The Moneyist: Every year, my sisters spend $2 on my ‘hostile’ Christmas gifts

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Dear Moneyist,

My sisters have for years been giving me hostile, trivial, meaningless gifts for the holidays. I would say that the gifts are less meaningful than what parents would pick out to give their children’s teachers.

‘Last year, it was a $2 ornament signifying a $2 donation to a charity and also a donation to their church in my name.’


Last year, it was a $2 ornament signifying a $2 donation to a charity and also a donation to their church in my name. I, on the other hand, find things I absolutely know they will love. It hurts too much to continue gift giving at this point.

In previous years, I’ve given them personal gifts like a set of special salon hand creams, which are not cheap. I want to tell them: “No more gifts.” When can I do this and how?


Dear Kate,

It sounds like they enjoy playing the role of the ugly sisters or, at the very least, thoughtless ones. You have three choices here. You can react, you can adjust your gift giving or you could continue buying gifts as if you received thoughtful gifts year after year. Of course, no one likes to be insulted on an annual basis. Why would you want to sign that social contract every year?

This is an opportunity to set an example for your sisters and everyone else in the family, including yourself. Each year, your sisters present you with an opportunity for you to be the best person you can be. The person we all want to be. You want to be smart, too. Don’t buy something extravagant. Get them a book you like and write a card saying something nice about what you liked about it.

Every year, four gifts shaped liked Mars Bars would appear on our family Christmas tree growing up. My brother never had the time to shop for gifts. It just wasn’t him. Another time, I received a bottle of shampoo. I saw my mother hand it to him through a crack in the door. It was blue shampoo that resembled washing-up liquid. That is, not exactly the expensive kind. I simply laughed.

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Back to your letter: You could do what one member of the Moneyist Facebook Group suggests: “Your sisters have been sending you a message — they really don’t want to exchange gifts. So pick out a charity that is meaningful to you, and send a donation in your family name. That’s it. No explanation necessary.” Or, as another says, “Make a donation to your local animal shelter in their name.”

Sure, there’s a temptation to send a message by, say, giving one of your sisters a gift-wrapped copy of “The Idiot” by Elif Bautuman and then sitting back and watching her face as she opens it. But you would probably realize that you are doing exactly the same thing they’re doing: gift-wrapping parcels of passive aggression. But you would be doing exactly what your sisters are doing.

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If you have always given them something, I don’t believe you should stop now. Buy them something modest, but nice. That way, you get to let this resentment go and free yourself. They give you a valuable gift every year: invaluable practice at being generous of spirit and kind. You get to find the best in yourself when those around you unsuccessfully attempt to bring out the worst.

Whatever the time of year, you can’t put a price on that.

Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).

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