Christmas presents, not status symbols

by Karen on December 2, 2008

Over the weekend, Tony and I were picking up a gift card as a Christmas gift for his grandparents. A month ago when we worked out our Christmas budget, we agreed upon an amount that we could afford. But as we stood in line I found myself second guessing our decision. “Do you think this is enough?” I asked him.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. I ask myself that question almost every time I buy a gift. “Is this enough?”

That’s a pretty silly question, though, isn’t it? Enough for what? After all, anybody who would receive a gift only to think it isn’t good enough really doesn’t deserve the gift at all.

Of course I wasn’t worried that Tony’s grandparents would feel that way. They’re probably not expecting anything from us at all, and they’ll be thrilled that we thought of them. So where does this doubt come from?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this doubt is more about me than it is about them. I enjoy giving gifts to the people I love because it makes them happy, but the desire to give more than I can afford comes from the same place as the desire to buy fancier things than I can afford.

It’s a tough thing to admit, but in the past I’ve used gift-giving as a status symbol. I’ve charged up credit cards and spent money I didn’t have on gifts. I’m sure the people who love me would be horrified if they knew that buying them gifts was putting me at financial risk. I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to risk their financial security to buy something for me.

I told myself that I was being generous. I wasn’t being generous, though. It was quite the opposite. Buying those fancy gifts made me feel good about giving them. Sure, it made the person who received the gift happy, but that’s not the real reason I was doing it. The people I love would be just as happy with a thoughtful gift that I could afford to give, whether it be something small, homemade, or even baked. The truth is, I liked the way it made me feel to give fancy gifts.

The past couple years have taught me valuable lessons about spending that I’ve learned to apply to gift-giving. Spend only what you can afford, and give only what you can give.

I’m still tempted to break my gift budget, but I have to remind myself that the people who love me would much rather I didn’t risk getting myself into trouble. After all, the safety and financial security of the people I love is much more important to me than receiving Christmas gifts. When I’m tempted to overspend, I remind myself that the people who love me want the same security and safety for me much more than they want presents.

The holiday season is a great time to make the people I love feel special. Spending more than I can afford just isn’t the way to do it.

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