Now, before you send me a harshly worded e-mail or leave a comment telling me how lame the following ideas are, I want you to remember this:
You’re reading a blog called Northern Cheapskate. Cheapskate. That’s not to say that I want you to go out into the world and be an annoying selfish, stingy tightwad. What I want you to do is to use this idea for the greater good. Think “big picture.”
So what exactly am I talking about today? I’m talking about not setting the bar too high when it comes to gifts.
Whether you are entering a new relationship with someone you care about or just starting a family, you have a unique opportunity to set a gift-giving precedent.
The first time you splurge on a gift for this person, you are setting the bar for all future gift purchases for this person. All future gifts may be compared to this gift. The value of this gift may affect what gifts this person gives you in the future. In essence, this gift purchase can impact your finances for years, decades even.
Even though we know in our hearts that a gift is just a gift, we can’t help but be hopeful that the gift we get this year will be as nice (or nicer) than the gift we got last year. And if you’re a person who likes to show love and affection through gift giving, then you see where this might get a little ugly for your wallet. This is especially true when it comes to giving gifts to our lovers and children.
Buying expensive gifts is risky on a few levels. If you’re spending too much on gifts, other areas of your budget may be suffering (retirement, college fund, emergency fund).
In addition, what is affordable this year may not be affordable next year. You may be tempted to pull out the plastic in tighter years, and that can hurt your finances.
Another risk is that the recipient may be overwhelmed by your generosity and try to reciprocate – but maybe without being able to afford it. Now you’re involved in an ugly gift exchange in which you’re trying to out-do one another. The only one who wins is the retailer. Just go read O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Setting that gift-giving bar too high is especially dangerous when it comes to your kids. I know kids who get $25 from the tooth fairy for each lost baby tooth. Kids have 20 teeth to lose. As a parent are you prepared to come up with $500 for each one of your kids? Instead, set that bar much lower – let the tooth fairy leave $1 for each tooth and put the rest of the money into your kid’s college fund.
Think about what expensive gifts are teaching your children. They may develop a sense of entitlement, greediness, and perhaps snobbery. If you’re putting those gifts on credit cards, you’re teaching them that debt is okay. Do you really want your kids to live paycheck to paycheck, too?
Now – there’s a danger in setting the bar too low, too. Remember, thoughtful gifts are much more valuable to the recipient than expensive gifts. Better to give a thoughtful, low-cost gift, then a cheap plastic doodad just to give something.
So, when you’re faced with a new gift-giving situation, you have some decisions to make.
Determine what is best for your budget – both now and in the future.
Determine your motives for giving a gift. Are you giving it out of obligation? Are you trying to impress someone? Are you trying to show your love with this gift? Are you giving an expensive gift because you’re hoping to get an expensive gift in return? You need to get to the real root of why you’re giving this gift. Maybe, just maybe, you don’t need to give a gift at all.
Determine the message you are sending. What do you want your gift to say about you? Hopefully, you will chose a thoughtful gift that is reflective of you and your recipient’s relationship. Money can’t buy love.
Stop worrying about what other people are thinking or saying. Give your child’s teacher a meaningful gift that you can afford and don’t worry about what the other parents are doing or if the teachers talk to each other. Don’t shop to impress others and don’t overspend on gifts in an attempt to gain affection or control others.
Give from the heart, not your wallet. You will find that it just feels better.
photo credit: redmal