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Do I need a Competitive Christmas?

Lorraine wrote:

My mother and sister have this ridiculous Christmas buying problem.  Every year they want to spend $$$ on gifts.   I have asked for years to cut it back to less.

It started out being around $500 a person.   YESSS—that is correct!!!   NOW – (I am 43, my sister 38, and my mother 63)  throughout the last few years I have asked for it to be reduced.   I managed to get it down to $200 a person this past year.  This amount includes my father, my mother, my sister, and my brother in law, so the minimum I am going to be spending is $800, close to $1,000 on gifts.  I am sick of it. When I bring it up to my mom and sister, they get mad and upset with me and they call me “the Grinch”, say “ I hate Christmas” etc.   or they go the other route of using “I don’t want buy them anything” or go for the guilt and make me feel bad like I don’t like them or love them and I am just ruining Christmas for them.

I try to be practical and explain it isn’t about the gifts, or price, it is about spending time together. To me one little gift that has thought to it is more meaningful than $200 of whatever just to round it out to $200.

I have also tried to explain that we are adults, we don’t need to do that anymore. I give examples that other families don’t do that, and say SAVE THAT MONEY.  We are all grown –have jobs, and buy what we want.  Then my mother says “well your sister likes opening all the gifts and she gets excited and looks forward to it”.  It goes so far as to My sister and her husband LOAD ALL THEIR GIFTS IN THE BACK OF THE TRUCK and bring them over Christmas morning for us all to watch them open.  Now, I live 2 hours away and have driven down to watch them unload a gun cabinet so they can bring in the house and then open , when I could care less. 

Christmas has turned into a hassle for me. It makes it stressful , wondering do I have enough money? Did I make that even out to $200 and I don’t even want to do it, it takes all the fun and joy out of it. For me Christmas has turned into a time I want to go into hiding or hope I get the flu and don’t have to go home.   

Please tell me what to do without hurting feelings or am I right to feel like this?  Are they wrong to request this and not negotiate?  Or because it is my mother and sister am I obligated to continue this?

Dear Lorraine,

It all kinda misses the point, doesn't it?

Be clear, you can't do this without hurting feelings, but you can minimise the pain. To some extent, some of them will 'choose to be hurt' - but they'll get over it.

What I suggest is as follows:

1. Decide what YOU would like to give ... say $20 (that's up to you)

2. Write to all of them, so they all get an identical message (no room for misinterpretation)

3. Say that you just cannot afford the kind of Christmas presents that have become 'traditional', so you will be spending about $xx on each present from now on. The wording is important "I WILL BE SPENDING ...". Apologise for being awkward ('it's not my intention'), and ask that the matter isn't discussed ('it's embarassing enough, just writing this letter').

4. Send it early ... probably October time.

Be prepared for at least one of them to make a big fuss; there may even be a co-ordinated attack. Weather the storm. It will pass.

Do NOT negotiate. "I'm sorry, I just can't afford it any more, please don't make me feel even worse about it".

The point it that you are NOT telling them what to do; you are not suggesting "we" do this - you are simply informing them of what YOU will be doing.

Now, in the true spirit of Christmas, the richer members of the family should continue to be generous (each person should be giving what they can afford, not matching the richest).

But I'd guess that most of the generosity will be an attempt to 'guilt' you into backing down. Don't. The problem will pass.

Good Luck
(if you give it a try, do report back!!)

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