Gift giving is a wonderful and generous gesture that is often as enjoyable for the giver as the receiver. Who doesn’t love to receive a gift? Sometimes, though, it may not be the correct size, preferred color, etc. Fortunately, most businesses offer a simple solution: gift receipts.
The Story: During the Cinderella Slipper era, a longtime girlfriend wanted to get me a nice gift. I had been in search of the perfect watch for quite some time; so it was only natural when she honed in on a timepiece.
Buying things can be especially challenging for me; not only because it has to be a good value, but also because I am extremely particular.
Upon returning from a trip to East Asia, my girlfriend eagerly presented me with a gift. With nervous anticipation, I slowly unpacked the box only to find a counterfeit Rolex watch staring back at me. What happened next, however, had nothing to do with the authenticity of the watch.
Sometimes I’m able to channel a successful political figure and diplomatically handle a delicate situation, like this one. For some reason, though, in this moment I was unable to disguise my disappointment and revealed my genuine reaction.
As my nonverbal feedback was received, the situation escalated. Suddenly I was transformed in her eyes into the ungrateful boyfriend – an evil monster. Every effort to objectively justify my position only served to dig a deeper hole.
I tried to reason with her, explaining that I have a relatively slender frame with proportionately small wrists. The fake Rolex had a very large, overpowering face that looked ridiculous on my wrist. Furthermore, I had a healthy amount of arm hair, and the steel watchband-links pulled at the hair, like a vicious epilator.
She offered a solution to everything I threw at her. “Just shave your wrist,” she hollered. She wasn’t being flippant either.
The Breakdown: There are so many lessons here. Unlike a gift from a local retail store or reputable online business, a counterfeit Rolex can’t be returned to an overseas, back-alley street vendor. Even though the watch was a knockoff, it was apparently of the high-quality variety, and on the more expensive side. The fatal flaw in the counterfeit Rolex gift strategy: buying an expensive item for somebody else that could not be returned.
The focus of this lesson, however, is a little less direct: budgets. In our household, we create a budget for almost every line item, including gifts. While the amount is not consistent from month to month, we set aside a number that we’re generally comfortable spending over the course of the year. Should we be invited to a wedding or event we didn’t anticipate; we reforecast, adjusting the budget accordingly and responsibly.
It’s easy to go overboard when gift giving because so many competing considerations and emotions are at play. You don’t want to be perceived as cheap. You want to thrill somebody with an amazing surprise. You want to be the generous Aunt or Uncle.
Many years ago, two recently engaged friends bought Christmas gifts for one another. Ironically, they bought each other watches. Instead of knockoff Rolex’s, though, they each purchased $1,000 Movado watches. After the excitement of the gifts subsided, the foolishness of what they had each spent set in. Ultimately, they exchanged both watches for something more aligned with their finances. While this was the prudent thing to do, it would have been much better if a reasonable budget had been established to begin with.
Without a budget, especially for gifts, it’s too easy to fall into this kind of trap. We get caught up in the moment and lose our ability to think rationally. A budget forces us to think through beforehand how we wish to distribute our limited gift allocation for birthdays, holidays, events, etc.
While it may not be as much fun or spontaneous, setting a budget will help keep you on financial course. Also, it might help prevent that awkward request to shave a body part to accommodate the gift.