This is a guest post by Libby, who writes for Modern Tightwad.
Each year, I start out with a plan, a budget for the holiday season. On my shopping list you’ll find the usual suspects – my kids, my husband, my parents – and then things start to get a little hazy. One by one, I start to evaluate everyone in my life, wondering if I should buy Christmas gifts for them, and whether they’ll be buying something for me.
Just because someone has been nice doesn’t mean there’s room for them on your list. Buy for everyone, and your Christmas budget will haunt you well into the New Year. Limit your list to only your nearest and dearest, and you could be labeled a Scrooge. So what’s a well-meaning shopper to do?
Christmas Gifts for Friends
My friends and I have a policy: friends don’t let friends buy Christmas gifts for each other. The reason is simple. If I buy a gift for Friend A, he will likely feel compelled to buy a gift for me, even if his Christmas budget doesn’t have the room for it. If he listens to his financial instincts and doesn’t buy a reciprocal gift, he may feel guilty about accepting my well-intentioned present. And since guilt leads to bitterness, and bitterness leads to resentment, nothing good would come from the one-sided exchange.
Instead, most of my friends and I made an agreement long ago – in some cases, an unsaid but still very-well understood agreement – that we wouldn’t exchange gifts. Sometimes, there have been exceptions, but in those rare occasions, the other party and I have hashed out the details well in advance of the actual gift-giving.
Christmas Gifts for Colleagues
Christmas shopping for your coworkers is probably one of the most difficult types of shopping around. Sure, you work with these people 40, 50, even 60 hours a week, and you know which kind of K-cup they prefer, but how well do you know them off the job? If the answer is, “Not very well,” then you don’t really need to add them to your shopping list.
Check with your human resources department to see if there’s a written policy about gift giving at work. Some companies actually have a policy against it, for a variety of reasons. Others leave it up to department heads, so check with your manager if you’re unsure. I work from home, so this is a moot point for me, but my husband – who is a sheriff’s deputy – works for a department that puts the kibosh on holiday gift exchanges.
In general, I think it’s absolutely fine to skip Christmas gifts for your colleagues, with these two notable exceptions:
1. If you’re a manager, giving a small gift – even a $10 gift card – can be a symbol of your thanks for a year of hard work; if you’re going to give this type of gift to one of your workers, however, you need to do it for everybody. It’s Christmas, after all, not their annual review.
2. If your office participates in a “White Elephant” or “Dirty Santa”-type gift exchange, you should probably participate. These gift exchanges typically have limits – maybe $20 or less – so they won’t do too much damage to your Christmas budget; plus, if you decline, your coworkers may call you a cheapskate behind your back.
Christmas Gifts for Extended Family
Buying presents for family members you don’t see on a routine basis is one of the most complicated conundrums of the holiday season. One of my friends still buys gifts for all her nieces and nephews – all seven of them – even though they’re all adults now; she’s simply doing it out of habit. I still buy presents for my “baby” cousins… who are now almost all in college.
My rule is this: not all family members – and our relationships with them – are equal. You may have a cousin with whom you are really close, and another cousin whom you only see at family reunions. You shouldn’t feel obligated to buy Christmas gifts for someone with whom you don’t have a personal relationship; this advice holds true for everyone you’d consider shopping for.
Drawing names can help solve this problem. Suggest putting the names of all your relatives into a hat, and have everyone draw out a name. This age-old solution can keep your Christmas budget in check, by letting you buy something for one person instead of the entire family.