#809: Gold, Frankincense, Myrrh, and Judgement

Hey Captain Awkward!

First off, I hope you’ve had a lovely holiday season so far! Hopefully it’s been less stressful than mine.

I wasn’t able to quite find an answer to my situation (and I admit, it’s sorta weird). Basically, shopping for the holidays has become quite an event. Maybe it’s because my family’s Asian, but I feel like often times the value of the gifts is measured by how much or how little is spent.

I’ll give you an example. My mom’s birthday is on the 19th, so having a birthday and Christmas close to one another means double-trouble for gifts. My mom says she doesn’t care about “expensive” things, just so long as there is “effort” put into the gift. Last year I had purchased her a bunch of succulents and a terrarium set for her birthday and a fair trade sculpture of a church building for Christmas. She loved them both, but demanded the price for each. The birthday gift was around $40 and the sculpture was $15. Hearing the price, she was immensely pleased with the sculpture and loved it more but said that the succulents/terrarium lost “value” because they cost “way more than she was willing to pay for them.” What? She appears to be the worst at this, followed by my brother (who seems to have picked up her habit). My dad seems to be the complete opposite and in the same boat as me (aka: stressed out about buying gifts because the price is scrutinized).

So this year – thanks to the fact that I have a job and am making a decent amount of money – I got her a custom wooden bowl thanks to a close woodworking friend of mine (it’s super fancy with carvings and copper inlay) for her birthday (a $120 value, but my friend only charged me $60 despite my insistence that I pay him more for it) and an iPad Mini 4 split between my brother and I.

The iPad Mini has its own separate issue – I had purchased it from the Apple Store for $400 (adding in the case it totaled to $440). When I had messaged my brother the cost, he flipped out. Said it was way too much money for an iPad Mini and chastised me for not going online and buying it from Best Buy (where it said it would cost $300). He told me that the value of the gift had been lost because I was “wasteful with money,” “was giving away $100 for free,” and that “Mom won’t like it because you spent way too much.” Kept going on about how he’s right and I’m wrong, and even threw in a weird analogy (I quote, verbatim): “Say it’s your friend’s birthday. You wanna get him or her a pencil. You find two pencils exactly the same. One is 1 dollar. The other is 101 dollars. Which one do you buy?” Um, what?

I ended up returning the iPad Mini and purchasing it and a case online (for $340, and yes, we saved $100). But I didn’t expect to get shat on for the $100 difference. Sure, I’m wrong in that I should’ve bought it for less, but I didn’t expect to be berated by my younger brother about how I’m being reckless with money when I really only spend money on friends/family the holiday season!

I feel like I put a lot of thought and effort into finding something that my mom wants/likes/needs. The same goes for my brother (he’s getting a shirt, a phone holder for his car, and a pair of Nike running shoes). Yet I feel like worrying about the “value” of things has almost ruined the spirit of Christmas (though my brother said I have ruined the holiday spirit and am using this as an excuse to recklessly spend).

I’m getting incredibly anxious for when Christmas happens, and I guess my question is: how do I handle the potential “tsk tsk” when Christmas gifts are exchanged and opened? I feel like if this Christmas turns out to be a dud, I’m just going to stop investing in giving them certain things, but then I know I’ll be chastised for not caring enough in giving them something of value. How do I handle the awkward situations when they arise? My dad will probably keep quiet and agree with whatever my mom says, but this whole thing is driving me crazy!

Gift$ or $hit

Hi Gift$!

This is a weird, scripted game your mom (& now brother) are playing, where you will always spend “too much” or “not enough” for their tastes so that they have an excuse to judge you. You do not have to play the game anymore. In fact, I can see one pretty direct way out of it:

Do not tell your mom how much her gifts cost, ever, ever again. Ever. 

Her: “How much did you spend on this?”

You: “Not important, Mom. I’m glad you enjoy it, though.”

Her: “No really, how much did you spend?”

You: “What a strange question. Do you like it/Does it fit/Is it the color you wanted?”

Her: “Come on, just tell me.”

You: “No.”

Her: “Why, are you embarrassed? You probably paid too much/not enough again.”

You: “Maybe so! Glad you enjoy the gift, though.”

Her: “But why won’t you tell me? Just tell me!”

You: “Because you are being so weird about it, to be honest. I can afford it, and if you like it, then I am happy.”

Warning: It will get super weird. Your brother and dad might join in. She might not stop haranguing you. It might bring up all this weird adjacent judge-y stuff about money and etiquette and what kind of daughter you are. She is probably not used to being told “No,” straight out, by you. It’s never too late to learn! Hold the line and let the weirdness happen. Let it get as uncomfortable as it needs to get for them to learn that you don’t give that information out anymore.

No more joint presents with your bro, either, probably, or only joint gifts where he does all the work of getting it and picking it out and you pass him some cash. If anyone says ONE WORD about the “Christmas Spirit,” may I suggest a script of “Hey, we’re all adults, so let’s bag the whole Christmas gift-giving thing next year except for the little kids in the family and just focus on birthdays.

You have been brought up to think that you must tell your mom the answer to these questions, and she expects you to tell her the answer, but you don’t have to tell her. If not knowing the dollar value makes her appreciate the gift less, that’s on her. Your job isn’t to get her to feel a different way or even behave a different way –That’s out of your hands, just like the gift is, the second you hand it over.




324 thoughts on “#809: Gold, Frankincense, Myrrh, and Judgement

  1. So, weirdly, I’m reminded of the fairy tale where the king asks his three daughters how much they love him. Two give him the typical answers “more than gold” or “more than jewels” or whatever. The third (faithful) daughter says, “More than meat needs salt.” And when he casts her out for not loving him “enough,” she gets to eventually repay him by serving unsalted meat, and driving home that she was on point.

    That said, I think it’s completely legit if you rephrase things with your mom (and even your brother!) by emphasizing how much you love them, and how much you did to find the perfect gift for them. For whatever reason, they’ve twisted up money and love, and you can help to reframe that. When they ask, “How much did you spend?” you can say, “I worked really hard at getting a good deal for you, because I knew how much you’d enjoy X because Y.” If they ask how much you spent, refocus the conversation on why you thought they’d enjoy the gift, and why you bought it for them. If your brother wants to go in with you and he’s that focused on saving a buck, say, “You are so good at finding bargains! You find a good deal, and I’ll reimburse you.”

    There’s that whole idea about love languages, and what people find important, and whatever. Sometimes that’s important. Sometimes, though, you need to reframe things, or possibly tell your mom what retail value would be and forget the deal you got.

    Good luck.

    1. Is that a fairytail? I’ve never heard of it before! IMO this whole gift-giving = love situation reminds me of poor Cordelia from King Lear.

          1. There’s an almost similar tale in China as well!!! My mother told it to me as a kid (and she grew up right as China “opened” up to the West so I can’t imagine there were too many western influences that had trickled down to the peasants yet). Maybe it’s universal?

        1. I believe I saw a puppet show adaptation of the German version. It featured princes instead of princesses, which makes it slightly less awesome, but it gains back a few awesome points because after the youngest prince is cast out, the kingdom runs out of salt and he has to save the day by showing up with a ginormous salt crystal he found in a cave or something. I was quite entertained.

      1. In the UK it’s called ‘Cap O’ Rushes’ – I had it in a book of short stories when I was a kid, and it’s stuck in my memory with weird persistence.

    2. I love that fairy tale!!! it was always my favorite. She gets cast out and is forced to wear clothing made of rushes.

    3. Shakespeare’s “The Tragedy of King Lear” is the earliest published form of the story I can find (granted, with only ten minutes or so of Googling and chasing down citations), as both the Grimms and Joseph Jacobs published versions of it in their fairy tale compilations more than 200 years later. As Shakespeare, er, ‘borrowed’ a lot of his narratives from historical events (which were then embellished), other plays, and popular stories, it may well have been an extant folk tale at the time.

      1. Shakespeare’s King Lear isn’t even the oldest King Lear. My favourite Shakespeare fact is that in the older versions, the ones the audience would have been familiar with, it usually has a happy ending (Lear and Cordelia live, she inherits the kingdom after him, etc.). I like to believe Shakespeare stuck on the extra-tragic ending just to fuck with the audience. Hah, you think you everything’s going to end well? When I say Tragedy, I mean it!

  2. I totally second the Captain’s advice. It’s hard not to keep playing the same family game you have for forever, but if you can make it through this year then it should get better. It may also help to have a few subject changes in mind in case she/he/they keep insisting (“Oh, I’m not going to mention the cost of your gift, but that reminds me; what did you think about the concert we went to last week/the latest football game/the environmental summit in Paris/Cousin’s cute new baby?”) Of course, this may not work, but it’s worth a try.

    (And I second the idea of not getting gifts in the future. IF you feel comfortable with it, you could try something along the lines of, “I love giving you gifts, but I find it hurtful when you criticize me for not paying the right amount, so I’m going to take a year or two off from gift-buying.” Alternatively, you could buy someone an experience [tickets to a play that have a set price], or just give everyone gift certificates. Don’t know how that would go over, so feel free to ignore this if you want, but maybe that will make it easier.)

  3. It is rude or inappropriate to ask what a gift cost.

    There, now you can tell them that you read someplace that it is rude or inappropriate to ask what a gift cost.

    1. It’s rude and/or inappropriate in my culture too. But I have a vague memory of having been told that it is normal in many Asian cultures. The LW might want to provide some background on that?

      1. Can’t speak for all Asian cultures, but certainly, being asked how much one spent on one’s own things is not uncommon in my culture (though I’ve always personally pushed back on this,) but I’ve still never heard a recipient of a gift ask the giver what they spent. But getting way too deep in family members’ business is also not uncommon in many Asian cultures, so maybe this is just those two things combining within this particular family.

        1. In my culture, the polite thing to do is to remove/obliterate the price tag off the present before handing it in, the reasoning behind it being that you’re not supposed to brag how much/how little you did spend. And it follows naturally that when you’re the one getting the present, you’re not supposed to ask how much it cost, only assume that it cost a lot, and say some platitudes about how the gift-giver needn’t have gone to such great lengths to please you.

      2. It is NOT normal in my one specific Asian culture. In fact, I’m tempted to say this would be the very height of rude-ness (I’m trying to imagine doing this to my relatives “how much did this cost” and I can’t even envision how bad it would be). Of course, there are probably catty people who will discuss the value of said gift behind your back/later, but I think that’s true of everyone. Same with every culture probably having that one bitchy person who asks how much gifts cost.

        If anything like this were possible, I would think maybe the gift-giver telling the recipient how much it was/how valuable, but at least in my family that’s out of love. Like I can envision my grandma (now deceased) being like “Oh, and also, it’s REAL GOLD!”, like she wanted you to know she got the best for you.

        1. This is something that the Asian side of my family would totally do. “I got you a real Burberry bag! 40 percent off!” so you can be pleased by the fineness of your gift while simultaneously admiring the gift-giver’s deal-finding acumen. No one would ever ask someone else how much they spent, though it would certainly be up for discussion/gossip later if someone spent more or less than people think they should have. (“Auntie X got Auntie Y a Burberry bag, and Auntie Y only got her a sweater from Macy’s, twenty dollars,” and then the next thing you know, you hear that Auntie X and Auntie Y aren’t speaking to each other.)

          1. I do this! It’s really bad… especially when I’m buying gifts for my partner. If I got a great deal, I want to share the good news! Even though in my (British) culture, saying “I got you this necklace! And it was 60% off so I only spent like £30 on it!” is actually a very crass thing and devalues the gift.

            I think it’s about letting the recipient just enjoy the nice thing they have been given without needing to worry about money – if you overpaid, the recipient doesn’t need second-hand money-spending guilt; if you got a bargain, you should let the recipient enjoy the illusion of luxury that comes from receiving something they think was expensive.

            But I cannot keep my mouth shut on this issue, so people who want to date me have to accept inappropriate announcements about gift prices as one of my adorable quirks.

          2. (Whoops, out of nesting) @Emma, I don’t know how inappropriate that is at all — I have friends and family members who appreciate getting a good deal on a gift MORE than the gift itself sometimes! Like if I get a friend a steam game they go “Oh you shouldn’t have, it was so much money” but if I get it on a flash sale then I tell them and they go “OH I WANTED THIS and you only paid $3 AMAZING!”. I think my sister and I both have trouble with the idea of “deserving” gifts and are really uncomfortable around some large amounts of money spent on us, so if someone got it on sale/buy-one-get-one/etc then we feel slightly relieved that it did not cost as much.

            Like the only reason I let my folks spend money on a winter coat for me this year was because a) I fell in love with it and b) they let me split it with them and c) it has a story and is made by someone we’ve known for years and d) I did a lot of looking before I found it. If they’d gone out and spent the same amount of money on a coat and just given it to me I would have been appreciative but would have been super uncomfortable, even though it’s not an extravagance for them at all and they were rather concerned that my winter coat fell apart last year and it started snowing in October this year and I hadn’t found anything at the thrift stores that meat any criteria beyond “warm” and I’ve deleted like three more lines of run-on sentence that basically amounts to I HAVE REALLY WEIRD FEELS ABOUT MONEY AND RECEIVING THINGS BUT LOVE GIFTING AND GIVING TO OTHERS.

    2. I KNOW it’s a culture/family/whatever thing, to expect to know or to not know what a gift cost. So this is totally my own personal reaction to the actual LW’s letter: i just skipped the part about numbers and costs and things. It was too uncomfortable to read. And I don’t have to witness mean sniping about the information!

      LW, if you decide to tap out on talking about costs of things, you will not be the only person in the world taking that policy! There will be a whole bunch of awkward-feeling other people out there imagining how they would dodge these questions, avoiding them in their heads!

    3. ^this. I have literally unwrapped presents I just wrapped because I thought I left the price tag on. Talking price is totally unheard of in my family unless you’re gifted literally a wad of cash.

      1. This. I have also totally done this.

        And if you’re giving a wad of cash, then you graciously say thank you and imply what you’re going to do with the money in the thank-you note without ever mentioning this amount (“thank you for your generosity this Christmas! We’re looking forward to building our house next summer, and your gift will help us with that project.” is what I sent my mother after last Christmas’s VERY generous cheque. That’s about as direct as we feel comfortable being.)

        1. Yep, that’s mostly our gift culture too. Thank you notes describing what you like about the gift and how it will be used are pretty important.

          Though over the years, though, my parents and I have reached a point where we’d rather hit the stores for the sales after Christmas, and wander around the stores together saying things like “If you would like to get me that X, I would love to have it.” (We share similar senses of acceptable gift costs, so that works out okay.)

          1. For my best friend’s baby shower, I went to the Junior League Thrift Shop and got a bunch of used and some new with tags baby clothes. I told her what I had done. She was thrilled. She is My People.

        2. Writing thank-you notes to my great-aunts was always the most difficult part of holidays/birthdays, because they would always send us a card with a dollar in it, and it was absolutely, 100%, apple-in-Eden forbidden to say anything like “Thank you for the money.” I always ended up thanking them for the card and then talking about the weather (because filling the entire card was also mandated.)

          1. When I turned 12, my godmother sent me a birthday card with a dollar in it. This was still when stores like Woolworth’s sold some things very inexpensively (ie, they were still called the “five&ten” even tho it was rare to find anything that literally cost a nickel or a dime)… and I bought *seven things* with that dollar, including a set of emery boards and a small tub of lip gloss That I Still Have To This Day.

            I listed them all in the thankyou note (thus filling up the card), and she was amused by my intense bargain hunting. 🙂

            Here endeth the irrelevant but hopefully amusing digression from Ye Olden Dayes.

          2. Yeah, when I get money, I write the thank-you card about whatever I’m going to spend it on. (Which led to some consternation the year I thanked my grandmother for the LED lightbulbs. Apparently they were too practical and not gift-y enough? But they were nifty and new and high-tech! Best of all, you don’t have to keep changing them! And they were thrifty to boot — it was a gift that kept on giving in my electricity bill — on the order of pennies, but it still counts.)

            I think this was originally Miss Manners’s suggestion, actually. IIRC, her suggested formula starts out like “Thank you for your [very kind] gift. I’ve been wanting [something] for a while, and now I can get it…”. There’s a table with adjectives to go in the first set of brackets depending on the amount of money, though I forget the exact ranges.

        3. Is that kosher to say that you’re using the gift for not fun things?

          When I was a college student, my mom told me I absolutely couldn’t tell the giver that the money was buying my textbooks because it was “a gift” and evidently gifts should be spent on “fun things”. I was like “ma, unless you’re offering to buy my textbooks, I won’t be able to afford any ‘fun things’ and wouldn’t be able to pay for the textbooks without this money”. Which, my parents totally could have afforded to cover my textbooks, but they I “owed” them, and yeah, no thanks for that offer of nebulous debt with bonus emotional baggage-as-interest.

          Because it feels weird to lie about what the money is going towards (my Christmas money this year is going to for my student loan payments for the next 3ish months! It’s especially welcome because I’ve been unemployed due to my health and I had been having a lot of anxiety because I didn’t know how I would make those payments!), but I’ve been told it’s rude to spend gift money on necessities and that multiple relatives who give money give it with the instructions to “spend it on something fun”. Not going into more debt and hurting my credit is FUN. I mean, it’s not fun, but to me it’s less un-fun than the alternative, y’know?

          1. I always wrote the truth about what I was spending the money on, even if it wasn’t “fun” – the idea was that my grandparents would be glad to hear from us and glad that the gift was appreciated, regardless of what the actual use was.

      2. I am glad it isn’t just me. I try to be equitable with what I give, with the caveat that my largesse will be skewed heavily toward my nieces, who are little children, but I never discuss price. I have benefited from working in a bed and bath department where opened packages were sold for a dollar (that meant everything from mattresses to luxury sheet sets and king-sized feather pillows) and 99% of the opened items were just fine, plus a 20% discount for anything bought that was not in the dollar pile, and that was a very good Christmas. My family is still using those pillows and sheet sets and towels, 20 years later! I have also been too poor to buy ANY presents and have made things, meaning I actually learned to knit thinking it would be an economical way to make presents (it is not, by the way, but my intentions were good and everyone got knitted stuff). I also stash gifts throughout the year when I can, buying things on sale, or using Amazon Prime to save a LOT on shipping. So, yeah, since price discussions are considered highly taboo (“it is the thought that counts” is a common mantra on all sides when someone is having a tough time financially), I have definitely removed price tags, going so far as to reopen wrapped boxes if I think I missed one. (I highly, highly recommend using gift bags if you tend to have somewhat obsessive-compulsive/anal-retentive quirks of behavior or if you often second-guess yourself on things like this.)

        1. The relatives I have who like getting knitted things tend to give me gift cards to yarn stores or pretty hand-dyed yarn that I would normally not buy due to the price. It does make me more likely to give them things in return…

      3. I’ve realized en route to the home of the recipients that the presents had price tags – and unwrapped and rewrapped in the cab. (Or hiding in the bathroom at the recipients’ home). I feel you.

      1. My Nana used to say exactly the same thing!
        I miss that funny, scrappy little Nana of mine very much

      2. how much money they earn

        If someone who doesn’t know anything about the military asks what rank my career air force father was, I know they just don’t know. But the time that the woman whose husband had been in the air force was telling me about her son, the aide de camp for a NATO general, asked me what my rank my dad retired at, she was being a bitch. Especially because the second I told her – he was a captain – she turned away from me. I had no useful connections to help advance her son’s career.

