Financial Feud: Gifts vs. Retirement savings

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In Dispute:

$300 - $400 a month

The Argument:


My mom constantly buys me presents, even though I don't really want or need them. Between groceries, money for gas and other cash and in-kind gifts, she sometimes spends $300 to $400 on me a month. When I try to talk to her about it, she says gift-giving is a part of her culture -- she's originally from the Philippines. I say she should save her money for more important purchases and put it towards things she really needs for herself, like retirement savings. AM I RIGHT?

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The Argument:

I’m an only child. When I went away to college, my mom definitely suffered from empty nest syndrome and would send me very elaborate care packages. They’d include things like dorm-sized rice cookers and designer clothes she thought I would like.

At first, I thought it was really sweet. But it got to the point where she was sending me so much stuff that my house was getting cluttered. Some of the things she was sending I didn’t even like or want. With clothes, I could say, “Thanks for sending this to me, but it isn’t really my style and it didn’t fit me right.” But it was harder to come up with excuses for other presents.

At this point, I’m pretty sure my mom has an idea that I think these presents are a waste of money. But I also know that gift-giving in her culture is huge. Whenever the issue comes up, she tells me the story of her aunt, who kept a stockpile of gifts on hand, just in case someone brought a girlfriend over for Christmas and no one thought to get her anything.

I’ve tried to tell my mom that she and my dad have other things they need to worry about right now -- she doesn’t have anything saved up for retirement -- but I haven’t made much progress.

To make matters worse, every once in a while, my mom actually sends me something I really like, and it’s hard to say no to that.

Yes, you are RIGHT, Cristeta. Your mother should save her money for more important purchases and put it towards things she really needs for herself, like retirement savings. But … the real problem is that your mom won’t listen.

Here is a twist: since you want to continue giving your mom joy in gift giving, ask her to give you "cash gifts" instead. Take the money and open up an investment account and save the money for her. When she is ready to retire, you can use it to help. Because in the Philippine culture, it’s also expected that the kids help out the parents when the parents get older!

About the author

Louis Barajas is a small business and personal finance expert and author of five books on the subject.
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First of all have to say, I envy you. You have a great mother. You should be happy with those gifts. But you can also say to her save those money for the future so that both of you can have a great time going to places. You can also give gifts to your friends when there is an event in place.

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I'm with Barajas.

Return gifts if you can, put the money in a saving account destined for Mom.

That way the gifts that mean something to you you can keep and the stuff that's just cluttering up the house is gone.

Asking for cash instead may not work due to cultural differences. But returns or worst case, Craig's list should change clutter to cash.

Where is this guys heart? I suggest reading up on the 5 love languages - it's clear that your mom values gift giving as a love language, and you have another preferred method. I agree it's possible she expects to return to live with you when she is unable to care for herself. You need to give her a few small gifts for a few weeks, then over tea one afternoon have a heart-to-heart about her expectations and yours. Focus on how to understand each others needs instead of the financial issues, and Mom will be much more likely to listen.

That's a very fair point, Mrs G. I think getting both mom and daughter to read about the five love languages and compare notes is a really good idea! But here's the thing: receiving gifts clearly isn't high on this daughter's list, so the Mom needs to figure out what her daughter really wants, as opposed to satisfying her own gift-giving need. Perhaps even more importantly, Mom needs to figure out what all that extravagant gift-giving is compensating for. Maybe she wants more quality time with her daughter; maybe she herself wants gifts. Whatever it is, the gift-giving clearly ain't working!

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