The Pressure of Presents

Categories Saving Money, Simplifying, Story

As I wrote in my post last week about celebrating my birthday, my boyfriend, R, had purchased a new pair of tweezers to replace my old ones. They had somehow gotten lost in the move, and I was pretty peeved about it. I had just purchased them maybe two months ago, and at $14 a pop, they’re not exactly cheap. I kept saying that the second I got new tweezers, we would find the old ones. That’s exactly what happened!

I went into the bathroom on Saturday and did a double take. There were two tweezers sitting on the sink – not one, two. Where did the other one come from?? We had honestly looked everywhere, so I really thought this was a fluke. Excited, I texted R and then called him, but he was at work so he couldn’t answer right away. I kept wondering where the heck he managed to find them, and was already planning on returning the ones he had gotten me. It’s not worth it to have 2 in the apartment, and R could get $14 back. Win win. Well, he didn’t think so…


What else am I supposed to get you?!

Instead of being as happy as I was that he had found my old tweezers (in a place I had looked in three times, no less), his response was, “That was the only thing I got you for your birthday, though. If we return them, then I got you nothing, which makes me a jerk.” I assured him that it didn’t make him a jerk, but there was no sense in having 2 and he might as well get his money back. He agreed with that on a logical level, but not an emotional one.

Have you ever tried to find the perfect present for someone (and succeeded)? It’s hard! I am not an easy person to shop for, and since I’m trying to become more of a minimalist, I couldn’t think of anything for anyone to get me that would actually be worthwhile. Thus, I received cash and jewelry from family. I had wanted a nice, simple necklace that I thought R could buy, but I ended up getting something that fit the bill from an aunt. I am still trying to look for something that I absolutely want, and have been failing.

There are other alternatives

R paid for a dinner out last week, the day after my birthday, which I thought could count for something, but it’s still a sore spot that he can’t leave alone. This happens for anniversaries and Christmas as well. Our first Christmas together we actually just purchased candy and wrapped it for each other, which I thought was cute (and yummy)! I didn’t see anything wrong with this, even if it was an inexpensive option. We both ate our candy so it was money well spent. Likewise, I love to bake for people. Who doesn’t appreciate a batch of cookies, cupcakes or brownies?

His birthday happens to correspond closely with our anniversary, so last year we took a trip to a bed and breakfast that his old cross country coach owned, and it was pretty nice (and slightly expensive). However, we did split the cost since half the celebration was for his birthday and half for our anniversary. All in all I don’t ever “compare” gifts and think, “Well, I spent more on you than you did for me!” It’s a futile exercise. I mean, who originally said we had to give gifts on holidays and special occasions? Tradition, which can always be broken. I’d rather just spend a memorable day together that we can look back on.

The last alternative I gave him was to paint me a picture. R went to college for art, and I really wanted him to make something for me that I could hang on the wall. I’ve actually been wanting something like this from him since we started dating! It took him forever to get around to it, but finally this past Valentine’s Day he gave me this painting:

Owl Painting For some reason the past year and a half has found me slightly obsessed with cute, adorable owls, so I told him to paint us as owls. It’s a little cheesey, but I love how it came out, and it is now in our bedroom. I told him he should make a little series as I got him 2 little canvases he could paint on. Unfortunately, it took him long enough to produce this painting, so it would probably take him another six months for both :). In any case, I would much rather receive a thoughtful/crafted present like this that I could treasure as opposed to jewelry, clothes or something else I don’t need.

A Compromise

I think it’s extremely important to reach a compromise so that one person does not feel disappointed about giving or not giving a present to the other. Most of the time, for us, that compromise is going out to eat, since it is something mutually enjoyed and we both benefit from it. In some cases, R doesn’t feel like it is enough, but he does so much for me on a daily basis that I think it’s silly he feels this need to give me a tangible present.

Communication is key in any relationship, and in any situation like this. Both people should clearly state what their preferences are as far as gift-giving goes early on, or at least before a gift-giving holiday comes along. When you’re first with someone, there can be that awkward moment when you’re wondering how much the other spent on you, and if your gifts will compare. Get rid of that possibility by talking about it! Set a limit, or agree upon presents beforehand. It may ruin the surprise, but I don’t think every present always needs to be a surprise.

Lastly, think of other ways to tell a person you really appreciate them and care about them. Not everything has to be in the form of a tangible item – it could be a poem/really nice card (I have been guilty of crying from reading a touching message in a card), something you create yourself, or someone’s favorite meal! If you’re feeling a little fancy, buy them an experience they won’t forget, like a cruise, sports game or trip away to a place they’ve been wanting to visit.

