Sunday, May 17, 2015


My birthday was yesterday, which means that I have recently gone through another round of my annual ritual of telling the people who love me "No, seriously, I don't want you to buy me anything".  As soon as I became an adult, with a job and the ability to buy myself the things I want, I stopped enjoying getting gifts.  The reasons for this are many.  I hate getting things that I don't like and having to pretend that I do.  I hate having more things to store in my apartment, which was already full when my girlfriend (who is a hoarder less of a minimalist than I am) moved in.  I hate knowing that the people I love have spent time, which they usually don't have enough of, in a shopping mall instead of with me.  And I particularly hate that gift giving perpetuates our debt-fueled, environmentally destructive consumer culture.

"Surprise! I love you! Here’s a part of the planet I wrecked for you, Hooray!!"*

A few weeks ago, when my Mom asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I tried again to tell her that I didn't want any gifts.  Unfortunately, any time I suggest that she not buy me a present, she looks at me as if I have suggested we go out and murder babies.  The gift-giving mentality is very strong with her.  So I tried to suggest a) alternatives to gifts and b) practical gifts that I would actually use.  I suggested that she give me a certain amount of her time, which she could use hanging pictures and putting up blinds and doing other things in my apartment that are outside of my skill set.  I suggested that she make me a nice dinner at her place and we spend a few hours catching up on each others' lives.  I suggested that she get my medical degree framed, so that I can take it out of the cupboard where it's been collecting dust for the past five years and display it in my fancy-pants new office.  None of these things was acceptable to her. 

So what did I get?  A cheque.  My widowed mother, who is on a fixed income, gave money to me, who will soon be earning ridiculous sums of money as a physician**.  How does this make sense?  How is this better than her hanging the pictures from my trip to Cuba that have been taking up space behind my couch since I moved in five years ago?

Gift giving is insane. 

I encountered another example of this insanity when I was talking to my Mom about my cousin's upcoming wedding.  I am spending money that I don't have to fly halfway across the country for the wedding, so I feel like I am justified in being a bit cheap frugal with the gift.  I suggested to my Mom that I was going to get a $50 gift card to the store where my cousin is registered, and she once again looked at me like I was heading out to murder babies.  She thought I should be spending closer to $200 on the gift!  What?  Why should I, who am trying to dig myself out from a giant pit of student debt, be spending ridiculous sums of money on a gift for my cousin (who has a job) and her soon-to-be husband (who also has a job)?  Why is this the expectation?

Rant over.  Thankfully it's another seven months until I have to deal with Christmas.

 *I've been obsessively reading Mr. Money Mustache for the past month or so, and it is transforming my approach to spending and debt.  The article that I linked to is one of my personal favourites and describes my feelings about gift giving much more eloquently than I can.

**Admittedly, I will be using these ridiculous sums of money to pay off my equally ridiculous debt...but that's not the point.


  1. Happy birthday! I agree, I would much rather have your time than your money spent on a gift. Though I haven't taken the "test", I'm pretty sure my love language is service. My two kids embraced my asks for Mother's Day. With my son (15yo), my car was vacuumed and washed and the new BBQ (that I bought) was assembled. With my daugher (13yo), we spent a lovely few hours picking out plants for the garden and then planting them together (she picks more flowers and expands my purchase focus by her influence).

    Have you tried with your mother to allow her to spend money on an experience for the two of you that she otherwise wouldn't spend money on as an indulgence for the two of you to share together? (Could be pedicures, museum event, special restaurant experience (e.g., winemakers dinner), cooking class together.)

    I will confess to having the same need "to buy" a physical item for my family and friends when it comes to gift-giving events. Think it is culturally expected that as adults we say we don't want anything, but the societal expectation is for physical gifts to show our love.

  2. Happy birthday! I hear you on the gift-giving. My parents and I don't do much for birthdays (as of right now, I time my vacations to spend the birthday weeks with them) beyond quality time-we cook meals together, eat together and just basically spend the entire week hanging out. But, my family in India expects Things and Stuff for holidays and events. Combined with the attitude of how Indians see their American relatives as 'rich', I feel like our family is just expecting us to show up with gigantic checks ;)

    My cousins from India recently moved to my town and I get so much shade thrown at me every time I go over for a) not being married and b) not bringing expensive gifts for the kids. I explain that I'm a Student, however, then I get point A thrown in my face ('There must be a doctor your mother can arrange your marriage to').

  3. I agree with you. I don't really like getting gifts. Except that my husband is really good at getting me gifts that I didn't even know I needed and totally love.

    I guess when it comes down to it, some people who think they know me well obviously don't...

    We suggested donations to a charity for our wedding instead of gifts. My husband and I had been living on our own for many years before getting married. We had to get rid of stuff when we moved in together and certainly didn't need another flatware set or another waffle iron. Very few people took us up on the charitable donation option though.