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  • Writer's pictureGary Grewal

How Much Is Too Much? How to Decide What and How Much to Gift

You might be thinking, “Oh great, another blogger telling me to spend less for the holidays coming up. How original!” And, you’d be right. We keep writing about this stuff because consumers keep making the same mistakes year after year. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve come across that spend over $100, per person mind you, when they already have credit card debt!

It’s not just for Christmas either. Over the years, birthday and wedding gifts have gotten over the top. As I’ve gotten to the age where friends are also getting married, I’ve started getting familiar with things like bridal showers, rehearsal dinner gifts, and registries.

Come to think of it, I’ve found registries to be kind of odd as if you’re demanding someone buy you an expensive coffee maker or designer bedsheets. I’ve even seen registries where the bride and groom can see who bought what, so prepare for judgemental looks if you only bought them a $30 ironing board!

In fact, one of my neighbors told me her daughter went to a wedding last month in Massachusetts, where she spent $450 on the gifts and her dress. On top of that, she wasn’t even “in” the wedding! Apparently, it’s rude to wear the same outfit to a different friend's wedding? I wonder who came up with that rule.

We won’t get into it here, but even the cost of parties has gone up. From high-end photography, catering, cakes, and floral arrangements, some people feel compelled to spend through the nose so all their pictures look perfect on social media.

So, here we are with gifting. How much do you give a couple on their wedding day? What is an appropriate amount to spend on a housewarming gift for your cousin? For your own child, should you throw logic by the wayside and spoil them crazy?

In fact, I’ve seen kids' birthday parties that were over the top whether they were turning 1 or 5 years old. Do you think that kids care if they are wearing Burberry or eating a cake that costs $150? What happened to the good old days of kids' birthday parties in the park or a backyard, where the parent makes a cake and everyone enjoys pizza while playing games?

The first guiding principle should be: Never, ever give more than you can afford. And when I say afford, I mean spending anything beyond what would force you to sacrifice your monthly obligations and savings goals.

Let’s say you have an extra $100 for the month of July, and you have a wedding in August. Instead of spending it on dog toys or yet another piece of wall art that says “Live, Laugh, Love”, you can set that money aside into your “gift” bucket in your savings account. Then, use that to buy a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant, or cash towards their honeymoon fund.

If you’re fortunate to have plenty of disposable income, it doesn’t mean you need to prove your wealth by buying the most expensive item on their registry. We don’t need people feeding the narrative that it’s ok to ask for expensive gifts or cash from your guests!

Now if you are paycheck to paycheck, have credit card debt, nothing in savings, or no investments, try not to spend anything. It’s bad enough if you have to travel to a wedding out of town for a close friend or family member, and don’t have the means to pay for it.

Write a nice card explaining your situation. Any decent friend would be more than understanding and thrilled that you went through so much trouble to attend their big day, or even if you weren’t able to.

If you want to give a gift and can’t spend too much, offer something free. Design a handmade insert that says you will be there all day to help them settle in when they move in together. Invite them to dinner on the Friday after their honeymoon for you to treat them to your specialties.

There are plenty of ways to celebrate these occasions without opening your wallet (at least too much, I get that if you have them over for dinner you probably have to shop, but at least you’re not buying a $150 blender).

Now here we are at the cusp of the holiday season, the most wonderful (and debt-increasing) time of the year!

I’ve found myself scratching my head at why people feel compelled now to buy Christmas gifts for everyone, and I mean everyone. It’s not just immediate family anymore. It’s your kid's teacher, the parking attendant, the receptionist, your barber, your dentist, your gardener, your aunt Susan who you see once a year (I wonder why), and your neighbors. Because heaven forbid if you don’t, they might report you to the HOA for not taking your dumpsters in by 7 am.

Where did this come from? Why is saying “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas” not good enough, now everyone feels they need to give a gift to every person they come across in their daily lives? Sure, buy your kid’s teacher that $30 chocolate gift basket. You probably don’t even know him enough to realize he’s lactose intolerant!

If you can afford it, and truly know what the person needs or wishes they had, sure, make someone’s day by picking out a gift for them. But not everyone needs a gift basket, or another mug, or another sweater.

For your own family, and friends who do a gift exchange. Put a dollar limit on it. $50 used to be the norm, and it’s enough to buy someone dinner out or some plants from their favorite nursery without screaming “I’m trying to buy you over!”

If you can, stick to giving something catered to that person. Do they love Italian food? Invite them over while you watch a virtual cooking lesson for ravioli. Do they love hiking? Buy them a season pass to the state parks. If you want cost-effective ways to give, then give the gift of time.

People may not admit it, but most of us absolutely love handwritten notes, drawings, and custom-made things like two matching ceramic pots you made together. It invokes a memory of you, and memories, in the end, are all we really have.


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