Dear Amy: I have traditionally bought gifts for my family (five adults and five children), my close friends and their children (they all buy me nice gifts too!).
I used to enjoy this, but now it just seems dauntingly expensive.
I am 62 and still working, but this year I have no real disposable income.
I mentioned to my mother that I kind of wanted to opt out of the gift-giving this year due to finances, and she said, “Why don’t you then? Just tell everyone in the family that you don’t want to exchange gifts this year.”
The thing is, I am embarrassed to do that. It is hard for me to imagine being with my family on Christmas morning with everyone else giving gifts. I feel like it would be awkward or I will end up just feeling very depressed.
I can’t skip the event because I take my parents (they are 89 and 90) and besides, I love my family and want to be with them.
I am an artist, and one Christmas a few years back, I had a similar situation with finances and I made everyone drawings. I don’t feel like I can do that again, and haven’t thought of anything else to make them (at least not yet).
I kind of wish our family would do that thing where we exchange names, and just buy one person a nice gift. But I don’t want to change the culture of the family, for my own selfish reasons.
– Feeling Scroogey
Dear Scroogey: In many families, there’s a holiday inflection point where the adults look around their crowded houses and say, “Enough.” My family dealt with this for years by drawing names at Thanksgiving. We then transitioned into giving to charities matching the recipient to a suitable cause – only giving material gifts to the children. I’m with your mother regarding letting yourself off the hook entirely, but I also understand that this might not make the giving season satisfying for you.
You’re lucky! You’re an artist. You seem to think that because you gave drawings one time, you can’t do it again. I strongly disagree!
My great-uncle – also an artist – created a unique Christmas card every year, made prints, and signed and personally inscribed them to the recipient. Almost 100 years later, these treasures are collectors items and prized within the family.
You could do something similar – keep the piece small, modest, and unframed – and give one to each family, inscribed for them. The recipient could choose to frame the piece, tape it to the fridge, or stick it in an album. You could give art supplies to the children on your list.
Your annual gift to friends and family could be a treasure that would outlast any fancy gift you could purchase.
Dear Amy: When our daughters were born we opened an account for each of them. We told them it was their college account.
Money gifts from relatives went into this account.
When college approached, we informed them: “Here is your college account. If you have money left in it after college graduation, it’s yours. If you have college loans, they’re yours. It’s up to you.”
Daughter number one spent most of it on college. Great! Daughter number two decided to go to a great public university, graduated with a double BS, and used the excess as a down payment on her first house. So far so good.
Then number two said, “Hey, it’s wedding time, what’s my budget?”
My wife and I looked at each other and said, “Oh crap” (or something similar).
We realized – and I now preach to any new parent that will listen – call it a college and wedding fund.
Help spread the word.
– Daddy Nomorebucks
Dear Daddy: Great idea, followed by great advice! You don’t say how you resolved this, but I have a feeling that you handled it well.
Dear Amy: “Sick at Heart Mom” didn’t know how to handle Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations after her drunk son assaulted his drunk sister.
While I agree with your advice, you might have missed adding one important suggestion: Why not suggest asking everyone to commit to alcohol-free celebrations?
If Mom doesn’t want to create a gathering without any alcohol for anyone, including herself, I wonder if the whole family isn’t part of the drinking problem.
Dear Karen: This entire family was caught up in the consequences of this drunken assault. Your suggestion is excellent – and necessary.
©2022 Amy Dickinson.