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How much do you spend on a gift?

November 5, 2009

Miss M commented on my previous post that she spends much more on fewer people for her holiday shopping, and that I was “quite frugal”.   I was surprised — I thought that I spent a normal amount!

It got me thinking though.  I don’t set my gift price points out of frugality, but out of what seems to be a normal amount to spend.  My parents do spend a fair amount on us, but besides the parent-to-child gifts, most gifts exchanged in my family seem to be about $50.

However, I make significantly more money than either of my siblings (but one has some family money from her in-laws to help out).  I’m thinking 2-3 times as much, though I live in an expensive city.  But does that mean I should be spending a lot more on their gifts than they spend on mine?  Or would that just seem weird?  I mean, my little sister already gives pretty small presents ($10-$25 or whatever) and I don’t feel weird spending $50ish on her.  I enjoy  it.  So maybe I should take that further?

Maybe I’ve hung onto my college mindset of “$50 is a good amount for a gift” for too long.  Maybe “real adults” should be spending more.  I kind of thought $300 for a baby shower gift was slightly insane.  But maybe it isn’t.  Maybe I’m the one who is slightly insane.

I’m curious.  What do you spend on Christmas gifts? Please give me details!  How much do you spend for a significant other, sibling, parent, grandparent and a young kid (that isn’t yours, but you love)?

(photo by di_the_huntress)

36 Comments leave one →
  1. November 5, 2009 10:19 pm

    My holiday gift is about $2k – for an iMac that I have wanted… I get to pick it out and open the box when delivered and hug it and kiss it and love it like I never saw a computer before!

  2. Karen permalink
    November 5, 2009 10:20 pm

    What kind of gifting does your family do? Do you just get one gift per person? My immediate family used to give each other lots of gifts and now in some ways it’s smaller in that the adults are giving less to each other but now there are young kids who get the most.
    Last year I think my budget was $200 or $50 per adult, $50 for both kids. I know I went over the individual “limit” but I may have kept it around $200 (excludes airfare, parking and kennel fees which is why my budget was small).

  3. November 5, 2009 11:57 pm

    I was just talking about this with a friend…we both realized we don’t mind spending money on gifts…
    In fact, I think that’s the one thing I don’t really worry about…which is kind of weird, since I worry about what I spend on everything else.
    For family, it’s usually $50-100 per person. For random baby showers/weddings/etc., I’ll spend around $50.
    I feel like that $50 threshold is a bit common, eh?

  4. November 6, 2009 12:31 am

    I might be the cheap ass exception here, but please keep in mind that I am/was a student and don’t have a reliable source of income for this year…

    So my spendings will be:
    $30 for my significant other – I will paint a picture for him and get a little threat
    (this was an agreed amount, as we both life of ~400$ per month and have to eat something as well)
    $30 for my brother
    $30 for my dad
    $40 for my dad’s girlfriend (but she has her birthday on January first, so it’s a combined present)
    For the rest of the family I will make cookies and chocolates, as we do not swatch gifts usually…

    • November 25, 2012 4:18 pm

      I would keep Christmas/Holiday and Birthday Gift Sep. My B-day is on Jan. 9th– and the “combined Christmas/B-day Gifts ” in the past- have been quite a turn off. If a B-day is near the 25th———I would give sep gifts. Cheers.

    • Anonymous permalink
      December 8, 2013 1:43 pm

      This is very smart.

  5. November 6, 2009 5:32 am

    $0 I take them out to eat, which is usually a $25/per person thing or a coffee which is $10/per person

    I don’t expect gifts in return either

    But if I had to buy a gift, I suppose $50 per person?

  6. Jen permalink
    November 6, 2009 6:27 am

    My Christmas budget is more on par with yours. I spend a tad more on my boyfriend, but his birthday is also 2 days before christmas 🙂

  7. November 6, 2009 6:47 am

    I was surprised at how everyone agreed that $300 was too much – I was worried it might be too low!

    I usually aim for around $100 per gift for my parents and sisters, $50 for my cousins (only people younger than me usually get gifts), $200 for my grandparents. For special events, like weddings (and I thought for baby showers), I tend to spend a little bit more.

    Than again, Chad and I don’t usually exchange gifts at all at Christmas time. We have, in the past, gone in for something big that we both want: a Wii fit last year, and this year we will probably book a trip to Florida to see his grandmother.

    My basic feeling is if I can save so much money and am willing to spend at least a hundred $ per month on myself, I can shell out for the people who matter most.

