Respecting a Gift Giver Who Sticks to his Budget

December 16, 2007 at 4:04 AM 15 comments

My brother-in-law is on a very tight budget. Due to numerous indiscretions throughout his late teens and early twenties he was forced, through poor decisions and lack of money, to live with his parents. This past summer at the ripe old age of twenty-five he moved out into an apartment of his own. To his credit he started pursuing a bachelor’s degree via night classes at a local college and has remained steadily employed for quite some time now, but without a degree his salary is limited and his expenses are high. Between paying for school, rent, utilities, and work related expenses, like gas and car repairs, his bank account is almost always running on empty.

Today as we were out shopping for Christmas presents, (a family tradition for my husband’s family), my brother-in-law mentioned his desire to purchase pajama pants for his girlfriend. My brother-in-law was thinking about heading over to Victoria’s Secret, but my husband, who has been trained in the art of conscious spending, convinced him to head to J.C. Penney. I don’t think my brother-in-law was particularly thrilled at the idea of buying his girlfriend an item that wasn’t name brand. When we arrived at J.C. Penney he looked through the racks then said, “maybe I’ll just buy her some sleep pants from the university store.” But my husband wouldn’t have any of that. He said, “pants will cost $50 at the campus store. Just buy her a pair here.”

My brother-in-law went back to the racks and found a pair of sleep pants that were super soft and super cute for $20 with an additional 50% discount. Plus I had a coupon for $10 off any $10 purchase. After applying the discounts the pants only cost $9.99 so I added a pink sweatshirt for my niece that would enable us to use the coupon. The total for both items was $8.38. The total for my brother-in-law’s gift to his girlfriend was $4.43.

As we were walking out of the store my husband asked my brother-in-law how much he made an hour and calculated how many hours of work his savings would allow him to forgo. Then just for kicks as we walked by Victoria’s Secret I took a peek at the price of flannel PJs. The average price was $36.50.

When we mentioned the incredible savings my brother-in-law made an interesting comment, he said, “this is great as long as my girlfriend doesn’t find out how much I spent on her.” I told him I couldn’t disagree more. I think a woman would want to find a man who is responsible with his money. I wouldn’t want a gift from someone if they couldn’t truly afford to give me. In fact, I would think a girl would have greater respect for the man who knows how much he earns and how much he can spend without blowing his budget.

I’m not sure my brother-in-law was convinced by the value of his savings. On the way home my husband and I joked that he’ll probably buy his girlfriend another gift. It seems he felt guilty for spending such a small amount of money.

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15 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Anonymous  |  December 16, 2007 at 1:23 PM

    I really liked this blog it shows how we are conditioned, by society and consumerism, into feeling guilty as gift givers if we do not spend X amount of dollars on certain people during the holidays. Also, as gift recievers we expect to be given as much in return as we gave. I think this whole idea is in contrast to the spirit of Christmas.
    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

  • 2. frugalfumbler  |  December 16, 2007 at 3:55 PM

    This was a great post. Insightful.
    I personally am caught in the middle. I find mysef worrying about being too cheap for Christmas, but I don’t want my husband to spend a lot on me.
    It does say a lot about our society, that more money often = better. I read somewhere that many children who immigrate to North America are just astounded and uncomfortable with our consumerist and wasteful society. It really made me think.

  • 3. Anonymous  |  December 16, 2007 at 6:08 PM

    As a person who has had boyfriends in the past who would spend a lot on themselves and little on me,I’m wondering if your brother-in-law was right to feel guilty. You don’t give all details of his lifestyle but could he have forgone having take-out or a night at a bar with the guys, and instead stayed at home and cooked for himself and then could afford to spend more for an xmas gift? But, on the other hand, if he is really being frugal with his money and doesn’t do such things, then he could offer his girlfriend gifts that don’t cost money (e.g. cleaning her apt, offering a massage, washing her car)and explain to her how he just can’t afford it.

    Also, in response to frugalfumbler, I am not defending the consumerism of our society, but remember that because of globalization a lot of developing countries like India (where I’ll be going in a couple of weeks) and China have a growing luxury goods market and are becoming more and more consumerist…no culture is static.

