will get out of buying these gifts? What do you think will happen if you don’t buy these gifts? Are you trying to build something positive or are you trying to avoid something negative?

    Does he come from a family that is constantly buying gifts? Do they buy gifts at all? If they do, for what occasions? How much do they spend? Don’t try to outdo or change their family culture.

    It’s time to start saving money. Take half of every paycheck and save it since you have no actual bills or expenses. Do not touch that half. Take the other half and spend at least half of it, which is one quarter of your pay, and spend that on yourself for things you need, like clothes or gas in a car. You can spend the other quarter of the paycheck in whatever way you like. After a couple of months you can readjust this a bit to better fit your needs.

    Tell your own family that you’d like to skip exchanging gifts this year because you can’t afford it. That way you won’t feel bad that they are buying you gifts and you are giving them nothing.

  6. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

    LW2 We do standing dates with our friends. It is so much easier to organize because it is understood where and when we will meet. We meet with on set of friends every Friday night for dinner. It is understood that we will all be there unless we have a conflict and we let each other know when we won’t be there. We have other friends that we meet for coffee or brunch on either Saturday or Sunday. Texting sets the time and location.

    We’ve had other types of standing dates that were less frequent. We had friends that we went to each new Harry Pottery movie with and then followed with dinner out.

    We have another couple we go with to see Star Wars movies. Once a year we also meet this couple in a nearby town that has a waterfall. We wander the town, look at the falls and the river and the gardens in the park and the ducks and then go to dinner.

    It’s important to find an activity or restaurant that everyone will enjoy.

  7. I very much understand your impulses, I, too, have been guilty of using gifts to express my love. I, too, love the feeling of getting gifts and equating it to affection. But please know at the end of the day, it’s not what matters. That’s not the best way to show affection; in fact, it’s kind of the worst way to. Unless it’s a super thoughtful gift, buying things is easy. Sugar daddies shower gifts on girls they are only with only because of looks. There’s no love. Do you know what’s not easy? Comforting your partner when they think their going to get fired and feels like a failure, despite you internally worrying about the financial impact. Going to your partner’s boring work event when your already introverted self is under the weather and has a fever of 102. Learning to live with each other every day, being there when it matters, giving space when it’s needed, accepting one another for who you are without judgment. Those are the real expressions of love. If you two are already on that level, gifts are just kind of a little bonus.

    That being said, it’s okay to want a gift, too. Just talk to him. Tell him you want to be a couple that exchanges gifts and that’s important to you. If he refuses to make this small concession, then you may need to reevaluate things between you two. However, THAT being said, girl, keep it on budget. Know your budget. My boyfriend and I are a little strained financially this year, so for the first time ever, we agreed not to get each other anything. With the rest of our families to buy for, it’s just not in our budget. It happens. Maybe next year will start again. Who knows? And don’t underestimate small and/or handmade gifts. They often have way more meaning.

  8. Bittergaymark says:

    LW1) Gee, I dunno. Living rent free on your lovers parents sounds like quite a gift to me. Talk about one that keeps on giving…

    LW2) Pretty much everybody who leaves LA does so out of sheer and utter soul crushing failure. Getting together and trying to put a positive spin on that to everybody one knows sounds fucking exhausting. Not to mention suicide inducing. But, sure. Lets make THEIR departure ALL ABOUT YOU… sigh… On the upside, LW2, you are most definitely a true Angeleno now… ?

  9. CanadaGoose says:

    LW1: If you are adult enough to cohabit with a boyfriend, it is time you learned to manage money. Your love language may be gifts but your priorities seem really off to me. You say you are living rent free! That gift from his family is worth thousands of dollars a year. Depending on where you live, it can be worth thousands of dollars a month. Plus, you’re not paying for heat, light, home upkeep and it sounds like you are not compensating his family for the food you eat either! And you’re worried because he’s not buying you some bauble? I hope you two are contributing to the household in some significant way because it sounds like you are mooching off his parents. Perhaps he figures housing you is enough of a gift, given it would likely cost more than you make to house yourself.