What gifts do you prefer to receive, if any at all? What gifts do you give others? Have you found yourself in a similar situation as me before?

Erin is a total goofball who sucks at writing about herself (though she finds referring to herself in the third person amusing). When she's not editing videos, she can be found messing around in Photoshop, laughing at her cats, watching YouTube videos, playing video games, chair dancing, sipping coffee, or any random combination of the above.

30 thoughts on “The Pressure of Presents

  1. J loves surprises. I think they are overrated lol. We don’t buy each other extravagent gifts since that’s neither our style but and I don’t have a creative/artistic bone in my body so we usually settle on buying each other something cute and thoughtful that won’t break the bank.

    P.S. I love the owls painting! R has some major talent!

    1. Yes, I agree – extravagant gifts aren’t our style either. Honestly, this sounds so bad, but most surprise presents for me turn out to be disappointing so I’d rather know ahead of time and receive something I’ll actually like.

      Thanks, I told him you said that :)

  2. That’s so cool that you’re fine with tweezers (and dinner) as a birthday present. My wife is like that too, I usually get something practical or something that she would get anyway as she doesn’t want me spending too much on the gift. I know many people (sorry usually women) who get very upset when the gift is not extravagant. As for the owls, I think that personalized/handmade gifts are especially special. I don’t have much artistic skills but I have made/drawn cards for my wife and she loves them.

    1. Aw that’s so cute that you’ve made your wife handmade cards! Someone once made me a very simple card with stick figures and I thought it was adorable. Effort is what counts. And yes, I would tend to agree women care about gifts more than men. It’s great when you have a partner who is already on the same page as you with gifts.

  3. Love your attitude, EM! We don’t get each other gifts anymore in the material sense. We plan experiences for each other’s birthdays such as places we have not been. We’ve been doing this for a few years and it is such wild fun!

    1. That sounds like the best choice! I would love to go away again in the fall, we just had too much going on this summer to plan anything solid. Still trying to make it out to the beach!

  4. My wife and I definitely try to lean more towards experience-type gifts than physical gifts. My mom is big into giving tons of presents for things like birthdays and christmas, which was always fun growing up but now it’s something I have mixed feelings about. It’s not that she expects something in return (she really doesn’t, other than gratitude), I just don’t always want a ton of “stuff”. But I feel like if I bring that up, it will hurt her feelings. Not really sure how to handle it, but I agree that it can be a touchy subject.

    1. At one point we simply sent a note to family members well in advance of Christmas, letting them know that we had decided to opt out of exchanging gifts, and that enjoying the experience with them was all we asked. Some still give occasional small gifts, such as cookies, and we thank them.

    2. I feel the same way as I’m finding I don’t really want anything. While I love to see tons of presents under the Christmas tree, I know my parents have not been able to get as much as they used to as money was tight (plus I found myself out of ideas for what I wanted). So this past Christmas I flipped the tables and got them and R a bunch of things. While I did go a little crazy, it actually added to our Christmas morning and both of my parents thanked me. It was fun to see them so happy.

  5. The BF and I talked about price, cause I was uncomfortable about suggesting things for my bday in Jan (he bought me a necklace for Christmas, totally without any hints/advice from me). After I recieved his Christmas gift (we didn’t spend Christmas together), I knew what he’d spent, and so matched that. I’m known to spend a *lot* of money on my direct family and partner, ever since I’ve been able to (other people though, couldn’t care – cause I never really know what to get them that won’t go to waste etc).

    Back to my b’day – he also permitted me to write a list. It felt awkward, but I emailed it, and he had all the links to everything. As to giving to him, both times have been experiences – first it was a helicopter ride over Sydney (yes, it costs the same as a necklace, and probably more memorable) and the second was a voucher to sky dive, which I presented to him during the transformer’s movie in a fancy food service cinema, during the sky diving scene! Oh yes, I planned that little cupcake!

    1. Haha that’s great that you planned that! Those both sound like a lot of fun. Last year for my birthday I also gave R a list of items with links and he chose things off of it, which worked well. While it can be boring sometimes it’s for the better that you receive something you actually want.

      I also spend a lot of money for my parents, grandma and R when I have the opportunity (if they actually want something expensive). They’ve probably spent thousands on me over all the Christmas and birthday celebrations I’ve had. I remember being so excited I could afford to buy my dad an Xbox for his birthday the first year I worked.