    4. Yes, I’m my country is very rude, inappropiate and shitty thing to do, if you ask that, it means that you value more the amount of money spent that the act of giving a gif, its like the act has lost his purpose, which is celebrate and giving someting (material or not) to the celebrated person.

    5. Ditto. Where I’m from, you’re supposed to remove all price tags on everything because you’re not supposed to make an issue out of the money, ever. If someone is making an issue out of the money for you, then they are seen as out of line or wanting to keep score or some such.

      1. It’s the same in my country. It can be okay to tell someone else, but if the gift receiver accidentally overhears you (or, worse, if you leave the tag on), it’s downright mortifying. I don’t even know why, I just know that one of my earliest gift memories is my dad scrambling to snatch a newly-opened present out of my mom’s hands because he realized he’d accidentally left the tag on.

        1. My dad would put a sticker over the price on books given as gifts in order to save face on “how much does this cost”. I haven’t had the heart to tell him that I’d rather know the cover price (which, given the existence of Amazon, he may or may not have actually paid) than delicately peel stickers off the covers of my shiny new books.

          1. When I worked in a bookstore (southeastern US), it wasn’t unheard of for people having us wrap gifts at the counter also ask us to cut off the inside corner of the dust jacket where the price is printed. Even though you could *also* find the price on the back of the book. But it’s not as obvious and in-your-face there; you have to go looking for it. And, of course, there are always gift receipts, which allow you to return the item if you want, but don’t say on the receipt how much it cost.

    6. It’s incredibly rude, at least in the middle American culture I grew up in. So much so that I’m kind of sweating the fact that a book I mail-ordered for a coworker will probably include the invoice when it gets to her.

    7. Agreed! It is also rude/inappropes to trumpet out what a gift cost. I remember being at a party and a person I know showed me her lovely new bracelet. I complemented her on it by telling her that it was pretty. The person who gave her the bracelet then piped in “For $200 it had better be!”

      It was incredibly off putting for everyone within earshot.

  4. So I just got this image of your mom as Goldilocks, except it will always be “too much/not enough”–never “just right.”

    I love the Captain’s advice here, and it does seem like the most straightforward answer. An alternate strategy might be “then how much do you think is the perfect dollar amount, so I will know exactly how much to spend next year?” I predict it won’t stop her from criticizing you, because that seems to be the point of this game more than anything, but it might help underscore for everyone present just how much the issue is her and not you. “I got you exactly what you told me I should, so what are you complaining about?”

    1. Yeah. In that last line when LW says they’re afraid if they spend less, they’ll be judged for that too, it clicked and I was like, Oh THAT’S the game they’re playing. Mother and brother like to lecture LW about spending habits and make LW feel like Mother/Brother knows best. I like the Goldilocks analogy.

        1. if I’m going to be criticized either way, I’d rather be criticized for

          1. Not going to my in-laws’ for Christmas and staying at home with my husband instead
          2. Not eating bacon right than not eating bacon at all
          3. Not “toeing the line”
          4. Not writing letters than for not addressing the envelope properly

    2. This is a great idea. It moves the money question upfront, and hopefully LW’s mother is not so rude as to complain about what LW picked out for her.

    3. Logistically this will not work, because it’s not a “perfect dollar amount” independent of what is purchased, it’s the mom’s arbitrary assessment of value (dollar per specific object purchased) compared to what she “would have” paid if it were her. Which is also why it’s always lose-lose for the LW – too many variables, not to mention the arbitrariness.

      1. BINGO. Ask how much to spend, get chastised for “making it about money”. Ask what type of gift to get, be told “anything you feel is acceptable”; get literally anything in the world, and it’s the wrong color/size/shape/smell or “it’s got a small blemish that reduces its value” or “you paid too much, you could have saved X by going to this website/haggling with the seller/reciting this magic incantation, why r u so dum?” or “you paid too little, it’s clearly a counterfeit good and you should feel ashamed for thinking of your pocketbook over my feelings/devaluing the economy/trying to foist off this crap good on your poor mother”. Ask why her insistence on going through this garbage every single time, be excoriated for disrespecting your elders and intentionally hurting your poor mother’s feelings YOU GIGANTIC JERK.

        OP, just as with Global Thermonuclear War, the only winning move is not to play. Just as with every other awkward situation in the world, you are not the genesis of this awkwardness, and it is not yours to fix. “Mom, I’m not going to do this any more.” You don’t even need to apologize, you’re not doing anything wrong.

        1. “Just as with Global Thermonuclear War, the only winning move is not to play.”

          I love you so much for this reference right now, I cannot even tell you. 🙂 That is all. Carry on.

  5. Redirecting scripts aside, my first thought reading this story was actually, “Wow, you’re asking someone how much they spent on your gift? How unbelievably rude.”

    Seriously, I was raised to NEVER ask about or even allude to prices of gifts. Is that not the norm?

    1. Me, too, but that’s just my culture. But it’s also considered rude to tell someone they are being rude. Plus, I think a lot of people will say things to family members they’d never say to a stranger. Not saying it’s right, just that it’s common.

  6. Oh, I hope you try this strategy out, and I hope you feel lots, lots, lots better about the situation. The cost of a gift isn’t anyone’s business at all. Another response to the how much did it cost question is “gosh, I don’t know.” “I don’t recall.” “I don’t know… it’s not important to me.” “I wasn’t paying close attention.”

    AND I wholeheartedly endorse “make your bro do the work and you help pay” as a future strategy.

    “Should we get mom a shared gift this year?”
    “Yeah, sure, bro. Let me know what you decide to get and how much I owe you?”
    “I thought you could take care of that.”
    “Huh. Well, this year I am going to let you spearhead this expedition. Let me know what I owe you.”

    The only way for you to feel better about this is to work on disconnecting from caring about making your mom happy when she will never, ever be happy. Until you actually don’t care, faking it till you do is your most viable strategy.

    1. I’m a fan of the “I can’t remember” route, because honestly this is a lot like my (very narcissist) mother. I have never in my life spent money appropriately, according to her. Unless, of course, I have spent most of it ON her. So she got “Oh, I had so many gifts to get, I can’t recall!”

      1. An alternative to “I can’t remember” is to give a ridiculous answer: “One billion dollars! Isn’t it totally worth it?”

          1. Clearly great minds think alike. 🙂 I should have refreshed the page before commenting!

            As an aside, I’m not the only person I know personally with a narcissist in the family. Be warned that one trick they use to ferret out prices is to claim that they want to buy a friend the exact same item you got them. I have had trouble thinking of a good response to this when my friend has complained about it, so I don’t know how much help my “just deflect or forget specifics” advice ever was, but if you have a good come-back for that kind of price-prying, I will pass it on!

        1. LOL! I do that to my husband. All the time. He’s obsessed with the price of everything, so when he asks I’ll first offer a “don’t worry about it” to which he says “No, really, what did you pay?” and that’s when I step in with “3482.17” or some other such nonsense number. He stops asking after that, but it doesn’t stop him from asking in the first place – every. single. time.

      2. This (what EllieZel said) is what I was thinking. The “I just don’t remember!”

        Mom: what did this cost?

        Daughter: Oh, wow, I just don’t remember, I got it a little while ago when I saw it and that it was perfect for you.

        Good luck LW. You can do it.

    2. In this situation I would avoid “I wasn’t paying close attention”, as that’s likely to open the door to more criticism about how much LW spends or even just how LW spends their money. I envision Mom/Brother googling for the gift/similar gifts to find out the price and then laying it on even more.

      1. Yeah, that was my thought too. That seems like a cue for the “Oh, you should pay more attention to money!” lecture.

      2. I’d much rather give a low and obviously nonsense number–“eighty-nine cents, two porcelain cats, and a left shoe”–but I think “I forget” might be fine here since both mom and brother seem concerned about LW paying too much rather than too little and the extremely good deals (which they might want to assume she found) aren’t often listed anywhere after they’re over.

  7. I’m guessing the Asian part was a joke, however I just want to make it clear this isn’t an Asian thing. This is a big continent filled with different cultures while I’m sure there are trends, this isn’t one I know of. And every family has their own culture. This is an issue of individual relations. My Asian side of my family doesn’t even exchange gifts, except for a secret santa limited to $20 with the extended family. And with my immediate family we don’t do gifts, just spend time together for the holidays and events. Each family is different depending on the individuals. =)

    1. Thank you for this! I’m from a lower income Thai family and have never personally encountered any problem like this. It doesn’t mean I can’t have compassion for the people involved, or recognise that the desires and emotions are expressed in a particular way and perhaps shaped by a certain cultural background, but… it could easily happen to anyone of any heritage, you know?

      I often find that there’s this narrative where we assume that a particularly strict, unhappy, intrusive, conservative set of behaviours is exemplary of an entire Asian culture. That is… absurd to me. Would we ever speak so broadly of European or North American culture, or even of Brits or Americans or Canadians or French families? No. We’d recognise that there are some very conservative families and some who are more relaxed and progressive, all against a larger cultural narrative of what’s acceptable and what’s not. Speaking also as a Brit, I could tell you straight up that we still favour a frighteningly conservative dominant narrative over here on rainy facist island.

      I’m just so sick of the idea that it’s Totally Unheard Of to resist Our Terrible Asian Elders, and that insubordination is inherently a Western Thing. As if happy, respectful, accepting, open-minded families don’t exist at all and as if there haven’t been stories of calling out the olds and making a better future for ever within a particular cultural framework (which… isn’t too far out from this, tbh). There’s a difference between calling out that ingrained narrative and just going ‘Well that’s just how we are,’ right?

    2. Not presuming that the letter-writer is an immigrant, but it kind of sounds like perhaps they might be having that experience: I do feel like the “family quirk or cultural trait?” game comes up a lot around the holidays. My mother is from a different regional culture than I was raised in, and this exact kind of thing comes up with her and is rude in our culture of residence. And I have friends in the first and second immigrant generation in their families where this kind of confusion happens a lot – is my mother just being weird about money or is this a thing I don’t understand because I didn’t grow up in rural Russia?!??

  8. That is so weird… I was definitely raised just the opposite. As in, when I would wrap a present for someone my mom would go “did you remember to remove the price tag?” and I would go “crap!” and unwrap it, remove the price tag, and rewrap it. And when my grandmother would inevitably forget to remove the price tag on an expensive gift she sent us for Christmas or a birthday we would take a moment or two to pick our jaws off the floor, and just made sure to write her a very nice thank-you note.
    Everyone feels less awkward if they don’t know exactly how much you spent (excluding things like gift cards). I’m sort of in shock that these family members would DEMAND to know the price of something, especially if they’re just going to criticize you for it. You are doing something nice for them! The only thing they should be saying to you is a “thank you”!
    Good luck, and I hope your family learns to be less rude about it!

    1. Yeah, I was raised with the secret price rule. I think it is pretty common, considering gift receipts have no prices on them (which is silly, since they tell you how much store credit you have if you return the item.)

      1. I, too was raised with the “secret price rule” ….in a way. That is to say, we don’t ask how much it cost (rude) and we don’t leave the tag on (it would just cheapen it). The thing is, we also decide beforehand how much to spend, or we did years ago and haven’t really changed it. So I guess if I were in your shoes, LW, I would ask, point blank, how much a gift should cost, and leave the guesswork out of it.

        …Of course, there’s every chance you won’t get an actual answer, but at least that way you can have some confirmation that there is no winning this game.

        1. The problem with asking how much is appropriate is that her mother seems to be judgmental about ‘value for money’ rather than the absolute price. This is taking the phrase ‘some people know the price of everything but the value of nothing’ too literally and too far. It’s hard enough to fulfil the demand that thought has gone into it, without worrying about spending the wrong amount, too.

          As you get older, time goes faster and Christmases come sooner and sooner. Sometimes it’s harder than others to think of appropriate items for gifts. I agreed with my relatives to just give gifts to the kids when they were small, however now those kids are in their twenties it’s still happening! I still buy for my parents, though, sometimes it’s a £200 PVR, sometimes it’s a £5 music CD.

          1. Yeah, I got that impression too; I was reading the letter with an expectation there’d be a behaviour that mimicked “you didn’t spend ENOUGH so you don’t care” (my hangups, let me show you them) and instead I came away with “you spent money INSTEAD of caring”.

            They’re tough waters to navigate, but I think the scripts for not telling mom the price are good ones.

      2. I think the logic behind gift receipts not showing the price so that if the person chooses *not* to return the gift, they don’t know the price. That is, it stays a secret unless it’s absolutely necessary for the recipient to know. So very much in the spirit of secret prices!

        For the record, I was also raised in the “hide the price” tradition. I have memories of my grandfather taking gifts back from my siblings and me as kids so he could scribble out the price with a sharpie, and this was before we were even old enough to really understand what a given dollar value meant.

      3. I was raised with the secret price rule BUT it only extended to gifts going to non-family members. Within family leaving the price tag on or asking if you were able to find a gift at such and such price was incredibly common.

        It’s not a hill I’d ever be willing to die on though, and not something I really care about getting into with people. So if my mom volunteers info about how much a gift cost I won’t make a stink but I’m not going to ask about it.

    2. Ha! YES. That made it into my family too – price tags were understood as rude, but when my mom spent a particularly large amount on someone, she’d sometimes “forget” to remove it. It happened 3x that I can remember, and the first two times SHE was the one to point it out. Like, OH GOODNESS LOOK WHAT I LEFT ON IM SO SILLY! The third time, that my sister and I still laugh about, Mom tried to do the same thing on a gift for my nephew, only nobody noticed/everyone was talking during her “pull it off” show and we only barely acknowledged. That price tag was placed very conspicuously in the middle of the floor when we went off to eat breakfast. Later, after cleanup, it was again placed very conspicuously at the top of the bag of wrapping trash. “Someone” must have “accidentally” not taken care to bury it among the wrapping during cleanup. 😛

      1. Ohhh god yes, this was my paternal grandmother all over. Somehow, the price tags were always “accidentally” left on only the most expensive gifts, and if you politely ignored the “oversight,” Grandma would point it out herself.

        Much classy. Very tact. Wow.

  9. Wow, LW, you have been so much more patient about this than I would be (I stopped doing gift exchanges with adult family members years ago for something very similar). Seriously, you’ve been great; they are the ones making this weird.

  10. I think this is spot-on advice for dealing with 98% of this kind of situation, but with the cultural issues at play here, I feel like this is way more easier said than done, especially when the “saying” is being done by someone not in the LW’s cultural group. Coming from a similar background, the idea of switching behavioral gears so quickly and suddenly doing things like refusing to answer a parent’s question, calling the question itself strange, etc…you’re talking about deeply ingrained familial and cultural norms that it takes a lot of bravery to challenge, and that can lead to major fall-out. I 1000% agree that those norms *should* be challenged, and that the LW’s family is treating them poorly, and that they deserve way better…and if they feel ready and able and safe enough to do it, then they should absolutely go for it. But I also don’t think this case may be as simple as others, and I think those nuances are a big part of the conversation.

    Also, LW, that wooden bowl sounds lovely and awesome and I really hope she does like it 🙂

    1. I agree completely. The cultural nuances are everything here. Talking back to Asian parents (and not trying to imply all Asian cultures are the same, but I don’t know which one it is here) is a big, big deal. I personally would have no clue what to do in that situation: all I can do is wish the LW well.

      1. The “I don’t remember” route could be really useful.
        As in: “oh, I did my Christmas shopping really early this year and I really don’t remember.”
        Mom: “what? That’s bad financial planning/how do you not remember?”
        LW: “I appreciate the concern, but I’m not drowning in debt/am doing pretty well financially, as you know – it was a while ago, so I really just don’t remember.”
        Mom: “But responsible adults know these things!”
        LW: “Well, like I said, I did my shopping very early this year. I don’t remember the details of my budget decisions at the time, but it all worked out for me.”
        Repeat ad nauseam.

        1. I was just about to suggest this, too!

          The line ‘That’s a strange question’ that CA offers seems… inaccurate?… or something, imo. Just saying that I wouldn’t find it strange for my nuclear family to ask about the price of a gift I got them. The part that gets weird and awkward is where they get insistent and judgey about it. Of course, ymmv, but I feel like the problem is more that LW’s family isn’t treating them like a grown-up, and less the specific question of ‘how much did you spend on my gift?’

          So yeah, ‘I don’t remember, but I’m an adult and I am handling my money okay,’ sounds like a great plan, to me.

          1. Same here – the question really isn’t strange, what’s strange is the budget haranguing that goes on after the question has been answered. I think saying “That’s a strange question” offers the opportunity for pushback and arguments, without usefully asserting a boundary. Something like “it’s not important” or “I’ve decided all gift prices are secret this year!” (said cheerfully) or the script you suggest sounds better to my ear.

            (But YMMV; I can also see a particular family dynamic where pretending to think a question is “strange” or “weird” to ask, even if it isn’t, would serve as a huge flag to the family members to stop, which could conceivably be useful for resetting boundaries. My family takes the suggestion that something is “strange” behavior as a growl and snapping teeth, a sign that the speaker’s getting pissed of, with an insult cherry on top to put everyone in a bad mood; it would certainly stop the conversation but would have a lot of other side effects, too.)

      2. It’s hard and it is a big deal, but it’s not impossible. The best thing to do is pretty much the same as in any culture – set clear, consistent boundaries in a polite but firm manner + be financially independent.

        My dad used to be (and still is to an extent) a yeller. He had temper problems and almost anything would set him off. One day in college I told him over the phone that if he continued to yell at me I would hang up. I was an adult and I was tired of him getting mad over things that were literally, not my fault. He did not believe me, and I hung up on him. He called back immediately, still yelling – hung up again. He called again – nope, still yelling. Finally I got a call “E, I’m sorry I yelled. So, this car situation you were telling me about…” Now, he very rarely yells at me.

        It is also worth it to note that my mother has NEVER enforced boundaries like this and my dad still yells at her to this day.

    2. I see what you’re saying, but LW *asked* for advice from a person not in their cultural group. They’re not under any obligation to follow it. IMO Captain Awkward wouldn’t be a very effective advice giver if she tried to guess at the play of cultural stuff she may or may not know much about and tailor her advice to that. And I think it’d be a little condescending and… um, kinda white… to do a thing where she injects an element of uncertainty, visibly second-guessing her own advice, because of LW’s ethnicity. I think that behavior reinforces the whole “us/them” dichotomy. As you may have noticed in this thread, there are other people saying this is NOT an “Asian” thing. I think the most respectful thing to do is to treat LW as an individual, LW’s family as unique, and give the same advice you’d give to any other individual with a unique family dynamic.

      1. Amen. In my above comment where I said questions about spending, though not when it came to gifts, was not unusual in “my culture” I felt dirty calling it “my culture,” because I’ve always personally pushed back at such questions, and it felt weird calling something “my culture,” just because some people in my family, and some non-family people of similar ethnic origins do it.

        1. My dodge for those circumstances is, “my culture of origin.” Like “my family of origin.” To distinguish it from my current culture or family.

  11. If they keep pushing you to the point where you get to The Fuckits, here’s the script that popped into my head: “I’m not playing the Price Game anymore. I will not tell you how much I spent. If you keep asking me, I will just get you gift cards in the future. So, what do you want? Gifts I pick out personally that you don’t know the price of, or impersonal gift cards?”

    (I don’t personally think gift cards are a bad or less desirable gift, but I suspect the LW’s mother does.)

