At the time, we were on a very tight budget; I was making very little my first year working full-time, my husband was a graduate student, and I had student loan payments and credit card bills from just finishing grad school. We had carefully planned our Christmas and planned to give my mom and brother a combination of store bought items we had found on sale and items we had made by hand, such as a homemade flannel nightgown for my mom.
Ever since I was little, my mom liked to have all the presents even. If her budget was $125 for my brother and $125 for me, it didn’t matter to her that she spent the same amount, she also wanted the number of presents to be the same. So if I got one big, expensive gift, she gave me several smaller gifts so they would equal the same amount of gifts my brother got.
When we came home, the tree was laden with gifts, and she delighted in showing us just how many presents she had for my husband and me. While she was excited, we were dismayed. She had clearly bought MANY more presents for us than we had for her. December 23rd found us out in a cold, snowy night shopping for more presents for her, even though we did not have the money in the budget. We bought her multiple sets of brand new towels and bed linens.
On Christmas morning, my husband and I each got a large, expensive gift. As we opened the other packages, we discovered that SHE had stuck to her budget financially. But because she had wanted the number of presents for everyone to be even, she had bought up tee shirts from work that were left over from academic conferences past. We each got about 5 presents that were these tee shirts; they cost her $1 each.
When I realized what she had done, I was heart sick about the money we had spent unnecessarily when we bought additional presents, not to keep up with the Jones’, but to keep up with my mother!! She had a great Christmas and truly needed and enjoyed the towels, but a large portion of the day was ruined for me as I thought about the debt we had incurred.
In January when we got our credit card bill, my heart dropped. We did not have money to pay it off. We worked like crazy to raise extra money to pay off those unnecessary gifts; it took us until April to finally pay them off.
It was an important lesson to learn early in our marriage. Now we have a budget and stick to it, confident in our gift choices, even if the number of packages under the tree is not exactly the same for each person.