Monday, February 1, 2010

Simple and Inexpensive Gifts are Often the Best

Our first Valentine’s Day together, my husband was clearly nervous about what he had gotten me. So as to lessen any discomfort he might be feeling, I announced that as long as he hadn’t bought me teal-green pajama pants, there would be no problem. He must have been dying inside. When I tore away the paper and pulled back a layer of tissue paper, I saw a pair of teal-green pajama pants with a coordinating tank top. (What are the chances, right?)

Needless to say, it was an awkward moment. What made matters even worse is that he told me how much he had spent on the pajama set. I had already said that the gift was precisely what I didn’t want, and for two kids still in college, $60 wasn’t exactly pocket change. It seemed then that the sensible thing to do was to return the gift.

Amazingly, our marriage survived, and we were able to laugh about what had happened. For all its awkwardness, the situation gave us an opportunity to discuss how we would handle gift-giving in the future. We agreed that we didn’t want to exchange gifts out of compulsion and that we would never go into debt to give a gift, no mattered how coveted the item.

Over the years, this has meant that we sometimes haven’t exchanged gifts, even on birthdays and at Christmas. When we do give gifts to one another, they tend to be simple and inexpensive.

Still, it isn’t that we don’t value gifts or their power to express affection. The first spring we moved into a new house, my husband presented me with a hoe and a spade, a nod to my passion for gardening. Another year, I gave him a box of Twinkies and a paperback copy of the Iliad, because I give him a bad time about his love for those little, golden cakes and because he once told me he wanted to read more classic literature. Most recently, he gave me a copy of a CD that I had only mentioned in passing. It was a $10 gift that confirmed that he “gets me” and that he’s listening to me. It honestly made my heart skip a beat.

My sister and her husband have made gift giving into a sort of game. For years, they have been giving gifts to each other that must cost $5 or less. For Christmas this year, they upped the limit to $8. The gifts I’ve seen them exchange have been silly and creative, personal and sentimental. Not only that, but I would venture to say that these gifts have strengthened their relationship. Not a bad return on an $8 investment.

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. You (or your significant other) might not share our philosophy of non-compulsory gift giving or be able to sign onto to an $8-or-less gift exchange. But do think about giving gifts that depend more on careful thought and planning than on how much you will spend.

Carey Denman

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