Holiday Gifting With a Significant Other (without tears, anger, or regret)

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LB Note:  I wrote this piece back in 2015, and re-publish it every year (as I do with much of my holiday content.) After all, since I'm not a deals and coupons blogger, how much is there REALLY to say about the holidays? But when this post appeared on the blog last year (2016), my beau, Rich, had some friends who read the blog ask if this piece was pointed at him. Since I'm posting it again, I thought I'd clear the air 🙂 No, it's not about Rich, and having been through several holidays of awkward holiday gifting (which I did write about below), makes me grateful for the comfortable place we're in where we can openly talk about money. 

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.

Pro Tip: 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 (and now they're engaged!!). “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.”

I also 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? A difference in expectations.

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Approach #2 – Agree to Splurge (Together) on A Gift or 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.

Pro Tip: 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.”

Over time, Rich and I have had multiple conversations about how he doesn't “believe in” gifts. For my 30th birthday trip to Mexico, he flat out told me he'd purchase an excursion for us instead of a gift. This backfired last year when I gifted him a shooting excursion at Christmas and I started bawling, inconsolably and inexplicably, the minute I heard a gun go off in the range. Over time we've come to happy medium (I, conversely, effing LOVE presents) and now we switch off between experiences and gifts, depending on the occasion.

Approach #3 – Just Go With It

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. Especially if you're the type of person who values gifts as a love language.  (Also guilty.)

Again, this is all perception but also think about the embarrassment one could feel about being the partner who didn't gift as lavishly as their partner even though they 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.

Approach #4 – No Gifts At All

Because really, who needs more stuff?

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, (especially a fairly NEW significant other) you can't help but wonder, “What is he/she trying to tell me with this present?”

On the other hand, 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 Bottom Line: The holidays are hard, and an especially sensitive money time for everyone. The only way to make the season 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, or have no gift at all. But also speak up if you disagree.

Just make sure that what you say you want to do this holiday season is what you're actually hoping.

How do you and your significant other approach holiday gifting? Sound off in the comments below!

There are a variety of ways to handle gifting with a significant other during the holiday. Here are three popular (and proven) approaches to avoiding an awkward gift giving season.


  1. Reply

    I once had a friend who purposely broke up with girlfriends before the holidays so he wouldn’t have to get them gifts. When I asked him about it, he said he would dump a girlfriend around November, then just not date until after February 14 – so he completely skipped the holiday expenses and Valentine’s Day dinners.

    We’re no longer friends (I moved away from our hometown and so did he), but from Facebook he seems like a wealthy engineer living in a very expensive part of the country. He’s also married, so clearly he had to give up that strategy eventually 🙂

    • Giulia Lombardo
    • December 12, 2016

    Agree with the entire post, from a couple of years for Christmas gifts I have a budget and try to choose nice items (usually himemade things) or experience…:D

    1. Reply

      Experiences all the way.

  2. Reply

    Wow. It has been a while (read way too long) since I gifted with a significant other. I’m now really frugal so maybe they will be amazed by how little I want them to spend…until we discuss a trip together LOL!

    1. Reply

      Trips together are a BIG DEAL. *sarcasm*

  3. Reply

    Great subject and great advice. Expectations can be different for a variety of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with the relationship at all. And when it’s a new relationship, it can be really touchy to get on the same page. Thankfully I’m well past that point. My wife and I are going the “splurge on an experience route” and we’re happy with that.

    1. Reply

      I think over time everyone find their groove, it’s just the getting started that can be painfully awkward.

    • Cat Alford/ Budget Blonde
    • December 15, 2015

    Love this! You are totally right, Christmas can be difficult to manage in new relationships. For us it got a lot easier over time. Now it’s no big deal. 🙂

    1. Reply

      I’m sure once you have kids it becomes more about them, too, right?

  4. Reply

    You have to factor in personalities too. I loooove Christmas, and it’s no big deal for my BF.

    This year is Christmas 4 for us:

    – Year one ( 4 months in) I got him a NICE bottle of scotch and he got me nothing… should have talked about it!
    – Year two I got him a bunch of nice things and told him roughly what i was planning to spend, and had to tell him specifically what to get me. Blegh.
    – Year three we found a balance. The man LOVES getting presents, but hates giving them. He’s generous, but freezes up trying to decide what the right gift would be (see year one). I bought him some nice things and he took me away for a long weekend winter adventure.
    – Year 4, I’ve bought him a really nice present, and we’re going away again.

    Easy! Both happy!

    1. Reply

      Thank you for sharing, Jen <3

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