OT? How to deal with DH's horribly cheap family? LONG

loralee_2007May 28, 2008

I'm not sure if this is OT or not...but I've noticed that many etiquette questions are posted here, and some of the situations I've encountered with DH's family involve entertaining, so I hope this is ok.

I should mention that DH & I have been together married/dating for 14 years, so I've put up with this behavior for a long time now and my anger/disgust/frustration "may" show through here. I apologize in advance. The problem? Basically DH's immediate family are misers when it comes to gifting others.

His brother & sister still live at home and are both employed f/t in their careers, over 25 years old, pay only $200/mth R & B to mom, and spend $$ like you've never seen. MIL is early 50's, also F/T+, making a very decent wage in healthcare and no mortgage or debts.

Come their respective birthdays, we are presented with "lists" where not one single item is below $100, and it is "expected" that we each purchase something individually from this list. Considering the siblings age, DH has tried for a few years now to cancel B-day gifts but they will not hear of it. On the reverse end of it, we do not give b-day lists (we can support ourselves!), but in an effort to keep their own lists active we get "token" gifts usually around $20 (or less). In fact, until 4 years ago when my DH vocally chastised his family, I did not even get so much as a phone call on my B-day, even though I've supported each of their expensive B-day charades annually.

I think the *most* annoying aspect is they try to cheap out on fuctions we attend such as weddings/bridal showers. MIL actually got annoyed at me the last bridal shower because I bought our gift before she had a chance to call me and say she wanted to "combine" amounts for a gift. I have no problem combining, except the reason for it: she wants to buy something under $100 and have 5 or more people pay for it (the more people in on it, the less each individual has to pay - and this is for FAMILY!). DH & I typically like to spend $60 on bridal gifts ($30 from each of us, which is not exorbitant or unreasonable), and she just doesn't get the concept.

Thankfully this behavior has not rubbed off too much on DH - although there are times I wonder. Last year we attended a close relative's wedding (MIL's nephew) where they had a cash bar once we arrived and DH wanted to rip open our envelope and replace the cheque with a lesser amount - not in my presence he won't! (Note: cash presentations are the norm here where we live).

How the heck do you deal with cheapskates when they are family? Our last bridal shower was last weekend, and unfortunately I didn't get to buy our gift ahead of time. Icing on the cake was MIL taking our $60 contribution for a gift and putting her name, SIL, and grandma's name on a $65 gift. *sigh*

I swear, I could go on forever...they are sooooo tight their dollar bills are crying "Uncle"!

I know I've broken etiquette rules even mentioning some of the examples, but I'm just trying to give you a picture of what these folks are like.


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You come and vent here, that's what you do.

I can certainly understand why you find this irritating. But that's the way they are.

The only question you really ask is, "How the heck do you deal with cheapskates when they are family?" I'm not sure what advice you hope to get; if it's how to change them so they won't be that way, forget it! I think that you "deal" with them by accepting that

1) this is the way they are. No one is perfect.
2) they aren't going to change, no matter how right you are.
3) all you can do is work on not letting it eat you up. Try to focus on the things you DO like about them. That helps me.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 29, 2008 at 12:42AM
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I know some of your examples go a lot deeper and may seem hypocritical but really any gift should still be considered a gift... I'm not sure a gift should/could ever be considered cheap... because by definition isn't a gift something that is not needed but an extra something to begin with?

I find some people really don't spend a lot on gifts. My mother is one of the most generous people I know (If you ask her to borrow a dollar for a soda, she give you a fifty and tell you to keep it type) but she really spends a very small amount on expected type occasion 'gifts'. I don't know why. I think she thinks maybe there's some spoiling aspect to gift giving.

Personally, I would buy/ or not buy (although don't try to change your in-laws gift giving traditions it's probably not your place-- just go with the flow)-- anyway, just buy whatever you want for others don't go from a list unless you want to. If you feel you only want to spend $20 because that's what they spend on you, then go for it.

Sign and close up your money gift cards or mail the cards in advance for weddings, etc. There are probably solutions to most of your examples. I know you just want to gripe and I understand, but I really think you just need to accept that some people may really be ok in giving a $10 shower gift, etc. It doesn't necessarily make them bad or poor, unclassy or cheap; it's just the amount they feel comfortable with. I was really surprised when I got married at the range of money amounts people gave for gifts (and again, it was not usually eqated with income or class level). Just try not to let them take advantage of you. If they want to go in on a gift, set an exact amount everyone will pay or ask how much and then go from there.

