How About No Gifts This Year?

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My husband’s mother and her sister share a home. Recently, they asked us for money for a necessary repair. Without it, they said they would have to take a bank loan. I was surprised that their finances are so tight. During the year (and especially at Christmas), they spend money on unnecessary purchases without hesitation: sending us silly gifts we never use and treating us to meals out, despite our protests. I feel odd giving them money when they clearly aren’t allocating their resources wisely. I’d prefer they establish an emergency fund to buying us gifts. Can we say something, or do we simply fork over the thousands?


What we have here is an immediate problem — a leaking roof, say — and a longer-term one: living within a budget. I know you’re not suggesting withholding help as punishment for frittering away cash on a few “silly gifts” and dinners out (though it sounds a little like that).

Personally, I’m skeptical that such modest thrift would solve either problem. Now, add in the cultural wrinkle that becomes particularly wrinkly at the holidays: Gifts equal love. (Good luck dismantling that one!) So, you’re dealing with a tricky situation.

Here’s what you do: Write a check for the repair today, if you can afford it. (It’s his mother!) And thank them for the silly gifts they send at Christmas. Then, later in January, pay a visit with your husband to his mother and aunt.

Have him say, “Mom, you’ve done so much for me. It was our pleasure to help you. But I think we should visit a financial planner. I want to help you and your sister create a budget that lets you live well and keeps the house in good repair.” If they agree, they may curb their unnecessary spending. If not, send them to the bank for a loan next time.

Credit…Christoph Niemann

You’re in Town?

Every year, my spouse and I visit our hometown for the holidays. It’s a whirlwind couple of weeks as we try to see every sister, aunt, nephew and in-law. If we’re lucky, we get a date night. But I have a friend who insists I see her every time I come home. Some years, it’s just not possible or doesn’t cross my mind to text her. If she sees on Instagram that I’m home, she fires off furious messages that I’m not making an effort to see her. Lately, she’s given me the cold shoulder. Should I reach out as an olive branch or let this friendship go?


It’s hard to soothe friends who feel hurt by us without acknowledging their feelings, reasonable or not. And it seems unlikely to me that you’ll convince this friend that you don’t have a minute to spare over 14 days. No one is that busy!

The two of you may simply have an unequal interest in your friendship. If you’re more upset by her “cold shoulder” than by the prospect of not seeing her, let this go for now. Get back in touch, and talk out your feelings, when you’re ready to meet.

Our Rude Relatives Are Canceled

My sister married the love of her life this fall. My family and I are thrilled for the newlyweds! Unfortunately, our excitement is not shared by our extended family, who wrote a letter complaining about their placement in the “cheap seats” at the wedding and other longstanding grievances. The problem: My mother has hosted every major holiday for our extended family for years. She is a gracious host and quick to forgive. I am not. I told her: “It’s them or me this Christmas.” What do you think?


Recant your ultimatum immediately. Your wise mother understands that a single hothead wrote that letter, not your entire extended family — just as another hothead reported the brouhaha to me. (Was this letter even addressed to you?)

Friction among family members is inevitable. But our shared history with them often makes it worthwhile to sweep petty squabbles (like “cheap seats”) under the rug. Behave like a gentleman at the Christmas table. And even if you can’t forgive certain relatives now, don’t embarrass your mother by making an ugly scene.

Let’s Put a Face to a Wreath

For four years, I bought our holiday wreath from a boy who belongs to a local civic organization. I know his parents socially. Every year, his father contacts his friends on behalf of his son, and his mother delivers the wreaths. I have never interacted with the boy, who is now in high school. This bothers me. So, I decided not to buy a wreath this year. My husband thinks I should continue supporting the civic group. Am I wrong?


I wouldn’t say wrong, exactly. But everyone loses this way. The organization is out your support. The boy doesn’t learn the importance of personal contact to some people. And you don’t get the experience you want — or a wreath. If it’s not too late, tell the father: “We’ll take a wreath. And please bring your son when you deliver it. We’d like to meet our longtime evergreen supplier!”

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.