Buying gifts for your significant other

by Erika Torres


Every time a gift-giving holiday rolls around, I find myself in a financial bind as to what to do about gifts. When you share finances and combined checking accounts, how do you keep presents a surprise? Or do you even bother exchanging gifts in the first place?

For Christmas last year, I gave Eric a limit to spend on a gift for me. At the time, he had one credit card that I did not have access to so we agreed for him to use that card and we would pay it after the holidays. This didn’t turn out so well, when Eric continued using the card as part of his fun money account and he soon racked up debt on it. Needless to say, that card is no longer part of our family. However, I’m still not feeling the whole “give him cash to buy a present” deal yet.

I’m not even sure I want a gift this year.

I’d be paying for my own gift

The literal translation of this is that I have been the sole income provider the past four months. And while my husband will be working again by the end of December, I still feel like I’d be paying for my own gift. Because all our money goes into one huge pot. And if you take anything out of the pot, you’re still taking away from my funds to pay the bills.

I didn’t budget for our own gifts

Another reason is that we’ve budgeted a certain amount for holiday gifts this year. I didn’t include gifts for us on that list. I wasn’t really planning on getting Eric a gift until he brought it up last night. I mean, really, haven’t I given you enough? I kid, I kid. However, I still don’t feel like dropping $100 for a gift on him, then another $100 for a gift on me.

What if I don’t like it?

When it’s Eric’s birthday, I buy him a gift that he usually has requested. But when it’s my birthday, I usually make sure to splurge on something for myself (this year, I got us tickets to see Cirque Du Soleil). If he’s going to buy me something, I want it to be something I want. Except for Christmas last year, he’s never actually given me a gift. There was that one time he bought me an $80 bouquet of flowers for Valentine’s Day…which I ended up paying for….

Am I just being a grinch?

Should I suck it up and set a limit? $50? How much do you spend on your significant other’s gift? How do you give gifts when you share finances and still have the gift be a surprise?

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Harri @ TotallyMoney December 6, 2011 - 9:27 am

It’s a tricky one. Last year we set ourselves a £50 limit, but this year we’re really too broke to justify even spending that.

How about you both agree to find second-hand or make your Christmas gifts? (Old school mix tape, anyone?!)

Saving My Toonies December 4, 2011 - 9:50 am

Hubby and I set a limit this year of $50. Previous years we did not and we ended up spending way too much money on each other. Last Christmas was our first Christmas as a married couple and he made me a wedding album. He found an album (at a really good price non the less), and printed all of the pictures at home, then arranged it. He works at a place where he gets discounts on ink and photo paper so he saved money on that as well. This year for my birthday he made me a video of us over the years, it was really sweet. Both times he got something else small on the side.

Point is – you may be technically paying for your own gift (my Mom hasn’t worked in years and so really she does the same thing witth my Dad), but your not paying for the thoughtfulness of a gift. Even if he buys you something he asks for….at least he is listening!

eemusings December 2, 2011 - 6:52 pm

I definitely resented essentially buying my own gift last year when T was unemployed. To make things worse, I was replacing my camera, that HE had lost while on a road trip with the boys.

There’s nothing I want this year, except maybe a new charm for the bracelet he got me a couple of Christmases ago, and that will be like $20 which he can cover from his own allowance.

He wants the new Battlefield game. Damn those expensive tastes.

Roshawn @ Watson Inc December 1, 2011 - 6:00 pm

You raise some very good points. Personally, I would still set a limit though. It sounds like it wouldn’t hurt the other things that you guys have going on. It would additionally be a lot fun, hopefully!

Leah Carey December 1, 2011 - 1:36 pm

I stumbled onto your blog today through a link from City Girl (who I also discovered today) and am thoroughly enjoying your blog. I’ve been on my own financial journey recently and I really appreciate how open you are about your situation, as well as the thoughtfulness with which you approach it.

I linked to your blog today in a post about starting to reach out to other bloggers:

Thanks for being a lovely inspiration!

Justin @ MoneyIsTheRoot December 1, 2011 - 8:57 am

Excellent topic! My fiance and I are getting married in July 2012, and we have a big wedding to pay for…so we have been discussing budgets and limitations on gifts, at least for htis year.