  8. SP permalink*
    November 6, 2009 7:12 am

    Interesting. if I got my grandparents a $200 gift, it would be by far the most expensive gift they got. I can’t even think of anything they would be interested in that cost $200!

    It isn’t that I would mind spending more – but it just seems like I should spend in line with the rest of my family.

  9. November 6, 2009 7:41 am

    I spend $15-40 on my family and friends. My family asks for really cheap gifts–socks, fancy soaps, edible goodies, that type of thing. A few years ago, my brother said what he really wanted was for me to go to a bunch of art galleries and exhibits and pick up any brochures or program guides or postcards or whatever that they had lying around for free. Took me about two hours and I got to see a bunch of great art!

    Peanut and I set a $20 limit on gifts for each other, or we spend money together on something we want (we might build out a gaming computer this year for around $1,000, or maybe we’ll get a paper shredder).

    I much prefer this type of gift giving to extravagance, like the year my ex bought every person in his family $1,000 digital cameras, even though no one but him was into photography.

  10. November 6, 2009 9:02 am

    I spend about $50 on each sibling and each parent. I’ll spend about $100-$200 on my wife. That’s about all I spend on. My extended family is much too large to deal with in terms of gift giving.

  11. November 6, 2009 9:54 am

    I only have to buy gifts for my dad, sister and grandma. I tend to spend around $50-60 on my dad and grandma and $100 on my sister (because her birthday and Christmas fall at the same time).

    Then little gifts to my step-family I do $10-15 for my step-dad, step brother and step sister. Then about $5 on my step grandpa. =)

    I don’t do gifts for friends or coworkers. But I do buy my coworkers cookies the last day everyone is at work – which comes out to around $10 for the entire office.

    This year I’m going to ask my dad if we can put a $20 cap on presents for everyone – just to save a little money. He’s been out of work since last December, so I’m sure he’ll appreciate that.

  12. El Cheapo permalink
    November 6, 2009 10:00 am

    My go-to figure is $100 for Christmas gifts for parents and sister. About the same for birthdays for them too. Friend weddings are $100 too.

  13. Marie permalink
    November 6, 2009 10:17 am

    A few years ago, my family switched to a name-drawing so that it’s one person, one gift for adults. Last year I think I spent about $100 for that gift. Before we did the name drawing, I was spending about $60-$70 per adult–about $360 to $420 altogether for adults. I don’t have children of my own, but I do give something to my nephews– generally a toy or game that costs less than $25 per kid. We don’t include the children in the name drawing.

    I out-earn my siblings by a lot, but we all spend roughly the same amount on gifts for each other. If I started giving more expensive gifts, I think it would create more of a burden on them. They would either feel obligated to reciprocate in kind, or it would highlight the fact that they earn less than I do. I’d rather stick to a gift level that they can afford and not create a sense of pressure or imbalance in the relationship.

  14. November 6, 2009 11:43 am

    I’m not much of a holiday gift giver, having grown up in a family where we were a: very poor, and b: not all that into Christmas.

    That said, I have spent as much as $600 on a gift for my husband – and that was for a chair. Typically though, I’ll spend somewhere between $2-300 on him, and let him handle buying gifts for his family. We don’t exchange gifts with my family (save for a $50 gift card for my nephew each year), which is why I feel like I can splurge on him.

    • kaley permalink
      November 14, 2010 10:00 am

      im just going to give gift cards

  15. November 6, 2009 11:46 am

    $50 is a good amount for siblings, in-laws etc.. As families expand, it gets very burdensome if you spend a lot more. I also try to keep in mind that if I get a $50 regular priced item on sale or at a discount due to coupon codes, I don’t have to ‘make up for it’ with more gifts. This works with my siblings quite well. It also takes pressure off my younger sister who makes quite a bit less than me or my sister.

    I don’t exchange gifts with in-laws unless I’m visiting over the holidays (which has happened twice in 15+ years). Even then, a small inexpensive family gift is fine with them.

    I spend the most on kids in the family and my own parents ($100+ for xmas, $150+ for birthdays).

  16. Bonnie permalink
    November 6, 2009 12:23 pm

    I spend about $150 to $200 for BF; around $75/$100 each for mom, dad, and bro (although lately less for Dad since he gets upset if he can tell how much I spent). I spend $25 or less each for grandma and aunt (what they love as gifts are cheap things, like calendars). I also buy gifts for a handful of my closest friends and for my brother’s live-in girlfriend. I spend about $50 each, give or take, on those friends. I’m also a big card-sender and probably send Christmas cards to about 50 people each year! So, I spend a bit on holiday stamps and the like. 🙂 I agree with other commenters that money spent on gifts is money well spent. I never feel guilty about it the way I would if I were buying things for myself.