  12. Oh, my, that sounds VERY stressful. My family culture is the exact opposite (thank goodness!) in that price tags are always removed and no one ever speaks of how much a gift costs in front of the recipient. But, I can totally relate to feeling like you have to answer your mother’s questions. It took me a very long time to realize that now that I’m actually an ADULT, I don’t have to answer my older sister’s wildly personal questions (that I would never dream of asking her!) So I started evading them, and I don’t think she even noticed – if she did, she didn’t say anything to me directly. I sense you might get a bit more pushback from your mother, but hang in there LW! I believe in you! I sincerely hope that your mom gets the message and stops these “value assessment” shenanigans with you. May you soon have a stress-free Christmas!

    1. My family would rather have a argument about politics on Christmas morning that mention money, ever.

      I never knew how much money my family made or had on hand, ever.

      I went 3 semesters to a private college, and got drafted into the military. At that point my younger bro got sent to an expensive prep boarding school – that was probably the best clue I had as a kid about family finances.

      Later in life the family business was sold and my parents and their brothers shared the family ownership profits. They they bought a Mercedes Benz, and traveled some in the winters.

      But how much a present cost? Never, never, nope not gonna. Never.

      So you can tell everyone before presents are opened that you have learned that it is unheard of rude impolite to talk about the cost of presents on any occasion, birthdays, weddings, graduations, bar-mitzvahs, and Christmas. So you won’t do it, ever again, now that you have learned how bad it is socially and emotionally. The point isn’t just that it isn’t done, but that there are good psychological reasons not to do it. And no good reasons to do it.

  13. My mother tended to feel unloved, and get mouthy about it, if you didn’t spend enough on her, and Diety help you if all your pennies went into one thing, even if it was a nice one thing. She didn’t care how many other people you had to shop for; what your other expenses might be; or about anything but the show of giving her something splashy and notable that others could gawk at. Which led to some very miserable birthdays and Christmases until I finally blasted her and told her she’d either shape up and behave or be alone on Christmas Day (she’s an only, I’m an only, and she frosted off all the relatives long ago). she didn’t believe me, and then she moved away, and I don’t know if she expected new parents to shell out money to come see her (but not stay with her) or what the deal was inside her head, but it was the start of some very peaceful years for me, because we didn’t go see her, and we all got used to a lot more distance between us. She didn’t like it, but thems were the breaks after I was married and a mom. Too damned bad.

    1. In case you ever want to indulge the want of a splashy display others can gawk at, most mother’s days I send my mom a bouquet of flowers at her work the Wednesday before so she can enjoy the bragging rights. It’s somewhat alleviated the pressure to do something showy for the other gift-giving days for me at least.

    2. Oh hey that’s exactly my mom. Except my mom also expects us to read her mind on what to get her. This year might end up being the exception because I’ve been having health issues and was in and out of the hospital since Thanksgiving (I’m 100% fine but still just tired and cranky and sore after having surgery and unable to lift things over 10 pounds for the next month), so for once I have really good excuses for not buying the perfect gift or spending the appropriate amount of money.

      The irony of my parents writing me IOUs for gifts the past couple years does strike me now, though, particularly since our finances are nowhere near comparable (and hint: the recent college grad with student loans is not the person with better finances).

  14. I agree completely with the Captain. Please also, you might want to actually practice or role play with a friend your “broken record” strategy — “I’m not going to share that with you,” on repeat, ad infinitum, accompanied by attempts to start a new conversation topic. Doing it the first time is the hardest. And have in mind some place to go, so if you just need to peace out for a bit, you already know you’re headed for the library, Starbucks, or wherever. Good luck!!

  15. Yeah, I would leave your brother out of gift giving entirely. No joint gifts, not even with him doing all the work, no asking for suggestions if you need them, and no giving advice if he asks. I’d treat the entire subject with the same unthinking secrecy as bathroom matters.

  16. Since my brother and I are now adults, gift giving has changed since we were younger. These days, every family member comes up with a list (with the exception of Mom, since I am out with her frequently and usually just make a mental list of things for her, which I then relay to other family members). That list is sent in an email, with a link to the precise item that is desired. Naturally, said items have a price on the website where they are listed, so ultimately, everybody ends up knowing how much roughly is spent on them, if they bothered to go back and add. Which no one does. I always try to include links to sales or deals in relation to the item, or later, after the list is sent, if a deal shows up.

    Part of why we went to this system is that this way, we were sure that the items being bought were wanted and helpful. Mom and I are still really terrible about also trying to find surprise presents, but that’s happened less in the past few years. Much less guesswork, and a lot less emotions involved since nobody gets things they don’t want and have no use for. (This really came into effect after my Jewish partner, now fiance, started celebrating with us, and the first year where he got things that he didn’t really like/want and kind of feelingsbombed).

    TL;DR, could your family move towards a list with pricing system, similar to that? Then, if your mom truly felt the need to, she could list what she thought was a good sale/deal price for the item, and even direct people to where that sale could be found? And then, if she asks, simply refuse to talk about it, as suggested above.

    1. SO’s sister makes the most brilliant annotated wish lists with pictures and links (or at least names of shops) and notes about the desired color. I LOVE IT. Apparently as a child she did the same thing by snipping the pictures out of magazines.

    2. I beg my family to make Amazon shopping lists every year and only my brother does it. My mom and SIL refuse, and the nieces are too young to do it. I will not set foot in a mall, and I do want to give people what they actually want, so Amazon lists are a blessing for me. I just have to guess what mom and SIL want every year, and I find it enormously stressful.

    3. We’ve always done birthday/Christmas lists of things we’d particularly like so people have an idea (and especially for books, because some of us have literally hundreds so it’s useful to know what we don’t have – especially now with ereaders and people living in different places where you can’t check their shelves). Of course I’ve switched now to making food presents when I go down every year – filled chocolates, gummies, this year is fudge.

    4. My mother and I have a tradition of sending each other pages from catalogs – carefully marked with correct sizes and preferred colors. We give each other lots of options, so the actual gifts are still a surprise to open, but we both know we’ll get something we like. We live 300 miles apart, so we’re not in each other’s living spaces regularly enough to just *know* what the other needs – the catalogs fill in the information gap. We’ll still get each other random stuff too, but having a list of options we each know the other wants takes all the stress out of shopping.

    5. Pinterest albums are a good source as well. Books, events, interests — and if you want extra points, you can second-hand a complete outfit that meets the specs inside the ‘My Style’ album we all have.

  17. LW, that is a sucky position to be in, and I am also completely with the Captain: don’t tell your mother or brother what ANYTHING costs you, if possible, but definitely don’t tell them the cost of gifts.

    If they pitch an excessive fit about this, or of it turns out that this is one play in a larger game of “make LW feel badly about her gift-buying abilities”, you do have the option of doing what I did once, to correct a different though related issue of hyper-critical recipients.

    This isn’t a substitute for having a script. It’s more an enforcement option.

    It requires some advance planning, and it definitely requires you to be willing to let it get really, really awkward.

    Buy, for your mother and for your brother, socks. Not awful socks, not great socks. Decent socks. A drugstore of department store three-pack, maybe. Wrap them and put tags on them and so forth. Take them along, but keep them hidden unless you need them.

    If Mom or Brother passes the line that you have decided in advance is The Line — asking the price more than three times, raising their voices, looking it up online in front of you, assuming you overpaid and skipping straight to the lecture, whatever it is you’ve decided not to put up with — confiscate their present. Say “OK, you’re not happy with the gift. I understand. Making you unhappy is not a good use of my time and effort.” And then take their gift(s) back and give them the socks.

    Once you’ve done it, stick to it. They rejected the gift, the gift is gone. Nobody gets Christmas gifts on approval. Keep them or exchange them and get yourself something nice.

    You will want to wrap socks for next year, too, but you probably won’t need to repeat yourself. If you do … there is only one person in my life who had to be given the socks twice, and they will continue to get socks until the end of time. Christmas shoppng is hard enough when you only have people who WANT to be pleased to worry about pleasing.

    1. First, this is a genius method, and I truly admire how it cuts to the heart of the matter, substituting for the gift into which effort, time, and money has been invested a purely neutral and generic Gift: nobody can claim that you didn’t give a gift because look! There it is!

      And next, I have to show some love for your last line: Christmas shopping is hard enough when you only have people who WANT to be pleased to worry about pleasing. So very true! But when you have someone who refuses to be pleased, who is using the exchange of presents as a weapon to turn on the gift-giver (This gift is inadequate because you spent too much! And this gift is inadequate because you spent too little! Now continue to dance for my potential approval, never to be given! Ha HA!), you are completely justified in removing yourself from this dance altogether. This isn’t present-giving, it’s an eternal audition for approval and acceptance, and the judge has shown that she’s only ever going to give one response: not good enough. So don’t audition! Give yourself the gift of stepping out of your role, give a thing that can be unwrapped and about which absolutely nothing can be said, positive or negative, and invest your time in finding presents for people who will be touched by your thoughtfulness.

      And OP, definitely either never go in on a joint present with your brother again or do so but he is now totally in charge of getting said present and your only part is in paying your half. There’s another doomed audition you don’t need to deal with ever again.

    2. I like the thought process behind this, I just had two things to add:

      1. I have weird feels about taking back a gift that’s already been given. It sucks that they don’t like or value it, but once the paper is off I don’t feel like it’s mine to take back anymore. On a practical note, I could see them getting irrationally upset about the confiscation of the gift and missing the point of the lesson, which is that there will be no more gifts of any substance if this behavior continues. Also, confiscating the gift feels like taking toys away from a child–one who is having a tantrum and clearly doesn’t deserve it, I’ll give you that–but you aren’t the parent and this isn’t your job.

      A simple variation (which works well in this case because Mom’s birthday is so close to Xmas) is to give her one more shot at not being terrible. Give her the nice gift for her birthday. When (or if, optimistically) she goes into the usual rant about money and value, cue the script: “OK, you’re not happy with the gift. I understand. Making you unhappy is not a good use of my time and effort.” (Love this script!) Let her keep the birthday gift, but give her the socks for Xmas. When she gets upset, dust off the script and repeat it. Maybe give her one more shot next year with the same formula (one chance for birthday, then socks) but after that just give socks until the end of time.

      2. I actually love socks! Soft ones, wool ones, ones in pretty colors, even a 3 pack of drugstore socks would make me happy because PRESENTS and CLEAN SOCKS! So this wouldn’t necessarily work on me 🙂 But there are other things you could get me that would accomplish the same thing.

      2b. One time when I was 7 or 8, I was pestering my aunt about what she got me for Christmas. I was so obnoxious she finally told me that she got me a paper bag filled with rocks. I. Was. So. Excited! I was actually a little bit disappointed that she really got me Legos that year haha. So now it’s something of a family joke: “What did you get me for Christmas?” “Oh, the usual. A paper bag full of rocks.”

      1. I LOVE SOCKS TOO.
        I actually remember being genuinely happy with socks from distant relatives, moreso than the stereotypical “little girl” toys that other relatives gave :p

      2. I like your version! I forgot abou the handily-scheduled birthday!

        And I hear your reservations: taking somene’s gift back, actually reaching over there and taking it away, is a fairly Nuclear Option thing to do, and yes, kind of a jerk move.

        But so is what LW’s mom and brother are doing, and so are other forms of criticising and dissecting a gift to the giver.

        I mean, I could rationalize it: “You’re going to exchange it, obviously, so here! Let me handle that for you!” But … No.

        It’s a really confrontational way of saying “you may not treat me or my gifts or the other efforts I make to please and show love to you with disrespect.”

        And of pointing out that that is what they’re doing, because people, especially inside of family dynamics, don’t always realize that that is what that amounts to. They think they’re offering helpful and constructive criticism.

        I ADORE socks. I totally give many many people socks for the sheer pleasure of sockitude. Just not basic three-packs — if people need those, they’ll buy them. If I’m giving people socks, they get hand-knitted or Smartwool. 🙂

      3. I once had someone return the gift I gave them….to ME, as in, handed it back and asked me to give them something other than the gift I had carefully picked for them.
        I actually went and found the thing they requested, which was by no means cheaper or easier to locate than the original gift.
        However, somehow, I have never given them anything since, nor do I plan to. Somehow, we have grown much more distant.

        I don’t think I could ask for a gift back regardless of how rude someone was to me, but, I would certainly remember their behavior the next time a supposedly gift-giving time arrived.

        1. Oh, that happened to me, too. My gift was (loudly) deemed unworthy, and so I hastened to the nearest ATM to get out cash–half the amount I paid for the gift, incidentally–and gave it to the person. Never never never gave a thing to again. Left a bad taste in my mouth and hardness in my heart toward that person for good.

      4. I have totally asked for long underwear as a Generic Winter Holiday gift. My last pair had a giant rip in the ass! And it was a nice set, too!

        I also generally agree with the sentiment that once a gift is given, there are no take-backs, but I also kind of feel that this operates more as a good guideline rather than a hard-and-fast rule. Kind of like how reasonable treatment is for reasonable people, which is not how LW’s mom and brother are behaving. I’ve read stories about parents of ungrateful children who decided to teach their kids a lesson in humility and have them donate all the gifts they were snubbing to charity. Whether or not you see that as a legit parenting strategy is open for debate (I am not nor will I ever be a parent, so I’ve got no personal stake in the matter), but I mentally applied the same rationale to Marna Nightingale’s strategy and personally thought it fit the circumstances, though I definitely see your point.

      5. I am about ninety percent convinced that a person becomes an adult when they are thrilled to get socks for Christmas – probably because it happens around the same time that you learn socks don’t just magically appear in your drawer, and the fewer of them you have, the more laundry you have to do.

        1. Socks were always very exciting for me as as kid, because I was known for wearing wacky mismatched socks and my parents would try to find suitably garish ones ever year. Apparently it’s genetic, because my dad would go out and buy new colorful socks when he felt glum in college. My family apparently produces really tamely rebellious teens 😉

    3. Told the husband I could actually USE new socks this year when he was wondering what to get me. I’m now at that age where I can appreciate socks and underwear as gifts.

      1. I requested new socks, medicated lip balm (which is the only thing that stops my lips from cracking and bleeding all winter, yay dry houses), hand cream… I am apparently a boring person to buy stocking stuffers for.

    4. One year, my dad had been complaining all year about not having any socks. Over twenty individually wrapped pairs of socks appeared under the tree that year, and he has never complained again 😛

      1. When my brother was about 14 or 15, he did a lot of complaining that nobody took any notice of his hobbies. He played football and for his last birthday had asked for tickets to take a friend to watch his favourite team. That year everyone, without exception, gave him football related gifts for his birthday. At that moment he began to hate football and has disliked the sport ever since (20 years!)

  18. Captain’s advice is right on. Don’t discuss the price. Don’t even try justifying why you won’t discuss the price – if your family is anything like mine, logic (“you just said I spent too much, and now I’ve spent too little”) and emotion (“I feel really bad when you don’t appreciate the gifts I chose for you”) do not matter. The only way to escape this game is to refuse to play it.

    Just keep smiling, keep saying “not going to tell you,” and keep faking that you’re immune to their guilt trips until you start feeling a little bit immune.

    1. “The only way to escape this game is to refuse to play it.”

      …and now I’m having a War Games moment. 🙂

  19. Ugh – this reminds me of the time I went to my BIL’s aunt’s for Christmas (I’m estranged–HAPPILY–from most of my family, except for my sister. She’s 90% amazing and 10% infuriating). There was one of those gift exchange things where everybody throws gifts into a pile and then you draw numbers and take turns picking. Later numbers can steal instead of pick from the pile. Anyway, it was a last minute thing for me and I was told that the spending limit was $50. And I didn’t have $50 and the only thing open on Christmas Day was a 7-11, so I picked up a $20 movie pass and a card.

    Yeah. That went over BEAUTIFULLY. I’ve been food bank poor, work three jobs and still juggling which bill to pay each month poor, and that was the first time I ever felt ACTIVELY shamed for not having money (as opposed to passively judged). I ended up making my excuses and leaving early, and I have never been back–even if I can afford a $50 gift for people I don’t know, I’d rather spend Christmas alone, watching Die Hard, and eating seaweed snacks in my jammies.

    I’m so sorry, LW. Judging gifts on monetary value is just flat out shitty, and it sucks that your mom and brother are turning your thoughtfulness into an anxious ordeal. Jedi hugs if you want them.

    1. Oh, that’s awful. I would have been thrilled to get that gift – I can’t afford to go to a movie unless someone gives me passes! 😦

      A similar thing happened to me. My daughter’s friend invited her over to her house for her brother’s birthday party (so it was her friend’s older brother’s birthday) and not only did I not really have any money, I wasn’t even sure of the brother’s age and didn’t know anything at all about what he liked. I ended up getting a Chick-fil-a giftcard, and as soon as he opened it, he made a face and gave it to his mother. Everyone else had gifted him with video game-related giftcards.

  20. I agree with the Captain and everyone, you Don’t have to answer the price question ever again when giving a gift.

    The situation with your brother is a different thing. I don’t know what his financial situation is like but if you’re giving a gift together with someone it is a good idea to be on the same page about the price before buying something. For me 100$ more than I expected to pay would mean not eating for a few weeks. I’m guessing that’s not the case with your brother and he is being a jerk telling you you ruin christmas or whatever. But buying something together means making sure everyone can actually pay for it first.

    I wish you luck with inforcing the scripts and hope you’ll have a guilt-free and merry christmas.

  21. some of the “games” that go on around gift giving, especially at Xmas, are very cruel. I apologise for telling a story which is not exactly on topic, but the solution is the same – just quietly decline to participate. My ex’s large family had a tradition of all the grandchildren opening ALL their presents (even from within their own families) at the grandparent’s place on Xmas morning and there was a lot of pressure for everyone to be there for this. A few years after the divorce I brought my daughter to their house for this and discovered that the family had decided there would be no gift-giving between cousins that year. As an only child she was forced to sit there while her cousins opened multiple presents, including the ones I had given them, while she got nothing. I was heartbroken for her. After that year I let her sleep in and just get there in time for Xmas lunch, and gave no excuses.

    1. Sounds like a potlatch — “Look how many presents I got my kids!” “That’s nothing, look how many MY kids have!”

  22. Wow, that really sucks, LW. Maybe you can’t be that direct with your mom, but I’d tell little brother to knock it off. It’s your money to spend how you like.

    My immediate family is pretty cool about gift giving, thankfully. But my maternal grandmother has always been very strict about no one is allowed to spend money on her ever. Everyone has gotten used to it, but it was kind of hurtful as a child when you helped mom pick out a gift for grandma and then you find it in the car, opened just enough to let you know she glanced inside before giving it back. The only way to get her to take a gift is to shove it into her hands while talking loudly about how it is completely homemade from materials that were laying around the house, and you worked on it till your fingers bled. But when she spends more than she can afford on you, you aren’t allowed to say a word. I guess that’s what she thinks being unselfish means.

    1. Wow, isn’t it kinda rude to not accept gifts? That’s some weird-arse shit your grandma got going on there. It’s as though she’s taken a childhood lesson and run with it too far.

      1. I dunno, it seems pretty weird, when someone says they don’t want something, to shove it into their hands while talking loudly so they don’t have a choice.
        I feel like the grandma had to stop accepting gifts because her family wasn’t listening or believing her. She stated her boundary with words and then enforced it with actions. I hate getting gifts (especially since my mum gets upset if I don’t keep them always, forever, and I live in a small flat) and I wish I was brave enough to set my boundary the way the grandma has, instead of just hinting.

