Hello Korio
03. 01. 2017

I was going to ask this question around Christmas, but, you know, life. I’m still curious, though, so I’m asking it anyway, and now you have a wealth of recent experience to use as examples for your answers, which you are surely going to give me.

Okay, a couple of scenarios.

One. You have a group of people you exchange gifts with. Family, friends, whoever. Just people you regularly buy for. And you set a gift budget for the group as a whole – like you’re going to spend $150 on each person. That’s a made up number on the high side, or the low side. It’s made up. It doesn’t matter. So you’ve got $150 to spend per person. Obviously not strict – if you find a great $145 item for someone, you don’t scramble to find a $5 thinger to make it exactly even. In the same vein, if you spend $160 on someone for the perfect gift, no big. You get me. $150-ish. Now, say you find the perfect item for someone. It’s what they want/need/secretly desire in their heart of hearts or whatever. And it costs $150. Perfect. Except, you get some insane deal on it. Like, totally insane. You’ve got a coupon and reward points and there’s also a sale and it turns out your giftees tastes match up with no one else’s so this item is totally unfavored by the rest of the world so it’s also on clearance. You end up spending, say, $50 for a $150 item. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s clearly an expensive item, anyone who sees it can ballpark the price, etc.

Now, keeping in mind that your budget is not a shared budget, it’s just what you’ve decided to spend on each person privately, not a group agreement, what do you do? Do you think, all right, extra money in the budget! And buy that person an extra $100 gift to go with your sweet $50 deal, bringing their total actual value of gifts up to $250 while you spent $150 on everyone else in the group? Or, do you think, all right, extra money in the budget! And redirect your saved $100 to Christmas eve dinner, or a bonus gift for your spouse, or, surprise!, you needed new tires right before Christmas because you were driving to Disneyland and didn’t actually check the tires well in advance to prepare for this possibility, which was surely going to happen regardless, because that’s just how your life goes, and even if you had checked them in advance and budgeted for them, your dog certainly would have eaten a glass ornament or something just to fuck with you?

Two. Work gift exchange, or secret santa with your volunteer group, or teacher gift, or something like that. Public budget is set and it’s $10. Unlike the scenario above where you set your own budget for the group of people you’re giving to, independent of their budgets, and everyone gets each other what they can comfortably afford to spend and everyone appreciates everything regardless because we’re all good people and we all know good people, in this case, the budget is set and public, fair and agreed upon by everyone, and everyone in the exchange will be getting each other gifts around the same value. You pull someone’s name, a friend, right, or someone you comfortably know. And it just so happens you have a $10-$15 item at home that you were given, new and unopened. It’s not a crap regift, it’s good. Maybe you were talking to that person about a thing you own, and they say they always meant to get one, and then, surprise, you were gifted a duplicate! Something you might have bought for your giftee anyway.

So, you decide you’re going to give your person this $10-$15 item. You acquired it at zero cost, therefore you’re putting out no money on the exchange, when everyone else is, in theory, spending $10-$15. In this case, do you grab another $10 item and include it, so your giftee does have more value in their gift than the rest of those in the exchange, but you haven’t spent any more than anyone else? Or maybe tack on a $2 or $5 item just so you feel like you also spent something? Or just give them the brand new perfectly suitable gift, knowing it meets the budget, and save your $10 for when your dog slams himself into a wall trying to run away from home inside the house because the sonic booms from the ceremonial F-4 Phantom II retirement flyover shook the houses on base so badly someone’s door actually fell off and your dog is a giant wiener and maybe you can put that $10 toward his prozac prescription?

Two different scenarios, right? I’m sure you’ve come across these more than once in your life, maybe even this year, because we’re all similar people, right? And you know what’s written on my family crest. Never Pay Full Price. So we all get killer deals here and there from time to time. But how do you handle them with gift giving and budgets?

To recap, in scenario one, your budget is private, just what you personally have decided to spend on each person in the group. Each person in the group may spend differently – more or less. No one knows your budget. You’ve just set an even one for each person. In scenario two, everyone knows the budget, and everyone has the same budget, and everyone will exchange gifts together in some kind of horrific forced fun holiday thing in a conference room where most people are checking their email on the phones, and two people are wearing ugly Christmas sweaters and continually turning up the volume on the Christmas carols playing over someone’s iPhone WITHOUT EVEN A BLUETOOTH SPEAKER ATTACHED.

