Random Gift Giving: For or Against?

I was curious about this one, and in the spirit of Valentine’s Day rapidly approaching (seriously, I saw Easter candy out at the grocery stores!), I figured it was somewhat appropriate. This can really be applied to any relationship, though.

Random gift giving is not something I have any experience with. In my past and current relationships, I’ve enjoyed spending time with the person way more than receiving a random gift. Since hearing stories of how my co-worker’s boyfriend has come home with flowers, chocolate or sparkly things, I can’t help but wonder if I would really enjoy it.

It seems like a nice gesture, but if I’m being honest, I would rather come home to all the dishes being clean, dinner made, and having my significant other just telling me how much he appreciates me. I don’t need to receive presents in order for that point to come across.

The cons of random gift giving

  1. It can turn into a competition. My co-worker was saying the other day that she had to get flowers for her boyfriend’s birthday since he got her a bouquet for hers. I don’t believe in one-upping in the gift giving arena.
  2. You might feel obligated to return the favor. Random gifts should be given because you feel like cheering someone up, or you found something you knew they would absolutely love. Personally, when someone gives me a present, I feel pressured to give something back. I love baking and cooking for R and he appreciates it, and I appreciates it when he cleans up my mess! It works for us.
  3. Money! Obviously, buying presents = spending money in most cases. If you start the cycle, when will it stop? I know there are couples out there that celebrate everything as an excuse to buy things for each other. We all read the statistics of how much people spend on Valentine’s Day, and it can be costly.

    random gift
    A gift from a co-worker; I love candles!
  4. Guilt. This doesn’t even need to pertain to couples. My grandma happens to have a really nice couple that lives next door to her, and even though she has told them to not give her anything since the first gift, they haven’t stopped. She received a nice gift basket for Christmas and felt bad as she had only given them baked goods. I hate to be a “grinch,” but I don’t like it when someone unexpectedly gives me something, either. If I wasn’t intending on buying anything for anyone at work, and my co-worker gives me something, I tend to feel bad. It’s easier when you know people don’t expect something in return.
  5. Pressure. I’m going to be honest again here and say I’m very difficult to shop for. R knows this, and this is probably the number one reason he doesn’t surprise me with anything. He admitted that he was afraid of buying me something I wouldn’t like during our first Christmas together, and I know it’s a legitimate fear. Of course, you don’t want to be wasting your money on things someone won’t appreciate.

The pro’s of random gift giving

In the interest of presenting both sides, here’s a few reasons why I think random gift giving might be appropriate.

  1. In moderation. As long as it’s truly random and not a weekly occurrence (more like a handful of times a year), I think it’s okay. There’s a lot of reasons for this, one being that it’s really not random if you can come to expect something every week or month, and also because of the potential for clutter.
  2. Circumstance. When I was a receptionist, one of my bosses had me purchase flowers to be delivered to his girlfriend. She was having a rough day and he included a little pick-me-up note with the flowers. I thought it was a really sweet idea. If someone you know is going through a tough time, give them something that will put a smile on their face.
  3. Collections. There are a few people I know who collect certain things (mostly figurines). My grandma, for example, loves angel and elephant figurines. If I happened to stumble upon either for a reasonable price, I’d probably get it for her. In this case, the person will likely be happy to add to their collection and it wouldn’t be a waste.
  4. If someone really wants something. If I knew R was really longing for a certain item, but couldn’t bring himself to buy it, I might decide to do so. This doesn’t really happen often at all (I’m more likely to withhold from a purchase), but I think it could be a nice gesture if the item is really important to them. My mom has been wanting a Keurig machine ever since she moved, but hasn’t given in to buying one yet. I’ve been contemplating getting it for her, but it is a bigger ticket item and my dad doesn’t see a reason to get one, so I’m waiting to see if she will change her mind.

Which side do you lean toward?

random gift
My grandma knows me well

This is all really based on personal preference and the relationship dynamics you have with others. I’ve seen my friends go out of their way to get presents for each other at times, mostly due to the excitement of knowing that person would love the present. Most of them are comic book fans and have favorite characters, so it’s a bit easier.

I’ve read that there are “five languages of love“, and I am definitely more of a quality time person. I love to cuddle and lean toward random acts of kindness (surprising R with a cheesecake) as I think it yields more happiness. However, R and I are just not gift people. R doesn’t even think cards are important. He knows that what makes me happy is making my life easier =).

That said, I do think there’s a time and place for surprising people with gifts. I know I’d be thrilled if someone decided to buy me a laptop (totally not happening). Maybe I am just jaded because I tend to be horrible at surprise gifts. I’d much rather be told what the person wants.

What do you think? Do you enjoy surprising people with presents? Do you like being on the receiving end? Or would you rather express appreciation in a different way?

Erin M.

Erin is a personal finance writer and virtual assistant who loves talking about money and how to use it as a tool to get what you want out of life. When she's not obsessing over numbers or working (which is rare), she can be found messing around in Photoshop, laughing at her cat, watching YouTube videos, playing video games, chair dancing, or any random combination of the above.