      1. OH we’re so the same! It is great to earn enough to get people you love what they will truly love and enjoy. I absolutely LOVE Christmas for this reason (and cause it never catches me by surprise like birthdays can sometimes do!)

        1. Haha! I make it a point to write birthdays on calendars, or add them to my phone. I am pretty good at remembering them, but holidays like Mothers Day and Fathers Day sneak up on me! I’ve started to buy cards way in advance so that I am prepared at least for that bit.

  6. Hubby often gets me something he believes I am particularly interested in, and that is wonderful because it lets me know that he is paying attention and wants to please me. For me it is the meaning and message behind the gift that matters more than whether or not it is big and fancy. A lovely card with a wonderful handwritten message can be perfect for almost any occasion. Of course, shiny jewelry isn’t bad, either. He is a little more difficult to choose gifts for, but, again, something personal is usually well received. We both really enjoy experiences (a weekend getaway, a special dinner out) as memorable and meaningful gifts.

    1. Experiences seem to be popular and I agree. I really enjoyed the weekend away we took last year and I’m hoping we can do it again.

      It’s always nice to know people are paying attention to our wants. I’ve never had someone actually get me something I’ve been wanting, but then again the guys I date are a little oblivious :)

  7. When my husband and I got married 20+ years ago we had very little money so we decided not to exchange presents. We never changed. I love not having the stress of finding something ‘just right’ and trying to make it a surprise. Instead, we’ll just go for a long walk together or something. It’s so much nicer…and cheaper. (BTW, love the painting!)

    1. Exactly! R and I just went for a nice walk today and enjoyed each other’s company. Similarly, I am all for cuddling and watching TV or playing a game together. It’s about the time you spend with each other, not the amount you spend on each other.

      Thanks! I adore it :) I told him about this post and he was contemplating doing the smaller paintings, so we will see if something shows up for our anniversary later this year.

  8. I think I am easy since usually I dont want anything. I would rather put the money up or save for something else. However this is something that makes the wifey’s life difficult as she wants to get me stuff. She is easy and usually I have a general idea of what to get her even if she doesn’t. I see some people stress out over buying things and I just never got it. Its a gift. Some you will like some you will love. Others you will just want to take back.

    1. Sounds like we are pretty similar in not really caring about gifts. I always feel so guilty when I don’t like something someone got me, though. I don’t want to offend anyone – which is why I told people to stop buying me clothes (they usually didn’t fit). It’s such a hassle to return things sometimes, too.

  9. Gifting is always interesting and varies from person to person. When my wife and I first started dating, we spent quite a bit on Birthdays and Christmas because we both are terrible at splurging on ourselves. So we got bigger gifts. After doing that a couple of years, we cut the “allowed limit” down and it has been fun trying to be a bit more creative with it.

    1. It is fun to be more creative, and I find it is more rewarding. I have to admit that sometimes it’s difficult to dial back for me, because it is so easy to shop for guys’ clothing. Every time I went into a store with clothes, I’d head to the men’s section and look for things R would like. Horrible! I’ve stopped now, mostly because neither of us needs more clothes at this point.

    1. I definitely agree, which was why it’s been a little upsetting that my parents always manage to go away on vacation (or move this time around) for my birthday. I shouldn’t have been born in the summer!

  10. Over a lifetime of present shopping and 11 years of living overseas, I’ve come up with two basic principles for gift giving in general: make it personal and plan ahead.

  11. I’m the type of person who believes in sort of an equal spending amount for each other and do like to receive nicer gifts (withing budgetary reason). There’s an inside joke in our family related to a poorly time gift exchange with my fiancee and I. For an anniversary present, I sent my boyfriend (now fiancee) a website link of a watch I’d want for the anniversary since we both decided we needed to buy each other watches. Little did I know, he had already dropped a bundle on an engagement ring so he didn’t feel like spending $75 on a watch. I got him a nice watch in that price range and he got me a $20 watch… I was a little annoyed. Of course, when he proposed to me the following week, I completely understood why! For Christmas 6 months later, he did end up getting me a similar watch to what I had sent him a link of. Fiancee and I aren’t big spenders so when it comes to anniversaries/birthdays, it’s the one time I feel it’s good to spend a little money on each other, but make sure you both agree on a price-point to be spent beforehand so no one feels bothered because they spent much more than the other.

    1. Oh, that is too funny about the watches! I would have been annoyed, too. Most of the time, R can’t think of something he needs, and neither can I, otherwise we would probably do something similar.

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