3 tips for tackling holiday gift budgets with relatives


Robyn Parets

Robyn Parets

Blog author Robyn Parets

Robyn Parets is a personal finance and business writer based in Boston. A former writer for Investor's Business Daily (IBD) and NerdWallet, Robyn is also the founder and owner of Pretzel Kids, a children's fitness brand and online training course. You can find her on Twitter @RobynParets.

Published November 2, 2016 | 4 min read

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Buying holiday gifts used to be pretty simple and affordable for me - until my three children and four nieces and nephews came along. With my parents, husband, three siblings and their spouses thrown into the mix, this equated to 16 gifts to buy. And that doesn’t even count my husband’s side of the family. If you have this many relatives to buy for, it’s easy to see how you could spend much more than the average $882 shoppers planned to spend in 2015. according to a survey conducted by American Research Group, Inc.Each year, as the holidays approached, my wallet shrunk as my stress inflated. Unbeknownst to me, all the adults in my family felt the same way. Although I didn’t discuss the fact that I no longer wanted to buy so many gifts with my sisters, I told my mom. My mom called each of us and suggested that we only buy presents for the kids and have a gift swap or Secret Santa exchange for the adults. We all agreed. Instead of buying nine adult gifts with no price limit, we could each buy one generic gift for no more than $25.Luckily, my siblings and I were all on the same page when it came to this new holiday gift-giving tradition. But what if you think your siblings won’t agree to curb the spending? Or what if you are uncomfortable discussing a Christmas gift budget with your family?

With the holiday season right around the corner, we thought we’d weigh in with three suggestions on how to talk to your family about setting a holiday gift budget. Take a look:1. Be honest with your family about your finances. This is easier said than done as many of us whip out those credit cards to buy gifts even when we can’t afford it. If this sounds like you, this doesn’t mean you have to call every family member and tell them you can’t afford presents this year. But the next time you get together with your family or even one sibling, you may want to casually mention that buying gifts is a strain on your wallet. This leaves the door wide open for a family member to suggest a different approach to gift giving (all the while this sibling may be feeling the same financial squeeze as you.) From here, you can perhaps suggest a family dinner with no gifts. Or, if that seems too extreme, see how your family feels about doing away with gifts for the adults. Even if your family doesn’t share the same feelings, you will have started an important conversation and your relatives can now openly discuss making changes to your holiday gift-giving tradition.

2. Host the family holiday party. As the host, this makes it easier for you to take charge of the gift situation and make changes. A good way to do this is to send out a fun e-vite with details, such as "Please bring one adult gift only for a Yankee Swap." If you want to encourage gifts for the children and money is an issue, make it your prerogative to set a monetary cap on presents and include this information in your email. Even if your family doesn’t agree with your gift-giving rules, they will generally respect your wishes as you are the host. Chances are, the adults will have a blast during the Yankee Swap and each will bring home a fun gift that they will remember for years to come (even if they re-gift it!) After the holidays pass, you can volunteer to host again next year or suggest that the party take place elsewhere with another Yankee Swap.

3. Talk to your mom, dad or the family leader. Most families have someone who acts as the matriarch or patriarch - the person you and your siblings usually turn to when there’s a family issue or you need an intermediary. If you are uncomfortable bringing up a Christmas gift budget with your other adult relatives, start by talking to mom or the one family member you feel you can confide in. This is an opportunity to share how you feel and make honest suggestions for curbing gift spending. Your mom, in turn, can talk to your other adult relatives and offer up suggestions to the family, like a Secret Santa or Yankee Swap. If the holiday budget busting idea comes directly from mom, adult kids tend to listen - at least in my family.