This post is part of our “Penny For Your Thoughts” column where readers can write into Penny with their dilemmas on money and relationships. If your question is chosen for the next Penny For Your Thoughts column, you will receive a $20 Amazon Gift Card. In addition, one commenter who offers the best advice will receive a $15 Amazon Gift Card.
My family goes all out for Christmas – spending into the realm of ridiculousness. Sometimes it seems to be quantity, not quality, and it’s almost too overwhelming for the kids!
I provide the sole income for my household, and live very frugally (sometimes to a fault), especially at Christmas. My son is 18 months old, and within my limited budget, I chose not to buy a ton of clothes, toys, and books that we don’t need. I bought a couple of small, meaningful gifts (i.e. unique and frugal Christmas holiday gift ideas), and I felt that our Christmas at home was just right.
My family, on the other hand, has been outright intrusive with their questions about the material part of our celebration: “What did he get?” “Was he excited for all his gifts?” “Where are you going to put everything?” After tactfully avoiding the direct questions for as long as possible, I finally told them my presentation of Christmas gifts and the mentality behind it. They were absolutely horrified – even going so far as to call me “cheap” and “inconsiderate!”
I know that their reactions are way out of line and have no basis in responsible reality, but what’s the best way to get them to move on? Ideally, I’d like them to adopt the same sensibilities about holiday gift giving as the ones that have worked for me…but am not sure where to go from here.
— Not A Grinch
Dear Not A Grinch,
It seems your family has bought into the idea, especially popular this time of year, that the only way to show someone you love them is to buy them things. Therefore, if you aren’t buying your son a pile of gifts taller than he is, you must be an awful parent. For a lot of people, it’s a pretty straight-line conclusion. But unless a gift-buyer neglects normal household purchases and bills in order to give, it’s not really about the money.
Unfortunately, the question you have asked (“How do I get them to change?”) is a classic one that cannot be answered. People can change only if they are willing to change, and a person with differing views will have a harder time convincing others when coming from a place of opposition. After all, you think they’re “way out of line,” but they think you are, too. Imagine the letter your mother might have written, “My poor grandson gets nothing for Christmas!”
The underlying issue isn’t about how much is spent, but rather it’s a head-on collision between value systems on how best to raise children, a touchy subject at the best of times. Both sides claim they know what is “right,” which really, is not something that can be quantified or solved. Your family most likely feels they raised you to act as they do, and they don’t understand why you’re taking up a position in the opposite camp.
In these situations, I think of the proverb, “There is no solution. Seek it lovingly.” There is no correct answer here. Just because your Christmas gifting is more financially responsible doesn’t mean you get all the points in this match.
However, since you are the parent and the choices are yours, there’s no need to either avoid questions or give them a speech. (This will be good practice for when your child gets older and you get to the, “Why? Why? Why?” stage.) Just answering calmly, “I’ve got a couple of interesting books and a couple of toys he’s going to love. He’s going to be so excited!” is going to go a long way. Neither side will convince the other, so answer the question in a basic and positive way. Change the subject when appropriate, and peacefully move on.
What might work better with your family is to present it in terms of what is best for your child and what he needs. For a kid that young, the first present he gets is the most exciting thing that ever happened. Then, the second present is the most exciting thing that ever happened. After that, it’s pretty much playing with the boxes the first two came in until nap time. The nervous system of a small child gets overloaded easily. Your gift philosophy could just as easily be about keeping the celebration at a level he can understand, as it is about whether you feel it is appropriate to give him so many things.
If he still receives a ton of stuff from your family, I’d space it out over the year and let him open a present every now and then. As he gets older, you can use a “present-in-present-out” system where he can choose toys to give away when he gets a new one.
Ultimately, if the worst thing they can say about the way you raise your son is that you don’t buy him enough stuff, you’re doing a pretty good job as a parent. Just remember, everyone thinks they’re an expert on parenting, and everyone has an opinion. If you feel discouraged, think about how you are teaching your kid about money management. And hopefully, you’re giving him an even greater gift by saving for his 529 college fund rather than buying gifts he won’t remember.
Readers, a penny for your thoughts! How do you get out of having these round-and-round arguments with your family? What can our letter-writer do to stand her ground without causing hurt feelings?
Today’s letter-writer won a $20 Amazon gift card! Congratulations!
Do you have a question about relationships and money? Write to Penny [at] moneycrashers [dot] com and win a $20 Amazon Gift Card if your question gets chosen! And the commenter who leaves the best advice on this post will win a $15 Amazon Gift Card!