  17. November 6, 2009 12:52 pm

    I think your budget is perfectly inline. As a culture I think we spend too much on gifts. $50 each is pretty much my budget, otherwise if can get out of control!

    Of course there are exceptions, my mom just had a huge birthday so we chipped in and bought her an imac.

  18. November 6, 2009 12:56 pm

    It isn’t that I feel guilty about it. I especially created a gift fund so it doesn’t affect my budget in any particular month and buying a present doesn’t mean $50 less for me to live on that month. It sort of separates gift money into it’s own world — it isn’t coutned in my net worth, it is treated as already spent.

    I spend according to what is expected and what I expect others to spend, and try to fall in the norm. Not because I’m trying to save money. It just seems appropriate. I never even thought about it that much — until I was just called “quite frugal” when it comes to gifts! To me, that seems to be saying “not generous” or “stingy” (I know you didn’t mean it as an insult!) which was surprising.

    I could have added another question. What I’m really interested in is WHY people choose certain amounts. Is it due to your budget, or family/friend norms, or some other reason?

    Perhaps I’ll post a follow up later. Or someone else can beat me to it!

  19. November 6, 2009 1:27 pm

    The unspoken rule is that you don’t HAVE to get gifts for others until you’re married. For family, only buy if I’m going to be with them over the holidays, and I don’t spend much at all. The exception is usually our moms (bf and I) and we try to get them something nice.

    Obviously boyfriend and I exchange gifts- the amount we spend depends on how we are doing financially. One year I got a Louis Vuitton purse and a diamond necklace. The next I got a KitchenAid stand mixer, the next I might get a small gift. Some years we can’t afford to buy each other anything (boo!), so we’ll go out to dinner instead. All that matters to us is that we’re together.

  20. November 6, 2009 9:01 pm

    Hmmm, I feel a little better having read this. Frankly, I think Tim and I spend a little too much on gifts. This year, part of me wanted to set the bar at $50. But that wasn’t realistic, the way my husband shops.

    He doesn’t really plan. He just waits until an idea strikes OR he wanders until he sees what he thinks is the right thing. (This year, I gave him a few more guidelines to help pare down/choose things I’ll use: no more stuffed animals, no clothing unless I specify it, and please choose things I can use more than once. Those funny books like “Porn for women” are very cute but really, what do you do after you’ve read it?)

    Anyway, it’s a slow process, getting him to consider the price tag along with the gift. So I’m giving him a little room. It helps, too, that rewards programs mean I can pay for all of his stuff without spending a dime. That allowed me to give him an extra $50 to spend on me (plus a few leftover rewards I’ll have). We’re still trying to keep it simple beyond that though. So no presents for friends (christmas cookies will have to do) and under $10 for each parent. (That sounds cheap but we’ve already found two of the three gifts for a total of $11.30.)

    So I guess a lot of what’s “OK” depends on how your family views gifts, how many people you’re generally expected to buy for, and your overall income situation. Frankly, I wish his parents wouldn’t get us anything. They can’t afford it. But they will, so I’ll just have to accept gracious.

    Getting back to my original point (and I did have one), I think that $50 is perfectly acceptable for the most part. I’ve always considered $50 the outside limit of any one gift I’d get someone. When I had a significant other and, now that I am married, I spend more on that one person. But I otherwise think that $30-50 is fair.

    As for your sisters, I’d worry less about the comparative costs and more about finding something you know they want/like. If you find something that makes them happy, who cares if it’s only $20?

    In my opinion, anyone who isn’t happy with a present because it didn’t cost enough, really doesn’t deserve to get any more presents. That said, if you find something you think they would really love and it’s twice as much as what they usually spend, talk to your parents and see if they think it would cause anyone to be uncomfortable. If there is any discomfort when they get it, you can always cheerfully lie and say you got it on sale. Or say, “Yeah it’s a little more than I usually spend, but it was just so perfect for you, I had to get it. I’ll keep it more in proportion next time. For now, please just enjoy your gift. I know I’ll enjoy the (insert gift here) you got me!”

  21. SP permalink*
    November 6, 2009 9:25 pm

    @Abigail – thanks for your thoughtful comment — I view things similarly. If i found something perfect, I’d just buy it. But I have a target range (like, am I at nordstroms or more like target, or somewhere in the middle!) and I really didn’t choose my ranges out of frugality. Frankly, I could certainly afford to spend more. It just isn’t something that would really cause much more joy than what I usually give.

