How to Accept an Expensive Gift Without Biting Someone’s Head Off

by Lindy on August 8, 2011

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(HOW <— we’re starting a bunch of posts with this word to celebrate the launch of our tutorials page.)

A Christmas story, in August.

Last year, a few weeks before Christmas, A-Rob and I were sitting at the kitchen table eating our dinner. The kids, having already picked at at their plates and abandoned us, were off in the distance causing a raucous of one sort or another. A-Rob turned to me and asked, “would you be mad at me if I got you a big present this year?”

Normally, we don’t get each other presents for Christmas, or even birthdays for that matter. Maybe something small if one of us gets inspired, but since we share a bank account and our money seems to always be going to something else, we don’t worry too much about it.

“Ummm, I guess I wouldn’t mind,” I replied, thinking, would I mind? I think I might mind. We’re throwing all our extra money towards our debt right now. Him getting me a big gift would mean less money for the credit card bill. (Plus, I haven’t gotten anything for him.)

A-Rob and I have been married for 8 years now, which means I can pretty much read his mind. When he warned me of his “big present,” I immediately had a few ideas of what it might be.

Actually, I knew exactly what it would be.

You see, I have this netbook computer that I’m not too fond of. I got it a few years ago because it was cheap, and I wanted something simple for writing and internet surfing. But the netbook I purchased came with a lot of frustration. It was slow and buggy and clunky, and the screen was so small it made simple navigation really complicated. It got the job done, but I did my fair share of whining about it.

Then Apple released the iPad, and a little bit of drool started seeping out of the corner of my mouth. A-Rob and I used to kid each other about getting one. Like, “hey, pass the salt and buy me an iPad.”

But I knew having an iPad wasn’t even an option while we were working on paying down debt. It would be silly to own one right now. No, not silly, ludicrous. Then A-Rob starting asking me hypothetical questions, like “if you had an iPad, would you want the one with 3G?”

I bet you can tell where this is going…

Sure enough, as Christmas morning arrived, and A-Rob brought out that flat, rectangular box all wrapped up, my suspicions were confirmed.

He bought me a frickin’ iPad.

A lot of emotions hit me that day as I realized the gravity of this situation. First, I felt a little misunderstood. Doesn’t he know I’d be much happier if that $499 went to the credit card instead of to buying me this sexy gadget?

Then there was denial, evidenced by the fact that I didn’t open the box for two days.

Followed by embarrassment – will I get booed out of the personal finance world for having a $499 toy while blogging about paying off debt?

As the days followed I continued to exist in a state of emotional confusion over this gift.  A-Rob, most likely sensing my tension, helped me see the big picture. He told me how excited he was to buy the iPad, how he’d been saving all of his gig money for the last several months for it. He told me he just wanted me to have a good piece of equipment that served my purposes well. He heard my grumblings and wanted to get me something to make me happy.

I’ll repeat that: He wanted to make me happy.

Eventually it hit me. I was being a super fool. Here, I had someone in my life who had given me an awesome gift – one that he saved for and bought with his hard-earned money, one that addressed my needs and my happiness, and I was angry at him for this?

And who am I to begrudge him the joy of giving it to me?

They say that opposites attract. That’s certainly the case with A-Rob and me. I’m a saver, I’ve been one as long as I can remember. And guess what, he’s a spender.

Yes, this caused much tension in the early years of our marriage.

But as time has progressed, I’ve slowly nudged him towards thinking more about what he buys, and saving for the future instead of spending on stuff for instant gratification.

He’s nudged me in a few ways too. He’s the one who suggests we go out for ice cream on the occasional weeknight. And though he’s often met with my protests, I occasionally give in. Without him, our kids would be in danger of a serious lack of fun (and ice cream) if it were all up to me. He reminds me to loosen up and live a little – even if that means spending money.

His spendy ways balance out my thrifty ones, and vice versa. Ultimately we’re turning each other into better humans by embracing our differences.

When I find myself getting frustrated about his spending, I try to remember this fact.

So, now I’m typing on my fancy gadget, and I’m no longer complaining. And since I no longer needed my netbook, I sold it to eBay instant sale for $63.

Would you be mad if you received an expensive gift? Are you in a spender/saver relationship too?  How do you manage it?

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  • This is one of the reasons DH has an allowance– gifts mean a lot more when they’re paid for out of his money instead of our money.

  • Kim

    Ah, this is me; hubby says he wants to buy me a Nook for Christmas. Sweet, but you know what comes to mind, besides the obvious fact that it’s $150ish out of the bank account? I’ll have to BUY books (we typically use the library)! Like you, he’s a spender, and I’m a saver. He pointed out that I can also download books from the library. But STILL! I’m glad he gave me 6 months to mentally prepare for it.

    • LOL good point about still needing to buy books for the Nook. Talk about spending money to.. spend more money? :)

    • Lindy

      Mental preparation is a good thing when it comes to receiving expensive gifts. As far as spending on extras – I’m with you on that one too. I had to buy a case and a keyboard for the iPad. But it was worth it in the end.

