What Would You Do? *CLARIFY AGAIN!*

Updated on November 30, 2010
J.G. asks from Minneapolis, MN
24 answers

We recently sat down with my extended family to discuss how to exchange presents this year. One family felt that we should only give to the kids/ grandkids because of finances. Everyone else wanted to be able to exchange with everyone. How do you handle this type of situation? The family that wants to exchange with just the kids will feel left out if they can't/ don't bring gifts for everyone but isn't fair for those of us that want to be able to buy presents for everybody. Exchanging is secret would make things way worse too. Please tell me how you would lovingly handle this situation. Thanks.

Some people are not understanding this situation. They DO have money to exchange gifts. I know you say you can't know for sure how much money someone has but they are horrible spenders. They spend more money than they make, and spend it on themselves. This is why I am frusterated.....I don't care if they want to buy people presents or not.....just don't tell me that I CAN'T buy presents for people that I love because you are horrible at learning how to budget properly for things like Christmas. Its not fair. They are not poor and the only reason they are stressed financially is because they brought it on themselves. I am NOT missing the reason for the season, quite the opposite.

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So What Happened?

Sorry, to clarify more...I have already boughten for everyone. I spent this past year planning and buying gifts that I can't wait to see people open. I am frusterated that just because one family doesn't want to exchange gifts means that no one gets too.

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answers from Las Vegas on

We draw names. However, you can do a white elephant or just buy gifts the family can enjoy. Dinner, movie tix, Ice cream gift card, family portrait session, table games, etc.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

I have a large extended family and for many years we did a secret santa type of thing for the adults (all the kids got gifts). Everyone picked a name out of a hat and got that person a nice gift (we specified a price range). That way any adults who wanted to opt out easily could.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

Why don't you buy presents for the kids then anyone who wants to do adults to can do another exchange. Everyone doesn't have to do both.

1 mom found this helpful

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answers from Minneapolis on

If one family can't afford to buy gifts for everyone, then I feel it would be disrespectful to pressure them into buying gifts for everyone. If you have already bought gifts for people, then say so, and give them their gifts this year. Then I suggest setting the guidelines now for next xmas (2011) then everyone can plan ahead accordingly.

Our extended family has cut back on gift giving each year, until this year we are only bringing "hostess" type gifts for Grandpa and Grandma - who are giving inexpensive gifts just for the youngest grandchildren. Inexpensive homemade gifts (food, for example) are allowable for everyone else, but not required. Our holiday time together will be about taking the kids sledding and sharing a meal.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I think you have lost sight of the reason of the season.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from San Diego on

Can you just do the kids/Secret Santa deal "officially" and privately give everyone the gifts you want to give them? Or save the gifts you bought for everyone for their birthdays?

Another idea is to "share" presents with the other family. See if they would be willing to chip in whatever they would be comfortable with, even if it isn't strictly half, and then you can say the gifts are from the both of you.

It's so nice that you want give people the presents you so thoughtfully bought them, but I would think it would diminish everyone's pleasure if anyone is left out or shamed into buying presents they can't afford.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Modesto on

ADDED after you posted in your what happened:
If they choose not to exchange with everyone, just leave your stuff in the car and catch each person privately and do it that way... and just tell them you love them and reassure them that your present from them is you getting to watch them open it.
We all must learn that just because someone gives us a present it doesnt mean you have to run to the store and get one for them..... It makes receiving so much better when you drop the guilt. You might get the opportunity to share that wisdom with some of your gift recipients this year and free them ;)

Personally, I think if you want to give, can afford to give, then you should be allowed to give. We shouldnt set rules like these with family. I only give to the grandkids now, I cant afford to give to all 6 of my grown kids, my parents, my husbands parents, etc.
Do a lot of baking and let the kids help you wrap the cookies and let those be the gifts that they share.... who doesnt love cookies?
I know how you are feeling.... we get bummed at Christmas when we can't afford to give, but seriously THAT was not supposed to happen. Just being at the family get together is your gift of PRESENCE, it doesnt always have to be PRESENTS... when you learn to not feel slighted because you can't give material things it will release a lot of pressure off of you. And if you really do want to give at Christmas you should start making yourself buy little doo-dads much earlier in the year and store them away so you will be pleasantly surprised at how many things you CAN give, that takes a little planning, I'm not all that good at shopping ahead but I do get a little voice now and then that does tell me "buy that now you will be happy you did" and so I do and it comes in handy ;)
If you plan better you will always have some thing stockpiled to give at the holidays. And baking is a fun thing to do and you can purchase bowls and things at the dollar store to put them in... so they at least have a bowl/plate/or whatever after the cookies are gone.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Las Vegas on

