Caroline Moss is an author and host of the podcast "Gee Thanks, Just Bought It," which helps people find the products they need to make life easier, better and more productive. Now with this column, "Asking for a Friend," she's helping people get the advice they need to make life easier, better and more productive. To submit a question, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My friends usually do a big glamorous dinner for Christmas instead of exchanging gifts, but because of the pandemic we obviously can’t do that this year. One of my friends suggested doing a gift exchange in its place and I immediately agreed. I thought she meant, like, secret Santa. No. My friend then sent out an email on our behalf to all seven of us in the friend group with rules like: Everyone is going to get a gift for everyone else, and “since we haven’t traveled or gone out to big dinners this year, we all have a bigger budget for fun gifts for everyone!”
It’s super awkward now because it looks like I came up with these rules (FWIW I thought we’d each pick one name and have a $40-50 max budget!). I don’t know how to address this with my friend because she’s super excited about it and I haven’t heard back from any of our other friends about how they feel about it. I suspect they’re all a little bewildered by it. The whole thing is stressful and I would like to have fewer things to be stressed about these days!
What do I do?
Be$$$$t Chri$tmas Ever!
Hey Be$$$$t Chri$tmas Ever!
Oh man, if that’s not a story I’ve heard a million times. Yes, this is awkward. It’s true that everyone has traveled and eaten out less in 2020, but it’s also true that people have lost their jobs or taken big pay cuts. There’s so much uncertainty about income as we go into a new year, and it’s unrealistic to expect that everyone will be able to just transfer their would-be travel budgets to lavish gifts for a handful of friends.
It may be up to you to pull your friend aside (virtually, of course!) and suggest other ways to make the gift exchange feel fun and celebratory without excluding anyone who may be in a tight financial situation. Will you look like a Grinch for doing so? I don’t know, maybe, depending on the perspective of this particular friend. But that feels more like her problem than yours.
What I don’t suggest is talking to the group about it separately from the friend who sent that email on your behalf. That feels sneaky, and like you’re going to the tail of the rattlesnake instead of the head. You can go directly to your friend and say, “I love that email you sent! I can tell you are getting super into the holiday spirit this year and I don’t blame you for that — this year has sucked. But I was thinking we would do a secret Santa instead of presents for everyone; that way we could put more focus on one particular gift.” The reasons you can give for this are vast:
- You don’t have time to shop for seven gifts in addition to the gifts you’ll need to get your family.
- You didn’t calculate the shipping funds into the cost of gift giving.
- You simply do not have the budget, regardless of how little you traveled this past year.
If your friend feels compelled to give everyone in your friend group a gift this year, that should be a decision she makes for herself and not for the rest of you. My advice? You’re right, this year has been stressful. Put your foot down on this one, stick to your guns, celebrate your friends and the holiday season in the way that works for you and your budget, and don’t lose one more wink of sleep over it.
Do you have a question for Caroline? Email us at email@example.com.