Can gift giving fit into a frugal relationship?

Don't Penny Pinch the Romance out of Your Marriage

by E. E. Kane

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A friend stopped by the other day and mentioned it was their anniversary. I asked if they were going out to celebrate, and she waved her hand as if ridding the air of a pesky bee. "It's just another day," she laughed. She mentioned a card her husband had left on the table that morning, and fussed about the money he spent on a piece of paper. I smiled and nodded, but I was dumbstruck. I used to be like her in my thoughts about gift giving, and it was a very lonely place to be.

Flowers, for instance, were a heartbreaking waste of money. My friend echoed these thoughts as well. "Fifty dollars for flowers that were just going to die in a few days! Think what I could have done with that money." I couldn't help but agree; cut flowers are beautiful, but when a family doesn't have money for extravagance, a girl wants something that will last longer. My view on cut flowers hasn't changed much per se, but as a lifelong spendthrift, I've mellowed a little toward extravagant gifts.

Every frugal spouse should have this discussion with his or her mate, especially if gift giving is causing frustration in the marriage. Gift giving should be present in a healthy relationship, but it doesn't have to follow tradition. Cutting the gifts to each other for a season might be necessary, but it's not good to adopt this "it's just another day" attitude long term. If that's what you are hearing from your spouse, don't believe it. Investigate!

There are four sides to gift giving in a marriage. Each partner is blessed in some way by the act of giving and receiving. One may care more about the giving than receiving; my husband is like that. He claims he doesn't need gifts to feel loved, but takes particular delight in surprising me. I adore receiving gifts, but if I continually harped about the money he spent on me, that would effectively pop his gift-giving joy bubble. My husband is frugal, but he makes the exception for us, gallantly abstaining from spending on his hobby (acquiring expensive guns and knives), which he claims he'd rather choose himself anyway. If I took his word for it and quit spending money buying him "love" gifts, I'd be missing a very important boat. He may be sincere about not needing tokens, but I've seen how his face lights up when I bake something just for him. Lemon pie goes straight to his heart, every time.

We frugal people really shoot ourselves in the foot when we disregard the impact of gift giving in a marriage. Sometimes it's best to swallow the words (You paid how much???) and see the gift for what it is. Your sweetheart was thinking of you, went shopping for you, and this token is his love in your hands. Even if you preferred a potted plant for your garden, it's best not to say that now. Wait until the next occasion to suggest what would make you feel truly loved.

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That's what it's all about, really. It's about feeling loved. A woman doesn't want consolation gifts. She wants her man to know her inside and out. She wants him to remember her favorite color and scent, to be interested enough to track down something meaningful. Men who have frugal wives have the additional challenge of accomplishing all of that at a bargain price.

Flash back to a couple, married about ten years, living on a foreign island and saturated with culture shock. My birthday arrived and my gift was a dozen red roses. I cried. Then I had to explain my behavior. It didn't go over very well. He had driven all over town searching for something, anything, because most of the shops were closed that day. In my selfish, heartbroken soul, that argument didn't appease my hurt very much. He could have shopped a little earlier. He could have put some thought into it. The most crushing thought was not that he spent money on flowers that would die, but that after all of those years, he still didn't know me. It was a pivotal moment in a marriage that later fell apart.

If you are the frugal spouse, don't wave gift giving away. Talk about it, be gracious, and count your blessings when you are truly cherished.

Reviewed July 2017

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