Gift Exchanges: Really Crappy Gifts

November 21, 2014 at 11:02 PM 11 comments

wrapping paper

Two years ago my brother and I officially stopped giving each other gifts for Christmas. I can say without a bit of remorse that I’m glad we ended the exchange. Every year it became more difficult to decide on a gift and the added stress and cost just wasn’t worth it anymore. It was a mutual agreement; my brother was just as happy to end the swap as I was.

Honestly, I wish I could end the majority of my gift exchanges. I’d prefer Christmas to work like Thanksgiving where we drive to someone’s house, eat good food, spend quality time together and head home.

More often than not I spend a lot of time thinking about what people will like and find that I receive generic, thoughtless gifts in return. Last year I received a particularly crappy, five dollar present as part of a family exchange. (Before anyone jumps in and says “maybe the gift giver can’t afford more than that” I will say with absolutely certainty that they can.) This particular person had no problem providing more thoughtful, expensive gifts to other family members.

I spent a good deal of time and money buying gifts for that person, but as the calendar rolls into December I’m not certain that I want to get burned again. I’m not really sure how to handle the exchange of gifts this year.

Do I continue to spend energy searching for gifts when I know full well that I won’t get anything decent in return or do I throw in the towel and buy this particular person something equally crappy? Ninety-nine percent of me says do the right thing and buy a nice gift. The other one percent says forget that; put very little thought or money into it and call it a day.

Unfortunately I cannot envision a way to end the exchange all together. That would be my preferable solution to this problem, but I just don’t see a way to make it happen without a larger conflict arising.

So what do you think? Have you ever been faced with a terrible gift giver? Do you have advice on how to handle my situation?

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11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jenny  |  November 22, 2014 at 12:21 PM

    Is this a continual problem with this person, or just one bad year? If it was just one year, I think I’d forgive, and keep giving nice gifts. Maybe they just forgot until last minute, had no good idea, or lost yours and had to replace quickly last year, and they feel bad about it. Or maybe they honestly thought there was something about the cheap gift that would have made it something you would really like. Sometimes cheap doesn’t mean thoughtless and they really thought you would like the color, etc.

    If it is a chronic problem, I think I’d go with cheap gifts.

    If you really want to be sneaky, buy and wrap two gifts for them, one nice, and one cheap. Wait until you have opened yours, then give them the one that corresponds to the one you get this year. Then return, keep for yourself, or gift to someone else the other one. Of course this will only work in some situations, not one where everyone opens the gifts at once.

    • 2. One Frugal Girl  |  November 26, 2014 at 8:37 AM

      This comment cracked me up. Unfortunately, it has not been a one time problem and I am absolutely in love with your idea of doing something sneaky. We open all of our gifts at once, so it would be hard to do, but maybe I could say, “ooops looks like I left a gift out in the car” and then decide which present to get out of the car based on the cheapness of the gift I’m given 🙂

  • 3. Cari  |  November 22, 2014 at 5:20 PM

    Last year I was that person and I felt horrible. All year long my mother commented on how amazing the gifts I gave people were. She frequently told people that I was the best “giver” in the family…. and when Christmas rolled around I had absolutely no idea what to get her. I finally settled on a borrowing one of her cassette tapes and upgrading it to a CD for her. It was cheap and more than that I could tell she was disappointed, especially seeing the carefully picked gifts I got other people but I was at my absolute wits end trying to find something she would enjoy. This year I am double freaked out. She is still the last person on my shopping list but I AM going to get her something awesome….

    To answer your question, I don’t know. I agree with Jenny above, if it’s something they do every year then I would put less thought/effort into it (regardless of the price). Just keep in mind this year they may have found you an absolutely brilliant gift and you’ll probably feel terrible if you don’t do the same. You may also consider dropping hints like “I love the color purple” or “I wish I had some board games for family night” because it may just be a situation where they think you’re so awesome that you already have everything you want (thanks mom. LOL).

    • 4. One Frugal Girl  |  November 26, 2014 at 8:47 AM

      Thanks for the comment! I’m sure your mom knows how much you love and appreciate her no matter what you buy, but I totally understand why it stresses you out. Especially if she seemed genuinely disappointed.

      I think the pressure of gift giving is the worst part about it. My husband is an amazing gift giver and began to feel the stress of finding the perfect present too. For three years he wowed everyone with ‘just the right thing’ and the following year couldn’t come up with any ideas for people. I think it soured the entire experience for him. He was also sad that no one seemed to think of him in the same way that he was thinking about everyone else. He took so much time to select presents and received socks, underwear and pajamas in return.

