The Fine Line Between Being Generous and An Idiot

by Nick on May 24, 2012

Hello Step Away From The Mall readers! My name is Erika, and I run the blog From Shopping to Saving where I talk about personal finance from the perspective of a 24-year-old former shopaholic. We get deep over there and talk about saving, shopping (or lack thereof), self-improvement, and more. Click at your own risk!

You know that look on a person’s face when they light up and they start hugging you and thanking you over and over again for that marvelous gift you bought them? Yeah, I live for those moments. There’s nothing better than finding the perfect gift for someone and thinking you are probably the only person that just “gets” them.

It may be because I am overly generous, or maybe it’s the competitive drive that I have to be the best at whatever I do…and apparently I have to be the best at gift-giving. I know what you’re thinking, that’s something only idiots do…and you’re right.

I literally thrive on these moments because I get so exhilarated when I am looking for gifts for people. I keep imagining the sheer happiness that the person will be feeling once they open up their gift. Sometimes there’s just something that I have to get someone, no matter the price. I’ll even resort to looking up these items online and pay for expedited shipping just to get it on time for the birthday/wedding/whatever it is I am attending. That may just be the shopaholic in me though.

I thought I was being generous but I wasn’t. It’s nice to be coined as generous, but do you want to be known as the person who always gives amazing gifts? That would be a hard reputation to keep up, especially if you can’t afford a lot of lavish gifts.

It took me awhile but I finally let go of being the best gift-giver out there. In the process, I have purchased expensive make-up for friends, a Balenciaga wallet for my boyfriend, expensive massages for my parents, and a lot of other presents that I do not even remember. If I can’t remember, how would anyone else remember? Looking back, sending some birthday cards online instead would have been just as memorable. It’s nice to give gifts, but think long and hard before sacrificing too much just to give nice gifts.

I was giving gifts that a dual-income family wouldn’t even purchase for themselves, and that’s a bit ridiculous. I have a tendency to put others before myself; so naturally, I had a problem with gift-giving. When my gift budget is the one that’s always blown each month, then there’s a problem.

Find that perfect balance between being generous and being an idiot (like me).

Some questions you may want to ask yourself when purchasing a gift:

How close am I to this person? Does this person reciprocate? Did this person help me? How will this gift make the giftee feel?

The Effects of Gift-Giving

Sometimes people will feel obligated to get you something if you get them a lavish gift. Looking back on my best friend’s wedding, I did not need to get her 3 huge gifts plus a ton of expensive items that she wanted for herself. Add baby gifts for her new baby and as a result, she ended up giving me some nice gifts herself. At the time, she was unemployed and paying a lot of money towards student loan debt (still is) and paying off the hospital stay for when she delivered her baby.

Looking back on that, I feel really bad that I put her in that situation.

Set a Generosity Budget

Since I do like to still buy gifts for others, and I have a lot of people in my life that I appreciate, I am bound to continue to purchase gifts in the future. To solve this problem, I implemented a gift fund. I try to contribute $50 each month to this fund so that I can take money out for birthdays, Christmas gifts, anniversaries, weddings, baby showers, housewarming gifts, Mother’s and Father’s day, and charity.

As long as you aren’t going into debt or giving your budget a heart attack by giving gifts, you will be a generous person, not a generous idiot 🙂 Also, it’s always the thought that counts. As many times as you’ve heard that phrase, it’s always true. I consider the best gifts the ones with the most thought, not the ones that are the most expensive. Big gifts are overrated!

What’s the most expensive gift you’ve bought someone? Do you have a gift/generosity budget?


{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Jason @ WSL May 24, 2012 at 7:52 am

We absolutely have a gift budget and it’s rather small.

We budget $40/month for gifts and that’s for all Christmas, bdays, and those sorts of things. We typically spend $40 on Christmas for each set of parents and grandparents.

If we go to a wedding we’ll typically spend $50 and depending on the baby shower we may spend $25-50.

I’m cheap…so I couldn’t really say the most expensive gift I’ve bought somebody. It was probably back when I was a spender and first started dating my wife. I bought her some pearl earning and diamond earnings. Those weren’t too cheap.


From Shopping to Saving May 24, 2012 at 10:36 am

Real pearls and real diamonds?? I like! My BF just got me my first pair of diamond earrings, and I will be wearing them forever. Jewelry is always worth it!


Sean @ One Smart Dollar May 24, 2012 at 9:25 am

We have a gift budget with our families of around $50 for siblings and $75 for parents. My wife and I will go a little higher on each other though.


Dave @ Debt Black Hole May 24, 2012 at 9:42 am

I absolutely LOVE giving people gifts, prizes, etc. Oddly, I don’t like receiving gifts.

My preference is to give people cool EXPERIENCES over stuff (likely my radio background influences this) but I find the cheapest way to do it- comp’ed tickets, free passes, etc.


