I Can't Afford to Always Attend Friend's Gift-Giving Events

By Amy Dickinson | December 20th, 2017

Advice on Holidays Image

Dear Amy: I have been friends with three women since we were 13 years old. We are all nearing 50 now.

It has always been tradition for us to get together for birthdays and Christmas, and we give gifts to one another for those occasions. In the past few years, it has been hard for me to afford the gift-giving. I’m working multiple jobs, but I am barely keeping up with my bills.

I have told them how difficult it is for me, year after year, but all they tell me is NOT to worry about giving anything. That doesn’t make me feel better. I feel very guilty. I would never feel right about attending one of our get-togethers empty-handed.

I won’t be buying gifts for anyone in my family this year. I love these ladies and enjoy their company when we get together, but I’m resenting my obligation to buy gifts for them when we only make time to see each other for these “gift grab” occasions.

Should I continue to cave, and follow the age-old pattern of giving gifts to them when I really can’t afford it?

–Feeling Hopelessly Scroogey

Dear Scroogey: You are sounding very resentful over this pattern, and yet you also report that when you have brought up your situation, all of these women tell you not to worry about bringing a gift.

Your inability to drop your feeling of being obligated seems more like a refusal at this point. These get-togethers do not sound like a “gift grab” to me, and it is unkind of you to refer to these celebrations that way.

In my family of (many) women, we have gradually stopped giving gifts for these occasions, and exchange cards instead. This practice started gradually, and now is a treasured aspect of our birthday lunches. The person being honored goes home with a stack of cards – some homemade, and some from the drugstore rack – and it is awesome.

It is time for you to be brave enough to trust these lifelong friends. What they are telling you is that your friendship is the gift they want to receive. If you give a card, it might inspire your friends to also make a transition away from material giving, but it is important that you respect their choices, too, and receive their generosity with grace and gratitude.


In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers.

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