Rejecting Expensive Christmas Gifts: Admirable or Insulting?

Expensive Salvatore Ferragamo WalletI’ve got a habit that drives a close friend nuts. She always buys me an assortment of Christmas presents every year, and every year I end up returning at least one of her gifts because it is way too expensive.

This year she got me a $390 wallet by Ferragamo (picture). I used to have a Ferragamo wallet three years ago, but it got lost or stolen in a tennis locker room one day. I was so mad because the wallet was a present and also very expensive.

I’m not into name brand items, although I do appreciate well crafted things. Quality, not quantity is something I’ve learned to cherish the older I get. For the past two years I’ve been happily using a $30 Fossil wallet everywhere I go. If I lose it, no big deal. My friend wanted to treat me since she knows how little I treat myself (she’s read my entire¬†Budgeting & Savings¬†category).

When I opened the present, my immediate thought was, Sweet! But this wallet could feed a lot of starving kids. Gotta return it.

My friend could sense my desire to return the wallet so she made a preemptive blurt, “No! You aren’t going to return this gift! If you return it, you will make me very sad!

The last thing I want to do is make a thoughtful person sad. But at the same time, $390 is a damn lot of money for a wallet! I don’t want to be one of those folks who totes around luggage that costs more than the items inside. My Fossil wallet has been working just fine. No, it won’t get looks from the ladies when I whip it out to pay the bill, but who cares when I’ve got a sexy smile?

I began to rationalize with my friend why she would feel sad if the wallet was returned. I told her, “Is it because you feel bad facing the sales clerk?

She immediately said, “No, it’s not that at all. I just want you to want to have it! I enjoy giving you something I know you’ll like and use. You always return my presents!

I told her I appreciate her thoughtfulness, but the cost is just too much for me to accept. I bought her a gift worth roughly $125. The only way I would feel OK is if I bought her a present of equal or greater value. But then the cycle would never end until we both go broke!

The best solution to our gift giving quandary is to stop giving each other gifts. I stopped exchanging gifts with my parents and adult relatives long ago. Instead we just go out for lunch or dinner when we’re in the same city and fight over the bill. I would propose the same to my friend, but she just loves giving and receiving gifts. It’s been a part of her upbringing. It wouldn’t feel right to ask her to change.

The second best solution is to present the situation to all of you and ask what would you do if you were me? She earns an above median income for San Francisco, but is not rich. If she was a multi-millionaire or had a huge trust fund I honestly wouldn’t feel as bad.

She says the gift makes her happy, but the gift makes me feel guilty. So wouldn’t logic dictate she should return the gift if she wants me to feel good as well? I also get a thrill out of returning things because it feels like I am or my gift giver is saving money. And we all know that saving money makes us happier!

Have you guys ever rejected gifts or asked the giver to return the item because it cost too much? How did you go about rejecting the gift while demonstrating your appreciation without making the gift giver feel bad? What type of compromise did you make?

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship. Sam focuses on helping readers build more income in real estate, investing, entrepreneurship, and alternative investments in order to achieve financial independence sooner, rather than later.

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  1. Nate says


    We took a “direct” approach by sending a letter to family and friends letting them know that were would give away anything they gifted us (because we really do enjoy helping other people).

    Of course we made in abundantly clear that the best gift of all was spending time with them!!! We still received a few gifts from insistant family members. We just smiled and said, “we know someone else will really enjoy this!!”. ;-)

    Did you end up returning the wallet Sam? I understand the delima but your friend should also understand that your value system is different than hers when giving you gifts (that shows thoughtfulness right?!). Good luck!!

    • says

      Very proactive of you to send letters to tell friends and family you’ll be giving away their presents!

      What’s a letter anyway? Haven’t sent one of those in a while.

      I still have the wallet. Got several more days for her to return.

