I feel cheap when my sister overspends

Your Faith
Dr. Cathleen McGreal
December, 2013

My sister spends too much on Christmas gifts for my kids – way more than I can afford to spend on hers. My kids love her gifts, but I feel cheap.

It is challenge to find Christmas presents for one of our close family friends because he has the means to make those purchases that are important to him. One year, I noticed that he had to shuffle through many keys to unlock his door. A trip to the hardware store led us to the perfect present –  plastic key covers in various colors. The cost was under $5, but, to our surprise, he said that it was one of his favorite gifts! Perhaps there is a way to reframe your own expectations toward holiday giving so that you don’t feel cheap.

What is the motivation behind your gift exchange? In economic exchanges, we look for equity. Is the house I want to buy worth the amount that the seller is asking? Will this washing machine last longer, thereby justifying its higher price? But the celebration of exchanging gifts goes beyond this concept of an even exchange. What is your sister trying to express through these gifts? Since your children love the presents, it is likely that she knows them well enough to find a present that fits their developmental levels and their interests. Is her motivation to bring joy? You don’t need to spend an equivalent amount on her children to express your love. Instead, focus on the unique interests and abilities of your nieces and nephews. Is there a gift that would be a good fit? You may not spend as much money as your sister, but your love can be expressed in just as powerful a way.

Tailor your gifts in a creative way. Is your niece completing sacramental preparation for first Communion? Give a gift of your time, along with the materials from a craft store to decorate a cross for her room. Or check out the Web for ideas from FAITH magazine’s Michelle DiFranco. For example, after pointing out that holy water fonts for the home can be quite expensive, she provides detailed instructions on how to make one.

“Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7) Celebrate the joy of our Savior’s birth by allowing your sister to be a cheerful giver and, in turn, giving your own love


Dr. Cathleen McGreal is a psychology professor and certified spiritual director.