My best friend has a problem like this with her in-laws. They are very well off but only spend like $10-20 on her child's (their grandchild) gifts for b-day, Christmas etc. My friend gets really upset they don't spend more and takes it personally. I really wish she would just see that some people just don't spend a lot on gifts and quit comparing them to her parents or thinking they should be spending more. There's not a "right" amount to spend on gifts.

I know your problem goes deeper than just gifts, just try to plan ahead so they can't take advantage of you.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2008 at 12:55AM
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FWIW...my father and uncles were "pick up the check" kind of guys.

In private they complained about how "slow on the draw" their guests always were. In retrospect, I can see what was happening. For both it was part of their panache and part of their egos...another way to feel worthwhile and/or superior to others.

In my earlier life, I regarded this as admirable behavior and tried to imitate them. Over the years, I've learned that most folks are happy to let others pick up the tab if "others" make it easy. There was almost never reciprocation. I stopped doing that. I've learned that few people are actually grateful anyway -- they've just learned to expect it. No good for them and no good for me. My gifts these days are thoughtful but moderate. I am continually amazed that, as earlier in my life, they are seldom acknowledged or, if they are, only carelessly. Usually along the lines of "...thanks for the fill-in-the-blank.... signed so-and-so." I put my heart and good wishes into my gift-giving, but I no longer put serious money in. Seems to me that's the state of the world. I've learned to stay within the realm of expectation...not over or under what the people I'm dealing with are accustomed to in their own lives. For over-reaching nieces and nephews whom I've never known and who's parents have ignored me for decades, I send cards.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2008 at 4:12PM
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Best advice I can give you is to just do your own thing and not get dragged into what "they" want to do. Splitting on gifts with them is never going to work.

Give gifts to them, and to other family members, that make you feel good. Giving a gift is all about what you want to do, not what you will get in return. Who cares what they do.....we all have our own benchmarks and nothing anyone can do will change that. You can't change them, so spend no time agonizing over it. You are only making yourself unhappy.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2008 at 6:39PM
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Chase said it best.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2008 at 6:50PM
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Thank you so much for the advice. I realized after I posted that I'm not sure the word "cheap" was really metaphorically what I meant...it's truly more like "selfish" - and I do mean selfish in capital letters - and that is where my angst is.

They want it all, but give nothing to others, or as little as they possibly can get away with. And it is THAT concept I have such a tough time with.

I get grief if we, as a couple, buy our gifts separately because it denies them the opportunity to buy an "expensive" gift (that is apportioned amongst numerous people) - but they don't see that. They only see the $$ tag and can feel good amongst themselves that they bought something "expensive".

Whereas, we are a modest couple but sincerely enjoy picking out our items based on what we know of the couple. Quite frankly, it horrifies me that MIL has "trained" her children that it's ok to buy an "expensive" item, but cheap it out to 12 people....as they rub their hands in glee that they bought expensive, but at only $20 per person (and less in some cases.)

To us, family is extremely important, and we are all a very close family. I just can't stomach that kind of selfishness...but at the same time, when we buy separate, MIL chastises me and is VISIBLY upset that I didn't "go in" on their "standard" buying program because now they can't buy something as expensive as they want.


I honestly HATE this! Designer goods for them; but no name, sometimes used, sometimes regifted, items for everybody else.

I guess I'm just tired of associating my name with this kind of behavior, and I'm hoping for a miracle that there's some way I can remove ourselves from this situation without ruining the MIL/SIL/BIL relationship?


    Bookmark   May 29, 2008 at 9:48PM
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You can't change anyone's behavior except your own. So wishing that the joint gifts would stop or that they will stop chastising you if you don't chip in isn't going to get you anywhere. You can either continue to contribute to group gifts in order to keep the peace and get over your feelings about it, OR you can quit contributing and just deal with (ignore if possible) the scolding from MIL.

IDEA: What if you just chip in a nominal amount to their gift $5 or $10, quit giving $60 because you know it won't be matched. Then you can always buy a separate gift for the recipient, spending what you consider to be an appropriate amount.

As for the birthday gifts, who ever said that you HAVE to buy someone a gift, and that it has to be something on their $100 list? Buy IF and WHAT you want and leave it at that. You're letting them bully you into buying them expensive gifts. They probably will still bully you but whether you let them is up to you.

You're worried about not ruining the relationship and I can really sympathize with that. But what I've learned is that your in-laws are going to behave the way they want to no matter what. In my first marriage, no matter what I did, no matter how hard I tried, MIL just didn't like me. And believe me, I tried! What a wasted effort. Second marriage, I'm just myself and nothing more, and unfortunaely inlaws & I have had a couple of unavoidable run-ins due to circumstances beyond our control. However, they still love me and treat me with respect (and vice versa).