  2. says

    Ironic timing because I JUST posted the counterpoint to this, which went live Christmas morning. My take was to only reject a gift in extreme circumstances because by rejecting the gift you were taking away that awesome feeling of giving from the person. I used to reject gifts all the time, but now it’s very rare. It does make me uncomfortable some times.

      • Ken says

        One solution to the arms race is to give gifts when you feel like it. So skip years if there’s nothing that comes to mind. Sometimes you feel compelled to buy gifts (Christmas). Just skip a year if there’s nothing good to buy. Then save it for the next time.

        Easier to do when your relationship is solid (ex: family). And if you don’t like gift exchange anyhow.

        Obligatory gift giving creates up unnecessary stress and financial loss anyway.

  3. says

    Personally, I’ve never rejected expensive gifts. I wish I could reject cheap, crappy gifts I’ve gotten in the past though. Lol. If they want to give you an expensive gift, then that is their choice, but perhaps you should discuss with your friend about setting a price limit on the gifts to curb the excessive spending.
    I am at the point where I prefer getting gift cards, cash, or getting taken out to dinner. I don’t really need anymore stuff.

    • says

      Ha! It’s the cheap and crappy gifts I cherish the most actually. I once got a toy golf watch from my mom she found in a drawer that was already 10 years old. It had a green band and wasn’t too attractive. But I wore it every day until the strap broke off!

  4. Kristie says

    I don’t enjoy the whole gift buying and receiving experience mostly because I’m simply not a great retail shopper and don’t keep up on the latest, greatest trends in any category. In my mind, I never seem to buy the right gifts for people (a self-confidence issue I’m sure), so I am a gift card and cash giver, or I/we dine out with friends and family to celebrate. The holidays, in my opinion, are just too much pressure–on both sides of the coin–even as the recipient of a gift! Did I thank the person properly? Was my smile big enough and, more importantly, genuine enough? Strees, I tell ya! My husband calls me Scrooge and admittedly I am on the one day gifts are expected. (We celebrate Christmas.) But throughout the year, I am over-the-top generous with family and friends. I love treating those dear to me, whether it’s a meal out, or giving money when someone suffers a setback in life, or a gift for a special occasion. And since I totally sidetracked your question–sorry about that–in closing, I’d say that gift giving should be about the recipient, and even though your friend has wonderful intentions, she should respect your wishes. Every great relationship has boundaries of some sort, right?

  5. Insourcelife says

    That’s an insane gift to receive from a friend. I would also feel weird and want to return it. Sounds like your friend really wants you to have this big gift, so maybe you can still return it and use the money to do something together instead? Turn it into a gift both of you can enjoy?

  6. Gift Exchange says

    Why not agree on a dollar limit for any gifts exchanged? That way, she can still feel good about sharing and you know you didn’t spend less on your gift to her.

    • says

      B/c it’s like a prenup. It kinda of ruins the moment by putting a dollar limit. But now that the cat is out of the bag, why not. $150 limit it is! I would say $100, but tennis racquets cost $150 :)

  7. says

    I think that’s a pretty extravagant gift from a friend. We struggle with saying no to gifts from Mr PoP’s parents because they want to give us things that are not only too extravagant, but in some cases they end up causing us to take on additional expenses which is another headache.

  8. Dave says

    This sounds like it may be more of a question of opulence vs. quality. I am a big believer in purchasing a select set of items based on their quality (aren’t necessarily the most expensive) but am not a believer in opulence. For me, I would return the gift as it feels more like opulence than quality (Although I am sure it has high quality as well but you get the idea). Your friend should know and respect you enough to realize that you are not one to accept expensive gifts. If you are consistent, then it should not be a surprise that you want to return the gift. Per the other comments, you could set a limit on the spend – one option is to make the spend limit low such that the friend(s) needs to be creative in the type of gift that they know you will really appreciate. You could also opt to stop exchanging gifts and donate to a charity that you value. Just depends on how extreme you want to take it.

