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Calling gift ‘trivial’ an insult to dignity

Wed., Nov. 30, 2011

Hi, Carolyn: I’m pretty apathetic about receiving gifts because of my practicality. If I want or need it, I’ll buy it myself.

My in-laws love to give presents for holidays and birthdays. As my mother-in-law is not well-off, these gifts are dollar-store items – body gel, notepads, ugly earrings – that I neither want nor need. Even if she spends only $20 each on my husband and me, it is too much when we are giving her money to help with expenses each month.

How can we let her know we really do not want her to give gifts this year, that her gift to us would be saving the money or spending it on something less trivial? If she asked me what I wanted, I would reply a meaningful Christmas ornament, but I fear this wouldn’t curb spending. – Non-gifter

I feel your pragmatic pain.

But: How do you regard that money you give your mother-in-law? Is it intended purely to keep them from starving, or is it to boost their quality of life above what their own resources permit?

It’s an important distinction, because to someone who derives a sense of well-being from giving, the ability to spend $20 on others is a quality of life issue.

Just as it’s a priority for you to take care of them in your way (i.e., monthly cash), it’s likely a priority for her to take care of you in her way. I.e., bath gel. To tell her you don’t want her “trivial” gifts (ouch) is a slap in the dignity.

This year, please try broadening your definition of pragmatism. Something along the lines of, “To her, these gifts are a baseline household expense.” Seeing things her way once or twice a year can be your gift to her – a cost-effective one at that.

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