My family now only gives gifts to just the kids as our fiances have become more tight over the years. try and see it this way.. those who don't have the money have made it clear to you, it's difficult for them... that said, why make it even worse by not going along with it.. IF you insist on giving gifts to more than kids, can you not do it when the other family is not around? I mean.. it has to be tough on that family in that I am sure they would give more if they could... why have them lose even more pride over it... it's really more simple here than it seems.. also, I used to be a HUGE gift giver.. I would spend like crazy but do you know I realized one day that I wasn't always giving for the sake of it, I was giving because I felt like I needed to prove something. I did this even when I had friends who INSISTED to me , let's not exchange gifts.. I didn't go along with it , instead I bought them presents even if I got nothing in return and do you know, I now realize.. that I was the one with the issue. they were upfront and told me (in the nicest way) let's not exchange gifts. but instead, I forced MY will on them and in some cases, truly put them on the spot... think about this before you pursue your gift giving you might be putting people on the spot who truly don't have the money enough to give right now..

3 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

Thats a tough one, because some people really cannot afford to buy for everyone. We have been there, and feel horrible if someone buys you a gift and you couldnt get them one in return. I think either way, someone will feel bad. I think the kids are whats important. If you havent already gotten them a gift, I would just let them buy for the kids. Im sure they would feel much better getting nothing at all than not being able to give back. Times are hard, a lot of families are doing this. Good luck!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Tucson on

we only buy for the kids in the family..but if i had already bought gifts for everyone then just give it to them..christmas is about giving and not receiving...dont tell them you bought them something, then they will feel obligated to buy you something too, just give it to them at christmas and tell them you love them!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Stockton on

In my family - we buy for the kids up until the age of 18, and then the adults draw names and we each buy only one present OR we do a secret santa exchange where you bring a gift and then draw numbers to see who goes first. The first person picks a gift and opens it, then the next person can "steal" that persons gift or pick another out of the pile to open. If your gift gets stolen, you can then steal someone elses gift OR pick a new gift out of the pile. This has worked well in our family as the people who want to participate can and those who don't want to participate don't. There are members of the family that just aren't in to doing gift exchanges and they can easily opt out if they choose. Good Luck and Merry Christmas!!

I forgot to say that we put a $25 limit on the cost of the gifts....

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

I hate others dictating what I can and can't do...BUT...in the case of family financial problems sometimes you need to defer to the ones in need. Their feelings are more important than the fact that you've already shopped. You can return the gifts or save for upcoming birthdays.
I'd LOVE to buy for everyone in my family, but we have a grab bag among the adults, so I comply, because everyone needs to abide by the rules to avoid hurt feelings and/or embarrassment.
Happy Holidays, Fa-La-La-La-La!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Portland on

If it were me, I'd do a gift for each child, and a Secret Santa-type gift exchange for the adults. This is what we do in my extended family. Each of the children (or group of children-- I have 3 nephews who share very well) gets a special something, and then the adults get one other adult to buy a gift for with a limit of around $20/homemade. This respects everyone's financial situation, and having been on the short end of that stick, I found this arrangement to be very thoughtful. I sometimes have special gifts for people I don't choose for the secret santa, and then just gift them later at a more convenient and discreet time.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

Christmas isn't about exchanging gifts...so start by taking your focus off of that. Once you do that, the holiday will go much smoother.
Next, if you've purchased presents for family that you really want to give them, then go ahead and give them. You purchased them out of the love you have for your family. You should never purchase a present with the intention of getting one in return, so there will be no "let down" or lack of "fairness" on your part.
I personally don't want to do any exchanging in our extended family. My kids don't need anything and neither do we. I would like to buy for those whom I feel moved to do so and not obligated. Our extended family now just does for the kids, and I can't wait for the year that that stops too...it's not about the presents!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

I like the gifts-for-kids only idea PLUS gifts between parents-and-children regardless of age. In our family, the siblings stopped exchanging gifts years ago and we have almost stopped exchanging gifts with stray aunts, uncles, and cousins that may arrive in town for the holidays...Unless they are people we RARELY get to see.

On one side of my family, the exchange of gift cards and sweaters became so intolerable that we switched to a gift exchange game. We pick a theme, you donate a gift for between $25-$50 into the kitty and then everyone draws a number. You can either pick an unknown gift from the kitty or "steal" a gift someone else has already selected and opened. Much more fun and in tune with the spirit of the season than swapping money with loved ones.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Houston on

To ease the burden of finances, we drew family names, so we are buying gifts for only one sibling and her family, and vice versa. And we have a spending limit as well, so each family gets a fair amount spent.