  9. says

    I never got really expensive gifts so I don’t have that problem. :)
    This year Mrs. RB40 donated to a few charities with her parent’s name. That seems to work out really well. Maybe she can do that instead of getting you expensive gifts.

  10. says

    I agree. That seems like an awfully expensive present for “just a friend” – I hope no one is being misunderstood in this situation. That said, I recognize that everyone has different levels in terms of cost. My general rule is that you can do all the discussion about gift prices before the actual gift giving. Afterwards, all you can do is smile and graciously accept, knowing that you need to have a better discussion with the other person before next year rolls around (or preferably throughout the year, letting her know why expensive gifts do the opposite of bringing you happiness)

    • says

      It’s a close friend. I hear you on laying out the rules beforehand. Given she reads this blog I figure this is a new age way to share my thoughts. We had a discussion and perhaps we’ll do an all year dollar amount limit!

  11. says

    I’ve got a post in the works on the unintended consequences of gift-giving, that hits on one of the points you mentioned: you only really feel okay if the gifts are of equal value, or if you gave more than the recipient did. This creates a bit of a giving arms race, in some cases.

    I can see why the giver doesn’t want the gift to be returned (after all, it means the recipient isn’t actually using your supposedly thoughtful gift). But I get your point, too…there are some items/costs that don’t match up. I couldn’t wear a piece of clothing that’s above a certain dollar figure…I’d be too worried about spilling something on it.

  12. JayCeezy says

    This post is about ‘control’, rather than ‘expensive gifts’.

    Sounds like you and your close friend care about each other very much, and she is quite aware of this conflict but chose to give you the gift anyway. This might be a hard conversation to have with her, but can you ask her what she thinks about preventing this conflict in the future? You don’t have to get your way all the time, but if she can find a way to respect your desires for low-key practicality some of the time, while you find a way to accept her desire to indulge you others, you may find it one of the best conversations you ever had.

      • JayCeezy says

        “My wife bought me an exotic wallet, made of Elephant foreskin. You rub it real fast, and it turns into a suitcase!” – Jackie Vernon

        FS, Money is not the issue. Affordability is not the issue. Suitability is not the issue. Desire is not the issue. What is the issue? Somehow, I don’t think any elaboration is required on the issue of ‘control’, but I’ll play along.

        This gift situation is now a negotiation and both parties have already lost, when it could have been a win-win. Keep the wallet, you feel guilty and your face already told her something different than she was hoping for. Return it, you know she will find it unsatisfying after spending the time and effort to seek out something she already knows you enjoyed. You both know you have this habit, you both know it drives her crazy, she knew how you would react and you reacted in a way that drives her crazy, and we all know you aren’t going to take the proceeds and donate it to starving children.

        Sam, you have indicated your pride in your poker playing ability. Yet, within moments of you opening this present, your ‘close friend’ read your ‘tell’. I suggest you ask her permission to return the wallet, and spend the money on Acting lessons so you don’t give away your true feelings about her gift. If there is truly no ‘control’ issue, you would have no problem opening the gift and no matter what it was, say “thanks! This is just what I wanted, and I will think of you because I’ll use it every day!”:-)

  13. says

    Agree with Jay – at the root of your experience is that your friend knows you don’t want expensive gifts but gives them to you anyway. The conflict is that she isn’t respecting your wishes and values, and now you’re struggling with respecting her control (“no, you can’t return it”) of you, as you should. So if you’re not going to reject her control and return it anyway, you need to figure out a way to let her indulge you, satisfying her needs, without her buying you extravagant gifts, satisfying your needs.

    It’s possible, but it takes practice and a dedication to real communication. Start with “When you buy me expensive gifts, it makes me feel…” then “what I would prefer is…” and end with “what do you need from me to help make this happen?”

    On the gifting front, my family still buys me gifts, so I make a point of giving them a list of things I’d enjoy that are inexpensive – books, CDs, etc. It eliminates some of the surprise, but ensures there’s no budget issues, or getting useless gifts.