Corey @ Passive Income to Retire December 1, 2011 - 8:33 am

My wife and I don’t buy gifts for each other anymore. We never really have. We will get cards and write something that actually means something, but if there is something we actually NEED, why would we wait to buy it. And I don’t mean need in the consumeristic way either.

Shannon December 1, 2011 - 4:16 am

Isn’t this such a pain? We still have separate accounts and a joint account so that helps in the surprise factor. Which was the whole point of keeping it that way. I have tried talking Hardscape into the whole lets buy something together thing but NO WAY. He wants presents with no limit. Lord help me. Good luck.

Mid Life Miser November 30, 2011 - 8:36 pm

My wife and I haven’t purchased a gift for one another in several years. Not for birthdays, Not for our anniversary. Not for Christmas. We have just come to agree that the money we would spend on a gift is better used elsewhere. Fixing something in the house. Applying it to the vacation fund. etc… However, it become a little challenging because the kids do purchases gifts for each of use. So, I guess ultimately we do buy presents for one another…..but the limit is about $30.

justrealhappy November 30, 2011 - 8:35 pm

My favorite line of this whole post?

“There was that one time he bought me an $80 bouquet of flowers for Valentine’s Day…which I ended up paying for….”

Teacher Girl November 30, 2011 - 7:14 pm

To echo what others have said, try going for something that you guys can actually/physically do together, that way you are getting a “gift” but really it is what you want to be doing anyway. Good luck!

eemusings December 2, 2011 - 6:54 pm

We often do this on special occasions – go out together rather than swap gifts. Definitely my preferred MO!

Claire November 30, 2011 - 5:41 pm

We have decided to buy each other gifts this year but we aren’t sharing finances yet. I bought him some cologne ($37) and am going to get him a Game Stop gift card for either $25 or $50, depending on how much money I have left in the budget :\ I’ve asked him for a specific necklace that I really love ($50) but I’m not sure if he can afford it because he just told me he bought my engagement ring (!!!) on Black Friday. I can do without a Christmas gift in that case 😉

I think you should get each other a little something just to show that you appreciate one another and were thinking about them. Even something small is a nice gift if it’s heart-felt. 🙂

Aloysa November 30, 2011 - 5:32 pm

We had the exactly same dillemma: how do we hide gift purchases from each other, especially from me. I am in charge with finances in our family, so I would see all the charges and pretty much guessed what my husband was buying. At some point we just decided not to exchange any gifts. It is so much easier and if we really want/need something we always can go ahead and buy it. We don’t need to wait for Xmas.

Hawaii Planner November 30, 2011 - 1:04 pm

I’m with most of the other posters – do a nice “experience” together, as your gift to each other. I think my husband & I are going to do a quick 2 day trip together. If that wasn’t possible, we’d do a nice dinner, tickets to a concert, etc.

Lindy Mint November 30, 2011 - 12:54 pm

We don’t bother too much with giving each other gifts, but we’ve also had kids almost the entire time we’ve been married, so we’re usually focused on them during Christmas.

My husband has given me gift cards for birthdays in the past, this way it forces me to spend money on something I want. For his birthday he took $50 and put it in savings to go towards something big he’s been wanting. We’re pretty boring like that, but it’s also really nice to not have to worry about each other over the holidays.

Emily November 30, 2011 - 12:53 pm

If we have the money, we buy something we need. This year a new vaccuum. We hope to one day be able to buy something we want, like kayaks or a mini-vacation. I don’t know if we will ever get to the point of being able to exchange gifts traditionally.

Aaron Hung November 30, 2011 - 12:11 pm

like you, me and the wife put both of our income into one checking account, however she doesn’t seem to care that I have access to other accounts so she won’t know what i will get for her 😀

newlywedsonabudget November 30, 2011 - 11:26 am

I love all the suggestions everyone has been giving! These are WONDERFUL!

kim November 30, 2011 - 8:35 am

I hear ya all the way!!! You aren’t exactly in the position to spend a lot. I suggest buying a joint gift that you have both been wanting for awhile. Last year we bought an XBox. That way it can be slightly more expensive than each individual gift, and both people are happy. If we don’t do that, we spend about $150 on each other, and another $150 on family (sounds cheap but only our parents ever say thank you, no one else, but those others buy us gifts). It has to be a gift you will both use or appreciate often (at least at first) or remember, like a ___ maker (ugh I sound so domestic!), or a day trip, fancy dinner, iPod, BlueRay player, water carbonater, bikes, surf board, whatever.