    But it gives me some food for thought. Obviously there isn’t a single correct answer

  22. November 8, 2009 9:28 pm

    Hmmm. My dad and I don’t like Chirstmas that much so for the past three years since I’ve moved out we haven’t exchanged gifts and I don’t think we’ll do it necessarily this year but you never know. Rambo and I spend between 100-150 on each other for Chirstmas and we both particiapate in a name drawing for his family. The rule is not to spend more than 100 on that person. And we buy gifts for his neices and nephew but we try not to spend more than 25 per child. My friends and I don’t buy for each other citing we’re broke reasons but we do give out Chirstmas cards and spend time with each other. 🙂

  23. November 11, 2009 7:40 am

    I usually spend around a grand on christmas including decorations, food, entertaining and presents. I probably spend $700-$800 of that just on gifts, we put off buying many things during the year and simply add them on our christmas wish list. So my gift total may seem high, but it represents lower spending during the rest of the year. I spend around $150 on each parent, $250 on Mr M and $100 on the dogs! Then the rest on friends and other family members.

  24. Alicia permalink
    November 13, 2009 10:09 am

    Mine is easy. There are no kids in the family so I spent $100 on my two close adult relative for their birthdays (one is near Christmas) and $150-200 on Christmas. I usually get them something they wouldn’t spent money on: really nice coat, something electronic, etc. Since I am not dating, I factor no significant other into my gift giving, hopefully that will change next year 🙂 I think $100 per significant other is good. Weddings are $100, showers, etc $50 unless really close to the person than I spent a little more. I love giving gifts but friends and I do not exchange gifts for birthdays, we take each other out for dinner as a group instead. I can see where gift giving can get extreme. It all depends on the family. Since I have a small one, we can afford to get each other one or two really nice gifts, as opposed to smaller ones. Your budget seems fine for your situation. It is not the gift that counts but the thought you put into it.

  25. November 14, 2009 11:11 pm

    Hi, just stumbled onto your blog. =)

    This year I’m trying to really par down the Christmas spending. I think I went really overboard last year and am trying to stick to a budget this year.

    My husband and I aren’t exchanging gifts we’re going to Mexico in early December as a wedding anniversary/Christmas/Belated Honeymoon thing. But if you count that its $2K+ so let’s not count it!

    I’m hoping to spend only a $100 on my three year old, which will be difficult since I tend to want to buy him everything.

    $50 on both my parents.
    $20 on his parents (they’re not big gift givers)
    $20 on his sister
    $10 on a co-worker with whom I always exchange something small.

    And that’s it! (I hope!)

  26. November 24, 2009 4:11 pm

    In the past, my list included 20+ people. My mum’s side is rather close and we would all exchange gifts. That was a nightmare because no one had the money to gift to that many people. I tried to keep it to $10 max (preferably $5) per person which I supplemented with my crafting skills. Most people gifted more in the $20-30 range. I usually spent a little more on my grandparents, about $50 each on my mum and brother and whatever I could afford after that on my fiance, usually $100. Oh, and I put $100 into my nephew’s 529 plan for all gift giving occasions. Prior to my nephew showing up, I tried to keep everything as close to $500 as I could.

    Last year a small group of us staged a revolt and converted the whole deal into a name exchange. This will be year two and hopefully it will continue to be a success. With the couple of people out of work, I’m sure it’s appreciated! As a result, I have only 4 gifts to give this year. It’s very nice. I decided to keep that random $500 number going. Here’s how it worked out for me:
    Fiance – up to $250 (only spent $120)
    I have to buy for two people on my mum’s side (one from me, one from my fiance) – up to $75 each ($65 and $30 respectively)
    Nephew – $100 again.

    The really great thing is that I’m SO much less stressed and actually enjoying the holiday and gift giving. Before I had to figure out something that was cheap and easy and quick and I could give to everyone. This year I was able to pick out a couple of things that are really perfect for people. It’s nice to come in under budget and still be really excited about the gifts I’m giving.

  27. Vixie permalink
    November 28, 2009 9:21 pm

    If your other relatives cant afford to give expensive gifts, then you should not give them expensive gifts. Doing so can make them feel obligated to spend more on you than they can afford. We do secret santa in our family. We each pull a name out of a hat and only purchase a gift for that person. The price limit is $50. Personally, i would rather have one $50 gift than ten $10 gifts.

    I think its ok to purchase additional gifts for young children. Just be sure not to spend anywhere near what their parents have spent on them. Theres nothing more tacky then outspending a parent on xmass.

