Santa would've brought gifts if given enough warning!
December 12, 2009 2:00 PM   Subscribe

My family decided in November on not buying Christmas gifts this year as we are all adults and have what we need anyway. I get paid once a month and right now am living cheque to cheque. So I spent the money I had saved up on extra credit payments. Now they've changed their minds and all want gifts. I have 25 dollars to last me til the 30th. How do I get through this holiday without being as bitter as I am now? And not feel like a loser for no one having a gift?

To top it off I'm struggling through a bad bout of SAD on top of a good two decades of on and off hard depression that is just beginning to ease w/ the miracle dose of pills we've found. I want to crawl into bed and tell them all off. I certainly have absolutely no energy to make some 10 odd gifts for xmas.

I thought of skipping the whole thing but I've been told repeatedly in the past that I am selfish to not share my company with family on the holidays. Plus family will be staying with me and I can't find a way around that.

I really loathe the holidays. Yet feel guilt that I don't enjoy my family either.

Am I being overly sensitive to the change in minds? Or what the lack of gifts on my part will mean? What can I say when someone hands me a gift from under the tree when I have nothing in return?
posted by beautifulcheese to Human Relations (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If I were you, I'd tell them that you already spent the money you were going to use for gifts on paying down your debt and that you will not be buying gifts since you do not have money with which to do so. I would then let them know that you would prefer that they not give you gifts since you will not be able to give gifts in return.

I would probably get upset if they did not seem to understand, but I would feel better having told them the situation and I would try to brush off any further negative energy coming from them on the topic.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 2:08 PM on December 12, 2009 [12 favorites]

Best answer: You have nothing to feel bad about, but you know that.

Just let them know up front (prior to the holiday, when things suck anyway) "Hey, guys, based on YOUR decision and announcement of "no gifts", I did the responsible thing and worked to pay down some debt with that money... I'm afraid I need to stick with YOUR original plan of no gifts..."

Then, let go of it...
posted by HuronBob at 2:09 PM on December 12, 2009 [5 favorites]

This would really, really rub me the wrong way, too.

I think you need to explain to your family that you can't afford to give them gifts. If you really, really feel obligated to give them each something--write every one of them a heartfelt letter or something. I had one friend who used to write acrostic poems for people based on their names--maybe something like that? But honestly, it sounds like they don't deserve it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:16 PM on December 12, 2009

This seems extremely inconsiderate of your family members. Are they not aware of your financial situation?

I would do as others have suggested and simply tell them the truth.

If you are letting family members stay with you, the money that they are saving on a hotel room should count as your gift to them.
posted by mmmbacon at 2:22 PM on December 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Why don't you give them coupons like 'babysitting 4 hours' or 'rake leaves -- anytime'. Paint 'one room' (no turquoise) etc. Agreed though, changing the rules of Christmas sucks.
posted by maxpower at 2:22 PM on December 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

If you want to be passive aggressive give them each a gift certificate for "free room and board" (assuming they're all staying with you).
posted by kylej at 2:24 PM on December 12, 2009

Best answer: That sucks and I would be angry, too. Explain to your family that you did not plan for the changing of minds. Tell them you have no money if you feel comfortable doing so. Try not to feel guilty or bad about that. There was an understanding and then it was changed without your input. Attend the holiday celebrations. Too bad for them if they are offended. They probably won't be, but if they are, it's not your fault they changed their minds.

If you want to participate in the gift giving, there are plenty of low-cost/free gifts. It is the thought that counts. Some ideas:

1. A book that you own that you loved with a handwritten message explaining what you loved about it and why you think the recipient would enjoy it.

2. Mix CDs if you own blank CDs

3. Candy or nuts in a mason jar tied with ribbon

4. A poem, a drawing, or a song

5. A promise for a road trip or a lunch date when you have more cash

6. ornaments made from things found in nature

7. If you have photos of your family members, or other interesting images they would enjoy, develop them and frame in inexpensive frames from dollar store or thrift shops.

