Christmas Gift

How to Help Mom from Overspending

Dear Mary,

My mother is a widow who lives on a tight budget. The last few Christmases, she’s been blowing a lot of money on gifts for my husband, me and the kids. By February, she’ll usually ask me for a little help to cover her bills. I know she feels Christmas is the one time she can really spoil us, but I’m worried she may be digging herself into a money pit. What can I do? Janice, California

Christmas Gift

Dear Janice,

I think your mom and I have something in common. We are people-pleasers. It’s easy for us to go overboard trying to get approval. Take her out to lunch and tell her you understand that things are tight since your dad is gone and it makes you uncomfortable when she spends a lot on you. 

Gently turn the conversation to the coming holidays. Ask her to help you teach the kids that sometimes the best gifts aren’t wrapped up in a box. Years from now they won’t remember the gifts she gave as much as the time she spent with them. One idea might be for her to give them individual gift certificates for “My Special Day with Grandma” doing just what they love to do.

As for you and your husband, if she has a possession that you love dearly suggest she give that to you for Christmas. She’ll have many years of watching you enjoy owning something that is also precious to her.

Dear Mary,

My husband and I are about to apply for a mortgage. Although our credit is in pretty good shape, we have a lot of credit cards—a few from department stores, one for frequent flyer miles and two that we use regularly, but pay off every month. A friend recently told me that if the banks notice that you have too many cards in your name, it can hurt your chances of getting any loan. Is she right? Should I cancel those extra cards right away? Caroline, New Jersey

Dear Caroline,

Before you do anything, get your individual credit reports and credit scores. Go to and request your free credit reports—one each for you and your husband. You are entitled to a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting bureaus every year. I suggest requesting a free report every four months from one of the bureaus. By year’s end, you’ll have all three reports.

As far as getting a copy of your credit score, go to The cost to obtain a copy of your current score is $19.95. Along with your scores you’ll get an analysis and explanation of the factors affecting your scores.

Your friend is right that lots of available credit can lower your score, but having too little is not good either. But closing accounts with your creditors is not wise, as it will have a negative impact on your score. Rather, focus on getting all of your balances down to $0.

 Question: What is the best gift you ever received that wasn’t store-bought? Tell us here

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19 replies
  1. Pat
    Pat says:

    My husband and I have an adult daughter with special needs. When Mama would ask me what I might like to receive for a birthday, anniversary or Christmas I would tell her that there was nothing she could buy in a store that would be more valuable to me than her time. I would ask her to care for Jennie for a weekend so we could get away for a little R & R. Jennie doesn’t require any more care than a 5 year old. They had a very special bond so this was a gift for them as well. I also cherished the many gifts she gave me from her china cabinet and they bring back precious memories of family gatherings when she used them.

  2. GG
    GG says:

    When we were little my father bought us a reel to reel stereo tape recorder. My brother displayed real talent with that machine, making tapes of all our school concerts as well as many other things, long since forgotten. As an adult, he built a professional quality studio in his basement and continued to make recordings. Shortly before our Dad died, my brother came to visit him in the hospital, bringing a homemade CD, which he proceeded to play for all of us. From the speakers came the sound of Dad playing all of his special pieces on the piano in our living room — Roger Williams’s arrangement of “Autumn Leaves,” the special arrangement of “Witchcraft” that Cy Coleman wrote for Frank Sinatra, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and more. At the very end was a conversation between my Dad’s brother and our grandfather, both of whom had died many years before, about the old days of Grandpa’s youth in Brooklyn. In order to make that CD, my brother had combed through and re-recorded all the old tapes, most of which had become so fragile that he had to freeze them before being able to play them even one more time. My brother’s gift of happy memories so lovingly resurrected completed a circle of giving that began when Dad brought home the original tape recorder.

  3. fuskiegirl21
    fuskiegirl21 says:

    I was going to say agree with your mom ahead of time that she make each of you a home made gift (even sugar cookies) and you will do the same for her. It really helps the kids have some fun and keeps costs in check.

  4. Patti Karr
    Patti Karr says:

    When I was 10 years old, my mother made me a beautiful full length bathrobe from quilted material that was a print of white background with lavendar and purple flower bouquets. It was trimmed beautifully with lavendar braid and lavendar buttons. She also made a matching full length nightgown of the same fabric that wasn’t quilted. I felt so grownup in it! It was like…a lady’s robe…full length…a rite of passage into young womanhood. I had no idea she was sewing this…she later said it was quite a challenge to sew after I left for school, get it all put away before I came home for lunch, get it back out again for a bit more sewing, and get it all put away again before I came home from school. She made the robe in such a way the arms and seams could be let out as I continued to grow. I wore that robe until it fell apart in my high school years. I cherished it so much because of the love she put into making it and keeping it hidden and secret until Christmas morning. I will never forget it.

  5. runnermom
    runnermom says:

    My grandmother loves to bake. Every Christmas she would bake many different kinds of her special cookies and provide huge assortments of her various kinds. She would give many away as gifts as well as keep some for family get togethers. Now I am grown with children of my own and we all look forward to her cookies. After Christmas last year I told her if she ever had time, I would love to get copies of her wonderful recipes. For my birthday this year she gave me a box full of handwritten cookie recipes. I have never been so excited for a birthday gift. This Christmas my children and I plan on providing her with an assortment of cookies since it isn’t as easy for her to do the baking.

