The first year my husband and I were married, he bought me what I thought was the world’s best Christmas gift: a full-size, framed picture of Cameron Indoor Stadium (college basketball fans will know this is where Duke University, my alma mater, plays its home basketball games). A few years later, he outdid himself when he bought me a Precious Figurines in the midst of our struggle to get pregnant, a gift that said something he couldn’t quite put words to. He was a pro at buying the perfect Christmas gifts for me, and I was no slouch either.
As a child, I’d always laughed at the idea that it was better to give than it was to receive, but in the early years of my marriage, I came to not only believe that old adage, but to live by it as well. I got so much pleasure out of buying just the right gifts for my husband that I started to look forward to watching him open Christmas gifts more than unwrapping the presents he’d bought for me.
Then we had kids… and everything changed.
The No-Gift Christmas
Our first child was born in September 2008. After her arrival, I took a prolonged maternity leave from my job – 16 weeks at home – to adjust to motherhood. The holidays came at the tail end of my time away, which meant that all the money we’d saved up for my maternity leave was long gone by the time Christmas shopping season arrived.
In order to make sure we didn’t start the new year in a hole, my husband and I agreed to a “no-gift” Christmas. Instead of lavishing each other with Christmas gifts as we had in past years, when our budget was usually around $250 per person, we went cold turkey. That year, although there were piles and piles of gifts under the tree, every last one was for our then three-month-old daughter; not a single present was for us.
The next two years were tight for us financially as well, so we once again chose to skip giving gifts to one another. It wasn’t until last Christmas that we finally found the wiggle room in our budget to once again exchange Christmas gifts.
The “I Need” Christmas
After several years of not exchanging presents – and really living on a tight budget – there were many, many things my husband and I actually needed. I desperately needed new underwear; my husband really wanted to replace his four-year-old running shoes. I didn’t want him going underwear shopping for me (I knew exactly where that would land me – in lacy thongs 365 days a year), and he wasn’t exactly keen on having me pick out a pair of shoes for him (I tend to go with fashion over function when it comes to footwear). So we went “Christmas shopping” for ourselves.
Re-Learning a Lost Art
This year’s been really good to us. Thanks to my newly-minted position as a professional writer, I’ve been able to make the financial decision that new underwear, socks, and bras are no longer Christmas gift material, but are incorporated into our family’s regular budget. In other words, my Christmas list – and my husband’s, as well- will no longer be comprised of needs, but of wants.
It’s a luxury, for sure, and one I’m not quite sure how to handle. Over the past several years, I’ve actually forgotten how to buy Christmas gifts for my husband. Our bare-minimum budget over the past four-plus years has meant we haven’t bought each other many gifts over the past several years, and that – when we do buy a gift – it’s usually with the other person’s input. There have been no secrets, no grand surprises, our gift giving has been expected, boring even. To tell the truth, I really don’t have a clue how to buy my husband presents anymore, how to secretly figure out what he wants without leading him on or giving him a clue.
So here’s my question for all of you – do you buy Christmas gifts for your spouse, or do you do your own Christmas shopping? If you do buy for one another, are those presents “surprises”? What’s the best gift you’ve ever purchased for your spouse – or the best one you’ve ever received?