    I don’t understand how you could possibly make so little money unless you only work part time. Unless, as has been said before, you are a student, you should be getting a full-time job. If you are a student, save every penny you can and that means not buying gifts. You cannot afford it. Repeat this to yourself. If your bf doesn’t buy gifts, he should totally be on board with this.

    Instead of quietly agonizing about the lack of gifts from your bf, talk with him about it. Communication is vital in a relationship. If you are desperate for a material gift then set a low limit $5 or max $10 and make a game out of it together. Perhaps set a theme – books, candy, pop culture, something funny, something homemade, whatever. The fun can be in the hunt.

    I hope you will go all out to give something back to his parents to show your appreciation. This does not have to be a traditional gift. You could take over cooking some days, laundry for his parents etc.

    Return the material gifts you bought for the holidays this year. You can’t afford them. Offer a service as a gift – gardening, housecleaning, babysitting. Many adults would rather have that anyway. Return the camping equipment. You cannot afford to go camping. Try and pick up extra work during the time others will be away camping to earn more money. You may not like that but adults have to make those kinds of sacrifices.

    Until you learn how to manage your money you will be miserable. Priority #1 should be making sure you can support yourself. You are focused on the wrong thing.

    1. @canadagoose – to be fair, a full time minimum wage job in the US is only $580 per fortnight – and that’s gross, BEFORE taxes are taken out. It’s pretty shameful, but that’s the US for you.

      1. CanadaGoose says:

        That’s $7.25 an hour. Insanity. It’s $13 and change where I live. Still even that is almost twice what she earns, so she could nearly double her income working full time. I’m mostly worried for her. Schools don’t teach kids how to manage money, which contributes to generational poverty and poor spending/saving habits. Maybe the bf is saving his $ for the future and living with his parents so he can. He may be frugal and smart, not an ass. Hard to tell from a letter but it’s quite possible.

      2. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

        Minimum wage jobs are also almost always part time so that the employer doesn’t have to pay benefits. Most of those jobs also require that the employee work flexible hours which they don’t know very far in advance. The flexible hour requirement keeps many part time workers from getting a second job. It is very hard to balance two part time jobs that both demand you come in to work when they need you.

  10. Avatar photo Guy Friday says:

    Every year I see letters written in to advice columnists about “I can’t afford to buy all these presents!” and every year these LWs are suggested to do lower-cost higher-effort things like knit them a scarf. And every year I have the exact same thought when I read them:

    “Who the hell DOESN’T want a hand-made scarf? Have you seen how expensive scarves are these days?!”

    Seriously. I’m not trying to be funny; I’m 100% serious. I get where someone might only politely smile and nod if you made them, say, a homemade ashtray and they don’t smoke or something, but scarves and mittens and things like that are AMAZING. Forget the fact that they’re made with love and it’s a huge plus to see that someone cares enough about me to put the time in. They’re just USEFUL. And if you’re giving me one you made it means I don’t have to go buy them for myself, so you’re saving me time and money.

    I’ve literally never met anyone in my life who wouldn’t be thrilled to get something like that. I’m sure they exist out there, but I’ve never run into them.

  11. LW, you have to reign in your gift giving and spending! You are acting as though you make much more money than you do. You sound like a very generous person, but this is not good in the long run! My mom is like you are and has done this her whole life and she is now 75 with ZERO retirement saved. She’s so screwed. Limit your gifts to $10-$15 per person, make something homemade, give a card and cookies in a tin, etc. Remember that not everyone in your life needs a gift.
    Second, some people do not value giving or receiving gifts…maybe your boyfriend grew up in a family like this? My husband grew up in a family that was very frugal and looked down on all the people who give a lot of materialistic things at Christmastime because to them it is a waste, bad for the planet and just fuels consumerism. They are very anti shopping. Anti black friday. Anti Walmart. Knitting socks for someone is the perfect gift to them. I had to have conversations with him about how it means a lot to me to receive a gift from him…to me it shows he cares. It took him a while to get it but he does now. I don’t need a lot, but getting nothing is too hurtful.

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