    For my spouse, we set a limit, both for our family, and for each other, and then occasionally blow the budget for something extra special just to keep things from getting boring.

  14. says

    Although I love high quality things, I would feel very uncomfortable accepting expensive gifts like that. It is difficult to reciprocate and what if you just don’t like it. Personally, I would rather celebrate with a dinner or event for both of us to share. More enjoyable and it cannot be returned.

  15. Dave says

    Is she giving you gifts she thinks you’ll like, or gifts she would really like to get? Seems she doesn’t know you well enough to give you a great gift that makes you happy. My wife loves warm socks, seriously makes her super happy, so I stopped trying for nicer gifts, because it’s not possible.

  16. Catie says

    I must admit, I love Christmas, but I hate the idea of shopping. I’d rather just meet up with friends and family for dinner and drinks. I traveled this year to visit the relatives without gifts and we all had a great time. I got home on Christmas eve and gave the grown boys their Christmas gifts… contributions to their Roth accounts… and then hung out with the husband. No gift giving, no stress… best Christmas ever!

    As for your issue… I think your friend really likes to give you those gifts.. accept them. You don’t have to use them all the time. When the fossil wears out, grab the new one. Just because you received it doesn’t mean you are obligated to use it… although I don’t think I would want to leave a wallet worth that much sitting in the drawer but hey… it also doesn’t mean you have to take it back to the store either.

    • says

      Wow, that is a GREAT gift! I’d love to have retirement contributions from my mom! :)

      I would feel bad keeping the wallet unused in the drawer waiting to get used. It would kinda burn a hole in my pocket.

  17. says

    I have a similar situation and I’m still trying to figure out how to handle it. I get gifts from someone all of the time, and while they are small gifts that don’t cost much, they happen ALL THE TIME…. I’ll be brought dinner fairly regularly (and it’s usually not something I can save for later which is tough when it’s brought over and I have already had dinner for the night), or I have things like cookie cutters, stuffed animals, cards, pens, seashells, magnets, tupperware, organizers for X, Y and Z things…. My problem isn’t the cost of these gifts. I appreciate the thought, but I don’t have a lot of free space in my house so I have a lot of clutter. I feel like I can’t throw any of these things away because of the thought that was put into them. But there’s SOOOO much, I feel like I’m just wasting a lot of stuff too.

    I did make a point of telling them that I don’t want them to buy me groceries. If I need something I’m more than capable of picking it up myself, and that it makes me feel bad when they give me pastries and I’m really not in a sweets mood so I end up throwing it out because it gets old. I get less everyday staples, but I still get dinners brought to me (even on nights where I already had dinner sometimes).

    I used to have issues with not throwing things out because I felt like “I might use that in the future.” but one day I did a cleaning of my house and felt liberated of all of the junk I didn’t use that I changed my habits and now I’m more of a minimalist who really doesn’t buy things that I don’t need or won’t really use. But this friend doesn’t seem to understand that, or respect my decisions on how it makes me feel bad to want to throw away the cookie cutters that I will never use but take up valuable space in my house that makes my life feel cluttered and claustrophobic.

    I sat down and talked to my friend about how it actually makes me feel bad and a little insane to have so many useless trinkets around that I can’t get rid of. Their response was that it makes them feel good to give these gifts because it shows me that they pay attention and care and that if they don’t give these things then they feel bad. I was made out to feel like a jerk for showing anxiety from receiving these gifts….

    If you find a way to handle your situation please let me know, I could use the help too.

    • says

      Wow, someone buys you free groceries all the time? You sure this someone isn’t your mom?! As an adult, that does seem kinda overboard and overbearing.

      Given s/he is giving you smaller gifts in frequent amounts, it means the person really loves you and wants to be a part of your life. The next time you go out for a meal, PRE PAY. You’ll feel better about it, and mom will love you for it.

