Monday, March 26, 2007

HTT, do I have to chip in on expensive gifts?

Dear HTT,

Ok, here's the thing.....I am blessed by having a lot of friends, and several different circles of friends. This is great, don't get me wrong, but one particular circle of friends is large, quite large, and growing larger. Also not necessarily a bad thing. Here's the rub, though. This circle has gotten big enough to where I'm really not friends, per se, with everyone, and I barely see them due to the demands on my time. This circle of friends loves to celebrate everyone's birthday. Sweet, I know. But instead of just getting together for brunch or drinks or whatever, they also kick in for elaborate gifts. I'm talking Coach bags and jewelry from Tiffany's. I'm not making this up. Just ask our mutual Dream Weaver-loving friend---she knows of them.

Now, this is a fun-loving bunch of ladies, true. And incidentally, I love to get people presents, especially when I don't feel obligated. I love spontaneously seeing something and thinking, "oh, so-and-so would get a kick out of that" and picking it up for no reason. I should also make it clear that I'm a Target and Marshall's kind of gal, and my handbags do not EVER cost me even a fraction of a utility bill. Not only is it against my religion to pay retail, but I have a child and a house and therefore a budget---imagine that. Incidentally, we usually do not do this for my birthday, mainly because I don't like a big fuss, and when we have done it, people have just brought cute little presents like lotions and candles, that kind of thing, which I love! I would be mortified to get a Tiffany necklace from any one other than my hubby, and that ain't gonna happen!

The other problem with this gift-giving circle is that I'm very close to some of the women and not close at all with others. Read, I would love to give gifts to some, have no interest in it for the others. But it's become too difficult to give to some and not others. Help!!! How do I gracefully get off this carousel?

A Friend by 1 degree of Separation

Dear 1 Degree,

My most beloved “purse” is a vinyl messenger bag, and my taste in jewelry skews toward the “look what I made at the bead store” variety. So, I had literally no idea how much a Coach bag or Tiffany necklace could set a person back.

After a quick trip to, I discovered that the least expensive bag was the Hamptons Signature Swing Pack at $118. Now, I wouldn’t call $118 ridiculous for a good handbag, although it's more than I'd usually spend. However, I would expect my 118-dollar bag to hold more than a lipstick, one tampon (OB only), a Chicklet, and a driver’s license. And that’s about all one could tote about in the Hamptons Swing Pack. I guess “Hamptons” should have clued me in. It’s not the Myrtle Beach Swing Pack or even the Southport Swing Pack. Near the other end of the spectrum was the vintage leather “Hobo” at $498. How the word “hobo” and the price $498 can possibly be affixed to the same accessory is beyond me.

So, yeah, yikes. Depending on how many people are splitting the cost, buying lots of these sorts of gifts could really send a person to the poorhouse. Here’s what I suggest: Before the next birthday rolls around, simply say, “I’m trying to put aside money for my kid’s braces (or college education, or a family vacation, or you know, groceries!), and I need to start following a more stringent budget. I want to continue celebrating birthdays with all of you, but I’m going to need to bow out of the group gift.” There’s nothing shameful in that. But if it feels awkward to attend these celebrations empty handed, you might decide to pick out a small, thoughtful present that doesn’t cost as much as your January PSNC bill, or simply buy a card.

And if you want to continue buying gifts for the women you’re closest to, can you do so and just give them their presents outside of the big-group get-togethers? Surely these good friends will be discreet about it and not announce to the rest, “look at the wonderful earrings 1 Degree gave me for my birthday.”

You might even find that others in the group feel similarly and will be relieved to jump off that carousel with you!

Hope it all works out.