        1. After several years of people not respecting the boundary I asserted around Christmas gifts (I don’t celebrate Christmas, though my family does and I’m happy to hang out with them, and I think the entire process of ritualized “gift” giving is creepy and toxic, for reasons that ought to be evident reading through these comments), I literally took every present I was handed and, unopened, dropped it in the trash can in front of the whole family. That’s what it took to finally get people to respect the boundary (though they still push against it a little) – this is one of those areas where so many people lose all sense of reason and propriety. I encourage you to slam you hand down on the big red button when your more polite attempts to enforce boundaries have failed. As in so many cases, you’re not making it weird, the people willfully ignoring your stated boundaries are making it weird already (in a manipulative way meant to cast you as the bad guy if you assert the boundary – for example, see asharadaynelives’s response of, “Wow, isn’t it kinda rude to not accept gifts? That’s some weird-arse shit your grandma got going on there. It’s as though she’s taken a childhood lesson and run with it too far.”).

      2. It’s also rude to give someone gifts when they don’t want them?

        I throw my birthday party every year and I specify no gifts, it’s gift enough to have people attend. Every year, though, at least one person ignores my explicit request and shows up with a gift. And so far it’s never been anything I actually wanted, so I had to fake being happy to get it and then feel bad about getting rid of it later. Guilt is a great present, really.

        1. Yeah, I see your point. I think it comes down to ppl making assumptions about why the gift isn’t wanted. If only we were all mind readers or could speak our mind honestly without fear of being seen as rude or being disbelieved. But this is what the whole blog is about I guess.

        2. I can’t tell if the grandma doesn’t want gifts or doesn’t want people to “waste” money on her. If she doesn’t want gifts, she should say so and the family should respect that. If she doesn’t want people to spend money, the homemade gifts are really the only option.

          On the other hand, she’s going out of her way to make it REALLY hard to actually get her anything, so I would assume you can stop getting her anything, homemade or not.

          1. True. And if it’s such a big deal to them to give gifts, it’s on them (in that story, obviously the parents, not the child) to find out why and then figure out if there is something else they could do. I mean, I would be happy if people donated the money they would have spent to charity, for example, which is what my uncle did this year. I’m actually considering not inviting the person who most often gives me gifts to my party next year, because it’s just one more way he shows he doesn’t respect me, by ignoring my request.

          1. Sure, but then you have to ask why the mom would have the child pick out a gift that she knows would be rejected?

          2. Speaking from my own experience, if the kid is young enough sometimes you have to let them make the mistake. If you teach a little kid that you give gifts to people you love, sometimes they’re going to insist that Grandma HAS to get a gift or it means we don’t love her. Maybe you sit them down and try to give them an explanation they’ll understand, or maybe, depending on the kid, Grandma sucks it up and pretends to be grateful for a couple of years until they’re old enough to understand.

    2. That, to me, is what SELFISH means. An unselfish person would see that someone was giving them a gift, and would immediately switch into Gift Receiving Mode, where they tried to make the gifter feel as comfortable as possible about giving them a gift. Whereas she is selfishly making it all about her, no matter how that makes everyone else feel.

      1. An unselfish person wouldn’t buy a gift for someone who has repeatedly made clear that they don’t want one.

        I had to negotiate a situation a few years ago with a friend who had actual anxiety issues about receiving gifts after family events in her past. Obviously we all wanted to give her presents at Christmas time, but, since we knew that she would not have enjoyed opening them, if we had given her presents WE would have been the selfish ones; indulging our own desire to be generous at the expense of triggering her mental health issues.

        So we didn’t do that. Instead we talked a bit about what it was that she found difficult, and found a compromise that included her in the present-opening by getting her cheap stocking-filler tat that she was under no obligation to pretend to like. But the real gift was in respecting her boundaries so that she could have a relaxed Christmas day without worrying about having to deal with her gift-receiving issues.

        1. The partially opening the presents thing is making me think there is more going on here than just not wanting to receive gifts. I’m wondering if the mom had skipped giving Grandma presents one year prior to having kids and had it go badly too. This just feels like the dance of rejecting the gift is what Grandma wants, ya know?

          1. It doesn’t really matter, though, because the people violating the clearly stated boundary are causing a problem by doing so. If grandma really is trying to be passive-aggressive, the best way to handle it is to follow her stated wishes, returning the awkward to sender. If she’s actually serious about the boundary, the best way to handle it is to follow her stated wishes and not try to force an unwanted “gift” onto her.

          2. Oh, definitely! That is how I would handle it. I’ve just seen a lot of people who have a hard time shaking off the trappings of long-standing family drama who end up doing things that aren’t necessarily the best option or the best example of either respecting or enforcing boundaries for the sake of less criticism. I just wondered if that was the case here. I didn’t mean to sound like I was excusing the boundary violation. I meant it as a musing on “those dance steps look familiar…”

      2. I… kind of feel like “You handed me a Thing! Now it is 100% my job to smile and make you feel good, no matter if I want it or not!” might be the definition of unselfish, but it is not necessarily a healthy thing. That way lies being favour-sharked.

        Favour-sharking sucks, and a little selfishness–enough to put on your own oxygen mask first–is a good thing.

        If you know you’re getting a gift? If you’ve implicitly or explicitly accepted that you will be handed a gift? If you have the spoons to appreciate it? If accepting the gift will be a sandwich of love that you feel yourself able to give that will not hurt you? Okay, these things all change things.

        But if saying “Regardless of your motivations, I am not going to make you feel good about doing the thing to me that I don’t want you to do” is always selfish, I am not going to give up my right to be selfish. I won’t exercise it all the time, but I’m not going to give it up.

        1. I think there’s a big difference when that dynamic is happening between two adults and when it’s happening between an adult and a child, though. If your grandchild picks out a gift for you, you smile and say thank you. Period. You can (depending on the age of the kid) communicate to them in a less fraught moment that Grammy really just wants a hug for Christmas, or whatever, but that doesn’t need to happen in the moment.

          It’s also not quite clear to me if Grandma doesn’t want gifts at all, or if she just has a very specific script that she wants people to follow when giving gifts, so that she can feel Unselfish. The former is something that should be respected, the latter…less so, imo.

          1. Just going to note that a grandchild is not always a child.

            I understand making an effort to humour and thank an actual child, but I feel like “you smile and say thank you. Period.” is an excessively prescriptivist truism to force on a relationship between adults, even if the second adult is the first’s grand(daughter/son).

          2. Also, I am kind of trying to sort out the idea that Grandma’s stated desires deserve more or less respect based on her motivation. It’s leaving me a bit uncomfortable.

            Maybe she really does want gifts and wants to do this particular dance and expects everyone to accommodate. Maybe she’s hit that personal stage of clutter where one more thing she can’t get rid if will bring her to private tears.

            Either way, trying to figure out via third-party analysis over the internet if her unknown motivations are worthy of respect seems odd. I wouldn’t try figuring that out in person from the static description we’ve been given.

            Regardless of motivations, her boundaries have been stated, you know?

          3. Ugh. And rereading, more calmly, I feel like your comment makes it clear that you’re talking about a grandchild-as-child and I was sharp, and I am very sorry. I apologize; I should have done better, and you did not deserve the snippiness of my prescriptivist-complaining response.

            Apologies, again.

          4. @Aphotic Ink (nesting fail)

            “I am kind of trying to sort out the idea that Grandma’s stated desires deserve more or less respect based on her motivation.”

            Clearly stated desires and boundaries deserve respect, period.

            The thing that I was wondering about (mostly because of the bit about opening a corner of the present but still sending it home with the mom) is if this was one of those situations where Grandma is That Relative Who Will Never Be Pleased–who will say “don’t bring me presents” and then throw a fit if you don’t bring them and then throw another fit when you bring presents the next year. Something about this story made me wonder how long the mom and grandma had been doing this “don’t give me a present, but I want to see what you got me” dance. I just got the feeling that mom settled in the dynamic that resulted in the least amount of fit-throwing instead of setting boundaries of her own and failed to explain what was really going on. This may not be what was really going on, but I have seen A LOT of that kind of thing when it comes to families and holidays. This one just smells like “Can’t Fucking Win” to me.

          5. I think this is exactly backwards. If you don’t defend boundaries with children, they learn that they don’t have to take boundaries seriously. It does LESS damage to model bad behavior for other adults, as they have already had their socialization more deeply ingrained. Treating children differently in this way is actually the root of the problem; it’s where people are picking up all of these boundary-violating behaviors and internalizing them. Break the cycle – treat children like self-aware, agentic people, becasue they are (they just lack experience relative to adults and process information in slightly different ways).

        2. De-lurking to say thank you to Sarah B and Aphotic Ink for your posts. It is incredibly frustrating to state clearly and repeatedly that you are uncomfortable with a thing to sensible adults and have them deliberately and repeatedly ignore it.

          I’m someone else with significant anxiety issues about exchanging gifts, for various reasons, some of which are probably quite understandable, plus some irrational discomfort about it that I don’t yet properly understand the reasons for. People who are willing to accept and work around all kinds of other eccentricities, atypicalities and difficulties from a friend or family member frequently have difficulty accepting this one – perhaps because they refuse to believe it, although I don’t know why. It has made this season incredibly difficult for me in the past.

          As a borderline aspie, I lie with difficulty, and although I do give it my best attempt for politeness, I just can’t get the expression right, and am aware that any pretence of liking something I don’t is a pitiful failure. I am absolutely genuine when I say it was kind of people to think of me (if it’s someone I wasn’t expecting a gift from, so haven’t yet expressed my preference that they don’t do this), but that’s not enough for most. They need better acting of enthusiasm than I’m capable of.

          My real friends respect my wishes. There have been conversations of ‘But won’t you feel left out?” (No I will not) and if it seems truly important to them to exchange actual objects (rather than, say, spending the money on a nice evening out together) we do a compromise (like above), which in this case is giving (cheap paperback) books.

        3. Yeah, when I read that comment, I blinked and wondered briefly if it was intended for the last letter with the LW figuring out how to give back unwanted crap “gifted” by their boyfriend. Considering commenters on that thread were overall supportive of the “yeah, it sucks to feel pressured into accepting shit you don’t want,” and also considering I have Very Strong Opinions on the topic of unwanted gifts that I pretty much vomited all over that comment section, I’ll admit to being a little baffled by the trend I’m seeing here.

    3. The spouse’s family has a less extreme version of this – they don’t outright reject gifts, but there’s always a lot of ritual exclaiming about how No, Really, You Shouldn’t Have.

      Halfway through his first Christmas with my family, I took him aside and said, “Sonetimes it’s OK to just say thank you and shut up.”

    4. I think the bit that’s confusing and weird here is Grandma is okay spending $$ on people and they aren’t allowed to object to any gifts while she simultaneously scorns all gifts that don’t meet with her strict guidelines. It’s unclear what Grandma’s motivation about accepting gifts is from this story, but her policy of “I can judge your gifts to me, but you cannot judge mine to you” is unfair. I say that as someone who opted out of all gift-giving a few years ago. I don’t want gifts. I will not buy anyone a gift at proscribed gift-giving times. I have made my reasons clear (anxiety!) and have excused everyone from buying me stuff. But I am still very polite when people do choose to give me things because I do appreciate the sentiment of gift-giving.

      1. That doesn’t seem too weird to me, especially since it’s not the gifts but the spending that one isn’t allowed to object to. I mean…

        Say chocolate makes me sick. I understand that the default cultural narrative is that chocolate is awesome, so I’m happy to give other people chocolate! But I would really really really prefer that they not give me chocolate.

        …people still keep giving me chocolate.

        Sometimes they give it to me (and make my grandchild part of it, who I do not want to hurt, but really I cannot have chocolate and that doesn’t change because you tied my grandchild into the gift-giving) and I check to see if the ingredients list might make it magical chocolate that won’t make me sick! But it isn’t, so I give it back in as good a state as I can–maybe I’ve peeled off the ribbon or wrapper to check the ingredients list, and the giver can tell I looked, but at least I have still managed to give them back this valuable thing that I know I cannot use and will just need to throw out.

        Sometimes they give it to me LOUDLY AND PUBLICALLY and talk about how it’s THE GOOD SAFE KIND OF CHOCOLATE and I’m too embarrassed to refuse, and can I just say that this being shamed into taking something I don’t want gets really exhausting and unpleasant, and I am not thrilled with the giver making a production of shoving this on me? (It’s like that guy in the AskMe emotional labour thread who didn’t care about whether or not his gf WANTED flowers, he just liked giving flowers to women.)

        And in the meantime I feel bad about it all and step up my own chocolate-buying activities for others to make up for things. Because I know they like chocolate.

        (And yes, I get upset and shut it down when they talk about how much I am spending on chocolate for them. Not only am I being publically embarrassed into accepting chocolate, but other people want to control my spending as well?)

        I’m not saying it’s good. I’m not saying it’s equitable. I’m not saying it couldn’t be better handled all around. But I don’t think it’s weird, just sad for all people involved.

        …also now I want chocolate.

        1. Roughly this situation is why my college friend who is a recovering alcoholic used to give people beautifully-wrapped bottles of nice wine regularly.

          I hasten to add that her friends and family weren’t giving her wine! She is a costume designer, and they were “crew gifts”, handed out to everyone above a certain level on a stage crew.

          I actually at one point had two non-drinking friends who worked in theatre/music/dance. When I got out of the business myself I suffered some serious sticker-shock when I realised the actual price of some of the stuff I’d been cheerfully and casually necking for years …

    5. Argh. Several years ago I was in the home of relatives who were adamant that there be no presents tree etc. It had been our tradition decades ago. Meanwhile I’d heard them wistful at wanting to learn to do some craft that I’m good at.
      I ignored their words and went and shopped for them anyway. I was so sure I could just glow the whole mess right and there’d be smiles and cranberry sauce on a plate, still shaped like the can. The whole works.
      Im here to say it’s possible to be high-handed and border-abusive and yet be completely unaware. There was a huge fight, everyone sad and angry at not getting what they each wanted. I have seen the light.
      I have one relative whom I can gift with. The rest of my urge is fed by being a regular whole-blood donor at a hospital. They’re always happy and appreciative and afterward I get little coupons for movies and ice cream cones and everyone’s pleased.

    6. Why were you trying so hard to violate your grandmother’s clearly stated boundary? Why did her enforcing that boundary make you feel bad?

      A “gift” is no longer actually a gift when it’s in clear violation of someone’s stated preferences. I would urge you to examine your own behavior and expectations here.

  23. My brother always complained about the gifts I bought him overseas which he didn’t feel were expensive enough. Last time I bought him a gift from Bali (a t-shirt), I gave it to him at a family dinner and asked if he liked it. He glared at me and snapped “the one you spent two dollars on?” I was mortified and our parents were angry. As it happened, it wasn’t a cheap or knock-off shirt, but I was too embarrassed to say anything.
    His twin boys received their presents (requested by my brother!) with glum expressions and no thanks (as usual). On the other hand, his wife (my SIL) received her sun dress with smiles and thanks, and exclaimed how wonderful it would look and how it matched the bracelet I bought her 15 years ago, which she still wears.

    I have now decided that my brother and nephews will not be getting any more gifts. If they ask why, I’ll tell them that they never seem happy with what I buy, so I won’t bother. SIL will continue to receive dresses, jewellery, makeup and handbags, all of which she loves!

    So, LW, you’re not alone. I really hope you take the Captain’s advice and stop tying yourself up in knots buying things for people who are never *really* happy and use the occasion to judge or criticise.

    1. That’s so incredibly rude, I can’t believe it. A+ on you for not putting up with that shit anymore.

    2. It’s possible your nephews are avoiding their father’s displeasure by mirroring his behavior. He’s probably done this to them all their lives, and they truly don’t get what possible pleasure could come from getting or giving a present.

      It isn’t your job to help them learn the joy, but maybe give them the opportunity to talk to you about a present you can offer, instead of cut them off forever — which is what this decision might lead to, with estrangement lasting generations. Give them a chance to get comfortable enough, in a less emotionally dangerous situation, to actually take the chance to enjoy a non-stress free gift of your time. A water park or flight museum visit, picking out their own presents in the zoo giftshop, and a nice relative who actually compliments them on their good taste. I have a feeling that doesn’t happen very often. Positive role models can be distant relatives who give you a chance.

      But it is definitely NOT your job.

  24. LW’s brother is totally right – the holiday spirit isn’t about giving nice things. It’s about family members judging and guilt-tripping each other about how much each of them paid for the nice things, and competing to see who is the most cost-efficient shopper.


  25. After reading this year in so many advice columns about ungrateful, boorish, cheap or greedy friends and relatives, I have realized that the one “gift” we can really all give to our nearest and dearest is this: to be visibly pleased and vocally happy with any present that we receive from them, to smile and say “how good of you to think of this” or “its just what I wanted” or “what a clever idea” or even just “thanks so much for thinking of me”

    1. Exactly this.

      Also: “How KIND!!” covers practically every occasion. “How lovely” can also be said, since it can mean either ‘what a lovely present’ or ‘how lovely that you gave me a present, even if it’s not entirely to my taste’.

        1. I’ve just remembered how not to do it as well. I wrote a poem as a birthday present for a lady on her 90th birthday – she actually ASKED for this. I read it aloud at her party and gave her a framed copy. Afterwards I asked, ‘did you like it?’ as she hadn’t said anything, and she said ‘Yes, of COURSE I did’, but added, rather spoiling the effect: ‘…and if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be rude enough to say so!’. In other words, she didn’t like it.

          1. In general, it’s usually a good idea not to ask someone if they like something. It puts them in a really bad spot. She might have really appreciated that you wrote her the poem and been touched, but it’s not her fault if she didn’t actually like it (and says nothing about your talent). I feel the same way about food, etc. (if you cook for someone, you can expect them to be grateful, but you shouldn’t ask them if they like it, because if they didn’t they have to either lie or be rude!)

    2. Yes, yes, yes. I coach my (still young) children about this before we go to their grandparents’, etc., to receive gifts. No matter what it is, what you think about it, whether you already have it – doesn’t matter. Say thank you for your gifts, and if something needs to be exchanged, we’ll deal with it later.

      1. I too received this training from my parents at a young age, but I had a terrible poker face! My mom ended up instituting a tradition with my dad’s family about not opening presents while guests were present to avoid me inadvertently offending anyone, since they were notoriously thoughtless/stingy with their presents and would have been very offended if I didn’t provide my thanks effusively enough. My birthday was a month after my cousin’s, so I routinely got re-gifted her rejects – one year I got a package of colored lined paper that had clearly been part of a gel pen set. Apparently she had liked/kept the gel pens, but not the paper!

        1. @Bibliophilian – I’m pretty bad at it myself, actually! I always feel like I didn’t look grateful enough. That’s great that your mom could make things easier for you (and probably everyone.) My MIL is a notorious re-gifter, so much so that my husband’s family have made a joke out of it by continuously re-gifting a board game to each other. It’s ours right now. We usually come up with funny ways to package it so that it’s still a surprise to the person who ends up with it.

      2. I had a baffling moment recently where I watched my (six year old) niece tell her Grandmother that she didn’t like and didn’t want the doll that Grandma had hand-made for her. Her parents didn’t say anything to her, and Grandma was left trying to figure out what to do.

        Spouse and I later had a conversation with our child to make sure that the rules were clear: when Grandma makes you a thing and gives it to you, you say “Thank you” even if you hate it. The time to mention to Grandma that your tastes now run to Star Wars instead of My Little Pony is sometime before the next gift giving occasion; not when you’re presented with Rainbow Dash. Child assured us that the rules were understood and that Nieces’ behavior was unacceptable.