If a family simply can't afford to buy gifts for all, that is perfectly fine. Our family usually does gifts just for the kids as well.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Sioux Falls on

My extended family has always done a gift exchange, drawing names for each person to buy a gift for someone else. The expected $ range is $20-30 per child and $30-40 per adult! I tried to opt out last year, but was pressured so heavily that I agreed. Then the weather was so bad, I couldn't make the trip! Because of that experience, I firmly opted out this year, and told my family I would not be coming to the Christmas get-together, using work and the distance as an excuse. It would mean 12-13 hours in the car (in one day) to be there for about 2-3 hours, though I could probably get the following day off from work if I asked. But I will not because I can't really afford to and will use the excuse to avoid the pressure.

It is really hard to admit that you cannot afford to get gifts for everyone, and the pressure to go past your budget is everywhere. I have been working on Christmas for my daughter since July, to spread out the cost. I am sure there is a lot of guilt on the side of the family who asked to do gifts for just the kids. It was probably very hard for them to admit that they couldn't afford to do what has been done in the past (it was for me!).

For the gifts that you have planned for, and purchased already, could they be given at a different time? Either close to Christmas, with the explanation, "I saw this and just had to get it for you! I don't expect anything in return (mean it if you say it!!) but wanted you to have it." Or at a birthday or other event? Or maybe some presents could be returned? I'm just trying to give some ideas...

For the families that have money to spend, maybe as a family, they could select names from an angel tree and purchase gifts for a family in need. Bottom line, Christmas is not about gifts...we celebrate that the Lord sent his son to us, as a savior! That is the best gift of all!!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Milwaukee on

We just do for the kids. Otherwise, a family ornament exchange is a nice way to go.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Johnstown on

This year, we are taking care of OUR family only. Our siblings, parents, grandparents, etc will not be getting anything from us, nor are we expecting anything in return. MY side alone would be 34 EXTRA people we'll have to buy for this year if we do it and that's simply unrealistic. Soooo, we're only gathering together for Christmas dinner and will take lots of pics with each other for the memories.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

do a game instead do a white elephant gift exchange that way the people that are less fortunate with finances can hopefully participate

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Miami on

HI J. :-)

When you recently sat down and discussed this whole issue, did you mention to the extended family who doesn't want to exchange, that you had already purchase and been planning these gifts all year? Since this is a NEW plan and already too late to implement, then perhaps you can continue to discuss it to see if an agreement can be reached that everyone is happy with, but in the meantime, continue to treat the current holiday season as you did last year.

I had one sister who politely told us she didn't wish to receive.. or give.. and we honored it for a while... but realized quickly that once we snuck out and bought her something she promptly gave it away.. that taught us quickly..LOL!

If you ALL get together in the same house on Christmas Day, or the eve.. then perhaps the family who does NOT want to buy for everyone can bring a BIG CAKE or a few pies or a BIG box of chocolates.. for the home.. and everyone can enjoy, that way they still feel they have given without it being a huge financial burden, and they can then accept a gift and not feel uncomfortable.

If everyone does Christmas in their own homes, then no one will know who has given/received outside of their own gifts, and if this one family is FIRM on not wanting to receive, then so be it.. just honor that and keep giving with the rest of the family who does want to exchange.

Just a few thoughts to ponder...
A. R.N., Energy Medicine Practitioner


answers from Boston on

So both sides of the family get together at the same time? Is this your DH family and your family? why dont you have separate X-mas parties? It is a Very touchy subject for MANY family's this year :-( sad but this year has been so rough on everyone! I really hope everything works out for you all! I dont have any real advice to give. I wish you all a Happy Healthy Holiday Season!



answers from Detroit on

This question comes up nearly every year at our home. Our solution has been to alternate years where we buy only the kids presents or buy each family a gift, instead of buying for each person (due to the fact that each family has 4-5 kids).

We used to go crazy and just spend hundreds on everyone. It was crippling us financially for months afterward. So, I guess you just need to decide what is feasible for your family to do and make a decision based on that.


answers from Dover on

What about a compromise of drawing names. Everyone get buys one gift and gets one gift. No one is left out but no one has to buy for EVERYONE.

You could include the kids in the big exchange or in their own exchange or everyone could still buy for the kids under whatever age you set and those over that are in the exchange.

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