Presents: when others don’t co-operate

Presents is one of those practices that fit the saying “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” People used to love receiving presents. Remember The Sound of Music song about brown paper packages tied up in strings? But now it is a common problem for parents in developed countries.

  • Twitter

If we allow people to bring presents to a birthday party, we have to deal with the storage and environmental problems of receiving too many presents (damned if we do). If we tell people not to bring presents to a birthday party, the guests feel awkward for not bringing something to a party (because society has come to expect people to bring presents to parties). We also deprive the birthday child of the joys of opening up presents (damned if we don’t).

Having a plan is not a bad thing

In fact, it’s usually a good thing. I recently saw this quote and I really liked it:

dream written down with a date becomes a goal.

A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan.

plan backed by action becomes reality.

So having a plan is a good thing because a plan is what makes dreams come true. The problem with plans, however, is that sometimes they can be sabotaged. This is certainly true when it comes to our plans for presents.

Plans to cultivate good money habits in children

Teaching children to cultivate good money habits is a noble goal to pursue. We also have plans to reach that goal. Here are some common no-more-spending plans:

  1. Birthday presents – it is time spent with family and friends that are important.
  2. Christmas presents – it is time spent with family and friends that are important.
  3. New clothes – there are plenty of second-hand clothing stores to buy clothes we need.
  4. Junk food – before there was junk, people still survived.
  5. Toys – a cardboard box with bits and pieces can do wonders for children creativity.
More often than not, things go to plan. We feel accomplished, positive and progressive. Maybe even just a little smug. As all parents of young children will know, as soon as we figure out a plan involving kids’ things, things inevitably change. So our plans to teach the children about spending money wisely can be sabotaged by family, friends, complete strangers and even ourselves when it comes to presents.

Family members don’t co-operate on presents

Many parents have been in this situation. While we strive to teach our children not to spend money on unnecessary things – birthday presents, Christmas presents, new clothes, junk food or toys – family members will see it fit to act contrary to our teachings.

Aunties and uncles

For most families, aunties and uncles are people we have grown up with and who love us dearly as a brother or a sister (whose love is reciprocated, of course). Our kids look forward to their visits because they often …. wait for it …. bring toys and other presents! This is especially true for aunties and uncles with high disposable income and does not have children of their own. And this happens all the time for celebrations involving family gatherings – birthdays and Christmases.


Where would our sanity be without grandparents! For most families, these are people who have parented us, nurtured us and brought us up with our own set of values, attitudes and beliefs. They love us unconditionally and offer their time to help us with our own family needs.

Our kids look forward to their visits because they are kind, gentle, patient and very generous with their time and …. wait for it …. presents! And it’s not confined only to celebrations. Every time they visit, grandparents ALWAYS bring presents. They also always buy treats for the grandchildren – ice-cream, milkshakes, cookies, muffins, etc.

Friends don’t co-operate on presents

I’m referring to the children’s friends (although our own friends can easily fall into this category too). When the children decide to celebrate their birthdays with a party, parents tend to break out in sweat at the thought of the sheer number of presents that will begin to flow into the home from guests. For those of us with more than one child, the influx of presents into the home with each child’s birthday party can be quite overwhelming. Limiting the number of guests is not really the solution because every guest will still bring at least one present. We know birthday parties aren’t about the number of presents our children gets. It’s about sharing the special day with their friends.  But yet when we tell people not to bring gifts, they don’t seem to listen!

We don’t co-operate with ourselves on presents

Yep, that’s me. And you. The parents. You might be asking, ‘Why on Earth would we not want to co-operate with our own plans?’ Well, here are some of the reasons why I’ve sabotaged my own plans on presents:

  • I simply don’t feel like teaching them any money lessons
  • I want to be the person to give my own kids special treats – why do other people always get to be the good guys?
  • I’m simply fed up with all this righteousness stuff. I want to get off my high horse and be irresponsible once in a while, be the one to lavish my kids with presents, treats and junk. To spend unwisely without a care in the world.

What do we do when others won’t co-operate?

Here are a few options:
  • Educate others.

Tell family, friends and remind ourselves not to indulge in material possessions for the children. Instead, offer an alternative. But before you can offer an alternative, you need to work out what bothers you about the influx of presents. Because your suggestions must be a win-win for you and the other person. Is it the storage problem? Is it the environmental impact of buying (and therefore the production of) new things?

The problem guests have with our requests not to bring a gift is that they feel awkward turning up empty-handed. Some guests may feel awkward or embarrassed by their gift when compared to gifts that other people bring. There are solutions to fix these problems easily.

For guests who feel awkward coming empty handed, make a list of other presents that they can bring:

  • A gift voucher to the local cafe that the child can use as a special treat. This not only supports local businesses in your area, your child also get to know more people in the neighbourhood.
  • An outing – movie tickets, zoo tickets, amusement park. You can suggest outings to your child’s favourite place or better still, ask the gift giver for a list of their children’s favourite places to visit. That list alone is a present.
  • Food – special treats, favourite biscuits, etc. You can suggest snacks that you only give to your child as a treat (for example, their favourite but unhealthy cereal). Or you can ask the gift giver to give their child’s favourite snacks and treats.
  • Second-hand items – if you have a child who loves reading, ask guests to gift their child’s favourite book that they no longer read from their own collection. Young children will often be more eager to read the books that are their friend’s favourite books. You could do the same with toys – ask the gift giver to gift their child’s favourite toy that they no longer play with.
  • Be grateful and pay it forward.

If we are fortunate enough to have generous family and friends, teach the children and remind ourselves to be grateful for such generosity. Many people in other parts of the world do not have this luxury. But what do we do with this influx of material goods?

  1. We can keep what we need now and will need in the future. Allow the children to choose one present to use now. Keep some away to bring out in a few months time as a Christmas present. Do the same with clothes – if the children don’t need any more clothes, for now, keep it in storage for the younger siblings to use.
  2. We can pay it forward – donate it to those who need it. Some of us may re-gift – there is nothing wrong with regifting if it is what the recipient wants and we don’t need. Some of us may sell the presents and donate the money to charity. Again, nothing wrong with selling the present if it’s something other people want and we don’t need. This won’t solve your angst about the environmental impact of producing more stuff, but it will solve your storage problem.
  • Do nothing.

It is a fact of life that things don’t always go to plan. Deal with this interrupted plan as you would any other plans. Getting annoyed or angry about it isn’t going to help. Complaining about it will only make things worse for yourself. You’ve just become a negative person. Accept that this is one plan that will not always go according to plan. In fact, just prepare yourself that this is one plan that will CONSTANTLY be interrupted and just embrace all the stuff that comes in.

  • Do a combination of all 3.

Be sure to have money conversations with the children about what you do with the presents dilemma.

What other strategies do you use when dealing with this problem?