      Unfortunately this is a repeated pattern and I’m not sure I ever really have the heart to buy something cheap for someone, no matter how disgruntled I get about it. I suppose I always wish, (like you suggested), that this year will be different 🙂

  • 5. Little Miss Moneybags  |  November 22, 2014 at 10:53 PM

    We were able to come out and say that we’re done exchanging gifts with other adults in our families. We are happy to shop for our nieces and nephews, but we’re done buying stuff for people who have their own money. Some people are miffed that we are “ruining” Christmas, but this works better for us. And yes, last year we sat around while everyone else opened presents and we had nothing to give and nothing to open, and it was fine.

    This year, the entire family suggested doing a name drawing to buy one gift for one other adult, and we agreed to participate – it’s a middle ground and we thought we might compromise. As it turns out, I’m feeling a lot of pressure about getting the right gift again (especially because this time I only have to buy ONE, so of course it has to be PERFECT), and it’s making me rethink participating next year. We’ll see what everybody else thinks about it.

    • 6. One Frugal Girl  |  November 26, 2014 at 8:41 AM

      Interesting. I hadn’t considered that only choosing one person to give to means you have to find them the most perfect gift. If the goal is to reduce stress it seems that solution might not be working for you.

      In the case of my brother and sister-in-law they seemed genuinely relieved, which made the decision really easy. In the case of my parents we only buy one gift for each and this year I convinced them to only buy my husband and I one too with no pressure about making it something we love 🙂

      Did anyone say why they weren’t happy with your decision? I am surprised that people still want to give gifts when giving the opportunity to get out of the tradition. It was such a relief to me.

      • 7. Little Miss Moneybags  |  November 26, 2014 at 12:06 PM

        They just felt we were being grinches and “ruining the spirit of Christmas”. I was surprised, too, because I find buying gifts to be so stressful, but I guess they don’t feel the same way – but I really think it’s that they have this idea of what Christmas is supposed to be, and opting out doesn’t match that idea.

        Funnily enough, my MIL sent out an email last night that some people are complaining that it’s really hard to shop for the people whose names they drew and so would everyone please put together a short Amazon wishlist so that they could pick from that.

        So, I don’t know what’s up with my in-laws. It’s no fun to not shop for everyone, but it’s too hard to shop for any one person without a specific list to choose from. I can’t win! (And as much as I’m complaining, all of this has been good-natured ribbing, and Christmas will be fun no matter what happens. I’m already done with my shopping/making because I wanted to get it done before the baby arrives, and I didn’t even need an Amazon list!)

  • 8. Michelle  |  November 23, 2014 at 8:20 AM

    I have a sister in law that has given our family crappy gifts for the last 20 years. Before kids, we had a $50 per person limit. One year my husband and I got school supplies. Spiral notebooks and folders. We were taking some college courses, but we’re well into the classes and certainly did not need these.
    Fast forward to the last few years. I carefully pick out clothing for her children, she gives my son a best buy gift card and a box of candy, purchased on the way to the hosts house. She attaches the gift receipt, so I can tell it was bought last minute. I wouldn’t be mad if she did not go all out on other nieces and nephews.
    I sadly have to just take a deep breath and deal with it.

    • 9. One Frugal Girl  |  November 26, 2014 at 8:53 AM

      Thanks for the comment! One of the worst parts of the gift giving experience is watching everyone else receive thoughtful gifts and then opening your gift and finding office supplies or in my case tube socks! Tube socks? Seriously, cheap, generic and definitely not something I asked for though I suppose they are something I can always use.

      It sounds like you continue to provide thoughtful gifts and I’m afraid to say as much it frustrates me I probably will too 🙁

  • 10. Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom  |  November 23, 2014 at 4:00 PM

    This year my sister and I decided we’d just buy for the kids and I’m very happy with our decision.

    In your case, maybe talk to the gift giver to set some parameters for your gift exchange this year. They might be just as put off by last year’s experience if they feel that you had got them something too nice.

    If not, I’d just focus on the joy of giving and get them whatever you’d like to. Expect something crappy and you might be surprised.

    • 11. One Frugal Girl  |  November 26, 2014 at 8:59 AM

      I definitely keep hoping that this year will be different. In the mean time, as much as I want to, I don’t have the heart to buy something crappy. It’s just not in me.

      I really wish we could stop the gift giving tradition among siblings on my husband’s side. We can all afford to buy our own things, I just wish I could find some way to broach the subject without everyone thinking I don’t like this particular family member. This is the first year this particular couple has a child, so maybe taking the ‘kids only’ approach can be my suggestion for next Christmas.


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