Gift Giving – Don’t Play the Game

This is a guest article by Daniel.  If you are interested in contributing to Debt RoundUp, please follow our guidelines.  This is a long post folks, so sit back and enjoy.

dummy with giftThe biggest and most outdated social convention we all face and dread is not a gawkily sung ‘Happy Birthday’ to the new guy at the office, nor is it having dinner with your spouse’s parents.

It’s actually something far more awkward; the commonly feared convention of gift giving. Over the years gift giving has evolved into a social monstrosity that’s less about giving gifts and more about social status.  Perhaps this can be partly attributed to how global logistics have changed as consumers we can now obtain anything we want via the internet and we expect delivery within a few days of placing an order. This in turn feeds consumer needs for near instant gratification and better quality products for less.

Sequentially, this globally available machine now fuels the age-old convention of gift giving, bringing it to an all new level; gifts are no longer cheaply bought, quizzical or silly items that we’d normally pick up for a few dollars – instead we go online to hunt for bargains, which are considerably less bargain-like and more expensive when compared to their whimsical gas-station bought equivalents.

I have no statistics pertaining to this, but let me put it to you this way: I’m sure we all know somebody where we work or within our immediate group of friends, that excels at gift-giving just for the sake of gaining social approval, regardless of their affiliation to parties involved.

Whether it’s an extrinsic desire that compels someone to bestow you with a gift or the forced alternative, perhaps there are several other deep-rooted  intrinsic psychological issues involved with gift giving that can sculpt a rational individual into the frenzied purchasing instrument of consumerism; with the burning need to achieve social acceptance above all else. One thing remains clear though, it’s not the smartest thing to do financially – especially if the gift is not reciprocated.

Yet, the social convention attached to this enigmatic machine, unequivocally dictates that the gift must be reciprocated; failure to conform to this can result in the recipient being social exiled and shunned for being fiscally stiff – what happened to giving a gift for the sheer joy of it?

Seemingly though, many of us would be happier dipping into our income for a ‘cheap’ gift than face a guilty (read needlessly guilty) conscience for a couple of days.

An outdated social convention

In a time where we are beginning to hold ourselves accountable for our financial lifestyle and habits, should we not start by re-programming the venerable principles of gift giving? Whilst there are many unwritten rules (which accounts for a lot of the issues surrounding gift giving) about gifting people, the biggest issue is that, there are no written rules. By clearly stating the amounts that we are (or are not) willing to spend per person, could mean that we all avoid the minimal (albeit cumulative) loss of money over time to gift giving.


But should it be like this, should we have written rules for giving out gifts and presents?

Arguably yes; we should all have written budgets or financial plans for our spending that enable us to allocate some funds towards gift giving, if you’re that way inclined, but mostly for the sake of preserving your income. If your well-being doesn’t command the respect of your immediate circles, then it’s time to start drawing new ones. As your only means to financial stability each month, your income should be universally recognized by your friends as your one and only financial lifeline.

Therefore, real friends will recognize your reasons for abstaining from the gift giving process; high living costs, utilities, medical care and vehicle maintenance costs are bigger contenders for your cash than a gift for a colleague at work, which is understandable – imagine breaking down and not having something in place, like RAC breakdown cover, would you have enough additional cash left over to bail yourself out if you’re a avid gift giver?

When it’s OK to give

check markI admit it (and in case it’s not obvious); I’m rather cynical when it comes to the notion of gift-giving or sending out greetings cards – guilty as charged. Granted, my cynicism is founded in wanting to save money wherever possible – penny pinching does add up over time! This doesn’t however; mean that I’d avoid important occasions where a gift is socially appropriate. Birthdays and Holidays are good occasions where gifting a loved one is warranted and not a precursor of some incongruous social conventionality – remember; spend money on those you love, not on those that you want to love you.

A great alternative to spending money on gifts is to recycle old gifts that were previously gifted to you. You can cry blasphemy all you want, but recycling gifts is arguably more socially acceptable and practiced, than imposing stringent gift-giving protocols unto others. Consider this; 84% of adults receive unwanted items as gifts during holiday periods. Truly, this is an undeniable testament to the power of gift-giving and the perceived obligation we still hold onto; we must gift others or face rejection – we still do this knowingly, regardless of the circumstances that we may find ourselves in afterwards too and regardless of how times and attitudes have changed over the past 4 years.

