11/29/2022 | By Amy Dickinson

When you adore your family’s holiday gift traditions but finances are tight, what can you do? Advice columnist Amy Dickinson addresses gift-giving concerns in this edition of “Ask Amy.”

Dear Amy:

I am conflicted about gift-giving this holiday season. I have traditionally bought gifts for my family (five adults and five children), my close friends and their children (they all buy me nice gifts too!).

I used to enjoy this, but now it just seems dauntingly expensive. I am 62 and still working, but this year I have no real disposable income.

I mentioned to my mother that I kind of wanted to opt out of the gift-giving this year due to finances, and she said, “Why don’t you then? Just tell everyone in the family that you don’t want to exchange gifts this year.”

The thing is, I am embarrassed to do that. It is hard for me to imagine being with my family on Christmas morning with everyone else giving gifts. I feel like it would be awkward or I will end up just feeling very depressed. I can’t skip the event because I take my parents (they are 89 and 90) and besides, I love my family and want to be with them.

I am an artist, and one Christmas a few years back, I had a similar situation with finances and I made everyone drawings. I don’t feel like I can do that again, and I haven’t thought of anything else to make them (at least not yet).

I kind of wish our family would do that thing where we exchange names, and just buy one person a nice gift. But I don’t want to change the culture of the family, for my own selfish reasons.

Any suggestions?

Feeling Scroogey

Dear Scroogey:

In many families, there’s a holiday inflection point where the adults look around their crowded houses and say, “Enough.” My family dealt with this for years by drawing names at Thanksgiving. We then transitioned into giving to charities matching the recipient to a suitable cause – only giving material gifts to the children. I’m with your mother regarding letting yourself off the hook entirely, but I also understand that this might not make the giving season satisfying for you.

Christmas art project, with scissors and felt and string, and two finished ornaments. Image by Zoia Lukianova. For article on gift-giving concerns

You’re lucky! You’re an artist. You seem to think that because you gave drawings one time, you can’t do it again. I strongly disagree!

My great-uncle – also an artist – created a unique Christmas card every year, made prints, and signed and personally inscribed them to the recipient. Almost 100 years later, these treasures are collectors’ items and prized within the family.

You could do something similar – keep the piece small, modest, and unframed – and give one to each family, inscribed for them. The recipient could choose to frame the piece, tape it to the fridge, or stick it in an album. You could give art supplies to the children on your list.

Your annual gift to friends and family could be a treasure that would outlast any fancy gift you could purchase.

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers – ranging from gift-giving concerns to grandparenting to DNA surprises. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068.

© 2022 by Amy Dickinson

Click here to read more Ask Amy columns curated for a baby boomer audience.

Amy Dickinson