Emotional Health · Family & Friends

Gift-Giving: How Can I Stop Overspending

One good way to approach gifts is to think of what the recipient particularly values and find something that accentuates it. Does someone on your list have a collection or trophies he/she values? A display case might be a highly treasured gift, and there are good deals available on eBay and other sites. Did your husband have a significant time in his life, on a sports team or in the service? You may be able to find memorabilia online that would revive his memories and honor his past. Having someone’s artwork or certificates framed also can be a highly valued gesture.

Gifts that emphasize connections to others are always prized—family photos, for example. Framing a picture of someone’s treasured boat or old jalopy can be a big hit. Another popular gift is having books of photographs made to commemorate special occasions. My daughter had mini-wedding albums made for both sets of parents, something that is now very easy and affordable.

Old photographs can be restored and reframed, and, again, there are much easier ways to do it now than in the past with online services. You can also find posters and other mementos of someone’s favorite movie, rock band, concert, or sports team too. Sports jerseys can be personalized, or a favorite player’s number can fairly often be ordered. Sentimental gifts have particular value. A locket with a photograph of a loved one or a piece of jewelry from your grandmother might be highly appreciated if chosen with care.

Too often we are so caught up in the idea of having gifts being a “surprise” that it can get in the way. Though it’s fun to see your recipient be delighted by the unexpected, making her happy is the main thing. Don’t be afraid to ask for a list. Often we are unaware of what people really want, and when you ask them, it turns out their wishes are less costly than we might have expected. Generally, they don’t ask for very expensive items. Our loved ones are not happy to see us spend beyond our means. In fact, extravagant presents can sometimes make the recipient feel guilty and ambivalent.

Some extended families with grown children are following what is done at some offices and workplaces: the Secret Santa. There are websites that can do this for you, automatically selecting one person to be the gift giver for one other person, who then creates a list of things she wants. In this way, everyone gets one present he or she really wants, and the element of surprise is transferred from what the gift is to who the giver is.

Remember the best gifts you yourself have received. The thought really does count. I have known people who seem to decide on a dollar amount for each gift, and then go to the closest store in the neighborhood. Those gifts, no matter how lavish, usually are not pleasing. The gifts that mean the most are personal and reflect the fact that your are thinking of the person in particular. I have sometimes given friends gifts that have cost me nothing, like something I might have inherited, but which I think they will especially appreciate for some reason. I once received a bracelet from a friend that had belonged to her mother. It meant even more to me when I realized her mother had been wearing that bracelet the last time I had seen her before her death.

Do not re-gift, however, unless you are sure that it is extremely appropriate to give this particular item. Even gift certificates are better than this, if they are given thoughtfully. You can honor someone’s interest by giving a gift to his favorite charity or a cause he believes in. The idea is to emphasize the personal connection you feel with the other person, especially family members. As you said in your letter, your have a loving family that values being together, and the presents should be the celebration of that fact, not the main event. Your family’s expectations can change if you lead the way, and you should not be afraid to do it. Happy holidays!

Dr. Ford

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