A Super Girl November 30, 2011 - 8:07 am

I don’t think you’re being a grinch at all. As I grow older, there are less things I WANT, which means I can barely come up with a list for myself, much less figure out what the fiance wants. I’m kind of done with the whole gift giving thing in general, too. It’s such a racket this time of year and I don’t find much joy in it anymore — whether it’s for the fiance or other people on my list.

If you haven’t already, express your concerns to the hubby. Maybe suggest just going out for a nice dinner or something and calling that your gift to each other this year.

I’m a fan of the joint gift. One year, we took a trip in February and I told him that we should just call that our Christmas gift to each other. I have a feeling I’ll be employing that rationale a lot more as we get married. I know we’re going to need stuff for the house, want to travel, etc. and all of that can easily be a “gift” for both of us.

Drea November 30, 2011 - 7:44 am

My now-boyfriend and I have never exchanged Christmas gifts in the 5 years we’ve known each other and we’re not about to start now, if I have anything to do with it. I’d rather we did something together instead! Maybe you can suggest that?

Kim November 30, 2011 - 6:34 am

Christmas gifts are always tough in our house. I have no problem going out and spending money on hubs, but I absolutely do not want him spending money on me. I really enjoy giving the gifts, but it’s so much harder for me to open our joint bank account to give him carte blanche to spend on me. Not to be mean, but he’s a horrible gift giver. I would much rather just buy myself something I’ve been eying as a gift or use it as an excuse to buy something bigger.

This year I wrapped up 25 small gifts for hubs to open every day in December up until Christmas. He wants the amount that I spent on small gits in cash to buy me something.

Michelle November 30, 2011 - 8:29 am

I agree. It’s also very hard for me to have him spend money on me for Christmas. I usually ask him to return things that I don’t need, but then he always tells me that I deserve it. It’s hard! I just don’t like spending money on myself.

Michelle November 30, 2011 - 6:20 am

I agree with the others, try to be creative because usually that’s more fun!

And we have a pretty high budget for each other, around $600-$700 each. Although this amount is high because we tend to just go shopping with each other and buy everything we need/want such as clothes and just call it all Christmas presents. We don’t really buy presents for too many other people.

Tori November 30, 2011 - 6:14 am

You could opt for a homemade present or a letter but I don’t think anyone should ever be FORCED to do soemthing “from the heart.” I know you’re in maaaayjor debt payoff mode but I truly feel like you should let him get you a present. Pull out cash for him so you can’t see what he’s getting you as Visa gift cards usually have a five dollar activation fee.

Hannah November 30, 2011 - 6:01 am

Have you thought of making Christmas presents more creative/from the heart this year? Since you didn’t budget for them – make it a fun creative challenge for $20. See who can make/finagle/groupon their way into the best $20 gift that has a bit of meaning. This way its more of a challenge and you don’t feel like you’ve giving away $100 to buy your own gift.

On that note, however, even when I was the sole income provider I never thought of it as MY money. I have no idea what the future holds for me but I do know that I never want to be in a situation where I’m out of work and my husband considers it HIS money because hes the only one working. Thinking like that just doesn’t settle well with me, especially because I plan on taking time off work when we have kids.

newlywedsonabudget November 30, 2011 - 11:39 am

Well, even if the money comes out of OUR money fund, it is essentially still ME or HIM paying for it, and it’s taking away money that goes to pay our bills. Does that make sense?

Daisy November 30, 2011 - 6:01 am

We dont have combined finances, so this isn’t really a problem, but I usually end up picking out my own gifts and then boyfriend will buy it, whereas I’m much more receptive to what he wants so I get him something accordingly.

I don’t see the point in exchanging gifts this year, because I’d rather we save our money for a new mattress, but I suppose if I had more money it would still be fun!