From Shopping to Saving May 24, 2012 at 10:35 am

I would definitely appreciate experiences over gifts!!! Travel, concerts, amusement parks… hey, since you like giving people gifts… got any free tickets for me? 😛 Haha jk


Daisy @ Add Vodka May 24, 2012 at 9:48 am

I’ve definitely been idiotic in my generosity – I bought my boyfriend a $450+ gaming system (it came with games etc) as a surprise when we decided we were doing small gifts one year. WOops!


From Shopping to Saving May 24, 2012 at 10:33 am

Hahahah that’s so sweet!!! Did you get to play on it too? Don’t lie, it was for yourself!? Lol. If I did that, it would be because I wanted it too.


Well Heeled Blog May 24, 2012 at 10:09 am

I give the most “lavish” gifts to my parents – my gifts of choice are luxury hotel stays. That said, I try to do so prudently by saving money with credit card points or getting them on Hotwire.

The second person I give gifts to would be my fiance, but I have to admit he gives better gifts to me than I do him.


From Shopping to Saving May 24, 2012 at 10:34 am

Ah, he’s a keeper. My BF gives me very…. useful gifts. Such as an ipod case. So thoughtful of him haha.


Bridget May 24, 2012 at 10:39 am

Great post! I’m usually pretty frugal with gifts. I’ve never really gone overboard. I actually think I should be more generous… I just hate to buy people stuff. I love grabbing coffee for someone though or treating them to dinner, but I don’t do it nearly as often as I should.


From Shopping to Saving May 24, 2012 at 1:05 pm

I think I’m at the same point as you right now because I’m much more aware and frugal with my money. I like paying for people’s coffee/lunch/dinner too, especially if it’s a close friend. I think that gesture shows sincerity and true generosity!


Jordann @ My Alternate Life May 24, 2012 at 11:00 am

I’m less about giving expensive gifts and more about giving sentimental gifts. It’s easier on the wallet that’s for sure!


Emily @ evolvingPF May 24, 2012 at 11:07 am

I am NOT a gift person (giving or receiving) – I think I scored 0 in gifts on my love languages quiz. That said, we do have savings accounts for personal gifts (it is lumped in with travel, as we basically only attend weddings) and charitable gifts to which we contribute every month. We have a standard price range to give for weddings, baby showers, and Christmas so it doesn’t get out of control.


From Shopping to Saving May 24, 2012 at 1:04 pm

I like that you give charitable gifts each month, that’s something I definitely want to be able to do in the future. Personal gifts lumped with travel sounds like a good idea. I find that I never touch my travel fund because I like watching it grow. Thus I have to have a separate gift fund to pull money out of for gifts.


Modest Money May 24, 2012 at 11:43 am

I really like giving gifts and trying to make people happy, but I usually don’t go overboard. The most expensive would probably be a necklace I bought for my ex-girlfriend. That or all those damn name brand purses lol. Usually though I just try to put a lot of thought into gifts and ensure it’s something they will like.


From Shopping to Saving May 24, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Haha I can understand the girlfriend gifts. I think a lot of men go through this at first – who doesn’t like spoiling a gal? Can you buy me a purse too??? I’ll be your best friend!!


Michelle May 24, 2012 at 1:09 pm

You’re all over the blogosphere this week, Erika!! Jeff and I were just talking about this the other day; how we have big families and lots of friends, but we don’t actually have a “gift budget” for anyone. We just sort of wing it when parties and birthdays come up. This is something we definitely need to work on. Thankfully, our kids’ birthdays are spread out pretty evenly. 🙂 No…I didn’t plan it like that!


From Shopping to Saving May 24, 2012 at 6:25 pm

LOL! I know, I didn’t mean to be all over the web this week… just a coincidence that all the guest posts went up this week 🙂

I have a HUGE family too – 2 sets of parents = lots of family and cousins. Oh and also BF’s parents. It gets so overwhelming. Perhaps I felt obligated to give gifts? I used to wing it too but the gift budget actually makes me feel less “fatigued” when it comes to spending money on gifts.

That’s a good idea about having kids’ birthdays spread out evenly. I will probably try to do the math when I plan to get pregnant and aim for that! Haha


LifeInTransition May 31, 2012 at 4:30 pm

I agree that generosity sometimes becomes an image that we try to maintain.
I have a friend who seems generous since who always buys nice souvenuirs for his friends whenever he goes on vacation, always offers to pay for drinks and meals, and whenever he’s working he always gives his friends free drinks (which are subsequently subtracted from his paycheck). However, he seems to be always broke to also owes everyone money, whether its rent deposit that he split with someone, utilities, or items that he has damaged. I absolutely love my friend, but I wished he had his financial priorities straight.


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