        OTOH, I get that Gift Giving as Blackmail thing is something that totally happens because it’s happened to me. “Look, I gave you this ‘delightful’ present that’s actually a way for me to criticize you and make you feel like a terrible person. Those are a lot more fraught, but I generally think that’s something to be addressed in the Advanced Gifting Class after basic courtesy has become standard.

        1. I may or may not have told this story before here at CA, but I vividly recall The Corrective Birthday that was thrown for me by my mother when I was 10 or 11. Every gift given, even the ones by not-my-friends that she invited without asking me if I got along with any of the invitees (answer: meh, we kind of ignore each other), were indicative that no one knew my personality or taste. But worst of all were the presents given by my family, as each addressed a common complaint my narcissist mother had about me. I got a Bible (I was not religious and had to be forced to attend services). I got a cookbook (I had expressed no interest in the homemaking arts and was often nagged about that). I got an etiquette book (my manners were remarked on positively by adult strangers, but I was never formally polite enough for my mom). I got soap (at this point I interpreted that as “you smell,” which may not have been the intent) and girly pink clothes (I hated frilly things and the color pink). I read at a high school if not college level at that age, and I got books intended for elementary school kids (younger than my actual age). And on and on and on. I managed to feign enthusiasm and appreciation and gratitude, but after my guests (all daughters of my mother’s friends who also went to her church or my school) left, I spent the rest of the day feeling horrible and misunderstood, and not liked for who I actually was.

          PROTIP: Do not give gifts designed to “improve” anyone. Chances are they will see right through it and be insulted or hurt. Or both. Also, don’t give gifts that YOU would like if the recipient does not like the same things you do. Just sayin’.

          1. That would be a truly horrible thing to do to anyone at any age, and to do it to a relatively helpless child is – imo – a vile and deeply fucked-up power trip. I am so sorry this was done to you.

            I hope you were later able to nope the fuck away away away from there, and that if this has not yet been possible that you are able to get away soon.

          2. Yeah. Once the situation involves toxic family/interpersonal dynamics, “Courtesy” becomes something completely different.

        2. “Look, I gave you this ‘delightful’ present that’s actually a way for me to criticize you and make you feel like a terrible person.”

          OMG. One year in my 20s, I was spending Christmas with my then-boyfriend’s family. He and I lived together, and coincidently, one of his cousins shared my name but spelled it with a K instead of a C. At the time, I wore pants almost exclusively–rarely ever skirts or dresses. His grandmother, who was an expert at making socially acceptable comments to me that still managed to convey her dislike of me and her disapproval of our living arrangements, gave me a skirt. A really ugly skirt that I’m fairly certain was used–it had that texture that 100% cotton gets after it has been washed a couple of times. The gift tag was made out to “Kourtney [boyfriend’s last name].” When I opened it, she said, “I wasn’t sure what size to get you, but I’m sure you can let it out if you need to.”

          Boyfriend was mystified as to why I was grumpy on the way home.

        3. One year when I was a bookwormy, unathletic kid, my father gave me a basketball for Christmas — and I’ve never been able to understand how he did it, but something about his way of presenting it left me not with any of these obnoxious messages (“I’m giving gifts to the kid I wish I had instead of the one I actually have,” “Here’s a suggestion for a way you could change to please me,” etc.), but a feeling more like “I am large, I contain multitudes.”

          Maybe it was partly because he gave me other things, too, and some of them were books?

          Or maybe he just wasn’t a jerk …

    3. I actually blew up at my sister about this earlier this year – she started trying to say that she’s easy to buy presents for and I basically reached my breaking point of being hurt by her present receiving skills and said, “No you’re not, you always make it extremely clear when you don’t like a present and make the person who gave it to you feel like shit!”
      Hopefully she still remembers that (considering how she reacted by trying to hide behind the kitchen counter) and will at least try to fake enthusiasm this Christmas. Otherwise I may actually just start giving her socks.

    4. No, we don’t all have the ability to lie well enough to convince people that something is wanted when it isn’t. People can tell.

      If you enjoy participating in gift exchanges and want to continue doing it with that person, the first and last are fine. But if you have requested no presents and they have ignored your wishes, appearing pleased (convincingly or otherwise) sends a mixed message at best, increases the likelihood of them doing it again, and at worst, makes them think that your previous requests for no gifts were not actually honest, and just some sort of stupid game-playing.

    5. My grandma used to say “Oh it’s just what I wanted” before she even opened a gift, because for her it was true — she was so pleased that someone was thinking of her.

  26. Oh, and about the little brother’s thing? I can understand how he might be a little upset if it’s a joint present and you expect him to pay half. He might not have as much money to throw at that as you, making getting the best price really important for him. I’m poor, and this kind of thing gets me, too. But he still went about it all wrong.

    When you’re doing a joint present with someone who has more money than you, you can approach it two ways. One, you organize the purchase. Two, you give them an exact dollar amount that you’re willing to contribute, and then if they want to go over that, they cover the excess.

    Not doing the work and then insulting the person who does is not okay.

    1. That’s completely standard in my family. “Hey, we need a present for X, let me know how much you’re all able to give, and I’ll find something for the total cost!”

      1. I’ve also done that for vacations with my mother. “I can afford a total of X, and you care more about where we go, so you can call the travel agent!” And the year she decided the place she wanted to go to was X+400$, she made up the difference for me because my budget had been clearly stated and that’s what she wanted (which I think is totally fair.)

  27. Wow, LW, I felt really uncomfortable just reading your account of
    Christmas, so can only imagine how hard it is for you! I completely
    agree with the Captain’s proposal of refusing to discuss prices – ever
    – but imagine this will create a lot of pushback the first time you
    try it. Another suggestion might be to combine refusing to discuss
    with removing yourself from the situation. If you haven’t made firm
    plans for this year, could you spend Christmas with a
    friend/alone/with another relative? That way you break the cycle of
    being at your parents house, and it should be easier to refuse to take
    part in your mum’s price game if you’re not there in person.

  28. No advice here, just want to commiserate with the LW and share a couple stories.

    Story 1
    About two decades ago, my mom asked my dad for pearl earrings for Christmas. When she saw them on Christmas day, she deemed them too expensive and threw a screaming tantrum. She didn’t just yell at my dad; she also told off my brother and I (both grade school age) for having “let” him buy them. (As if we were even involved?!) And no, the earrings were not beyond my dad’s means at all. She refused to ever wear them or let them be returned. They’ve been sitting untouched in a safe for twenty years now.

    Story 2
    The Christmas before last, I bought my brother a textbook he would need for a class in the spring. The book: The C Programming Language by Kernighan and Ritchie, 2nd edition. Even though the 2nd edition was first published in the ’80s, it is still the latest edition of the book and has been in constant print since 1988. So anyway, my mom, who was a programmer too back in the day, immediately recognized it. But when she saw the edition number and the price I had paid for it, she threw a fit. She was dead certain that I had gone to great trouble and expense to buy my brother a vintage, deprecated, worthless edition of the book. (She thinks I’m that stupid.) She was utterly convinced that the book must be in at least its 10th edition by now and would cost no more than $15. Even after I’d proven to her otherwise, she remained angry with me and refused to apologize.

    I have so many stories like this about my mother. The common thread is that she seizes any opportunity to find fault in others and punish them.

        1. The superstition is the pearls mean tears (one of my favorite bits of the L.M. Montgomery Anne books was when someone tsk’d at her pearl wedding ring for this reason, and she said that was exactly why they had chosen it, since a marriage was made up of tears of sorrow, tears of joy). It sounds like your mother should sell them and buy some tears in a therapist’s office, to me.

    1. My textbook for my physics class is $355. Just one textbook. For one class. There is absolutely no way you could buy any textbook for $15.

      I also have that C programming book (because it is The One). I have both the 1st and 2nd editions, because I bought the 1st edition one accidentally.

      1. Seriously, a textbook is a GREAT gift for a college student! And I have two siblings in college so I may need to check in on what they’re taking next semester!

      2. @Pinkie Pie Chart
        Textbook prices == highway robbery 😦 Maybe my mom was remembering what she paid for her books in the ’70s?
        I have the 1.5th and 2nd editions! 1.5 is not its actual number, but it was the intermediate book between edition 1 and ANSI-approved edition 2.

        The sort of textbook that doubles as a later reference book is a very handy gift 🙂

      3. Yeah, maybe $15 for one small, paperback piece of fiction among several others for a lit class or a lab workbook. But a big text? No way. That wouldn’t even cover the *rental* price of a standard text book.

    2. A family member and I once planned to buy a joint gift for another family member. We were discussing options, and one of the ones suggested was something like Heifer International. We figured we’d get back to it.

      (1) The family member I was working with called me the night of the discussion to inform me she’d bought one of the gifts we’d been thinking of, and I owed half.

      (2) The family member who was being gifted was… a little sad that she didn’t get anything for the celebration. Like, no certificate, no card, not even a charity tax receipt.

      (3) I sent the giftee something that was actually for her and I have never, never, never done a going gift with my co-gifter again.

    3. So, my MIL did something very similar to the Pearl Earrings story when her children were younger, except with garnets. I’m sure you’re all incredibly surprised to discover that my husband has huge hang-ups surrounding gifts? No?

    4. Yeah…I bought a bottle of expensive French perfume for my mom–it was the “wrong” kind. When I asked what the “right” kind was, she didn’t know, but this one was wrong! I bought her Waterford champagne glasses–Idiot! Didn’t I know she wouldn’t like them? etc. Until I cut her off.

    5. I feel like when you ask for pearl earrings (with no caveats like ‘imitation only’) you are…kind of setting yourself up for something a bit more costly. It sounds like she did this on purpose so she could make a scene. Maybe she should have asked for something set with a cheaper stone? ^^

  29. I have a slightly different issue which is that my narcissistic mother asks what people want as a gift and then uses that as an opportunity to lay on the guilt about the cost (she seems to think that laying on the guilt whenever she does something normal like buy a gift is a surefire way to be appreciated for all of her “sacrifice”.) This year, Mr Neddy and I are concerned about his dad, who is going through chemo at the moment while struggling to take care of Mr Neddy’s mum, who is disabled, at the same time. We’re ordering them a fully-prepped Christmas dinner that basically can just be thrown in the oven, so that nobody has to do much cooking. So I suggested to my mum that she might like to contribute the dessert bit of this meal, which is £30. She wailed and protested that that was far too much money and she couldn’t possibly, and eventually settled on £20 as what she could afford to pay. My parents are by no means poor – if they were, I could understand. They go on four or five foreign holidays a year, all over the world. They are, in retirement, probably richer than I will ever be. But for some reason when it comes to buying cake for much loved man who has cancer and may very well not be around next year my mum’s response seems to be “you know what this needs? Endless quibbling over £10. That’ll make everyone love me more.” I went with it and just tried to get out of the conversation as quickly as possible because I wasn’t going to get into a guilt-off with my mum. I’m trying to remind myself that literally whatever I had suggested as a gift, however cheap, would have resulted in a guilt trip about money because that’s what she does and now I don’t live with her she doesn’t have many other options for hanging up some guilt.

    Sorry, this isn’t advice or anything. Just letting off steam because I’m sad about this and mad at myself for letting her get to me AGAIN.

    1. Would it help to think of the 10 dollars that she didn’t pay as the price for not caring about her tantrum? Such as: I put 10 dollars towards your gift to this other person. That frees me of ANY guilt about you and this present. Tell the other person that she bought the dessert all herself.

      I find it helps to think of the extra money I will pay for my sister’s gifts this way. Is it worth the extra 10 dollars for my anxiety? Yes you say? Then spend that 10 dollars!

  30. Argh. LW, I’m sorry you’re in such a stressful, unpleasant situation. While my suggestion doesn’t tackle the core of the issue (which the Captain absolutely nailed), I will suggest perhaps making charitable donations in your family members’ names as your future Christmas ritual.
    Three possible advantages:
    1) No more team gifts!
    2) You don’t need to (and I agree, you shouldn’t) tell them how much the donation was for, but it might help flip the weird “emotional value of gift is inversely proportional to monetary value of gift” dynamic on its head;
    3) Yay charity!

  31. So here’s a thing I’m noticing as subtext here: The complaints are basically that you didn’t spend enough of your time on spending less money — which is to say, the complaints only make logical sense if your time is valued very low. And that, I think, is one of the subtle things that’s really problematic about this sort of interaction: It’s presupposing and re-establishing the idea that your time isn’t yours to decide how to spend, and that it’s worthless.

    That’s a pattern that seems to show up, again and again, in these sorts of interactions. Lots of people seem to harbor the bees of “You’re family, so I can spend your time as if it’s free and unlimited, and you don’t get to complain.” It’s messy, it’s insidious, and it’s worth calling out and paying attention to because it’s so prevalent that it tends to slip under the radar and do a lot of damage.

    Anyhow, depending on your finances, spending $100 to avoid the hassle of comparison-shopping for an iPad and simply getting the shopping done with no fuss is an entirely reasonable case of spending money to save time. Especially since it’s not a case of knowing you’re spending $100 “too much”, but a case of going to what seems like a good store (personally, I’d certainly have guessed that the Apple store would have competitive prices on iPads!), and most of the time that will result in not spending much, if anything, more than the best price.

    1. Plus one on the “avoid the hassle of comparison-shopping” thing. Christmas tends to be stressful enough without trooping all over the place or spending hours on the computer trying to save a few dollars here or there. For those of us who hate shopping, getting it over and done with (after searching the whole mall parking lot for a space) is enough.

    2. This is a fantastic point. Spending more money, you’re not just buying the gift, you’re also buying time and freedom and much less stress. I agree that in LW’s situation, the captain’s Do Not Play advice is spot on, but I’m certainly stealing the “I’m not wasting money, I’m buying time” argument for possible later use.

      1. Someone wise once said “The cheapest way to pay is with money.” Meaning that trying to get a deal or bargain might be a huge waste of time, at best. At worst it opens you up to all kinds of painful jabs and digs.

        1. Though that reminds me of the scene in Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, where Almanzo’s Dad hold up a dollar and says ‘what is this, son?’ and Almanzo can’t think of it being anything other than money, and his Dad tells him it’s work (i.e. representative of all the work that went into earning the money).

          Can anybody work in any more classic American children’s literature? The Saturdays, anyone, with the ISAAC club?

    3. I was going to say something about this too! I agree with Captain’s advice that Do Not Play is how to win here, but it might help you if you start to factor in a rate for your time. If your job is something like lawyering, you might already know what a billable hour of your time is worth. If not, I would select something on the high side of ‘if my other needs were met I wouldn’t get out of bed for less than this’. Christmas present shopping for people who don’t appreciate your gifts isn’t a hobby, it’s work.

      So first iPad mini you see = $x for the iPad + 0.5 x $y/hour.
      Supposedly ‘cheaper’ iPad = <$x for the iPad + 3 x $y/hour for comparing, selecting, returning original iPad, etc.

      This works for cheaper gifts, too. You didn't "just" spend $y on something small from the market, you spent $y + whatever time you spent thinking about the gift, browsing stalls for the very best possible thing, haggling with the stall-owner, wrapping it yourself, etc.

    4. This is the mother of all breakdowns! You’re so right – this is very insidious and you don’t even realize what’s really going on. You get distracted by the complaint and miss the underlying message. But the underlying message creeps in slowly but surely and you internalize it. You think you’re dealing with a bullshit complaint but really you’re being told again and again and again that your time is worthless.

    5. YES. THANK YOU FOR THIS. I have this type of conversation with various people over and over. Time is money. My time is valuable. I hate shopping and I’d rather spend money in the moment to get what I need than waste my time visiting 5 shops to see if I can save a few dollars. Now, I get the comparison shopping for expensive electronics, and honestly now that online shopping is a thing I’m more likely to comparison shop than in Ye Olden Days where I would have had to physically go to multiple places. But it drives me nuts that so many people don’t seem to get that shopping less = saving time, and I value my time at least as much as I value my actual bank balance.

  32. Here’s a simple solution – leave the price tags on, prominently displayed! Yes, it goes against all conventional gift-giving etiquette, but then Mom doesn’t have to ask. Seriously though, your mother has an odd fixation and I’m not sure it’s cultural. Just follow the Captain’s suggestions.

    1. Or, get a few things worth $15, take the stickers off, put them on the iPad, bowl, every other gift you give her until the end of time and wait to see if she catches on.

  33. I would totally just start doing donations to charity in her honor. If she’s not going to be happy with the money you’re spending, might as well give it to someone who will be.

  34. If it is very, very difficult to outright say “no” or contradict the parents, maybe LW can say “I’m sorry, I really don’t remember how much I spent.” Maybe that would open up a can of worms about failing to keep track of money? That’s a derailing. If that happened, I’d say, “Aw, don’t worry. I set a budget for presents this year and kept within it.”

    But in any event, I think it’s fantastic advice to get out of the shared-gift business with Brother altogether. If he’s super worried about getting the best deal — as opposed to laying unwinnable traps for LW — then he’s the one who should be doing the shopping.

    1. I love this because it allows LW to avoid “defiance”. Next year LW can be defiant. This year they can be slightly forgetful but still on budget.

      This year is practice for next

  35. I don’t have enough details to give a full analysis, but — as a few others have flagged — there’s probably some cultural mismatch here. (LW, I don’t know your family’s history and don’t want to make assumptions, but it’s certainly true that cultural mismatches between generations within a family are pretty common when people immigrate.)

    Cultural mismatches around taboos are always particularly awkward. Let’s say in some cultural contexts puppies are totally taboo. If you’re on the side where it’s NBD to talk about puppies, then you’re like, “Why are they being so weird? It’s just an adorable golden retriever.” And if you’re on the side where you NEVER talk about puppies, you’re like, “Why are they being so rude and cramming these puppies down my throat? I keep hinting and they’re not getting it and they are SO. RUDE.”

    Unfortunately, this type of thing is easier to handle when it’s obvious that people have different cultural backgrounds. If you’re talking to someone you’ve just met who lives in a different country than you, and they ask you how much money you make, you can always say something like: “Well, the cost of living is different, and I don’t know specifics, so I can’t give you an answer that will really be comparable…”

    With that in mind, here are a few alternate possibilities that don’t involve a direct no.

    1. “I paid what it was worth.” or “I got a great deal.” (Bonus points if you can tease out the “right answer” this way.)
    2. “I paid an amount I could afford.”
    3. You can talk about how much your time is worth. (Hint: your free time is worth AT LEAST your hourly wage.) So: “I bill $75 an hour, and it usually takes me 3 hours to fully comparison-shop, so I saved a whopping $225 on your gift.”

      1. Yes, definitely. There are people who are all M. Complainy-Pants, citing all sorts of ironclad reasons why they should get to huff and puff and grumble at people–and when you fact check their assertions they’re always baloney.

  36. I think someone upthread mentioned it might be difficult for the LW to outright refuse to answer questions about gift price. In which case, I’d suggest responding in the ‘well bless you!’ style, i.e graciously smoothing over the social clanger that’s just been dropped. So Mum asks the price, and the LW smiles and says something meaningless like, ‘That’s so sweet! But don’t worry about it. Hey, what’s next under the tree for Dad?’ If Mum insists, the LW can elect not to hear the question while focusing happily on something else. If Mum pushes it, she’s earned a direct refusal. Further pushing might necessitate leaving the room, but without necessarily getting outwardly cross – just not giving in, and not rewarding the appalling behaviour.

