Ah, the holidays! Not many people are thinking about how to save money on gift giving; more often, people are thinking of this as the perfect time to practice our generosity and shower our family and friends with gifts. I see gift guides out there that include everyone from the janitor at your kids’ school (who DEFINITELY needs some love) to your second cousins twice removed.
But do you ever stop to ask yourself why you’re giving to all these people?
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, when I was younger I used gift giving to gain love, approval, control and admiration. I gave expensive gifts to family members to curry their love and approval. I gave generously to coworkers to be admired — and I gave to everyone to exert some kind of control over the relationships.
I see this happen all the time with my clients as well. Moms who come up with elaborately cute or clever gifts to give to every single teacher at the school. Parents who attempt to bribe their kids into good behavior with the threat of “Santa” watching — then shower them with gifts anyway. Family members who try to one-up one another every year to see who can give the most ridiculously generous gifts.
People seem to think that the less controlling you are, the less control you have over your money, but I found exactly the opposite to be true for me. The less codependent I became, the less money I spent. And it’s impossible to save money on gift giving with a codependent mindset.
Motivations for Gift Giving
Some people think they’ll disappoint their children if they don’t go full-out with gifts under the Christmas tree. I’ve found that with kids, gift satisfaction can be very short term. And even early on, kids inherently know whether the gift you are giving is for them, or for you. The gifts you give to satisfy an idealized vision (like how cute they would look in that sweater) have no value to them.
Friends and family members can be more difficult. If a friend gives you an expensive gift one year, you may feel obligated to spend more on her the next year. Or if you want your family to see you as successful or as having good taste, you might go out of your way to buy certain kinds of gifts to back up that vision.
If you think you might be giving with “ulterior motives” in mind, ask yourself if you are you trying to:
- Appear perfect or admired? When I gave out gifts to more than 20 of my friends, I wanted to impress them. I would imagine them saying, “Wow, what a thoughtful, creative gift; Mindy is awesome!” And I would be SO disappointed if someone didn’t properly express their appreciation. It was all about me.
- Change someone? This still makes me chuckle … my mom always thought I never dressed… er, attractive enough :o) Her gifts in high school were all about form-fitting outfits that I would NEVER wear in a million years. She was trying to change my behavior with her gifts.
- Avoid focusing on yourself? One year while gift shopping, the store had to call my credit card company so that they could make sure it was really me–I had spent so much in such a small amount of time, they were worried my credit card had been stolen! I was buying too much because I was trying to avoid acknowledging my negative feelings about my life and the people in it at the time.
- Solve other people’s problems? I once bought a book for a boyfriend so that he could learn how to be more emotionally available. (Yeah, you can imagine how well that worked.) If you buy people things you think they NEED (a new fridge, a part for their car, money for a class) you could be trying to solve their problems for them.
- Avoid saying no? My dad has three sisters and two brothers, so you can imagine the gift-giving chaos with all of those nieces, nephews and cousins! Once we finally said that we were no longer going to be giving gifts, everyone was actually hugely relieved.
- Make people care about you as much as you care about them? As a codependent, you spend A LOT of time figuring out (or TRYING to figure out) what other people are thinking so that you can manipulate them and bend them to your will—in the most loving way, of course! If I wasn’t sure how someone felt about me, you could be sure that they would get a really good gift from me so that I could try to influence those feelings.
Whether or not you can “afford” to be generous at the holidays or not, it’s a good practice to start asking yourself why every time you add someone to your list, or go to make a purchase. Buying a small gift for your child’s teacher is an appropriate expression of gratitude. Putting together Pinterest-worthy gifts for every member of the school staff is probably overdoing it.
Quite simply, I don’t even think of this as a way to save money on gift giving anymore; I see it as evidence of how much I have grown from the codependent gift giver I used to be.
Click here to download my Creative Money appropriate holiday spending plan.