I am interested to hear what you do.

21 responses to “A question about gift budgets”

  1. Emily says:

    Scenario 1- I’d just buy the awesome thing and put the saved money back into the shopping/grocery/emergency budget. UNLESS I am giving everyone else several smaller gifts that add up to $150 and the recipient of the amazing deal is just getting one gift. I like gifty symmetry.
    Scenario 2- I’d give the thing I already have if it’s THE thing, and I would feel awesome about my good luck.

  2. Wendryn says:

    I figure if the value of the gift (in general, not taking into account discounts or sales or whatever else) is in the correct ballparks, I don’t care whether I actually paid for it or not. They’re getting the value they expect, it matches the value everyone else is getting, and no one has a clue about what you spent. Do what you want with the rest of the money.

    That being said, I’m cheap, so you may not want to base anything on this. 😀

  3. Sheila says:

    I agree 99.9% with Emily above, except that I would probably add a small, nice chocolate bar or something tokeny, to the regift.

  4. Mary says:

    In both cases I would just give the gift and not worry about buying extra stuff or having to “spend” a certain amount. I think anyway.

  5. Jess says:

    For the first scenario, I’d probably start keeping an eye out in case I found a second totally perfect and under budget gift to add, but barring finding that, I’d leave it alone. For the second scenario, I wouldn’t add anything to the regift. You’re gifting value, not cash dollars.

  6. Michelle says:

    Agreed with everyone – I go with value, not actual money spent.

  7. LeighTX says:

    My own personal family crest: “Retail Is for Suckers.” I am 100% with Emily.

    One of my kids actually *asked* for a regift for Christmas this year; she knew her dad would be getting an Academy Sports gift card for his birthday (which he always gets from this person but has never asked for and never wants, long story) and she asked if she could have it as part of her Christmas. I have taught her well.

  8. Julie says:

    Yes, yes, yes to focusing on the value of the gift & not the price. I am always on the hunt for a deal or any possible way to save. So if I can knock some dollars off the cost of something, I’m going to to it, & feel like I did an even better job of gift shopping. In fact, if I know someone is possibly planning to get me a particular something, and I see it at a discount, I’ll tell them because I don’t want them missing a deal or spending extra money on me.

    If I can find something I already have that makes an excellent gift, I give myself a pat of the back. Even if it’s for the in law gift exchange. Especially then.

  9. Swistle says:

    With the family one, it would depend on whether I had another good idea for that person or not. So, like, if I find an awesome deal on a thingie for my sister-in-law, and I also really wanted to get her some earrings but those would have put me over-budget, I think, “YES, SCORE” and I get her the earrings too, and then when we’re opening gifts I tell her what happened with getting the deal and so yay she gets earrings too.

    But if it’s someone hard to buy for, or I only have one gift idea for them that year and it seems just right, or I don’t have much heart for shopping at that particular time, I think “Yay, done.” The savings is absorbed into the budget; I don’t do anything specific with it. Unless perhaps I happened to have been needing to justify buying a certain item that just happens to cost around that same amount, and then you know, who knows what might happen.

    For the office exchange, I’d keep the visible value of the gift at the set budget. If I spent nothing but the value of the re-gift was $10, I’d give the re-gift and spend nothing. If for some reason that made me feel weird, I could spend $10 on a treat to bring in to share with everyone. But I would not feel weird. I definitely wouldn’t give them another $10 thing, because then their received value is too high, and leads to Comparison Discontent among other group members.

  10. Jesabes says:

    When I set gift budgets, it’s not how much actual money I spend – it’s gift value. If the well-known value of a gift is not necessarily as high as MSRP, or everyone KNOWS it was the big sale item this year, I take that into account.