Bottom line, you need to live your own life, do what's best for you (just as they are apparently doing!!) and quit acquiescing to their expectations. It's fine to give in on some things, especially the things that are not important to you, but things that go against your grain like this apparently does, stand your ground and do what works for you.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2008 at 11:11AM
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or you can do what one side of our family did--- one couple sent out a letter before Christmas letting folks know that they were no longer going to be giving gifts and would appreciate not receiving gifts. It was the greatest gift I got that year as they are like your family- expect the best, most expensive and give cheap or regifted items.

or my favorite gift a donation in their name to a worthy charity.

I only do group gifts with my mother and we both decide on what we want to spend (its not always equal) and we shop together. When BIL asks to do a group gift I always say- "Thanks for asking us but we already bought a gift or we've already decided on a gift."

    Bookmark   May 30, 2008 at 12:37PM
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I agree with you doing what you want. If you want to buy a gift, do it. If you don't want to, don't. Personally, I hate sharing a gift.

This reminds me of my MIL when she mentioned to me (with her single adult daughter standing right beside her) that "this year we are going to do a Christmas gift exchange where we draw names and each gift will cost $100." I said "Sorry, but I already bought my Christmas gifts. Besides, I can't afford to spend $100 on a gift for an adult family member when I have my own child to buy for. I only buy for the kids, not the adults. My MIL then says, "Well I spent $8,000 last year on gifts on my Visa!" I said "Well that was your choice. I would never spend that much. I only spend what I can. I never go into debt for gift buying."

One of her sons has 5 kids. She expected his family to spend $700 ($100 each) for gift buying for the adults in the family! They can barely buy gifts for all their kids!

No gift exchanges were made that year, or today!

We sometimes get a phone call "Mom's birthday is coming up and we're getting her ***. You want in?". We always answer "No thanks! We already have something in mind."

I would just ignore your MIL's rantings or anyone elses. Do your own gift buying. Eventually they will (or should) get the hint.

The thing about The List really does sound selfish. How can you tell someone what to buy you or expect someone to buy you something?

Stick to your guns!

    Bookmark   May 30, 2008 at 12:47PM
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I'd give donations to a charity in their names for birthday presents, and ignore the list. If they complain, feign surprise because you know how much they care about the whales, the rainforest, the endangered puff-adder, etc. Or their church. It's hard to argue with a donation to the organ fund.

And the combined gifts? Tell MIL to buy whatever she likes and to let you know what your share is. I know that's a little passive-aggressive, but they don't sound like the sort of people who'll respond well to a rational request.

On the other hand, for a shower gift, I'd rather get one biggish present (like a place setting) for 5 people, than 5 smaller gifts. Few thank-you notes. (LOL)

    Bookmark   June 8, 2008 at 12:01PM
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ideefixe, surely you don't mean that if 5 people go in on a big gift, the recipient should only send one thank you note?

Sorry, all 5 get notes.

I assume you mean 5 different people, not 5 members of the same immediate family, especially if they live together; then one note would be fine.

I suppose that if your entire department at work chips in a couple of bucks for something, a "mass thank you" (perhaps in the form of flowers or cookies out on the credenza or something like that) to all could do -- especially if the gift just comes from "all of us," and you don't know for sure who contributed. Even then, I would at write to the one or two who organized it.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2008 at 2:53PM
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No, of course, you'd sent 5 notes. Feeble attempt at jocularity. It's all over now, baby blue.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2008 at 12:17AM
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OK, I understand why you are upset. I had the same problem with my MIL and one of my SIL's, so we just let them know politely that we would no longer be doing a gift exchange and would also prefer not to get (use, regifted) gifts. You might have to do this for your own sake and if they don't like it oh well. Going along with their bullying is not going to make them like you any better, but not going along with it will probably make you feel better.

We have instituted the list with our grown children but in a very differnet way. I personally have an ongoing list of stuff that I would like as gifts for B-days and Christmas etc. The list is distributed among my boys and DIL's but the items on the list range in price from $1.00 all the way to a little over $100.00 (Upper range for hubby to buy if we have the extra money) I also have on the list some personal "time and/or labor" gifts. So if kids are broke they can give me a gift of time/ labor. I have my DIL's trained to send my links to stuff they want through out the year price ranges the same as mine, so I don't have to get in a tissy trying to figure out what they want. This way, with their list, I know that whatever I get them they will love and the surprise is they don't know which items from their list I have picked. It works for us.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2008 at 10:22PM
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