  18. says

    Honestly, I love to get expensive presents. LOL. But it usually never happens… when it does, it tends to be from family or partners and it’s usually something that I know is coming my way. (Say, a laptop). I don’t know how I would react to getting something expensive that I don’t need. However, I can fully understand why it would bother you.

    I think in this case, you’ll have to learn to appreciate your friend’s intentions and the fact that she wants to give you these presents. It’s the thought that counts after all. Clearly, she refuses to admit defeat, year after year. :)

  19. Rob says

    “…what would you do if you were me? ”

    Regarding the exchanging of expensive gifts, I would say that you already indicated an approach when you were thinking “Sweet! But this wallet could feed a lot of starving kids.”
    So, given the true meaning of the season (which not enough people observe), I would suggest that both you and your friend instead each gift the money that would be spent on these types of presents to your local food banks to help those less fortunate than you both enjoy the holiday season. Your cash gifts can be made in each other’s names, with notes exchanged between yourselves informing to that effect. You both would feel better for doing it. Think about it.

  20. Moshennik says

    Great timing, I was just at the mall, looking at Ferragamo wallet for my wife as a New Years present ( we don’t celebrate Christmas, so New Years is our Christmas).
    The one I liked on-line, i did not like in the store, and ended up buying a Tumi wallet for her I really liked, and saved some money on it :).

    Now, in my case (as well as my wife), we like finer things in life, and I know she would appreciate this type of present. I think YOU are conflicted about “finer” things (which I will probably never understand), so maybe your friend did not pick the “perfect” present for you.

  21. Ricky says

    I never get as far as having to return or reject a gift since the root problem is gifting in the first place. It’s obvious that you would never buy a $350 wallet now, even though you could easily afford it. Therein lies the problem in gifts. Why not just agree to not gift each other and buy the things yourself that you really want? Christmas doesn’t have to mean its everyone’s birthday at all. I enjoy Christmas just by being with my family and friends and eating. I don’t need to receive or give gifts to feel the Christmas spirit.

  22. says

    If you returned it, I would suggest telling her you gave all the money to a local charity like a food bank. At least in that case, you didn’t keep the money and it all went to a good cause. Personally, I do like nice things too but I have my limits. If anything, I pay more for things with lifetime warranties from the manufacturer, like me spending $250 on my long down Patagonia coat (live in NYC) after my last one from a cheaper brand died after 3 winters. Expensive price doesn’t always equate with quality, however but I’m sure that wallet should last you a while.

  23. Valerie says

    The purpose of gift giving is to make the recipient happy, not the gift giver. Your friend needs to learn that. If you are uncomfortable with the gift, give it back.

  24. says

    That’s a tough situation. I personally have never gotten a gift that expensive (except from my parents), so I’ve never had this issue. I’ve always been taught that it’s rude to not accept a gift, although what you do with a gift after it’s received is up to you, so long as you do so discreetly. Although I’ve also always heard that a woman should never accept a gift of jewelry from any man who is not her husband/fiance or a close family member, as such a gift from any other man would be inappropriately intimate. Maybe that’s part of the issue; receiving such an expensive gift from a friend, even a very close friend, is inappropriately intimate?

    My boyfriend actually feels that I should never buy him any gift, under any circumstance. I chalk it up to him being old-fashioned (there’s a 20 year age gap between us); I think he finds it emasculating to have a woman buy him something. Of course, I’ve always been taught that you buy something for your loved ones on Christmas and Birthdays, to show that you love them. So, I compromise: I buy something relatively inexpensive that he needs, or that we’ll both use. Last year I bought a very hard to find DVD of a movie he had long wanted to see (from the 1970’s). This year I bought spatulas and a decorative holder for the kitchen. Things he talked about getting, but hadn’t put effort into looking for, that I could buy as a gift, without putting the pretense of it being a “gift” (i.e. I don’t wrap them, etc). That way we’re both happy.

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