  • Oh, this is totally me, too. We’ve found a good middle ground. But thank goodness he’s not like me. We’d never have any fun.

  • This is a great post, Lindy! I can be such a tool sometimes when it comes to accepting nice, expensive gifts. I don’t even know why. I don’t know that I get mad really, but sometimes it makes me feel kind of unworthy, or embarrassed to be spoiled that way. And that’s silly, of course!

    Sidenote: I totally have an iPad, too (bought it myself, though; not a gift) and it is AWESOME. Hope you’re getting a lot of use out of yours, too.

    • Lindy

      I’m LOVING it now. So far it has entertained my kids on two airplane flights and two 6 hour car rides. I use the iWrite app for writing, and the best thing is curling up in my bedroom and watching Netflix from it. I’m in love. And it really is much more functional and efficient than my last hunk of junk.

  • your relationship sounds exactly like me and my husband, but we’re still at the beginning of our marriage, so we’re constantly working out the quirks. he is definitely an instant gratification kinda spender and it drives me nuts! for the most part though, he’s improved SO much over the past year and he knows how important it is to me to pay off our debt. I can’t wait until he gets a full-time firefighter job so we can really pay off our debt for good!

  • I can’t say that I’ve ever suffered from this. I think I go immediately to “Oh well, what’s done is done. Yay!!” If he paid cash for it (which I know he did) then oh well. Nothing to be upset over.

    • Lindy

      That sounds like the best way to handle pricey gifts. I’ll aim for that reaction next time. :)

  • I feel you! Once I almost got mad at a boyfriend for spending money on flowers for gosh sakes. Then I counted to ten and realized what it meant and the thought behind it.

    I’m glad your hubby saved up for it, though — your saver ways are rubbing off on him. You’ve got a keeper!

    • Lindy

      Yeah, I’ll hang onto him. I may or may not have been the same way about flowers in the past too.

  • Quit writing about my life experiences!

    I am getting better though. I used to take it so personally, like his gift giving was an attack on my priorities, but your right and they’re right to give if it makes them happy too. I am learning.

  • Great story. I think it’s good that you came around to seeing his intent was to make you happy. At the end of the day, having someone who cares that much is priceless. You seem diligent in paying down debt and responsible, so accepting a gift from his hard-earned savings is a good thing. Seems like a good guy, many wouldn’t think of doing something like that or would hate doing so – even if they’re great guys otherwise.

  • Nope, I won’t be… Go ahead & buy me something grand. I won’t mind… Promise!! ;)

    My husband is the KING of extravagant gifts…. In the last 2 years 3 BIG gifts have been a Dyson Ball Vacuum I’ve been coveting over for years…. A top of the line KitchenAid Mixer, & a Vitamix with the extra grain container/cookbooks. All big ticket items that I’d NEVER buy for myself! So, I’ve gotten used to being spoiled… ;)

    • Lindy

      Hmmm, get used to being spoiled, there may be something to that.

  • Yes, definitely in a spender/saver relationship!

    Presents used to be important to me (back when I was younger and expected to be treated like a princess). Now I’d rather be cooked and cleaned for :P

    There’s not much I want these days and given how much T makes I’d feel guilty – and annoyed – if he bought me something extravagant. When we first got together I mentioned I’d love a new phone, and he replaced my cellphone for my birthday. I felt pretty bummed later on when he told me it marked the last of his army money.

  • Great Post. I have the same struggle, even with little things. Recently my husband brought home flowers. Normally I rant and rave about how better our money can be spent than on something that will be in the trash in a few days. When he walked through the door my 4 year old daughter smiled real big and said, “Thank you daddy! They are so beautiful. I love you too.” I was humbled by her gratitude for flowers that were meant for me! It was his way of expressing his love. I’m trying to change my heart to be thankful for his thoughts. After all it is not like he went out and bought a new car ;)

  • Margie

    Oh wow, we’re opposites too, only I’m the reformed spend-thrift and DH is the slightly-reformed frugal one. I’ve managed to pay down a fair chunk of my debt and he is happy for us to go and buy dinner every Friday night. :)

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  • Well, even though my husband and I are both frugal, I’m typically more frugal than he is on some stuff. We just bought a bedroom set that I’ve been avoiding. He’s wanted a set that matched for at least 5 years and we’ve been together for 15. We went furniture shopping and he declared all the stuff at the chain stores as “garbage” and I was like “uh, oh”. Finally, I found a gorgeous drexel heritage set that was like new on craigslist that was the same price as those crappy stapled together sets they make these days at the cheap stores. It was the perfect compromise.

    I also have a problem accepting praise but I’m working on it.

  • CW

    I totally understand the frustration. I am the saver, but my hubby is doing tons better.

    Good lesson to learn to not get mad though.

  • Thank you for this post. It is interesting to know that i am not the only one that has issues with receiving expensive gifts from a loved one. I find myself saying no to a lot of things because i keep thinking that we could save that money for something else. I think my boyfriend and i balance each other and although it is taking me time to accept his gifts as his show of love for me, i am working on it. I know that he is also working and trying to figure out ways in which we can save.

    Thanks again.

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