When it’s not OK

no markOffice politics and indeed the etiquette involved in managing our relationships can be brutal on our finances – if we let them. If you don’t know someone well enough to give them a gift or you haven’t worked somewhere long enough, then you don’t need to start shelling out money to appease your immediate, new-found circles and maybe one or two people will hold a temporary grudge because you didn’t commit – so what? It’s your money in the end. The majority of people who exercise good common sense will see it your way though.

If you do feel like you’re being pressured into contributing towards gifts for people you barely know or have acquaintance with, then it’s time to make a stand and clearly state that you don’t have bountiful pockets capable of performing financial miracles.

That Warm, Fuzzy Feeling

Gift-giving has a dangerous allure for those of us that enjoy the warm, fuzzy feelings that being generous gives back to us. Admittedly, it does feel good to watch someone unwrap or find a gift they weren’t expecting – they are full of questions, curiosity and bewilderment, that rivals even the greatest of game shows on TV. Enjoy this feeling too much however, and you’ll find yourself spending money on less meaningful occasions, just for the sake of giving out presents – this is something that will leave you short financially in the long run.

Put Your Foot Down

Knowing when you should and shouldn’t be giving out gifts is crucial to your personal development; financially and mentally – having the ability to be strong (read stubborn) and say no from time to time are fundamental charismatic properties, which we all sometimes lack, but so desperately need. This stubbornness is completely transferable too and will translate into stern financial discipline as we grow up. Knowing that it’s actually OK to say no every now and then will certainly bode well for those of you who desire a balanced social and working life.

What do you think: has the culture of gift-giving gone too far or should we always be expected to pitch in for colleagues and acquaintances in spite of any prior affiliation we have with them?

Author Bio: Daniel is a writer for a U.K based lender that’s committed to providing consumers with more information regarding payday loans and how they work.

Editor’s Note: There are many times when I don’t feel right about giving a gift.  I do not like being guilted into gift giving, especially if it is an office pool gift.  I only give gifts to people that I love and after I have given it some thought.  I would rather give experiences, not tangibles.

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Leave a Comment:

DC @ Young Adult Money says April 4

This is a really tough topic. Most people don’t give gifts at Christmas at my work, but when your manager gives you a $50 cash card it’s really hard not to at least get him $20-$30 worth of gifts. I do like giving gifts, so I don’t see a problem with it, it does seem a bit forced sometime, though.

Greg@ClubThrifty says April 4

Amen. We rarely give gifts anymore. I think we have finally convinced most of our families to stop trading gift cards around. We buy for those we want to, not because we feel like we should at this point. Gift giving has gone WAY over the top, and we refuse to take part in it.

Daniel Hilsden says April 4

@DC yeah it’s a tough one – the post got so long that I didn’t even get into what gifts are classed as ”appropriate”; there’s nothing worse than buying a colleague some silly underwear (edible) for a Christmas party only to have them turn around and make accusations about it being inappropriate when it took all of 30 seconds to randomly select it!

Still, I do like giving gifts out – I just hate it when people frown upon you because you want to be better off that month.

Also; that’s an interesting point you make about the value of a reciprocated gift – even though we don’t always match a gift in value, we clearly abide to an unwritten set of rules to give something back to ensure the ‘status quo’ of gift-giving is met.


Jose says April 4

I’m completely against gifts in the office environment, maybe a secret Santa is OK during the holidays but otherwise, I prefer not to give or receive. This is especially true having been in a management position. If there has to be gift giving at the office, it should be small and inexpensive, otherwise there might be conflicts of interest, real or imagined.

John S @ Frugal Rules says April 4

Like DC said, it can be a difficult situation. I remember being forced into buying gifts at previous companies and always hated the awkwardness, especially if I did not want to participate. I would usually suggest something like a white elephant exchange to try and keep costs down. Thankfully, I do not have to deal with that issue anymore. 🙂 We like to give experiences as well and hold back a lot of what we have budgeted for the kids for that very thing.

Daniel Hilsden says April 4

@Greg I feel you mate – Last Christmas I went with my Brother and Sister to see our Dad. I didn’t bring a card because I knew I was seeing him on Christmas morning.

My Brother and Sister went crazy at me for not writing out and bringing a card; my Dad was confused (and I think a little insulted) as to why I didn’t have a card for him.

