Lose the Gift-Giving Guilt by Sticking to These Boundaries

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Blessing your children and spouse with gifts is one of the greatest joys of Christmas. But what about everyone else? Between friends, co-workers and extended family, where do you draw the line? You don’t want to leave anyone out, but you also don’t want to stretch your Christmas budget to the limit.

Before you hit the mall this year, set some gift-buying boundaries. Figure out how much you have to spend and prioritize accordingly. And absolutely refuse to go into debt for anyone—no matter how cute they would look in that Rudolph sweater.

Extended Family

You thought you budgeted for every cousin, grandparent, niece and nephew. But then Aunt Mindy shows up with her new boyfriend and his two teenage sons in tow. So you swing by the store and grab some overpriced plastic junk, even though you can’t really afford it and they probably don’t want it.

As your extended family changes and grows, it can get exhausting to buy gifts for 30-plus people—especially when surprise guests show up! So why not change the Christmas rules? Talk to your family about limiting individual gifts to smaller kids, and playing a fun game of Dirty Santa with the older kids and adults. (Just bring an extra gift for any unexpected visitors.) This keeps the focus on family time, rather than a carload of unwanted candles and picture frames.

Casual Friends

Of course you’re going to bless your closest friends with something special. But what about your Facebook friends, workout buddies or the next-door neighbors? Where do they fit in?

You can’t be friends with everyone. That’s nothing to feel guilty about. If your conversations consist of online likes or chatting about the weather, there’s no need to buy them a gift. If you want, just include them in your general Christmas card list, write a kind note, and keep it casual. You’re not a bad friend—you’re just a good acquaintance.

Kids’ Friends

When it comes to the classroom, if your kids give to one, they need to give to all. And no, we don’t mean you have to pull an Oprah-worthy giveaway on a bunch of 6-year-olds. Just be considerate. A great idea is to have your child make handmade Christmas cards and tape a candy cane to each. Or you may want to volunteer to bake something special together for the annual Christmas party.

If your kids are a little older and want to get a special gift for their closest friends, make sure they set up the exchange outside of school hours to avoid hurt feelings. Also, remember that one family’s splurge may be another family’s stocking stuffer, so help your kids and their friends set realistic expectations and a price limit from the get-go. If their friend group is relatively large, it may be more cost-effective to draw names—which can be way more fun anyway.

At the Office

It’s the age-old question: If a co-worker brings you a gift, do you have to reciprocate? The answer is no. Work is one place where your professional relationship allows for some gift-giving distance. You’re under no obligations here.

If you want to show your appreciation to your administrative assistant or boss, that’s okay; just find a way to thank them without making a big production of it. And if a kind co-worker wants to share her homemade gingerbread with the whole office, don’t rush out and buy her a bag of gourmet popcorn out of guilt. A simple thank-you note or email is probably all she wants in return.

The stress of holiday shopping is largely self-imposed. No one expects you to buy them a Hermes scarf or a fancy pear basket. If they do, they’ve missed the whole point of the season. So don’t feel bad about setting a budget and sticking to boundaries. Gift giving should be a joy, not a drag.

money | @ChrisBrownOnAir