39 thoughts on “Random Gift Giving: For or Against?

  1. I would rather only exchange gifts at specific, pre-determined times. I get thrown off when my manager gives us Christmas gifts because I feel pressure to get him something. He tells me that I shouldn’t get him anything because it’s his way of saying thanks for the hard work, but the other direct reports get him a gift so how can I not? With that being said, sometimes it is nice to give/receive a gift out of the blue.
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted: Is Roku a Good Alternative to Cable?My Profile

    1. That’s such a tough spot to be in! At my old job, my bosses gave out gift cards during the holidays, and it made the pressure of contributing to their group present worse. I really do think it should only be the boss giving gifts out, but not everyone believes that.

  2. I’m with you – not a fan of unexpected gifts. I definitely end up feeling super guilty about it, and I would much rather someone save their money than use it to buy me something. A nice handwritten note to show appreciation is fine by me! And between me and my husband, doing things to help each other out is all the “gift” that we really need. And we definitely engage in random acts of kindness far more than buying more stuff for each other.
    Kali @ CommonSenseMillennial recently posted: Want to Travel for Free? I Know a Guy..My Profile

    1. My former coworker gave me a really nice note once, just telling me how much she appreciated my help, and I was happy to get the recognition! I think it’s great when couples can just show their support and be there for one another. I am more grateful for that than any material present R ever gave me.

  3. I like giving and receiving unexpected gifts. I consider doing dishes as part of gift giving, so they don’t necessarily have to cost money. I like giving gifts on days that are not related to gift giving holidays. I have fun surprising people with unexpected gifts and I don’t expect gifts back either and I make sure they know that there’s no pressure.
    I think the guilt and the pressure are more associated with the kind of relationship you have with the people who gave you expected gifts.
    Michelle’s Finance Journal recently posted: Pride and MoneyMy Profile

    1. That’s true. My grandma sometimes buys things for me and I know it makes her happy to give to others, so I accept it without a fuss (most of the time they’re things on a smaller scale). A gift exchange between a coworker would be different, though.

  4. UGH totally feel you on the guilt. It’s nice when people get you a present but goodness if you weren’t planning to get them something, it’s a mad scramble to reciprocate or to just feel guilty about getting nothing. terrible.

    BTW Mike and I do the same thing as you and R- I bake cookies or something and then Mike thanks me by doing all the dishes. it’s the BEST!
    Ashley recently posted: 25 Minutes of ProductivityMy Profile

    1. Glad you guys have the same system! I absolutely hate cleaning up for some reason, but I have no problem baking or cooking, so it’s nice to be able to split the tasks. I’m still hoping we can get a dishwasher in our next apartment so it’s easier on both of us.

  5. I like the idea of random gift giving, but it’s usually really small things, so less than $5. It can be just a note, a picture, a candy bar or a pack of gum, but it’s just meant to show you are thinking of them.

    1. It can be a difficult line to walk. I have a hard time not feeling indebted to someone if they do something nice or me, or get something for me, but I also don’t want the gift giver to feel awkward about it either.

  6. I think its nice when it’s random and not a regular thing, like when a friend is going through a hard time, has been sick, etc. I also enjoy being on the receiving end of it too. I had a friend just give me a used big flat screen TV and his roku box he wasn’t using, and just the other day another friend gave me a used DVD player since mine was having issues. Granted it was used, but it was still nice they though of me. I think it has to be genuine, and from the heart.
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted: Imbalance and Lifestyle InflationMy Profile

    1. That is really nice! I don’t mind receiving used things from friends and family either. I’m always happy that they thought of me before putting it in the garbage or selling it off.

  7. I read the 5 Love Languages…a really good book and great insights to understanding your significant other better. I’m like you…I’d prefer quality and acts of service (dinner made/dishes cleaned). Although some people just prefer gifts and need that to feel loved. I think a sweet and thoughtful gift as a surprise once in awhile is nice. The over-the-board competition of getting extravagant gifts for each other is not worth it. What? A more expensive gift means you love someone more?? Crazy.
    Andrew@LivingRichCheaply recently posted: 3 Must Do’s for the New YearMy Profile

    1. I don’t see how buying expensive presents correlates to loving someone more at all. I guess to some people it might be fun, but that’s just too much pressure for me!

  8. I’m a big fan of the Five Love Languages, and thank goodness my wife receives love through two frugal means: quality time, and touch. So we can just watch a free movie and cuddle, and she feels love!

    I’m a fan of buying gifts when a good idea comes to mind, but holding on to it and giving it at a routine time, like a birthday, Christmas, etc.
    Done by Forty recently posted: The Lottery: You Can’t Win If You Don’t PlayMy Profile

    1. Quality time and touch are my top two as well. I think it makes sense to hold onto gifts for the appropriate occasion as well, but I can understand that some people get really excited about finding an amazing present and wanting to give it right away.

    1. If it works for you guys, all the better! Maybe someday when we’re in a better financial state we will be able to surprise each other with vacations…that’s about the only thing I could think of that would make me really happy gift-wise.

