How Much for Gifts?

Dear Mary,

What percentage of our monthly income should or can be allotted to Christmas gift giving? Michele, Florida

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Dear Michele,

Because gifts are a non-essential expense, I can’t give you a number. You can do this by first determining how much you intend to spend on Christmas. Let’s say it’s $600. Divide by the number of paychecks you will be getting between now and then. If it’s only a few, you’ll need to save a big chunk from each check. But if you’re thinking of Christmas 2013, you have the entire year to save. If you get paid say, twice each month, then as little as $25 from each paycheck will reach the goal of $600.

Dear Mary,

I am a long-time member of Debt-Proof Living and have been reading Everyday Cheapskate for years. You have really helped me a lot. Thanks! I have passed along everything that I could to my parents, but evidently they haven’t read a thing. My brother bailed my parents out from foreclosure and they are still so far in debt they can’t see even a glimmer of light.

Now they want to come for a visit and I want to tell them not to come because I know they can’t afford it. If you ask them if they can afford it they will tell you they can’t afford anything. They have nothing in savings and spend money (credit cards) like they have all the money in the world, trying to keep up appearances.

Should I tell them that they can’t come visit until they get back on their feet again, or just let them come and continue to flounder and get more in debt than they already are. I’ve been able to put them off for a couple of months, but I don’t know how much longer I can. I feel like I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. Debbie, Georgia

Dear Debbie,

There is a reason I have not written a book, How to Debt-Proof Your Parents. That’s because you can’t. You need to stop trying.

I understand how frustrating this situation must be for you, but there is nothing you can do about it. You cannot control your parents or make any useful demands on them. They are not under your authority.

My advice is to back off. Call and invite them to come and visit at the earliest possible time. Do everything you can to make their visit enjoyable including not talking to them about their financial situation. Let the way you live and the way you manage your finances speak louder than anything you can say.

The way your parents handle their finances is none of your business. And don’t worry. Should they die broke leaving all kinds of debt, you will not be liable for any of it, provided you have not added your name to any of their accounts.

Please, just love them and allow them to have a warm and loving relationship with you despite your differences.

QUESTION: How do you save and prepare financially for Christmas? Join conversation here


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  • Debbie Sue

    I have monthly envelopes for all my variable expenses like clothing, hair cuts, kids sports, birthdays, ferry rides, Christmas and even pedicures. I put aside $50 a month. I know that when I am prepping from Christmas, making gift lists, planning meals, cards, stamps, etc. it will all be coming from that envelope and shop accordingly. It takes a year to get up to the full level of savings but it is worth it. It helps me shop better when I know my budget. One year I fell into the trap of shopping with the credit card, telling myself I’d use the card, and then take the money out of the envelope. Well of course that didn’t happen and I overspent. This year if I’m going near shopping options the envelope has to be in the purse. It helps curtail impulse buys. I write out how much is taken out with each purchase to help me track my actual spending. Last year I was only over $10. It feels so much better to have a system.

  • Demetria

    When I get my income tax refund I put $300 in my Christmas Club for me & my 2 children. We each get $100 for Christmas.

  • Izzy

    Regarding the in-debt parents – the concern is who will be responsible if one or both parents become incapacitated. Where will the money come from for their care?

    • sadnana

      Sadly, we will all be held responsible. To qualify for assistance a recipient must first exhaust all available assets. Obviously, if one has no assets he/she will receive taxpayer-funded care from Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs. While I don’t begrudge paying for the care of those with no ability to provide for themselves I wish that more of us would save during our youth for the inevitable expenses of our elder years.

  • dmdelich

    I start right away. I work weekends where I get tips. So, after every weekend I divide my tips into their different funds. One of my funds is Christmas. I put $10. in each weekend, and $10. per paycheck. Even with occasional weekends off, I usually have an easy $550 by Christmas time without any stress.

  • joanirae

    We join a Christmas club every year. We save enough for Christmas and our home taxes that come due just about the time the club sends us our checks. They don’t pay a high interest rate, but it is better than a pass book savings acount.

  • Kerry

    We have a rule that anyone over 18 invests to a non profit of their choice for the amount they can afford. We go around the room on Christmas Day and each person tells which organization they selected and why. Then if you want to do gift giving which is optional, it has to come from a thrift shop. It keeps the costs way down and if the recipient doesn’t like or want it, they can re-donate it back to a thrift shop for someone else to purchase. It’s a win win for everyone and it is a lot of fun with some of the wacky things we come up with. Plus, no stress!