  11. shin ae says:

    Scenario 1: This is a difficult one for me. If I was giving the gift in the presence of a group of people, there’s a good chance I’d get the item at the discount and call it a day. I wouldn’t want the other people to feel sad they didn’t get as much. If I was giving the gift to someone in a one-on-one situation, for instance if we were meeting for lunch to exchange gifts, I would be likely to add more to it and explain that I’d gotten it at a discount so that’s why I was able to do more. It’s hard for me to imagine going through such an explanation in a crowd, though, and still I think I’d worry the other people might wish they’d gotten more.
    Scenario 2: I would only give the regifted item. I think the purpose of such set gift exchange budgets is to keep everyone’s gifts somewhat equal in an effort to avoid embarrassment or awkwardness or jealousy, whatever. Negativity. So even though it’s following the letter of the law (in this case, I would say there’s kind of a law) to regift a (fabulous) item valued at $10 and then spend $10 on top of it, spending a total of $10, I feel it’s not following the spirit of the law.

  12. Ruby says:

    Scenario 1: I agree with Swistle. If I found a second perfect thing for the recipient, I’d go ahead and buy it with the remaining money in the budget. But if not, I wouldn’t worry about it. (Plus, what are the odds that the recipient would find out what a great deal I got? Not great, I’d say.)

    Scenario 2: In this case I’d just re-gift the item without anything added on. Otherwise, unless I specifically told everyone that the first thing was a re-gift, it would just look like I went out and spent $20 when everyone else spent $10. If for whatever reason I was paranoid that everyone would find out I’d re-gifted and judge me for it, I might buy something for the gift exchange and give the re-gift item to someone else. But honestly, it’s an office gift exchange. I doubt anyone will care all that much.

    In my experience, a budget is meant to be seen as an upper limit, not the exact (or even rough) amount you have to spend. I think of it like any other kind of budget. If I set aside $200 for groceries, for example, but everything I need happens to be half off, I wouldn’t scramble around the store trying to figure out what to do with the remaining $100.

  13. Katie says:

    In Scenario #1, I always worry that the recipient will return the gift and find out what a great deal I got. For a friend’s wedding I picked out the perfect gift in my budget, and when I went to pay for it, it was magically 75% off. I didn’t add anything else to the gift, and she didn’t end up returning it, but years later I still feel a little guilty about not spending more.

    For Scenario #2, I resent having to participate in those types of things, so I would re-gift what I had at home and not feel a bit guilty about it. This is perhaps a hypocritical answer.

  14. JP says:

    Situation one: I’d give the one gift and put the extra money to good use elsewhere. Probably makeup or fancy food.

    Situation 2: I’d give the perfect gift and buy another item to go with it.

  15. Auntie G says:

    IMO the gift budget, whether it’s one you set in your head or a public one, is about a gift’s VALUE. NOT IN ANY WAY about what $ is actually spent on said gifts.

  16. Sian says:

    Scenario One: I tend to think more about the value of the gift, both to me and the giftee. Especially if I WOULD HAVE spent $150, but it just so happens I didn’t have to in order to give them the perfect gift.

    Scenario Two: Give just the gift you’ve already got and if you really feel like you need to contribute more, maybe spend the money on a treat for the group to share.

  17. I totally go for the value, not the actual cash spent. My question is, if the limit is $10 and you get a $40 Kohls throw blanket for $7, do you explain the sale price at all or just let it slide.

  18. Julia says:

    value of the gift. anything that you save is just your good hunting. #2 – definitely re-gift. I feel as if the meaning of the gift is diminished if you keep adding to it.

    I have the same question as Rayne of Terror above. The problem I’ve had is the reverse. I am a good shopper and can get a gift clearly worth more than we agreed to spend for the dollar amount (or less) agreed upon. People think I’m “cheating” – spending more than I’m supposed to. how to handle that?

  19. Shannon says:

    I have more questions than answers now about handling tricky gift situations. But to answer YOUR questions!
    Scenario 1 – I agree with shin. Scenario 2 – I’m with Swistle.
    And Ruby makes an excellent point about the ‘budget’ aspect. Just because I *could* spend the budgeted amount, if I’ve gotten what I needed for less, why *would* I?

  20. The Sojourner says:

    #1: If my husband’s family, I’d give the sale item without comment. If my family, I’d give the sale item and gloat over what a good deal I got. (Last year my mom got me a NWT Vera Bradley purse for half price on eBay. When somebody compliments the purse I gloat about how my mom got it on the cheap. Family values, y’all. :p )

    #2, I’d just regift the thing. Everybody just wants the office gift exchange over with as quickly and painlessly as possible.

  21. Jenny Grace says:

    In both cases I would just give the gift and feel no guilt. As in, I would not spend additional money on the person.

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