  • 4. Anonymous  |  December 16, 2007 at 6:42 PM

    Isn’t gift giving supposed to be about the thought that went into a present and not the amount of money. If my dh gives me something that he really put a lot of thought into I don’t care what the price is. On the other hand my dh loves to hear how much I spent on his gifts because he always knows I got a great deal on them. The spirit of christmas is not dumping expensive presents on someone but, the joy of giving them something that means a lot to them. Merry Christmas

  • 5. Donna  |  December 17, 2007 at 1:06 AM

    Hey, Frugal Girl:
    If she would be upset that he “didn’t spend enough,” then he might need to be shopping for a new GIRLFRIEND.
    Maybe he’s imagining her reaction. But if he isn’t…Well, here’s a guy who’s working hard to improve his situation and yet he still wants to give her a gift. What’s the down side of that combo?
    I wrote about this subject recently in Smart Spending, in an article called “Why is ‘breaking the bank for Christmas’ acceptable?” This subject really troubles me.
    Incidentally, I used one of those $10 J.C. Penney coupons myself, to buy a really cool hat (with flames on it!) and gloves for a kid my sister and I adopted for Christmas. But we lucked out: with the 50 percent discount the items cost $9.99, but the manager let me use the $10 coupon anyway. Free! Score! Which, of course, means it stretched our shopping dollars so we were able to buy more than we’d planned. What fun.

  • 6. One Frugal Girl  |  December 17, 2007 at 2:26 AM

    There are so many great comments on this post.

    I am hopeful that my brother-in-law will realize that the amount of money he spends does not matter, but I also understand his ingrained desire to impress his girlfriend.

    I love the commenter who suggested he provide free gifts like cleaning his girlfriend’s apartment or washing her car. Those are great suggestions!

    I also can’t agree enough with the idea that ‘The spirit of christmas is not dumping expensive presents on someone but, the joy of giving them something that means a lot to them.’

    If my brother-in-law’s girlfriend gives him grief for not spending enough money on her, it’s time to find a new girlfriend. I’m definitely in agreement with Donna on that one!

  • 7. Jesi  |  December 17, 2007 at 2:34 AM

    This is a great post. First, I love JC Penney and I think they offer great products at wonderful prices.. when you hit the sales at the right time. I recently bought a $40.00 wine carrier for our company president (I pulled his name for gift exchange). The limit was supposed to be $10, the item was on sale for $19.99 and I had a 20% discount coupon… it ended up costing me a little over $16 for a $40 so I can’t complain… the guy owns the company, I had to splurge…

    Anyway, I think its excellent that your b-i-l saved so much. I would definately be so proud of my husband if he was able to pull of a deal like this. I love a bargain and no matter the price, if the PJ pants are warm and he spent time to chose them, then its all the same!

  • 8. fizzyg  |  December 21, 2007 at 2:27 AM

    Another good option is always a store like Marshall’s or Ross, where you can find brand name items for really cheap, thus covering all your bases.

  • 9. Anonymous  |  December 21, 2007 at 5:57 AM

    One year I was deployed with the military before Christmas, and I found a gorgeous cashmere sweater for my wife… selling for less than ten bucks! I was telling some of my Marines about my find, and one of them said derisively: “That’s @#$%() GREAT, doc… you must REALLY love her.” I was completely baffled, because I knew I had rock-solid insurance that when my wife found out what I paid for the sweater, she would be absolutely stoked! She likes nice things, and she likes to find them for a deal… and she wants me to do the same. I’m a lucky man, indeed!

  • 10. wealthy_1  |  December 25, 2007 at 3:35 PM

    We’ve grown into a society that seems to have forgotten that it’s the thought that counts.

    I agree with One Frugal Girl. If you’re brother-in-law’s girlfriend is so concerned about how much he spent on her, he needs to shop for a new girlfriend.

  • 11. wealthy_1  |  December 25, 2007 at 3:36 PM

    oops! I meant I agree with Donna

  • 12. 4Life  |  December 26, 2007 at 7:02 PM

    Wonderful post! Thanks for sharing it. I think your brother-in-law is fortunate to have you and your husband helping him. I plan to include your article in my weekly carnival review this Friday.

    Best Wishes,

  • 13. Mrs. Micah  |  December 27, 2007 at 2:36 AM

    I’d think my husband was an awesome stud if he pulled that off! 🙂

    It’s too common, of course, for people to feel that relationships have to have a certain monetary value. I’d love to have a gift I like, even if it’s free.

  • 14. One Frugal Girl  |  December 27, 2007 at 3:23 AM

    A few of you mentioned being more excited by a bargain, then an expensive gift purchased at full price. In my house it certainly helps that both my husband and I feel this way.

    Dividends4Life — Thanks for mentioning my post on your blog.

  • 15. Jennifer  |  December 28, 2007 at 4:15 PM

    I grew up with this same philosophy. If you get a $20 pair of pajama pants for $3, you are still giving a gift worth $20. That’s how I always looked at it.

    I have a friend who feels very differently. She would argue about what would happen if the person tried to return the gift (either it didn’t fit, or they didn’t need/want a pair of pajama pants) – then they would get a credit for only $3.

    So I do worry a little about giving frugal purchases as gifts (but I still do it). 🙂


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