8. One dollar scratch-off ticket in a 50 cent card.
posted by Fairchild at 2:26 PM on December 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

Tell them you won't be able to bring gifts. Then work away some of that pent up grrrrrrr out by baking Lussekatter to bring instead. (it's very easy to bake, tasty and the most expensive part of the recipe is saffron). You'll bring the yuletide cheer in form of flavor, so it's not like you're not celebrating with them. Now, when I bake them I add 250g of "fromage frais" /kvark / no fat sour cream or whatever it is called in english to make them less dry, but this is the jist of how to make them and you can make fun shapes too. (I skip the salt)
posted by dabitch at 2:29 PM on December 12, 2009

Addressing the questions in order:

* You're not being overly sensitive, no. This was a cruddy thing to pull.

More than that, if this is an accurate quote:

I've been told repeatedly in the past that I am selfish to not share my company with family on the holidays.

Then they're being generally insensitive, and probably need a good talking to. That isn't, "We love you, please come be with us," that's...just a lousy way to talk to people you care about.

(It doesn't surprise me: I have some form of depression and the SO is bipolar, lots of friends with depression, and it's my feeling that there is a common perception that it's okay to be a jerk to someone with it as a form of 'tough love.' It's not okay, and you do not deserve to be talked to that way.)

* The lack of gifts on your part doesn't mean anything provided you, as has already been suggested, tell them you can't ahead of time. They're adults, not children: they should understand your circumstances and be glad that you were able to get ahead on debt.

* Say thank you.
If, knowing you will not be able to participate, they insist on buying you gifts, just say thank you. A gift that comes with strings isn't really a gift, it's a payment.
posted by mordax at 2:35 PM on December 12, 2009

Best answer: Now they've changed their minds and all want gifts . . . . I've been told repeatedly in the past that I am selfish to not share my company with family on the holidays.

Uh, this is not you, this is them. You may want to repeat this often to yourself, as it is true.

If you can swing the cost of ingredients, I'd make something tasty like a pot of jam for each and explain that you wish you could afford more. Or, if you can find time, do the photo in frame thing Fairchild suggests. Thank gift givers sincerely and tell them why you appreciate whatever they give you.

And I'd find someone else to visit with in addition to your family over the holidays that treats you with warmth and affection . . . you deserve that.
posted by bearwife at 2:37 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think the best thing you can do is act with grace and zen. Feel no shame or bitterness. You have done nothing wrong. They are your Family. You don't get to choose them, but you can choose how you act towards them.

Tell the most gossipy person in your family your situation over the phone. Everyone will get the message by Christmas.
posted by fontophilic at 2:45 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

My family decided in November on not buying Christmas gifts this year...

Now they've changed their minds and all want gifts.

It's unreasonable for them to expect you to accommodate their shifting desires. It sounds like you all agreed to skip the gift exchange, and then they backtracked without checking in with you. Too bad for them.

Make it clear that you planned out your December budget according to the original plan and that you will not be participating in the gift exchange. If they still choose to give you gifts, that's their choice and you bear no responsibility for it, except to accept them graciously.

If anyone gives you grief about receiving gifts without giving any, remind them gently that you all agreed in November not to exchange gifts, you made your plans and budget then, and you need to stick to it. Let them know (again, gently) that you're perfectly happy if they don't care to give you a gift, since that's exactly what they led you to expect in November.

If no one gives you any grief, assume that they are giving you presents because they earnestly want to and with no expectation of reciprocal exchange.

On one side of my family, the whole group agrees to a gift exchange: each person draws one name and only buys gifts for that person. And then they all gleefully "cheat," willy-nilly buying each other big and little treats. I understand that they're giving in to loving and generous impulses, but it does make me crazy when someone gives me a gift in flagrant defiance of the rules they themselves defined.

What do I say when someone on that side of the family gives me a gift when I have nothing for them? I say "Oh, how sweet! You really shouldn't have! No, you really shouldn't have." Sometimes I tease them gently about breaking the Very Important Christmas Rules.

I do not say, "But I have nothing for you!" Of course I don't, because that's the rule they made.
posted by Elsa at 2:45 PM on December 12, 2009

Do you have enough time/money/flour/sugar to bake everyone cookies? Baking cookies is relatively quick and easy, very cheap, and pretty much everybody loves homemade cookies.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 3:03 PM on December 12, 2009

Best answer: What can I say when someone hands me a gift from under the tree when I have nothing in return?