    That said, I will purchase my mother pricey gifts, I’ve spent upward of $2000 on my mother, but I always give her the item in private. I dont think there are any limits on how much you should give a parent. Giving my mother nice gifts is such a pleasure for me. My father passed away when i was broke and in college. I often wished I could have spoiled him more.

  28. Amy permalink
    December 25, 2009 9:28 pm

    I’m a college student, so typically I keep myself to a budget of $50 for my mom and dad, and $30 – $40 for my bro and sis, and $30 for my nice and nephew ($30 total for all gifts between them). A couple times my dad has gotten upset because I got a gift he thought I spent a lot on (he’ll think I spent WAAAAAAAAY more than I did when in actuallity I found a good deal and didn’t even reach my $50 budget). I’ve always been torn between assuring him what I got didn’t cost that much, and just letting him be upset for a day or two (he gets over it quickly).

  29. June 26, 2010 9:10 am

    Last year, I began falling out of the Christmas craze. I mean, I love the holidays, but we spend so much money on presents when we could donate all of that money to a good cause and help people a lot less fortunate than we are.

    Anyway, last year, I spent $15 on an actual gift for my parents (I found a picture from their wedding that we all thought was ruined, blew it up and put it in a frame.) and donated $50 to a charity in their names. But my husband and I went way overboard. I spent $336, though our original budget was $150. That year was our first real Christmas in the apartment together, so I think it was worth it.

    Next year, I hope we can reign things in a little. I have plans to spend about $150 on my mother (she desperately needs a Sex and the City box set), and I’ll need to spend roughly the same on my dad, though I’m considering just splitting the cost between the three of us (me, Mr. Red and Dad). $50 is a nice amount to spend on siblings. My brothers and I haven’t exchanged gifts in years! 🙂

  30. Anonymous permalink
    December 5, 2012 9:37 pm

    oi, my gifts are usually handmade and most times, it’s something baked they have specifically asked for. but here goes just for jollies:
    my child: fresh made cookies all nicely wrapped, one toy ($5) shirt or pants ($10) and 5 books ($3-5) at garage sales

    BF: whatever he asks for: this year Citizen watch (375) it’s the only jewelry he wears
    parents: some special treat baked by me: $10
    siblings: $10 each (4 of them) $40 plus whatever baked goodies they ask for

    relatives: usually a hand made ornament or whatever they need: last yr one needed a table, I gifted them my dining table

    overall I spend about $100 for the year since I start buying the gifts at thrift shops and garage sales and stuff people leave outside

    yup you read that right, hahaha, I took home picture someone threw out because the canvas was broken and took the frame, polished it, got some glass at the junk store for $3 dollars and make a huge frame for a family portrait that otherwise would’ve cost a few hundred dollars; frugal yes, did they love it, you bet! did they know it was repurposed, yeah, but they still grinned ear to ear at not having to spend that money themselves 🙂

  31. Anonymous permalink
    December 5, 2012 9:50 pm

    @SP why do I give just these amounts? I have a set budget but I never actually spend even a quarter of what it is, I buy things my way because I know that anything we own isn’t really ours and being an ecomonics lover 🙂 and knowing the true price and value of something I tend to look at things people don’t normally consider. Also, it’s just a nice past time for me to go hunting at the flea martkets and garage sales, even if most of the time I dont buy anything but my family is a bit weird and mostly they ask for books, experiences or something sweet baked in my kitchen since i am really good at baking. Knowing what they like helps me shop in advance and Im willing to spend up to 1k a year on gifts but I have get to go over 300 including all the extended family I have. Also, I think it’s lifestyle, they prefer to be at museums, kayaking, playing a game, doing some kind of experiment, baking, debating or sight seeing or cycling which doesnt really cost me anything but we all get to have a good time.

  32. sarah permalink
    January 6, 2013 12:45 am

    Absolutely nothing wrong with a $50 threshold at all!! My partner and I budget for any gifts around $300 for a spouse, $100 for a parent, $80 for siblings and around $40 for grandparents, friends or friends children. This Christmas that had our total spend at just over $2,400.00! I am considering a drop in amount spent myself to be honest. My current budget is unsustainable considering my partner and I buy for a massive 24 people! I wish I could cull this number but we just can’t 😦 Before you call me crazy though – Let me tell you who they are. We have in our IMMEDIATE family 11 people to buy for, Then there are 6 grandparents, our 2 best friends, 3 godchildren and of course my partner and I buy each other a gift. Craziness right! That leaves us with a spend of just over $5,000.00 per year just on Birthday, Christmas and Easter Gifts. $50 sounds perfectly reasonable to me. I’ll have to follow your example and stick to my new budget! 🙂


  1. How much is appropriate?

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