  37. “I wont tell you the price” is far too confrontational for the first ever pushback, it’s like revving up from 0 to 60. I agree with those who suggested “I dont remember” “I dont know” “I’m not sure.” Yes it’s a white lie, and your parent could get pissed off, but if you stick to it consistently you can escape the interrogation and your parents will be only extremely exasperated instead of extremely angry. “I dont remember” “I dunno”

  38. Hi LW – for what it’s worth, I’m also Asian. At least in Korean American families I know there is a lot of obligation to give gifts at every possible occasion. I have some strategies that I’ve seen people in my family employ – maybe these will be useful.

    – stock up on small gifty things throughout the year – simply pull one or more out and give it/them when the time comes (my mom’s strategy – she usually adds a check or some cash if the person’s younger)
    – give an elaborate homemade food item (my aunt brings homemade kimchi to our house when she visits)
    – give something beautiful and special that you got a discount on (like you did with the bowl) and supplement with cute/fun treats (my sister’s strategy)
    – give literally everyone her art + homemade food (my white aunt, who happens to be an amazing and renowned artist so it’s more appealing than you might think)

    I think learning to weather your family’s disapproval (if you decide to take the Captain’s good advice) is a useful thing, but I think there may be gift options that seem effortful AND don’t involve spending that much money at all. Or where the effort is in your own physical labor, rather than money.

    Your mom and brother are being jerks, by the way. Sending you good thoughts and empathy. I hope you have good support around this. Maybe consider talking to friends about it or a therapist, if you haven’t already? Those both helped me cope a LOT.

  39. Dear LW

    I believe the Captain’s advice hits the nail on the head. If it’s too hard, even after practice with friends, to withhold the price from your mother, how would it be if you let your misery show?

    I ask this because sometimes when I’ve finally had it, and just can’t take any more, I’ve cried. I don’t enjoy it, I didn’t want to, but the shock of seeing the normally cheerful Mrs Morley in tears has sometimes changed everything.

    So, maybe if your mother goes off on you, and demands the price and you can’t not tell her, maybe if you said something like “I try so hard to find you things you’ll like and you never thank me. You only tell me the ways I’ve failed. I can’t do this any more.”

    And then leave.

    You don’t have to let it go to the point of tears, as I did. Maybe though, their embarrassment at your misery will shut them down next year.

    As for your brother: oh I am angry at him! Please do yourself a favor: never share a gift with him again. If he wants to share a gift again (and he will) offer him this choice: he can shop and you’ll hand him half the money, or you can shop and he will hand you half, thank you for putting in the work, and otherwise keep his trap shut.

    Mind you, that works best with younger brothers.

    Meanwhile I do feel for you. I am so sorry you go through this. Jedi hugs if you want them.

    1. My husband seconds this! Without my even asking him.

      He has a story about how he cried while Christmas shopping as a teenager. His family was pretty normal about it really, but the whole cultural thing itself was getting to him. He ended up becoming a Christmas present abstainer–please don’t get me anything, and he doesn’t give anything except homemade cards & phone calls.

      Anyway, his mother is a sweet and very conventional person, so this was really hard for her to accept, but when she saw him crying, that really helped. And it has always helped, through the years when he’s done more and more that’s different from the norms he grew up with, when his parents had a chance to see what he really felt in his heart. This can be scary, and obviously there has to be some trust. But it can be good.

      I’m glad your relatives or friends accepted it when they saw it and that things changed.

      1. Thank you for this response. It was (and is!) very frightening for me to allow people to perceive my negative emotions.

        I’m so glad that your husband’s family has been able to learn how to accept him, and that he has been able to express himself.

    2. I like this idea. There’s also a scaled-down version if this one feels too vulnerable: “[Mom/Brother], I put a lot of effort into finding things that I think you will like, and I’m careful and responsible about keeping within my budget. Having you tell me you don’t like the gift I got you because you think I paid the wrong amount of money for it takes all the fun out of being able to give you things. I’m going to stop telling you how much I spent on things so that I can still enjoy giving you presents. Alternatively, I can get you a gift card if you tell me how much it should be for.”

  40. I’d be tempted to be blunt up front. “I find our usual discussion of prices uncomfortable, so why don’t you tell me how much you’d like me to spend on you this year?” If she says it depends on the gift because hee issue is with value rather than price, “why don’t you come shopping with me and we’ll pick something out?” If, that is, you think you’d enjoy what would become an annual shopping ritual (could be done online, of course!).

    In my mind, this is totally against the whole point of gift-giving, but then so is judging them based on their cost. If she is going to pry about your spending then she doesn’t get to open a surprise gift.

  41. I don’t know why, but I am strongly reminded of a late family member who was otherwise a very good person but wouldn’t let go of wanting to know now much money I earned. I had the “That’s personal and I am not telling you” conversation more times than I can count, and I never did tell her. But anyway, LW, I would try the “I’m not telling you” method, and if she persists, I would tell her that you’re just going to stop buying gifts for someone who is so blatantly unappreciative. Having said that, I have many years of dealing with weird family bullshit and long ago reached the point of not caring what certain members of the family think of me.

  42. If anyone watches Fresh Off the Boat (a show about a Taiwanese-American family), there was an episode where one of the main characters, Jessica, and her sister were competing for their mother’s approval by showing their mother items they bought and running down the deal they got on it. The better the deal they got, the more impressive and valuable they were. Obviously not a cultural thing for every Asian family but it’s not uncommon.

    1. That show also depicts the mother stealing an entire platter of samples from a grocery store because “haha Asians are cheap and/or don’t know how grocery store samples work HILARIOUSSSSS”. As a Taiwanese-American, lolno.

      1. The first episode kind of had that problem with playing a little too much on stereotypes. I think as the show’s progressed, they’ve gotten to a point where that happens less and less often, or else it’s only true of one character out of many. For example, Jessica is tight with money, but the other Asian characters in the show aren’t.

        But I can see where even one example of a tired stereotype would sour someone’s enjoyment of the show. It sucks that that it’s still such a “baby steps” sort of thing.

        1. It’s not just that, it’s the fact that *as demonstrated right here*, people are using this depiction as source of information for what is “not uncommon” for “every Asian family”

          1. Amen.

            There are cultural differences in what is and isn’t taboo. Money is one of those things that’s taboo in some cultural contexts and not others. And it’s true that it’s different issue if it’s a question of a) mismatched taboos or b) everyone agrees what the taboos are and some people are being inappropriate anyway.

            Making sweeping overgeneralizations about Asians isn’t a productive solution to the first problem, nope. But there’s a grain of usefulness in here, which is that what works in situation b may not work in situation a, and vice versa.

          2. Actually, I brought up the show because many of my Chinese-American friends and I laugh about the show b/c it DOES depict things we or our other family members do. I watch the show with my son and laugh with him as he sees how my behavior is not that crazy, there are other parents who do what I do. That it’s not isolated to just me and I’m the meanest mom in the world. Like I said, this obviously is not how all Asian-Americans behave. Maybe I should clarify and say that in MY circle of friends and my family’s circle of friends, it’s not uncommon. Oh, and that entire platter of samples taken in that one episode, we saw something similar happen at our Korean market. There were several plates of different fruits cut up as samples and this one older man just stood there grazing and ate almost all of them as there was no one at the table to shoo him away!

            Everyone in my family does price comparison shopping. We all like to get a good deal. I’ve even taught my son since he was 8 how to comparison shop. I get anxious when I see other people go willy-nilly into a store or online and buy without comparing prices. But I also realize this is my issue and I have no say over how other people spend their money and if that’s how they want to go about shopping, it’s their prerogative. The LW’s brother was plain rude in how he approached his issue with the LW. If he felt that strongly about it, he easily could have taken the initiative and done the shopping himself and everyone would have been happy.

            My SIL goes overboard with the bargain shopping. She finds deals throughout the year and stocks them up to give to my son for xmas and his bday rather than buy something from his wish list. She buys without really thinking about what he actually wants or needs or would like, it’s all about finding a good deal. There are usually reasons why the items have such low clearance prices. When we try to exchange or return the items, they’re only worth a couple of bucks so we end up donating them. Some people will say it’s the thought that counts but exactly what thought was put into those gifts? My son would so much more appreciate one item that he wants than 5 or 6 gifts that he has no interest in. We actually ask her what her kids want and get those things for them. We still try to find a good price on them, but we get them something they actually want.

            Sorry, I don’t mean to hijack the thread, but I suppose I wanted to say that I can somewhat understand why the LW’s family acts the way they do and I see where she’s coming from when she says it’s cultural. I haven’t behaved anywhere nearly as badly as the LW’s mother or brother, but I’ve had my moments. I’m sure it will be tough for the LW to address this issue with her family, but it IS possible for them to change their way of thinking, or at least how they react. I’ve had to break my own relatives of some of their traditional attitudes, esp the blindly respecting your elders thing. I was pretty direct with them — they may not always like it, but they don’t mention it or expect me to kowtow to them anymore.

            Change will only happen if you make the effort. And as the captain has said before, the first time you push back is always the hardest. Be strong and good luck, LW!

    2. I would say that’s not really a cultural thing. I know some upper-class, WASPY families that would pull the same shit. I think that’s more indicative of the damaging dynamics present inside the family. That wouldn’t happen in my Taiwanese-American family and in most of the As-Am families I know. The only exception is one of my As-Am friends who straight up had a narcissistic personality disorder mother – she would pull this shit.

  43. Gift giving in my family is less fraught than yours, LW, but still fraught. A few years ago, in a fit of pique, I decided to opt out in a very specific way.

    Everyone gets a book for Christmas.

    They are books that I think the recipient will enjoy, chosen with love and care and thought, but they are still books. They are eminently returnable, the price is right there on the cover, they are easy to wrap, and one book doesn’t take up too much space. What’s more, I’ve found that it’s dramatically improved my holidays. Instead of teeth-grinding marathons at the mall or even online, I spend a few pleasant Saturday mornings at my local indie book store, browsing and choosing books. And most people love the books I choose for them.

    My mother hates this like liver and takes it as a personal assault on her and screeches at me about it every year (in a passive aggressive way). It bothers me that she does this but I’m in therapy to learn to ignore her.

    I still get snarks form other folks about how much X spent and how I only bought a book but … I’ve done this for years now. They have sorta accepted that I am just the weird aunt/sister/daughter/cousin who gives books. And, happily, it’s ratcheted down the amount they are spending on me, too! (This is a good thing because I live in a tiny urban condo and not an enormous McMansion in the burbs. I have no room for even the coolest five-foot high plastic dollhouse for my kid.)

    I don’t know if this would work for you but a similar strategy might — you could become “person who buys awesome/fun socks” or “person who buys high-end chocolate” or “person who makes everyone homemade caramels” or something.

    1. @DameB – I love this, but then, I am a Book Person and would be in absolute heaven buying the perfect book for everyone I know. I used to always get my mom the newest James Patterson “Alex Cross” book. It’s her favorite series and I loved buying it for her. Thanks for reminding me of that delightful memory.

    2. Ah, the space problem! While I love getting presents, I increasingly have nowhere to put them; I fear that when I move into somewhere smaller in a few years, I’m going to have to quietly dispose of a few gifts that I’ll just have nowhere to put…

      This year, I thought about that, and I thought about a friend who is always difficult to buy for, and I asked her what she wanted for Christmas and she said ‘less stuff!’. So I have bought her nothing. Rarely have I seen anyone so pleased with a lack of gift!

      1. This. Between my parents getting anxious about us dealing with a houseful of stuff after their deaths, and those of us in the younger generation living in small, urban apartments, we’re all shifting towards things that aren’t going to pile up permanently – food, magazine subscriptions, classes, and small things that wear out, like socks and calendars. And we are perfectly happy telling each other what we would like, because no one’s got the room for things that aren’t needed or wanted.

        1. Yeah, this year my brother and his wife have stipulated “no stuff” because they have enough stuff. I got him a book token for his birthday last month, which he said he loved because he always forgets to budget for reading material. I’m giving them a voucher for a vineyard tour and wine tasting experience for Christmas.

        2. Last year, my spouse bought me an annual subscription to a specialized music service and the electronic edition of a British gardening magazine; DS gave me gift cards for e-books so I could keep changing out my library (progressive visual limitation, boo!). They both got wine and Smartwool socks and a silly T-shirt each from Thinkgeek. It was great!

    3. About 20 years ago, I decided the stress of finding Christmas presents was way too much for me to handle, and I began giving everyone Christmas ornaments (as all parts of our family do Christmas trees). I’ve been doing it long enough that it’s my “thing” now, so people don’t expect some big, grand gesture from me, and my sister tells me that her kids love to decorate the tree with their own ornaments. I also remember my stepmom giving me a small tree and some cute ornaments when I moved away from home, and this way all the nieces and nephews have at least 18 ornaments when they go to college.

    4. I was the book person when I was still with my ex! I hate shopping at any time of year, but I figured that our knocking out the entire Christmas list for his family (ah, if only I’d known about CA back then so I could have absorbed the message, “YOUR family, YOUR shopping trip”…but I digress) at the independent bookstore near my apartment was a way of making up for all the times we’d sit in there and read the books cover-to-cover while only spending money on coffee.

  44. If we’re going to play games anyway, I like the “let’s pretend” game better than the “beg, demand, harass & harangue” game.

    i.e: “Mom, no matter what price I tell you, it spoils the gift for you. I want you to enjoy it, so just pick the price you want it to be, and pretend it’s that.”

    1. I like this! It’s a soft “no,” which, as some people pointed out, might be needed because refusing to tell a thing (esp in a culture where you always obey your parents) could feel like an earthquake and should maybe be a last resort. But the usual soft “no,” which would be “I forget” or similar, would probably just make this particular mom freak out about carelessness with money (“You FORGET? You weren’t even PAYING ATTENTION to the price? You got cheated for sure!”)

      So this is a lot better, and is framed in concern for the mother’s enjoyment, which makes it harder for her to slap down.

      Of course, EvilBird is on my shoulder whispering that what she should really do is:

      1. Ask the mother what she thinks she *should* have paid for it.
      2. Exclaim delightedly, no matter what the figure given, that that’s almost exactly what she did pay for it, adding five bucks or so for realism.

      Urg, EvilBird. Remember what I told you about lying? Back in your cage.

    2. This was going to be my suggestion. “It cost precisely whatever will maximize your enjoyment of it. $5? $50? Whatever you want it to have cost, that’s what it was.”

      Of course, this doesn’t really help much if what $LW.Mom actually enjoys is being upset over the “value” of the gift. :-/

  45. LW, re your brother, as others have said, if you are to continue going in with your brother on gifts, I’d put the onus on him to do the shopping for your mom and you can reimburse him. If he can find a good deal so quickly, and he feels good about it, your mom feels good about it, and all you have to do is give him the cash and there’s no stress on you, it’s a win-win situation all the way around.

  46. Blimey, LW, all my sympathies for having to deal with what is definitely a no-win situation. I don’t have any helpful ideas beyond what the Captain has said and others have added; I just want to send my best wishes for surviving this year. Definitely agree that the ultimate goal is to refuse to play – and that any further joint giving with brother (if at all) has to be on the basis that he does the shopping around and gets the gift, while you chip in. Probably better to cut loose completely even so, and get separate gifts. I hope you are able to get to the point where you Do Not Tell any of them what the prices were.

    In my case we all have to be pretty careful about money, and I freely confess to having one hell of a hangup about waste (both in itself and because I can’t afford it), and we seem to have arrived at something that works(ish) at least in some cases:

    I really want to get my kids the best treat I can afford to get them, so I need to know what they actually want. With zoic#1, xe emails me a short list of links to the exact things xe would like to have (but couldn’t afford otherwise) and I pick something from that list that I feel happy and able to give, safe in the knowledge that it’s something xe actually wants. Plus I also get hir a couple or three of little inexpensive things I think xe might like, for the surprise element.
    Much more difficult with zoic#2, who doesn’t really particularly want things that money can buy (neurotypical brain chemistry is not available in shops) but the approach is similar.
    When either of them wants a particular something I can’t afford, I tell them how much I can put towards it in case they are able to save up the rest.

    From the recipient point of view, I don’t know if it’s reasonable of me to do this but for my part I tell them what I would love to get and ask them please not to spend more than X (X being a modest amount I know they can afford and is a bargain price for what I want – which is usually something like some chocolates I would never buy for myself otherwise) (plus I tell them where the thing is available at that price). Then when I get it I love it, and it’s a real treat, and I don’t feel bad about their spending too much on me when I know money is tight.

    I figure the whole point is to aim for the recipient to have pleasure in the gift; I know I’m happiest if I get something I actually wanted as a treat and that my kids can afford, and I’m only too glad if I can be sure I’m getting them something they actually wanted (plus a little surprise).

    1. I’ve been emailing my mom an Amazon wishlist since I moved out 8 years ago. I always feel a pang of selfishness doing it, because it feels so bratty and demanding, but she wants to buy me stuff, she knows I don’t expect it, and if I ever got spoiled or entitled, I’m sure she would stop. I add to it throughout the year, so it’s basically a running list with way more on it than I would ever expect to get, which means I still get some surprises (since I know it will be something off the list, but not what). It’s a system that works really well for us.

      Now I just wish she would do something similar to you when it comes to receiving gifts from me. Shopping for her is a HUGE struggle.

      1. Oh, I get so much anxiety mailing off my Christmas list to my Dad. But every year he asks for it and keeps asking until I send it. And it’s not like my family’s in any financial straits, so if I don’t give him the list, he’ll probably get something expensive that I don’t need (he started putting out not-so-subtle feelers about getting me a blu-ray player a couple of weeks back. I barely use our tv anyway), so it’s better to just send him a list, but it still feels so…demanding? Spoiled?

        1. If he’s anything even remotely like me in this, he’ll be genuinely glad to have a list though. You could always put big disclaimers all over it saying “suggestions ONLY, to pick from!!!! You know I do not mean ALL THE THINGS!!!!” 🙂

      2. It’s honestly so great and such a stress-reliever to have a range of suggestions like a wish-list – I’m just really glad to know for sure that I’m getting Spawn something xe actually wants! I think we’re doing pretty much the same as you, and it’s clearly understood that the idea is to pick something from the list, not get all of it, so it’s win-win all round :-))))

        Have you suggested she do the same thing back to you, like kind of give you a wish-list? Sounds like she’s actually quite glad to have your list, so if it works one way round … 🙂

        And then to preserve a hint of I-thought-of-it and !surprise! we both get each other the occasional small surprise thing – but it’s much less stressful, because it’s only something small so there’s not so much pressure to get it exactly right and not make a mistake. (phew)

        I know what you mean, though – some people are just very difficult to pick a present for. I know I’m on the picky side, so I figure the least I can do is try and be ‘helpful’ by saying roughly what I’d like to get 😉

        Good luck with this year’s round of Racking (Brains) and Ransacking (Shops) !

  47. I am Asian and this has absolutely nothing to do with being Asian. Sorry. No member of my family has ever asked another immediate family member how much a gift cost. Asking how much stuff cost is for 1) disproportionately expensive-looking gifts 2) given by outsiders 3) so that we can at least attempt to repay the outsider for what is considered to exceed the boundaries of a normal gift.

  48. LW, what a kind heart you have! I have an idea for you.

    Find a charity you would support.*
    Find out if your workplace matches charitable donations and arrange for that.
    Donate (heavily) to charity, in the name of your family.