Mysti November 30, 2011 - 5:43 am

If you do decide to exchange gifts…take the cash and buy a Visa gift card, so that presents can be a surprise (or just use the cash if you can!) We usually spend about $100 each. Sometimes more, sometimes less.

We have always had combined finances. You have to get past the idea that YOU made the money…it is now OUR money. If it was the opposite…and he made the money and you didn’t, would you still think the same way? In that scenario, he would buy you something, and then he didn’t get anything.

jobo November 30, 2011 - 5:29 am

I think Summer has a good idea, as I was also going to suggest doing something together as a gift to each other. What if you scout out a good deal on a hotel room on SniqueAway or something and book that for a night together, make it special, have some champagne and even a picnic in your room or something cute. I was sort of feeling the same way about gifts…I wanted to do something for M and vice versa, but it doesn’t have to be extravagant, just the sentiment that counts. So we are doing stockings only for each other with a set price limit. Let’s see how this goes 😉

Summer November 30, 2011 - 5:15 am

I am probably not the best person to give advice on setting a Christmas budget, because I have very limited self control when buying for my boyfriend and my mom. However, my suggestions are for you two to make a decision about Christmas presents together. Maybe something you could do together like what you did for your birthday with the Cirque Du Soleil tickets or maybe a day trip somewhere. Other ideas could be homemade presents, or a shopping limit of $50-$100, just stocking stuffers, a present for your home, each buy one present for a child and donate, etc. If you do choose to set a limit and each of you have a set amount to spend on the other maybe give him a few strong hints about what you would like. Since you didn’t budget for Christmas presents for each other, maybe you can have another yard sale, and whatever funds you make you do something with that money for/with each other for Christmas or take a portion of the unexpected $500 that you will get for the contract you just won (congrats, by the way). Just some thoughts, would like to hear more about your Christmas budget for the rest of your family/season. I have seen some very detailed to include the amount spent on Christmas cookies baked. Reminds me, I need to be more detailed. =) Have a great day and a wonderful holiday!

From Shopping to Saving November 30, 2011 - 3:47 am

I’ve been having the same thoughts about gift giving once we combine finances when we get married! I’m curious to know how this pans out haha.

Btw don’t feel bad BF never buys me gifts either but he has been stepping it up this year! I think just be clear on what you want since it’s a joint acct anyway!

MindyG November 30, 2011 - 3:18 am

My husband cheats when we have a budget. He always comes up with some PayPal money or something… so it doesn’t cost our bank account “as much”. Then I always feel like El Cheapo. This year, we’re not doing presents at all. Christmas isn’t really about the presents, and honestly we’ve gotten just about all set with people being upset we didn’t spend as much as they did (His brothers make a lot more than we do so big TV’s etc, are not unusual for them to give)

newlywedsonabudget November 30, 2011 - 11:58 am

I love that concept! Christmas is not about the gifts! And in this spirit, I think we’re leaning toward taking an overnight trip somewhere–something we can both enjoy for about the same cost as buying gifts for each other.

Kellie November 30, 2011 - 2:53 am

I budgeted money for our other Christmas presents for my niece and nephew, family, parents, etc. but didn’t budget for each other. However, I always buy presents for my mom (for my siblings and grandkids) so I put a few things on my credit card (so bad.. but only $100) so she could give me the cash to “repay me for them”… I’m gonna use that to buy my husband something he’s been wanting for a long time. I figure $100 in the grand sceme of things is okay since we have already paid off over $8,000 in 6 months!

Shellie November 30, 2011 - 1:37 am

I have the same problem! The last 5 years the Mr and I have gone crazy spending boatloads on eachother. Which is why we are now in super debt payoff mode. We are now seilling half the stuff we bought on Ebay becuase we dont even need it!
So what were doing is things that don’t cost and imprive our home.
He hates to paint walls, so for his gift I’m going to paint his man cave for him (he’s wanted it painted for over a year). For me I asked for him to paint me a peice of art for an empty spot that’s been bugging me (I had him paint a guest tree for our wedding that let it slip what a great artist he is!) I know those are personal and house-owning related but maybe it will spur some ideas.
You could ask him to detail your car, or pick a chore that you hate and he do it for the whole month of December?
Sorry for the super long comment, hope it helps!


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