My response was something along the lines of: “I thought since I’m seeing you on Christmas day that I wouldn’t be required to give you a piece of paper that you can throw away in a couple of days once Christmas has come and gone”

It may have sounded harsh, but it actually sunk in and we all went on to talk about people who couldn’t/cannot be with their families for Christmas – making us appreciate our time with our Dad a little bit more that year 🙂

Think my message got through then though, but I’ll bring him a card just for the ceremony of opening it; it gives me happiness but I hate it as a convention.


Birgit Platschka says April 4

Hi there,
We have resettled in a new country and with it comes the starting afresh financial tight-rope.
Last year we drove to visit family. Gifts for the kids were beyond us. With great ingenuity we printed ” Gift-vouchers ” for 1/2 hour of undivided attention as soon as Gift-voucher is tendered. Each kid got 10.

As is usual when you are embarrassed, we over explained to parents.
We needn’t have worried. These vouchers were the best thing since sliced bread. That first evening I had signed off 4 ( Each voucher was signed as it was used. The kid’s liked that fact ).
We have given these kids something that costs nothing and was treasured more than any toy.

Of course the social pressure was there regardless!
Thank you for your post.

Michelle says April 4

We give gifts at work (for Christmas) and in W’s immediate family. Luckily it doesn’t add up to much.

Pauline says April 4

I have cut down a lot on gifts too, and office pools were the worst. I mean why should you thank your boss for helping him make a big profit? At Christmas we do gifts for kids, not adults anymore, except my mother and sister, it saves a ton of money. I’d rather get nothing than a crappy not thoughtful gift.

Alan@escapingmydebt says April 4

This is a great article. My wife and I have just started talking about getting out of gift giving at christmas time with the siblings. A few years ago we used to buy each other a gift but then felt with more nieces and nephews in the picture it was just getting too pricey so now we draw names. The problem is that all gifts are gift cards for the exact amount. So we are going to mention to them about possibly stop doing that because it is pointless. Maybe do a dirty santa instead. Anyways, to your question, I have been in that spot about giving to someone although I was new. I did not give and was hoping they did not hold it against me and understood that I was a new employee and barely knew anyone. It worked out that way. But usually when the ideas are trembling I mention that my financial situation is not the greatest so if I give it will not be that much.

Canadian Budget Binder says April 4

My wife was telling me a story about her old job years ago when they would take up a collection all the time from employees for birthdays, baby shower gifts etc. I agree that if you have worked with someone and are close to them and you want to pitch in that’s great. It does make for a very awkward situation when people feel obliged to put money so they don’t look cheap or get ousted as not part of the gang. It seems odd that they would be buying gifts for each other at work anyhow, we don’t do that never have, maybe a coffee.

eemusings says April 4

Call me a grinch but I hate gift giving. It’s such a chore (I do like giving awesome gifts to my partner though – that might be the one exception). Occasionally my friends and I do secret santa (you guys have a different name for this I think).

Daniel Hilsden says April 5

@eemusings we call it mysterious Father Christmas 😉 – only kidding! Secret santa is beginning to become a more popular past-time over here; I play the game if the prices are agreed on (I won’t go more than £5) and the people putting gifts into the pot are as silly-minded as I am when it comes to picking out cheeky little gifts 🙂

Daniel Hilsden says April 5

@CBB Coffee is the best gift.

Daniel Hilsden says April 5

@Alan Respect your stance – a lot of people would crumble under such pressure! It boggles the mind how as a society we still expect gift-giving off the back of a global financial meltdown several years ago 😐

cjb says April 5

This has been a big subject in my life recently.

We’ve decided that gifts given must be consumable, if given at all. There shouldn’t be a time of year that tells me someone is special because all my friends and family are special even if they don’t know it.

I tried giving certificates of time for fathers day a couple years ago…and well, it seems that that wasn’t good enough.

If I’m a Grinch…so be it.

    Grayson says April 5

    I don’t think you are a Grinch, cjb. This is how many people feel.

Daniel Hilsden says April 9

@cjb If ever there could be a universal quote for how I felt about gift-giving, it would be yours!

“There shouldn’t be a time of year that tells me someone is special because all my friends and family are special even if they don’t know it”.

I think the friends you have who exercise common sense and decency will always know it – goes without saying if they have an ounce of common sense 🙂

Those who make gift abstinence personal (when they should know better) are those within your friend circles that try to make everything about them – so to confirm what Grayson said; no, you’re most certainly not a Grinch!

name says October 15

i hate wasting my money on crap for other people.

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