    Go to your parents and say, “Dear parents, we are so fortunate to be enjoying prosperity and the true gifts of good health and togetherness, and I am so lucky to have your guidance all my life. I have decided to honor that by (describe awesomeness) but here are some little trinkets I hope you enjoy” -as you pour into their laps the individually, very-well-wrapped litte parcels of imported chocolates, magnets, and handy notepads you got at the Dollar Store.

    Ten bucks each for Mom and Brother can thus look pretty impressive.

    Hugs and kisses all around.

    In my view, you are truely blessed.

    *Not often mentioned- some hospitals have charity programs, where your dollars go directly to supporting care in the community; donations to museums and orchestras will additionally get your family donation listed. Maybe this could start a discussion about the family funding a small scholarship at a college.

    1. I… would approach this carefully? I have seen people be hurt when gift-giving occasions come across as “I did something nice for a third party, don’t you feel special” rather than “I got you X because I love you”, and that is even leaving aside the fact that doing something in someone else’s name is a bit fraught.

      I think it can work, especially if the family is cool with being spoken for in that specific manner (which is what I read donating “in the name of your family” to mean), but it might not be the kindest thing to present as a fait accompli without giving them a heads-up.

      1. I don’t know, I feel like if you’re going to be a judgmental ass about the gifts people give you, you lose the right to get upset when they stop getting you gifts.

        1. I feel that whether or not you’re a judgemental ass about people’s gifts, it doesn’t make it okay for them to speak for you on a matter you explicitly weren’t given a chance to weigh in on.

          Also, charity giving in someone’s name is here explicitly being framed as getting them a gift, just one it might be harder to pass judgment on.

  49. In LW’s place, I would bake Mom some cookies. “Oh mom, I didn’t keep track of how much 1 cup of flour costs. They’re made with love!”

  50. I come from a family that really cares more about the value of things being greater than the cost of things. Talking about money is not a social taboo in this culture, and this is an okay culture to exist in. This type of culture can go wrong when people buy things that they do not need and will never use because they are on sale.

    Some hints for living in this kind of culture and using the internet include:
    -If you are looking for electronics, look at a site like The Wirecutter to see if you are paying too much.
    -If there are things that you know you want to buy, and you shop at Amazon, set up a Camel Camel Camel alert waiting for a price drop.
    -There are things like Fat Wallet and Slick Deals that tell you about various deals that are going on. Some people make a hobby of looking at these things. Instead of having that be my hobby, I talk to people who have the deal finding hobby and ask them their advice.

    If you do not value bargain shopping at all, when you are asked “How much?” say “Don’t worry! I found it on sale” whether you did or not.

  51. It does sound like they’re really worried about whether the gift was “worth it”, more than whether you paid lots or little. I’m not suggesting you *should* dodge the issue, but if you just want to try to avoid the angst, emphasising you were lucky to get it on offer or at a vague “surprisingly good price” rather than emphasising how little or how much it was. Obviously that doesn’t help if your relatives always insist on talking specifics! But if you try to avoid it, it may suggest ways of putting things they’re most likely to let go.

  52. Y’know, I know it’s not worth playing into the game further, but part of my likes the idea of “accidentally” leaving the price tag on the gift (or putting one on it), and then striking it through with a red marker and writing a “sale” price on it. So whatever you paid, it looks like a bargain.

    Like how if a coat costs sixty bucks, people won’t buy it. But if that same coat once cost a hundred bucks and has now been marked down to sixty, well, that’s a BARGAIN!

    Or imagine the sass option of: “How much did it cost?” “Eh, some money, give or take.” (I know you couldn’t, but it’s fun to imagine.)

    But yeah, my family’s another one of those “don’t mention the money” ones. You can talk about great deals you got on stuff you bought for yourself, but for gifts, it’s just seen as tacky.

  53. Oh ugh, LW, I feel you. These are very much like the games my mom would play…and there’s no way to win. If Captain’s scripts don’t work, it might be time to reevaluate if these people are worthy of your gifts.

  54. Great script!

    However, I can think of an alternative.
    IF you think there *is* a correct answer or at least a correct range for what you’re supposed to spend, then that’s the answer REGARDLESS of how much you actually spent.

    So if your mom thinks you should spend exactly X, then whatever you bought cost exactly X.
    If your brother spent Y on parental gifts, so did you.
    Obviously you need to remove price tags and dispose of receipts (or get gift receipts? Do those show the price?) but you’re probably already doing that from the sound of things.
    And you don’t remember exactly which sale you got that bargain at 😉

    This might be easier than saying no, especially with holiday stress around (though the Captain is absolutely right that saying no to mom is a good thing to practice).

  55. My preferred method of dealing with family holiday drama is: disown everyone I’m related to, find a pack of rogue corgis, shower them with sweaters and treats and belly scratches.

    Sure it’s hard to implement in the real world, but a corgi will never judge your spending

  56. I don’t know if there could be relevance here, but for my stepmother, who was the only girl in a huge family of boys, and openly devalued for being born/ presenting as female, criticising someone was the equivalent of putting little hearts in the word balloon— a large (and kind of shitty before you caught on; sometimes kind of shitty even now) part of her “love language” vocabulary. It was so helpful for both of us when I realized that her constant “I am just saying,” really meant, “I will never give up on you. ” I never mentioned this out loud, but as soon as I stopped tensing up like I heard a dental drill whenever she started talking to me, she started being able to actually stray from the topic of how completely awful I was. Don’t get me wrong, I love my stepmother very much, she is a really cool person, but I do understand the exhaustion that comes from dealing with that style.

    (NB: if you suspect this is the case with your family, please be aware that “criticism-as-love” ONLY flows ‘downhill.” Do not try to mirror it back. That is a bad move. Trust me.)

  57. So, I think there’s two things going on here, and there are different issues with your mom and your brother.

    With your mom, I like the advice to just stop sharing how much gifts cost, even if she bugs you. You also might consider moving toward more homemade-type of gifts (I know my mother tends to freak out about expensive gifts, and I tend to give her things like homemade jams/pickles/granola/etc. or photo books/albums that aren’t pricey but show effort in designing something she will really like). After all, gifts are for the recipient, not for the giver! If you know a particularly type of gift not only won’t be enjoyed but will actively make the recipient upset…why would you give it to them? Even if your mom’s reasons are weird, I feel like part of selecting a good gift is considering what the recipient will actually appreciate and what will make them happy. You wouldn’t be happy if, say, someone kept buying you bacon-of-the-month club memberships even though you’re vegan, no matter how much they loved bacon and thought there was no reason to be vegan…

    With your brother, it sounds like he overreacted, but I completely understand why he was upset here. While the extra $100 may not have mattered very much to you, it’s possible it was a bigger budget issue to him than you realize. I can see how it would feel a little insulting to him that you thought it was no big deal to essentially spend an extra $50 of his money because you did not shop around. Again, it sounds like he didn’t deal with this well, but I do see his side of this — I would be pretty upset in this situation too because $50 is a lot of money to me! Just something to consider.

    1. Sure, but the best thing for the brother to do in that case would have been to be upfront about his budget limits if he’s expecting the LW to do the shopping. My sister and I often go halfsies on presents for our mum, but a discussion about what everyone can afford is always a part of that. From what the LW writes of their brother’s reaction, he never made any mention of his budget limit, or even suggested that this BestBuy shop (we don’t have them in the UK) would be a good place to get a bargain.

    2. I think you’re right that when one party is having to be a lot more careful with money than the other, it’s easy to touch a nerve without realising it. For me, too, my share of the $100 would be well worth the hassle of returning the item and going with the better deal. I don’t think it would have been at all unreasonable for the LW’s brother to ask the LW to do this.

      My impression from reading the letter, though, is that the LW’s brother was more interested in being judgemental about the LW than in actually improving the situation. To me, that doesn’t read like someone who’s worrying about money. Once you’re alluding to hypothetical overpriced pens, it’s not about the money; it’s about being right.

      The LW is an adult who is doing more-than-fine financially, and her brother is making a point of trying to undermine her confidence in managing money, it seems with some success. I say not OK.

  58. Well, you could make the actual receiving of the gift into something unusual, and hopefully that will disrupt the price interrogation. For example, you could send them on a treasure hunt to find their gifts (hand them one clue which leads to the next, and then another, until the ultimate clue leads them to their gifts). My sister’s friends pitched in and did a seven deadly sins theme for her 21st birthday, taking her to seven different places to represent each sin–for gluttony they took her out to eat, for pride they took her to Sephora for a makeover, and I don’t remember what else they did. I loved how they spent the whole day together and made memories instead of her friends just handing her a wrapped “thing”.

    Another idea is to put a lot of effort into the presentation. Someone got me a six-pack of Diet Coke one year as a teacher gift. But she put it in a basket filled with iridescent tinsel and these gorgeous decorative butterfly stems, and it was so thoughtful and beautiful that it made me feel really special.

  59. I want to second all the suggestions to cut off the concern-trolling about how you handle money but answering in terms of your budget every time they ask about costs. Or making the gifts yourself from now on, depending on how you value time vs money.

  60. There’s actually an episode of Seinfeld that touches on this topic of gifting and money. Jerry lies to his Dad about what gifts cost, from a transcript:

    George, seeing Jerry with a small black device: “What’s that?”
    Jerry: “It’s a Wizard electronic organizer for my dad. I’m goin’ to Florida
    for his birthday.”
    George: “How much was it?”
    Jerry: “Two hundred. But I’ll tell him it’s fifty. He doesn’t care about the
    gift. He gets excited about the deal.”

    Now I don’t actually recommend lying to your parents like Seinfeld but I think this shows your parents are being unreasonable and you are not alone in dealing with this sort of thing. I assume the writers of the show were drawing their comedy from aspects of their life.

  61. LW, your mom has a very strange hair that people probably haven’t corrected her for. The problem with the habit is that it gives her control; the ability to show her superior shopping skills, or to tell you that your gift sucks and she wanted more gifts. Her behaviour is far from the norm, and continuing to let her act like that will cost a lot more than the gifts you get her.

    My mother plays games like yours, but thankfully not with xmas gifts. Her home needs to be /spotless/. If you’ve forgotten a cup on the counter beside the sink (and have been cleaning all your other dishes), she will intentionally leave it there until someone takes responsibility and washes it. She once proudly told me doing this is resisting her urge to clean it. She does this because to get, it’s a game of never being a ‘maid’.

    It helps her feel that she is teaching is a lesson when in reality, most of us who lived in the household did not prioritize cleaning before our other responsibilities. That’s okay, the moment things began to pile up, and well before molds or gross things were attracted, we’d go into cleaning mode, do everything at once, then relax about it. When we cleaned, we’d make sure all the mess was gone, no matter who left it.

    People, when given a little bit of authority and responsibility, sometimes run with it, developing their own degrading games to teach people lessons that aren’t valuable to anybody except them. Your mother is obsessed with presents being, not ordinary, but perfect. My mother is obsessed with cleaning being, not ordinary, but perfect. Parents are sometimes the worst, because if they don’t like a behaviour, some parents will kick into ‘teaching’ mode and make up penalty/reward games in hopes their child can ‘learn the true value of christmas’.

    In my family, removing price tags from gifts is the norm because it’s about finding something the recipient will like/use. If a price tag is left on, it’ll be mentioned and maybe laughed at, but that’s the end of the story; it’s amusing and perfectly alright to make a mistake. Likewise, it sucks when you get a gift they don’t like, but they’ll still give you a hug, thank you for the gift, and wear the pajamas they inevitably get from Opa (grandpa) at some point in the night.

    Your mom is being obsessive about minutiae and it makes christmas less fun. As captain says, just don’t tell her the price. When you watch how far she goes to try playing her game, you’ll realize how ridiculous she is in demanding to play it.

    Have a good christmas this year, and best of wishes!

  62. I vote that you answer each rude (by Southern standards, anyway!) question about the monetary amount you spent on gifts with an imitation of Dr. Evil from Austin Powers, with your pinky up by your mouth: “ONE MEEEEELLION DOLLARS!”

    Or go all Death Metal Lead Vocalist and growl: “My immortal SOOOOUUUUULLLLL!”

    But stop feeding the beast that is the annual auditing and accounting of your budget and spending and don’t ever give them a dollar amount again. Eventually they will quit it. Persistence is the key.

  63. Maybe Amazon gift cards? That way they can find their own deals. Or cash. But that leaves the question of how much or if they find it tacky not to have a personlized gift.
    I have an aunt that used to play the “value” game. She’d be haranguing about how x was so cheaply made and y was a waste of money. My uncle finally had it one year.He jokingly but not really suggested he just give her money. When she kept complaining he whipped out his check book and asked how much while everyone sat around the tree with eyes the size of saucers. She never did it again.

  64. I will admit to not having read the other comments here, LW, but I was bouncing up and down in my seat because my mother plays this exact same game with me and it is SO IRRITATING. She will actually go to the store where I’ve bought something and bring the receipt and ask them to run it through the register to see how much I paid for it on the off chance that she can return it, and then buy it back at the post-Christmas sale price. And then she tries to come home and shame me for being a reckless spender “just like your father!”

    Now I mostly give her gift cards to the places she likes to shop. She can use them to maximize her savings to triple-markdown levels or whatever she has the desire to do.

    So anyway, I feel you. And I think your brother’s buy-in to her system is about gaining approval from her. And I think that if you ever go in on a gift for her with him again, he should be 100% in charge of picking out the gift and negotiating the price, and then you just pay him what he asks.

  65. Oh god, my dad used to do this way hard. (Actually still does, but we haven’t been in contact.) With him it wasn’t particularly related to gift-giving, but an offshoot of his desire to audit all my spending. Which in turn was related to the way he both liked to use money as a tool for control (“You know I’ll always support you!” + secret subtext “so you need to live your life and act toward me the way I like!”) and also how he had this weird sense of entitlement to everyone else in the family’s money. Like, in his head, it was “his” money that we were spending. Became weirder and weirder as I was more financially independent, but it was a living nightmare for my mom.

    Anyways, no particular advice, just wanted to provide a little more insight into what might be playing into this behavior. While I was still talking to my dad the only thing that worked to cut short the control/emotional manipulation tactics was to take money off the table 100%. I did not discuss money with him, I did not ask him for money, I did not ask him for financial advice, I did not listen to financial advice.

    It helped.

  66. Captain, I have a feeling that LW’s Mom might refuse the gift if she can’t know how much it cost. I hope this won’t be the case, but if it was, what would you advise?

    1. At that point, I would just lie and make up a number that would make her happy. I assume she is not checking receipts!

  67. iFor your mother to have some mysterious formula for the perfect amount time/money/thought to be expended on her presents, (that you never get right.) to me seems deliberately, needlessly hurtful, imho.
    Presents are (or are in the best of worlds) signs of love and recognition of other people one likes. Something the other person would enjoy but would probably never buy or find themselves.
    Growing up, I was taught that if your family or friends get it wrong (there’s a difference between Star Wars and Star Trek, for example) you thank for the love and the gesture. (This assumes the present has no strings or expectations attached) not the price. (Although maybe discreetly and some time after the occasion it was acceptable make sure they know the difference between Jean Luc Pucard and Luke Skywalker, so long as they don’t realise why)

  68. LW, I feel your pain and I’m sorry gift giving in your family is so unpleasant for you. If I may, I’d like to offer a different perspective on what may motivate your mother’s behavior, based on my experience:

    My dad is an incredibly thoughtful and generous man, but he’s also a notorious skinflint. There is nothing in the universe he loves as much as a bargain*. When I buy him gifts, while he doesn’t go so far as to ask what I paid for them, he’ll say things like, “This is too much! You should have waited until after Christmas; it’s supposed to go 30% off after that! If you return it to the store before New Year’s, I bet they’d refund the full purchase price and then you can buy it again in a week!” He’s not rejecting the GIFT, exactly, but he gives the impression that it would be more satisfying for him if the gift included a juicy bargain. As you obviously know, it sort of deflates the excitement of buying him gifts to have him criticize my shopping/spending habits.

    It doesn’t sound to me like your mother is trying to be hurtful or critical. She sounds a little like my dad, where maybe she’s as excited about the ShoppingScore! as about the gift itself. Bargain hunters are a breed of their own, but they tend to assume that everyone else shares their personal priorities. How could you possibly feel satisfied paying full price for something when you could have gotten SUCH A DEAL?!?

    We should never have to lie to people we love, but I’ve found some deflections. When my dad starts talking about value and price, I cut him off with, “Dad, didn’t you teach me NEVER to pay full retail? You’d be proud of the deal I got on that!” etc. That way we both feel good: he’s pleased with the gift and the idea that he’s handing down his wisdom, and I get to stop an argument before it starts.

    *The upside of his tightfistedness: two years ago he bought me a KitchenAid mixer for $40. Fifteen years of haunting flea markets FINALLY paid off. 😉

    1. Yeah — I am wondering how the LW would feel about using insincere praise as a way to get out of this one? A lot of the suggestions here are good in the sense of standing up for yourself, but the family might not rise to the occasion by behaving better — things might go downhill fast. I mean, maybe the LW will be relieved about such an outcome (“those people were a pain in the neck!”) but since they are her family she also might not.

      A conflict-averse way to handle it could be to try pouring on flattery in response to criticism or interrogation: “oh mom / bro, I’m not even going to tell you what I paid, I have not got the mad bargain hunting skillz the two of you have! I know you’ll be horrified!” This could get you two things: (1) they are pleased, the gift you got them cost you a RELATIVELY BIG NUMBER! (2) they are pleased, you have praised them!

      This kind of performative self-abasement is… not great as an interactive dynamic, for sure. But it is effective as a deflective mechanism for people it’s not worth fighting with, either because they are too important (fighting with them leaves you feeling flayed) or too unimportant (they are your blowhard neighbor).

      I don’t know. It’s definitely part of the “women’s survival pre-feminism” toolkit, which is full of tools which will cut the user up if used too often. But they aren’t totally useless.

    2. I have a friend who does all of her Christmas shopping in the January sales and stores the stuff in her attic the whole year. Your dad would LOVE her. “You should have waited until the new year to buy this!” “Um, I did, I bought it 11 months ago!”

  69. Here in the UK, I’ve been told that it’s very rude to ask/ tell how much a gift cost – the value of a gift is in the spirit in which it was given. And you always thank the person who gave you the gift, even if it wasn’t what you wanted.
    And really, a £5 pair of warm socks can be much more valuable than the £200 wristwatch to someone with cold feet. (But I’ve always been kinda poor).

    The only exception to the No Price-checking Rule is that my auntie usually includes a receipt in a separate envelope with the gift, in case it doesn’t fit and needs to be returned. Or if someone gives gift vouchers, then the price is always visible.

    It might work to ask your mum for a specific dollar amount spending range on gifts, it might just highlight the awkwardness of the way she criticizes you for spending your own money.
    The goalposts will move on every gift, though, as your mum weighs the Actual Retail Price against Her Own Appraisal, like some tedious reverse-concept episode of Bargain Hunt.

    It sounds as though your family are kind of using “Frugality is a virtue”, vs. “How much am I worth to you?” to keep you in a bind, even if they don’t see it that way. And for that, I’m sorry. It must be frustrating.

    Other question dodging scripts: “Nothing but the best for my Mother”, “Can’t put a price on Love!”, “Don’t worry about it”, “I hope you like it!”
    Other gift options: “I made a £100 dollar charitable donation in your name”, “Here’s a thing that I made for you by hand”, “Here’s tickets to an experiential thing like a stage show that has a fixed price but cannot be valued in money alone”.