"Thank you so much! I love it!"

Seriously, a gift is not a bribe or a purchase--you don't owe any response other than gratitude. Consider giving a heads up to whoever is organizing the gift exchange, something to the effect of "Money is tight for me this year, and when we decided in November not to exchange gifts, I budgeted what little I had differently than I would have if I'd known we were doing gifts. I'm looking forward to spending time with everyone, but I won't be able to bring gifts this year."
posted by Meg_Murry at 3:17 PM on December 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

This sounds like a crappy situation.

Maybe could you write them each a letter saying something you appreciate about them, or a memory you have of them that makes you particularly happy around the holidays?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:20 PM on December 12, 2009

Uh, this is not you, this is them. You may want to repeat this often to yourself, as it is true.
Bearwife is so right about this, I thought I'd repeat it too. I'm from a big family and various or all of us have been in various degrees of poverty down they years for the usual reasons of life's ups and downs, and I just can't imagine Christmas being an exercise in this sort of behaviour.
Which makes me lucky, I realise, but also in my world, the chance for them to give you something when you're having it a bit rough is nice for them, and the chance for you to try to think well of your family even though they're putting you on this spot is possibly a opportunity to get past the guilt, which you shouldn't be feeling in my book. So I suppose I'm saying it's as much a question of how you frame it as anything.
posted by Abiezer at 3:51 PM on December 12, 2009

yup, that sucks, and yea, you should let them know that you can't afford gifts, but it would still be a good idea to make them some nice inexpensive gifts, there's some really good ideas in this thread. at least then you have something to hand over when gifts are exchanged.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:56 PM on December 12, 2009

I would avoid all explanations or excuses or confrontations or mention of gift mismatch. Forget that the switch happened, don't waste anymore mental energy on resentment or analysis, and rally. You'll need to spend a little money but not very much. You can probably do it for only a little of what you have now, and surely a friend or family member could float you $20 until the new year if you need some padding.

The way to give a special gift that means more than any piece of random clutter you could buy in the store, while spending next to nothing, is to make something with your own hands. I think one of the best and easiest ways is to make each of them an ornament. You can buy a box of plain ball ornaments for a few dollars and paint on them or draw on them with paint pens. Alternately you could buy styrofoam ball things at a craft store and paint those up in special ways. Or glass if they're not too expensive, because those can look delicate and classy.

Or as someone else said upthread, use found objects. If it was something emblematic of some well known aspect of your relationship with the person, or something emblematic of something special to them (golf, fishing, cooking, reading, whatever), that would be great.

I like the idea of using stuff from nature. My parents collected a bunch of gumballs from under the tree in their yard back during their salad years and spraypainted them gold to use as ornaments. They still have them and use them decades later. You could do the same with teeny pinecones or other things like that. It could be a fun project for you irrespective of family or your thoughts about the holidays. If you can put the year on each ornament somewhere, people will remember it each year thereafter and be able to remember it as special (instead of, "where did we get this one, honey?")

Another very cheap gift, particularly appropriate for people who don't need any more clutter, is edibles. For very cheap you can buy a bag of cranberries and use the recipe for cranberry bread on the back of it to hunt down the other ingredients, like oranges, flour, nuts, whatever. You can buy those mini disposable loaf tins that are maybe 3" x 6", bake up a few batches of loaves that size, wrap in tinfoil, and put ribbons around them and tags on them. Bam, delicious presents made by your own hand.

Decide to have a crappy Chrismas or a happy one. You've got options!
posted by Askr at 4:28 PM on December 12, 2009

As much as I agree with everyone else who thinks that your family has put you in a bad spot and you shouldn't feel any obligation to adhere to a family decision that was made without your input, I'm wondering if, since you used the money you'd saved for Christmas presents to make extra credit payments, that credit might now available to buy the gifts you would have gotten if the whole family decision/reversal hadn't happened at all?