  6. js
    js says:

    I feel like this article has been written for my mother in law. However I have disliked the Christmas holiday for the 5 years thanks to my husband and his mother. A few years ago my husband loaned his mother almost $8000 without my consent. Every Christmas she has gone behind my back and has asked him if she make her repayment to us late due to Christmas. I am angry that my husband just lets her take advantage of us. My mortage, utilities, insurance, car payments etc don’t just disappear because the holidays are coming so her payment to us should not have been allowed to be made late either. So every Christmas I sit and I fume as I see her giving out expensive gifts to her 2 grandkids that she cannot afford to buy being as though she owes us a lot of money. This person has also filed bankruptcy in the past and doesn’t have a job. She lives on widow’s social security. By her not paying us back like she’s supposed to, it has caused a major financial hardship for my husband and I. My husband needs to have a “tough love” conversation with his mother. But the things that his mother does just causes arguments between me and my husband. I hope to enjoy Christmas again someday.

    • ktireland
      ktireland says:

      We have a similar situation, where my father-in-law borrowed $10,000 from my husband several years ago. It seems he doesn’t remember this, and in light of maintaining family peace and our own positive attitudes, we have actively decided to let this go. That means we have chosen to mentally approach the money as a gift to him, not expecting repayment, ever. This was really hard for me at first, but now is much better than fuming over something constantly. Bitterness is a poison, and money issues between people love to feed that poison. And who is being poisoned? Usually just yourself, but sometimes all the other people around you as well. By choosing to let this go, it may prevent this whole situation from festering and poisoning your family, which may also be why your husband hasn’t actively pursued this with his mother.

  7. kyhalstead
    kyhalstead says:

    When my son was younger I tried to get time off for work to help chaperone whenever his school had a field trip. There was one time when I absolutely could not go and it broke my heart. It was for a hike at a wilderness sanctuary and his dad went with him, but I felt so guilty and sad… Mother’s Day was about 2 weeks later and when I got up that morning he and his dad had packed a picnic and said they had a surprise. The surprise was they took me to the exact same place and “re-did” the field trip with me. To this day that is probably one of the best gifts I have ever received.

  8. debi sue
    debi sue says:

    For Caroline, credit card limits do take away from the amount of mortgage and bank will loan you. They assume you might max out all of your cards and so they credit those limits as debt. I only keep two credit cards and I was with two thousand dollars of not getting a mortgage. If I’d had a purse full of department cards I would not have got my mortgage. I am in Canada so they might do things differently in the US.

  9. debi sue
    debi sue says:

    In terms of the mom who loves to give it might help her if the family does a name draw for gifts. That way she is given one name to buy for. Being grandma she will want to treat the other children so place a limit on gifts that are other than the main one, like 10-15 dollars. The other option is also the answer to your question. My sister, last year, asked my mom for copies of her best recipes. Mom created a book of family favorites and my other sister and I am clamoring for our copies. This grandma coulld create a recipe book or an album with photos from her childhood and other older family photos to help create a heritage piece.

  10. Laura L.
    Laura L. says:

    Years ago, my grandmother gave me a quilt for Christmas her mother had made when my grandmother was a little girl. I still have the quilt and every time I look at it I think of my grandmother.

  11. Cheryl
    Cheryl says:

    Some of my favorite gifts have been: Framed pictures of my kids or grandkids, and not just the normal posed ones. Pictures of them hiking in the mountains, running triathlons, or my granddaughter playing in puddles. Or: hand made suncatchers that my daughter and grand daughter made by pressing flowers between wax paper and then putting these into colored construction paper frames cut into different shapes. So pretty hanging in my sunny kitchen window!

  12. Lauren
    Lauren says:

    Just last year I got the best Christmas gift I’ve ever received. My husband, youngest son and I were in a new home far away from family, and Christmas time was difficult. My oldest son and his fiance surprised us by arriving on our doorstep 2 days before Christmas, to spend the holidays with us! TRULY the best gift EVER (my son will have a hard time topping that one!;o)

  13. chirping
    chirping says:

    Some 20 years ago; we decided as a family that gifts were not as important as being together. Christmas is about the Birth of Christ; not the commerical retail bonaza it is today. So we do not give gifts at Christmas to extended family. It has taken the “pressure off” and the money down the drain for gifts that end up thrown in the back of the closet. The other thing I’ve done is give gifts to the homeless; provide special offerings to Angel Tree and Salvation Army. When my son was little he took great joy in giving to others; now isn’t that what Christmas is about?.

    • js
      js says:

      Dear Chirping, I really like your idea of what Christmas is about. I keep trying to convince my spouse of not doing gifts but unfortunately it has been a battle with his family.

  14. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    We’ve established the tradition that it is okay to give good, used items for gifts at Christmas and other times. A lot of times, you can give a much nicer gift (in very good condition of course) from a rummage sale, etc, then you could afford new.

  15. ran
    ran says:

    One year both my parents came down with a severe flu that kept them home-bound for the holiday shopping season. While I visited, my mother expressed how sad she was that they wouldn’t have gifts to give on Christmas morning. I mentioned the wealth of “treasures” in her attic…trunks and storage boxes full of things she stashed away from years gone by. It raised her spirits to go through the items, re-live the memories, and she chose something for each of her children. An antique doll, old needlework and doilies she or family members had made, and sketches she did in high school. My father gave each grandchild coins from his collection. It is one of my all time favorite Christmas memories and they didn’t spend anything – plus the gifts had true meaning to their recipients.

  16. 60-yr-old Granma
    60-yr-old Granma says:

    When I was in 6th grade, I mentioned one day that I wanted a basketball hoop at home. The NEXT DAY my father brought one home and installed it. Although I enjoyed the hoop as long as we lived there, the much bigger gift was that I felt “heard” for the first time! A military man who didn’t get to spend a lot of time with us, my father proved that day that I was precious to him. Gift: Listen to your children!

  17. Beck
    Beck says:

    My mother paints and my home is full of pictures she has painted that are more beautiful than a store bought print. My other favorite homemade gift was a neckwrap you can heat I use it when I get a headache or stiff neck works great!


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