    I have a feeling that the thing that’s most likely to work is politely-but-firmly refusing to answer the question until they get it. Practice your best “let’s change the subject” voice and remember that they’re the ones making it tense. Good Luck, and happy holidays, LW. 🙂

  70. Whaaaaat. No really, my face is doing the O_O right now.

    At least in my culture, asking/telling the prices of gifts is a BIG no-no. Some people guess if they know the brand, and may be disappointed in getting something they consider too cheap, but actually bringing it up in conversation is the worst form of bad manners.

  71. A little part of me understands where the LW’s mom comes from. Getting gifts makes me feel uncomfortable, but knowing that the gift-buyer didn’t pay too much makes me feel better for some reason. If someone paid *more* for something than I myself would have been willing to pay, then I feel like money was wasted, which opens up this sick hole in my stomach.

    Of course, the sensible solution to having such a complex is to *not ask how much things cost*, FFS, not to ask about it and then harangue the person if it’s too much.

    I’m very surprised the LW even tells the truth when asked these questions. It if were me, I’d’ve long since adopted a strategy of claiming to have paid less than I actually paid, unless I already knew I had gotten a really good deal. Pick a price which will sound like a good deal but not totally implausible, and say you got it on sale. Okay, sure, no one should be forced to lie because their mom is being a jerk, but lying sure is an easy solution.

  72. LW, I hear you so much on moms and gifts. My mom is the queen of ‘you don’t have to buy me anything!’ followed by either complaints if no gift, in fact, materializes, or minute judgment on the gift in question. One year on a major birthday, for example, my dad got her flowers and a small appliance she had admired the month before in his hearing. I praised him for this, thinking it showed real consideration and thought. She got pissed about it, dubbed it inappropriate for the birthday in question, and returned the appliance in a huff. A month later, she bought it for herself because she really did want it. It was just not appropriate as a ‘major’ birthday present from her husband. Dad has his own issues–he doesn’t hide his expressions, so when he unwraps a gift he doesn’t like, he frowns in distaste, mumbles ‘thanks’, and tosses it to the side. That was always fun as a kid.

    I am regularly expected to produce expensive gifts for every gift-giving holiday, too. For my parents, that meant $50-100 spent on gifts for each birthday, mother’s day, father’s day, and their anniversary. Finally last year I told them that they would each get one required gift a year, and cards for other occasions. Enforcing this is not fun (Dad emailed me to say he wanted X gift (cost: $110) for his birthday; I replied with a reminder that I no longer do birthday gifts but would be happy to get this for him when father’s day came around.) To their credit, they’ve both been good about the new rule, and when gifts come up, I practice my Captain Rules and change the subject.

    So for you, LW, I would echo the advice to give gifts, refuse to discuss or disclose the cost, and invite your mom to like the present or not, but to do so on its own merits. And remember, none of that has any bearing on you, an awesome, thoughtful, gift-giving person!

  73. Time to commiserate with you, LW:

    Wow…this letter strikes a sore spot of mine. I am also Asian and I have a similar problem with my Dad, except with the gift-giving part, it’s the other way around. With him, it’s more like he HAS to be THE ONE to spend money on people (ie. he will always be THE ONE to foot the bill whenever we go out to eat with friends, and have said stuff like, “Don’t argue with me!”), however, he will criticize people who spend money on things that he considers a waste, which is totally none of his business. He has criticize me for being a big spender, and yes, I admit I love to spend good money on quality gifts and experiences for special occasions! When I give a gift, I do it to make people feel good and I want them to remember the experience, not for people to make comments on how much money I spent, how “I shouldn’t have to…!”, Here’s where I think I can relate with the “value” vs “money” part.

    Story #1

    I used to work with Dad at a trucking company, which he helped me got in. (I quit partly because of him). He had bought these eyewear cleaning kit for $3.00, but the price tags had $29.00 on them. He had insisted on leaving the price tags on the gifts so that people will see that we didn’t cheap out on gifts, which I had helped him wrap and had begun to take off. I got into an argument about it, but decided to leave on. The next day, he had given those things ON MY BEHALF!!! Another pet peeve of mine! I HATE leaving price tags on gifts, because I consider it rude, plus I love choosing my own gifts to give to people because it’s more personal.

    Story #2

    While I was hospitalized from a workplace injury, I have had the good fortune of being surrounded by an awesome team of nurses. I had ventured to the main floor one day to spy on the kiosks and what they were selling on that particular day. I happened to see a bunch of really nice necklaces, which I had thought about buying as appreciation gifts for the nurses. I had told Dad about this, and he was very critical about the idea, implying that the nurses would not appreciate the necklaces because they were cheap (in his mind) and that I had to buy all of them Coach Bags to give proper gifts. The next day, he bought a bunch of necklaces himself, which had really upset me, so I told him that I wasn’t
    interested. His response was to snatch the bag angrily and said, “Fine! I’ll just throw these away!” I didn’t really care about his feeling then. But the next day, he bought a “cheap” scarf from one of the kiosks and gave it to one of the nurses as a thank you gift “from me”! Do NOT give things on my behalf!!! Let me choose and buy the gifts myself!

    Yet another pet peeve of mine: whenever I give him a gift, he will make it a point to give me the equal value back in cash.

    Story # 3

    Back in 2008, my Dad turned 60, which is a big milestone in our culture. So I organized a surprise party for him and invited friends. I did it for him to feel good about himself (because my Mom chose to be in the Philippines during this time) and for him to have a good experience. While he really did appreciate the gesture and was ecstatic, he immediately gave me $1000 when we got home, which was close to the amount to what I spent! While he probably means well in some way, it was really insulting, as I thought of it. And he has done this on more than one occasion.

    On to the criticism part: He would keep saying stuff like, “Oh, you spent a lot of money on this!” After I treated my family to a Cirque du Soleil show, he would keep telling his co-workers this in front of me! I have tried telling him to stop doing this in many ways, but he doesn’t get the point! This isn’t limited to gift-giving, but to normal purchases, as well. When family members and non-related people buy things that they’re obviously happy about, he would say stuff like, “You know, I got the same thing for $XX cheaper…” or “You could have gotten this for $XX less…” after the fact!!! This really irritates me a lot because it is very condescending. Also, he would make comments about how much people spend on their cars/vans. home renovations, etc., how those things are a waste of money, how they could have saved money, how they’re not using their heads,
    when it’s just the Mom and myself driving back home. I still struggle to this day…

    Aaanyways, I think I can sympathize with you, LW. The only thing I can say is to keep challenging those ingrained beliefs and mentality about gift giving, because if it makes you uncomfortable and you find it intrusive and rude, then it is. I know it isn’t easy to challenge your family, but you are an individual and have a right to be respected and valued as a human being who also respects others with your gift giving.

  74. Wow. That sounds no fun at all. You’ve got some good advice from people and hopefully some of it will work for you. Here’s one more idea to throw into the mix (its a method I’ve seen work in pretty much the exact situation you’re in):

    Decid dight now to have a rule that any joint presents with brother are ones he shops for, other than that specific situation, you don’t talk prices anymore.

    When your mum asks you what things cost, give her a very very specific answer: “Mum, the thing is, I’ve noticed that after I tell you the price, well sometimes you like the gift less. And I know you like it now. So I’m just not going to risk telling you. That would just be bad strategy, and you didn’t raise no fool. Anyway, I love you and I love getting you things I hope you’ll like so please don’t spoil the moment for me.” Follow this with a big smile + if it’s your style, a hug or a kiss.

    Then just repeat this mantra whenever asked and remain determinedly lovely about it. If you can pull off angelic sweetness then, well, do it.

    If anyone starts to get unpleasant or tries to stong arm you “no, I’m serious you tell me now, I can’t belive my daughter would keep things from me” etc then feel free to let your face drop massively, stop being happy and smiley, find your dad and ask HIM if you can hang with him because people are making you sad, then stay with him.if he tells you to just give in and reveal the price, tell him you’re fed up with the whole thing and hust want to be quiet and you trust that at least HE wont pressure you.

    The reasoning behind this method:
    They can gave a sweet loving happy daughter who doesnt tell them the price.
    They can have a sweet loving daughter who they have made miserable who doesnt tell them the price.

    It makes explicit the fact that
    1) they will not get to know the price (enforces the boubdary but phrased in a loving way so you cant get called out for disrespect)
    2) the only thing they can succeed in doing is make you miserable, and be under no illusion that it is down to anything but their behaiviour

    And I bet you that your mother does not see herself as the kind of woman who would make her child deliberately unhappy.

    If your mother knows the value of a good deal, she will pick the situation with the happy daughter (although you might have to repeat this method a couple times before she gets the message)

    I think its fine to tell someone “I’m not doing that thing you want because last time I did, it went very badly for me”


    Good luck. What ever you choose to do, you can handle this. Remember that, it helps.

  75. Corrected for typos, phone keypad, argh.

    Wow. That sounds no fun at all. You’ve got some good advice from people and hopefully some of it will work for you. Here’s one more idea to throw into the mix (its a method I’ve seen work in pretty much the exact situation you’re in):

    Decide right now to have a rule that any joint presents with brother are ones he shops for, other than that specific situation, you don’t talk prices anymore.

    When your mum asks you what things cost, give her a very very specific answer:

    “Mum, the thing is, I’ve noticed that after I tell you the price, well sometimes you like the gift less. And I know you like it now. So I’m just not going to risk telling you. That would just be bad strategy, and you didn’t raise no fool. Anyway, I love you and I love getting you things I hope you’ll like so please don’t spoil the moment for me.”

    Follow this with a big smile + if it’s your style, a hug or a kiss.

    Then just repeat this mantra whenever asked and remain determinedly lovely about it. If you can pull off angelic sweetness then, well, do it.

    If anyone starts to get unpleasant or tries to stong arm you “no, I’m serious you tell me now, I can’t belive my daughter would keep things from me” etc. then feel free to let your face drop massively, stop being happy and smiley, find your dad and ask HIM if you can hang with him because people are making you sad, then stay with him.if he tells you to just give in and reveal the price, tell him you’re fed up with the whole thing and just want to be quiet and you trust that at least HE wont pressure you.

    The reasoning behind this method:
    They can gave a sweet loving happy daughter who doesn’t tell them the price.
    They can have a sweet loving daughter who they have made miserable who doesn’t tell them the price.

    It makes explicit the fact that

    1) they will not get to know the price (enforces the boundary but phrased in a loving way so you cant get called out for disrespect)

    2) the only thing they CAN succeed in doing is make you miserable, and be under no illusion that it is down to anything but their behaviour

    And I bet you that your mother does not see herself as the kind of woman who would make her child deliberately unhappy.

    If your mother knows the value of a good deal, she will pick the situation with the happy daughter (although you might have to repeat this method a couple times before she gets the message)

    I think its fine to tell someone “I’m not doing that thing you want because last time I did, it went very badly for me”


    Good luck. What ever you choose to do, you can handle this. Remember that, it helps.

  76. I have had good luck dodging questions I don’t want to answer by giving nonsense answers, and then ***repeating them word for word, no matter what other angle people try to use when prying.***

    My husband’s favorite is, “It is the policy of the United States Navy to neither confirm nor deny the existence of nuclear weapons aboard its vessels.”
    It’s funny, and it clearly says, “This is a question I will never answer.” It’s not an alternate topic. There’s also, “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.” There might be other “I’m deliberately not actually answering you” phrases; the fact that the USNavy one is funny is actually very helpful (though, it fits him bcs he’s a military-history buff).

    And if someone says, “Why won’t you tell me?” he says exactly the same thing. If they say, “But you should tell me, this is very hurtful that you won’t share this information!” he says, “It is the policy of the United States Navy….”
    The underlying message of NEVER deviating, and never actually addressing the NEW angle on the conversation is this: My answer should have been enough for you, and I will not get into any argument about WHETHER I should answer.

    People give up. We’ve done it with several things.

    Another possible way to answer: Address the general idea; what POLITE reason could there be for someone to ask? They’re worried you’ve gone into debt on their behalf, maybe. So give a general reassurance that addresses that idea: “I was pleased with the price–I didn’t pay more than I could afford.”

    My friend bought a Mercedes convertible, and everybody asked her how much she paid. She’s never told, not even years later. She says, “I’ll tell you this: you can get a good deal on a convertible if you buy it in January, in the middle of a snowstorm on the last day of the month when they want to file good sales numbers.” So she addresses the CONCEPT, but never gives specifics.

    And again–she never deviates. She won’t explain WHY she won’t give you a hard-and-fast number; she just repeats her script.

    You have an advantage, OP: You *know* your mom and brother will do this. So you can write your script now, memorize it (practice delivering it it in the shower), and be prepared.

  77. OK I’ll admit it, I’m kind of the mom here. I love to cook and last year my kids got two items of gear that I did want. Very thoughtful, they’d been listening! But they paid full retail at a SuperOverpricedSpecialtyStore for items that could have been picked up at Tuesday Morning for a fraction of the price. And they are really not in a position to blow money. Who is? So I did take them back. I feel pretty bad about it and probably shouldn’t have. I did heavily praise them because the idea was spot on. But I did let them know that there is really never any reason to pay full retail for anything. They are still teens so it was a teaching moment. But ugh. I probably should have just let it go.

    But if you are a frugal person and you want your kids to be ok financially, then it is hard to enjoy a gift you KNOW they paid too much for. What your brother was trying to say with his horrible pencil analogy was imagine that you are the sort of person who loves cupcakes but wouldn’t dream of paying $10 for a single one. And then someone you love spends $25 on one, admittedly, very nice cupcake thinking it will make you happy because, after all, you love cupcakes. You are not going to really enjoy that cupcake. Or you’d probably enjoy it more if it had only cost $2.50. Some people are just that way.

    Now, if you are buying something and expect someone to split the cost, then you do have a moral obligation to shop around and get the best price.

    Anyway, listen to the Cap, but if you can, tell your mom that though you won’t tell her how much you paid, assure her it was a bargain.

    1. I am the kind of person who would not ever pay $10 for a cupcake–I think my upper limit was $4 for a very nice red velvet when visiting New York–and I would totally really enjoy that cupcake. I would be thrilled at the chance to try it, and pleased they had thought of it, because it is a friend making something possible for me that I would not be able to make possible for myself.

      I just want to make it clear that it’s not like someone who has a personal spending limit will automatically get uncomfortable when that limit is exceeded. Some people will, yes! But it’s not a default behaviour for frugal people.

      They’re someone giving me a gift. It doesn’t matter if I wouldn’t want to do it like that–they’re not me giving me a gift. They’re them.

      And if it’s a cupcake they could have bought for $7 elsewhere, as opposed to the gold-leaf -coated, local-lavender-infused-honey -laced, hand-sculpted-buttercream-relief -topped thing I am imagining for $25, then I wouldn’t know they hadn’t paid $7 for it.

      (Off to imagine $25-dollar-cupcakes and wrap $50 towels for Christmas gifting, which might have been possible to find at a deep discount store but would have taken several more hours and a lot more stress to acquire that way and the cost/benefit analysis on that is all “oh HELL no”.)

    2. I can see where you’re coming from. My beloved is a sweet, generous man who knows my tastes well; as a result, I’ve had my share of moments of saying, “Babe, it’s awesome, I love it!” while thinking, “…but I don’t really NEED it, at least not as much as you need to buy some new shoes already.”
      In the case of your kids, teenagers still have lessons to learn and you’re actually responsible for teaching it to them. In the case of my partner, he’s a grown man and it’s his money, and thus I don’t get a say in how he spends it. The LW is also an adult and (presumably) not struggling financially; additionally, the theme doesn’t seem to be “you spent too much!” but “you got ripped off”. Which is as good as saying, “You have poor judgement”, and no one wants to hear that.

    3. But if you are a frugal person and you want your kids to be ok financially, then it is hard to enjoy a gift you KNOW they paid too much for.

      Suppose you reversed this. “It’s hard for me to enjoy a gift if I know that the person didn’t spend enough money on it.”

      Superficial and obnoxious, huh? Well, that’s true of any way of judging how much money someone spent on you.

      This is the reason why “It’s the thought that counts” is a proverb.

      1. I would go more with “sad and frustrating”, honestly; anything that gets in the way of you being able to be comfortable with a genuinely thoughtful, considerate, empathetic, non-harming gift is not great. (One may behave obnoxiously about it, but since one doesn’t have to, I am more inclined to go with “I’m sorry” than “that’s mean”.)

  78. Wow, LW, that is a weird game that your Mom and brother are playing. The Captain’s advice is spot-on, but one other thing you might try, if you’re up for it and can find the time, would be to make the gifts you give your Mom and brother yourself. Do you know how to bake, or make some kind of art or craft, or write fiction or music, or cook? I once filled someone’s freezer up with single-serving containers of four different kinds of stew (moong dal, minestrone, clam chowder, and lentil/sweet potato), and the look on his face when he saw it all was utterly thrilled (he had been struggling to find the time to pack his weekday lunches). My sister once made a delicious batch of her dad’s favourite lemon cookies, and then showed him the humongous container of frozen cookie dough she’d put in his freezer, so he could have more any time he liked. A friend of mine wrote one of her partners a short fanfic about a character from his favourite novel, and he really enjoyed it. I know a potter who sculpted a tea set for his mom one mother’s day, and served her tea in it. Warm, snuggly knit items are usually a hit. If you sew, you could make somebody something fancy to wear, like a pretty new winter cloak or a lovely new handmade pair of pants. Or if you know something about woodworking and have access to a tool library or some such thing, you could make something fancy and helpful like a spice rack or a pretty book stand. I know a guy who wrote his then-girlfriend a beautiful piece of music and played it for her on his bandoneon for their anniversary. Or is there something broken you could fix? “Here, brother, I fixed your kitchen cabinet and that one stovetop burner that didn’t work, and I made some new curtains for your kitchen too, I know red is your favourite colour. Happy Christmas!”

    It’s hard to put a price tag on something you made yourself. And if what your mom and bro care about is “effort,” maybe they’d be even more touched by something handmade? I’m not gonna lie, I don’t feel I understand what they mean by that, so I defer to your judgement. Good luck.

    1. (I have this horrible mental image of Mom asking how much LW paid for the raw materials, and my inner rageasaurus is going ballistic.)

      That said, if LW is up for it, it’s a potentially awesome suggestion! On top of the pricing deniability{1}, if they’re enough into the hobby that they feel comfortable gifting, then the act of getting to set aside time to do it can be self-care, too. (I mean, this might depend on if you’re into the process v.s. the product, but it can be a really good feeling.)
      {1} I feel like it’s simple to put a price tag on something handmade – it might not take into account the thought put into it, but the price tag on a bought gift doesn’t take into account the thought put into it, either – but it’s an excellent out for the LW.

  79. Huh, my parents will do this sometimes, but in a completely different way. We were very low-income growing up, and so when we got old enough to have jobs and get our parents gifts, sometimes they’d ask anxiously how much we spent on it; not because they were equating money to love, but because they would feel horrible if we went without something in order to get them a present. Their anxiety was for us and our well-being. Also, as soon as the words were out of their mouths, they’d realize it sounded rude and back off. It sounds really sucky and controlling for family to make the LW preform like this every time they give a gift. It makes me wonder if their unhappy about something else the LW is doing/not doing and looking for an excuse to disapprove.

  80. LW, do you have shared finances or are you financially dependent on your mother? Because barring that, your money is your money and it is your decision and your decision alone how you spend it. Your mother does not get to judge your financial choices.

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