Ugh. I'm not going to lie, I've had the draft for this piece sitting in my drafts dashboard for weeks. Given my commitment to covering “financial etiquette” topics, I knew that come holiday time I'd have to cover how to navigate gifting with a significant other, but man…have I procrastinated writing this piece. I didn't want to write it, partially because in my own experience gifting with past boyfriends has been a disaster. And from my wealth of experience in how NOT to holiday gift with a loved one, I bring you the lessons of my experience.
There are a variety of ways to handle gifting with a significant other during the holiday. Here are three popular (and proven) approaches to mitigating this slightly awkward situation.
Approach #1 – Sit Down Together and Set a Budget
Maybe you've been dating/married for awhile and have joint finances and shared financial goals. Maybe you want to ensure you both spend an equal amount so no one feels slighted or hurt when the time to unwrap presents rolls around. Either way, many couples opt to have a frank discussion about holiday gifts and how much each should spend before they start shopping.
Given that I'm often single during the holiday season, I turned to blogger Erin Lowry, of Broke Millennial, for her advice. She's been successfully gifting with her significant other, Peach (who appears on her blog often,) for 5 years. “Peach and I discuss a maximum price for holiday gift giving,” she says, “Because we know each other's salaries and financial situations, it's easier to come up with a reasonable budget. Plus, this way one of us doesn't spend significantly more than the other.”
My tips? Come to the “setting a budget” discussion with an open heart and an open mind, and choose your moment to have the discussion thoughtfully. I remember the last Christmas I (unsuccessfully) gifted with a significant other, I opted to have this discussion in the car after Thanksgiving. Truthfully, I ambushed him with a conversation he wasn't expecting, but he got so angry at the number I suggested that I became offended. Shouting and tears ensued; he didn't like that I snuck up on him, I was hurt he felt that number was way too much to spend on someone he'd been with for almost a year. See? Difference in expectations.
Splurge on An Experience
Many couples opt to relieve the tension of tangible/monetary gift giving by splurging on an experience for the two of you to share. Although this does take some of the surprise element out of the holiday season, by combining the two gift budgets a couple can purchase an unforgettable experience, or add in extra fun throughout the year by purchasing two separate date nights. Lowry has done this option as well and adds, “It's a way to make Christmas memorable without breaking the bank…. creating a shared memory instead of just checking something off the other person's wish list.”
Gifting With a Significant Other – Just Go With the Heart
You could, of course, forget about the two options above and go with the intended spirit of gift giving, which is to gift regardless of budget or expectation of a gift in return. I love this idea and feel it works well when gifting with the less emotionally charged relationships in your life like your friends, family, and co-workers.
What's hard about gifting with your heart, particularly with a romantic partner, is that gifts (and how much we spend on them) often symbolize our thoughtfulness.
- No one wants to be the one who gifts too extravagantly.
- Or the perception to be that they're too invested (if you're not “in that place”)
- Or the feeling their love and thoughtfulness is unreturned.
Again, this is all perception, but also think about the guilt/shame you feel about being the partner who didn't gift as much as your partner even though you probably didn't have any malicious intentions.
Oof. While gifting with your heart seems like a nice idea, I think I'd rather be slightly unromantic and have the budget convo beforehand to avoid any dashed expectations for either party.
Gifts Can Expose What's Underneath
Around the holidays, the gifts often do the communicating for us. Which can be a good thing if you're on the winning side of the equation if you receive something you love, or a bad one if you don't. But if you receive a bad, or seemingly thoughtless gift from a significant other, you can't help but wonder, “What is he/she trying to tell me with this present?”
Or if you're on the fence about someone, nothing puts things in perspective more than having to shell out cash for a gift. Do you really want to buy that ipad for someone you're not sure will be around mid-January?
No, I thought not.
The holidays are hard. The only way to make them a little easier is to be as honest and gentle as possible. Speak your truth, even if it's that you only want to spend xyz amount on a gift, or that you'd rather buy an experience. Just make sure that what you say you want to do this holiday season is what you're actually hoping.
Nothing stings quite so much as the dissonance between two people's expectations.