If I were you I'd be tempted to let the family know that we're all still adults who have everything we need, exactly as we agreed about before and despite their recent change in desires, so I will not be expecting to receive gifts from anybody and nobody should expect to receive a gift from me, but I'm really looking forward to spending time with the family for Christmas. Then I'd turn it around on them and give them gifts anyway. Any protests would be answered with, "Oh, I changed my mind. Merry Christmas!"
posted by Balonious Assault at 4:31 PM on December 12, 2009

I'm wondering if, since you used the money you'd saved for Christmas presents to make extra credit payments, that credit might now available to buy the gifts you would have gotten if the whole family decision/reversal hadn't happened at all?

that doesn't sound very fiscally responsible for someone living check to check.

Don't make or buy anything, if you don't want to/can't make or buy anything. Or make one batch of baked goods (if you like to bake and have the ingredients on hand) and bring to share. Your presence is your present.
posted by pinky at 4:37 PM on December 12, 2009

I'd laugh it off & make a up a bunch of cards stating:

"To celebrate the holiday season, a donation has been made in your name to The Human Fund - Money For People"
posted by torquemaniac at 4:41 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm wondering if, since you used the money you'd saved for Christmas presents to make extra credit payments, that credit might now available to buy the gifts you would have gotten if the whole family decision/reversal hadn't happened at all?

Oh, no. No, no, no. Going further into debt to accommodate this kind of game-playing last-minute rule-changing would be a bad choice.

Nthing the recommendation to say that you based your December finances on the original plans, and it's just not possible for you to change plans and buy presents at this point. I wouldn't even try to make anything; since you're struggling with SAD it's likely to become yet one more thing adding stress.

Best wishes. Hang in there. It's just over a week to the solstice when the days start getting longer again (not that I'm counting the days or anything).
posted by Lexica at 5:14 PM on December 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Make stuff.
posted by rokusan at 11:03 PM on December 12, 2009

-Inform your family that there's an econopocalypse going on, that you're far too broke to afford buying anyone gifts this year, and you're glad they understand. Leave it at that. Because then their only option is to say "You should go into debt to buy gifts" and if they're willing to be explicit about it, then you can call them on being unbearably douchey.

-As to how not to be bitter, go to the library. Get a copy of The Battle For Christmas. Read about how Christmas used to be a licentious, drunken public orgy, a season of misrule... and how 19th C. American capitalists tamed the violent, public debauchery and turned the season instead into a private, family oriented holiday where you bought gifts for your own instead if entertaining troupe after troupe of drunken, costumed revelers who would barge into your home, perform traditional mummers plays, then demand good food and drink under penalty of the pelting your house with snowballs and verbal abuse.

The whole buying gifts aspect about Christmas was wholly invented by 19th C. capitalist robber barons who no longer felt any sense of noblesse oblige towards the formerly agrarian peasantry now working in their factories, and wanted an out from the old-school agrarian seasonal rituals.

One of the kickers for me is that they took the old "season of misrule" attitude and redirected it from public drunkenness and debauchery to "spend more than you can really afford on store-bought Christmas presents". Srsly, advertisement from the mid 1800s in NY explicitly play that angle, and made up the story about gift giving being some sort of ancient tradition at Christmas.

Fuck this feeling-bad-because-I-can't-afford-store-bought-gifts bullshit! Refuse to (literally) buy into it. You're in BC, I see. I'd recommend you buy a $30 bag of sweet bud, roll up a few doobies, and celebrate Christmas old-school-style.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 3:10 AM on December 13, 2009

I would clean out my closet and then give people special lovely gifts from the discards. Re-gifting can also be your friend at this type of moment!
posted by zia at 4:31 AM on December 13, 2009

Response by poster: I ended up writing an e-mail to family this morning saying that the change in plans just can't fit my tight budget for December and that I just won't be able to participate in the gift exchange this year nor should anyone feel obligated to buy me anything. Have a merry Xmas, look forward to seeing you blah blah blah.

I actually never thought of telling anyone in the family before Xmas because any sort of "confrontation" is considered the utmost sin in my family. We must be all nice all the time. So I thank you people for giving me that option and saying it is normal and okay.
posted by beautifulcheese at 9:21 AM on December 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

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