  9. It’s a tough one, and I’m glad you touched on the love languages. For this reason, I shower my grandmother with gifts – birthday, Christmas, Easter, when I go away for holidays etc etc. That’s her love language, and I’ll get her a gift on occasions I won’t get anything for anyone else!

    For my BF I often say things are a ‘gift’ or a ‘surprise’ when they are grocery items he thought I wouldn’t let him have, or something I think he needs (like a reusable water bottle!) They are small, and he doesn’t feel indebted to me.

    My brother recently took his GF on an anniversary picnic, and my BF commented about how that was ‘big’, and asked if I wanted the same. I told him I did what I wanted on our anniversary – we went out for breakfast. For Val Day, we went to a movie. They may not be gifts, or normal, but they are experiences, with him and it seems that’s what I want/would like! (not that I wouldn’t love him to clean the house top to bottom, but… well if he did, it would be nice, but I bet it wouldn’t make me as happy as the above!)

    I have a very gift giving friend, it’s a bit much, cause I’m not as good at finding her ‘ideal’ things (and both of us are trying to declutter). I must think harder, cause she really is too generous!
    SarahN recently posted: Take the Stairs Challenge UpdateMy Profile

    1. I think my grandma is a mix of gifts and quality time, now that I think about it. Though the cooking she does for others is often enough in my eyes!

      Haha, that’s a good idea. I kind of do that with R. He loves getting a package of glazed donuts even though I think they’re awful.

      A picnic seems cute, though I’ve never done it. R and I usually go out to eat as well, but we’ve mostly stopped celebrating our anniversaries except the yearly and year and a half ones. I think experiences are usually more gratifying, too. So many people are against movies for first dates because they’re cliche, but we did that and managed to have fun.

  10. I enjoy random gift giving and receiving in moderation. My best friends and I all live very far away and every so often we will send each other cards with random little (inexpensive) items, like leaves from our home state, a tube of chapstick, a hand drawn (and super cheesy) picture or photo. It’s so nice to receive that kind of stuff in the mail and to know your friends are thinking about you :)
    La Tejana @ Debt Free Tejana recently posted: How I’m Using My Entire Salary to Pay Student LoansMy Profile

  11. I don’t think you should let anyone else’s relationship habits sway yours unless it really resonates with you from the get-go. I’m ‘against’ random gift giving. You really should read the 5 Love Languages as it has so much insight in this area. I have a 0 score in gift giving in my 5 love languages assessment, so it would be a waste of energy for my husband or anyone else to try to express love to me through gift giving, random or not. There are much more effective ways to use that energy, for me individually.
    Emily @ evolvingPF recently posted: Financial Heroes or Financial Zeros?My Profile

    1. I’ll have to look into reading it – I’ve only taken the test. I ranked highest on quality time and touching, I believe. I’d much rather have a memorable experience with someone than receive a gift from them.

  12. I don’t like these consumerist holidays where people feel guilted into buying things. My bf and I don’t celebrate Xmas for this very reason. It’s too much. We spend time together, help each other and I also love other little things instead. I like random gifts, meaning totally random, not as in it’s Xmas or V-day and I feel like I need to buy something.
    Dear Debt recently posted: Long Distance Life: A glimpse into the everydayMy Profile

    1. I don’t particularly like them either. We’ve never celebrated Valentine’s Day, except to attempt to buy half priced candy the day after. I think we are going to focus spending more on experiences next Christmas rather than gifts.

  13. I do like surprising people with gifts but I think that these days, I probably would only do this for family and close friends. I’d hate people to think they had to get me something in return but my family know me well enough to enjoy any gifts without feeling any pressure to reciprocate. I only tend to buy token gifts these days. :)
    Hayley @ A Disease Called Debt recently posted: The emotional stages of debt: FearMy Profile

  14. These days I love giving gifts far more than receiving them these days. I think small random gifts are nice (like you said in moderation and when the actual value of the gift is low: price-wise). When they start causing stress or you’re spending too much or trying to “out do” or “keep up”, that’s when it becomes a problem for me.
    KK @ Student Debt Survivor recently posted: Sick and Tired of Being Sick and TiredMy Profile

    1. I have to say as I’ve gotten older I find that baking (which can be on the cheaper side) kind of satisfies gift-giving for me. All my coworkers were always happy to hear I had brought brownies, and my parents loved the chocolate chip cookies I made over Christmas. It was the highlight of their trip!

  15. Gift giving is definitely not my love language (or the husband’s!). Like it doesn’t even cross my mind to give gifts randomly, I can barely remember on holidays. As such, we don’t exchange gifts most of the time.

    I think it would be nice on occasion, but might get a little uncomfortable after a while. I would feel obligated to return the favor for sure.
    Erin @ Grad Money Matters recently posted: Financial Carnival for Young AdultsMy Profile

    1. I’m glad I’m not alone – gift giving doesn’t really cross my mind, either. I was hoping I didn’t come across as insensitive, but I know my boyfriend thinks the same way, which is most important.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge