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'The Christmas present rule that saves me a fortune every single year.'

All good revolutions start with someone losing their sh*t and having enough of a situation.

The French revolution. The Russian revolution. And my own, personal, Christmas revolution.

This is the tale of how it began…

About fifteen years ago, all my friends fell pregnant around me, and I went through IVF, I happily bought all the cherubs birthday and Christmas gifts.

And then, one year, I was suddenly a mum with a cherub… and my friends started having more kids. Pretty soon, no one whom I gave presents to had only one child like I had. Most of them had 3-4 kids.

At first, that wasn’t a problem at all – and certainly not an issue with those closest to me. Gorgeous kids, to gorgeous friends. What a joy to be invited to four of their birthday parties a year. How nice to have friends who included us all the time. That was my attitude – especially as we had been invited somewhere, a gift was a no-brainer.

But where I began to notice a discrepancy was at Christmas. All of a sudden, I would find myself up for 20-25 presents for kids – all at the same time.

It was stressful, coming up with so many different presents – and, admittedly, I just found it an unnecessary expense. All of the kids around us had so much – I began to wonder if presents from non-family at Christmas was really necessary?

With a couple of my friends at the time, I tried to suggest a Kris Kringle of sorts – but they didn’t like that because my son would still get a present from everyone, but a couple of their kids wouldn’t get one from us.

Hmmm… that was the first warning sign with these particular friends. They didn’t want any of their kids to miss out, and that was perhaps fair enough. But then… they also didn’t want to not do presents at all. That’s the point of Christmas, they would argue – gifts for kids.

Secretly, I thought we’d be better off donating goods to Christmas appeals – which would also be sticking to the “point of Christmas” – but I wasn’t strong enough at the time to say that.

So, I went along like this for a few of years, until one year, we exchanged gifts with one of my friends with four kids – and sh*t got real.

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I had suggested in October we don’t do gifts; we just get together for a pre-Christmas celebration as usual. This friend didn’t want to do that. She wanted her kids to get gifts, because, what was Christmas without the presents?

Well, the answer to that was, of course, it was still Christmas. But alas, I didn’t speak my mind.

So I painstakingly searched for four good-quality but affordable gifts, around $15 each – so that I’d spent $60 on the family in total. I knew my friend would spend around $50 on my son, so I thought that was OK. I was happy with that.

But my friend was… not.

Watching her kids with their $15 gifts, her face creased with concern. She looked at my son, whom she’d given a $50 toy to (I knew it cost that much, because I had intended to get it for him).

“I thought we were going to do proper presents?” she said, disgusted. “I spent $50 on your son’s gift!”

And you know what I did? I stammered, “Oh, yes, these were just warm up gifts, I’ll give you the real gifts when we see you later.”

And I went and bought $50 gifts for all of her kids.

On top of the $15 each I had spent on them.

It was madness – and entirely my fault for not being firm enough. That’s when I promised myself that I would never, ever, be in that situation again.

Which is why I now have this rule: each family must spend the same amount. Otherwise, we don’t do presents at all.

Because if I didn’t institute this rule, we would forever be spending 3-4 times the amount that other people would on us. And that just didn’t seem right – or necessary.

This friend of mine – she was happy for me to spend $200 on her family – whilst she’d only spent $50 on my son. That’s the way she wanted it.

It just didn’t feel right. Yes, I was a new sole parent at the time – but that wasn’t the point. Even if I’d had $1 billion in the bank, something seemed off about how comfortable she was with the imbalance.

I put my new suggestion to her the next year. Using my rule, she either gratefully accepts $15 presents for her four kids, or, if I’m supposed to buy “proper” presents for $50 a pop, she buys my son a $200 gift.

Makes perfect sense to me, I said to her, if she was so concerned about things being equal.

OR, we didn’t do presents at all, but simply enjoyed a festive get together. I told her that was my preference. To my relief, she opted for it – even though she said my attitude was “ugly” and “not in the spirit of Christmas”.

I didn’t care – it worked. And you won’t be surprised to hear, we’re no longer friends.

Because what I realised from her reaction is that our values were very different – because she seemed entitled to a respect/acknowledgement from me that she wasn’t willing to reciprocate.

To me, that wasn’t the spirit of Christmas at all.

If you’d like to hear more from Nama Winston, check out her stories, and subscribe to her weekly newsletter here.

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