What My Debt Has Taught Me About Receiving Gifts

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The following post is by MPFJ staff writer Travis. Travis is a customer blogger for CareOne Debt Relief Services, and also appears weekly at Enemy of Debt. Travis candidly shares his personal journey to pay off $109,000 of credit card debt and the tips he’s learned along the way. As a father and husband, he provides a unique perspective on balancing debt, finances, and family.

Imagine it’s a Friday night, you and a friend enter a bar, sit down, and each order a beer.  The bartender places two glasses on the counter.  You reach for your wallet to pay for yours, but you hear your friend say, “I’ll get both,” as he picks up the tab..  What do you say? 
If you’re like I was that Friday night, you respond with, “Thanks, buddy, I’ll get the next one!”
However, we never got to the “next one,” as I ended up leaving before he was ready for another one.  Having a chance to think about it later that night, I felt bad that I never got  the chance to return the favor.  I hoped my friend hadn’t thought I skipped out early on purpose so I didn’t have to pay for anything that night. 
Over the last few years, my mother-in-law has made a habit of paying for both my wife and I when we go out for dinner together, even if it was at our invitation.  That made me uncomfortable because it makes me wonder if she buys only because she happens to know our debt situation.  It made me even more uncomfortable when she would tell the server before we order to put it all on one check because then I over analyze everything I order to make sure it doesn’t seem like I’m taking advantage of the situation.
A few months ago, we got together with a friend from out of state that we don’t see very often.  We wanted to go to an Italian festival, but circumstances required we use a cab for transportation.  I attempted to take care of the fare when we arrived at our destination, to which our friend jokingly asked, “What do you think you’re doing?” and paid.  No problem, I thought, I’ll pick up the tab for the return trip.  That didn’t work out either, as she quickly handed the cab driver her card, and wouldn’t allow me to reimburse her.   This friend also knows our debt situation, and I again wondered if this was the reason for her refusing to allow me to help take care of the bill.
Maybe it’s because I’m embarrassed about our debt and I think I walk through life with “I’m In Debt” tattooed on my forehead.  Or, maybe it’s because I feel a little bit guilty about the fact that these gifts end up actually helping our real life financial picture.  I hate myself for thinking about how to use the money I just saved because my mother-in-law just bought our dinner.

Looking back, I have been a horrible gift receiver.
But, something happened this week that really changed my perspective.  My parents came to where I live because my mom had an appointment at the Mayo Clinic regarding potential back surgery.  She asked me to attend if possible to listen to the doctor to know what was going on, ask any questions I could think of, and help decide a course of action.  When the appointment was over, she handed me money telling me it was to pay for parking.
I’m 38 years old, and am gainfully employed.  I may be in debt but I can certainly pay for two hours worth of parking.  I was about to give it back to her and tell her just that, but she had this look in her eyes that made me realize that this wasn’t about three one dollar bills folded into a crisp rectangle.  This was her way of showing me beyond words her appreciation for taking time off of work, coming to her appointment and being a part of a very difficult decision.
I slipped the money into my pocket, smiled, and thanked her.

I had suddenly gained a very different view of the reason people give gifts.  The friend at the bar, my mother-in-law, and our friend from out of town weren’t expecting me to buy the next round, the next meal, or for pay for the next cab ride.  People give gifts to simply let you know that they appreciate who you are, what you do, and what you add to their life. 

It truly is the thought behind the gift that counts.
I’ve said before that as I’ve traveled along my journey out of debt that I’ve learned to value the wonderful people in my life, and the relationships I have with them.  This new appreciation of the meaning behind a gift only magnifies that perspective.  To the people reading this that have given me a gift of any kind, I offer you a heartfelt and sincere “Thank You.”
I now truly understand the value of what you have given me, because I truly value you being in my life as well.  I would also like to tell you that someday, I may give you a gift.  Not in repayment, but as a token of my appreciation and gratitude of the very special place that you occupy in my life. 
I ask you all to keep this in mind as we enter the holidays and we receive gifts from our loved ones. It may be a $5 drink, a $50 cab ride, a $75 dinner, or $3 to pay for parking. The dollar value doesn’t matter. Look deeply for the meaning behind the gift, hold it close to your heart, and treasure it.
How about you all? Has being in debt made you view gifts differently? How so?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

    ***Photo courtesy of http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/Birthday_g169-Red_Gift_Box_In_Human_Hand_p35472.html


    1. John S @ Frugal Rules says:

      Nice post. When I was in debt it made me feel much more appreciative of the gift given to me. I completely agree that it's the thought behind the gift that matters.

      • “It's the thought that counts,” – – We've all said that a thousand times, haven't we, John? Maybe it's just me, but when I've said it, it's almost been robotic, and I just thought of it in the general sense of “they wanted to do something nice for me.” But when my mom gave me that $3 for parking, I realized that the “thought” behind a gift can be so much more meaningful and specific.

        Maybe everyone else had that figured out….but it was new to me. 🙂
        My recent post Smart Phones are Going to Cost Me How Much?

    2. Nice article. I do the same thing that you do at restaurants if I know somebody else is paying. I always feel like I don't want to order more than what I'm offered. Enjoyed the post!
      My recent post The VIP Club Roundup – 10th Edition

      • I'm right there with you, Greg. I'd like someone to do a study on ordering habits comparing when a people know they're paying their own bill, and when they know someone else is paying. I think that would be interesting….don't you?
        My recent post Smart Phones are Going to Cost Me How Much?

    3. Jon@PayStudentLoans says:

      I hate the feeling of knowing someone else is paying and then I end up not getting what I really want if its more expensive on the menu.

      Or the vice versa happens and all I want(regardless of cost/who is paying) is a club sandwich and a water (cheapest lunch option) and the person takes that as me not wanting to spend their money and insists I get the steak – awkwardness ensues.

      In the end enjoyment for all is not maximized!
      Solution? – I don't have one.
      My recent post 8 Student Loan Articles To Help Reduce Your Loan Burden

      • I wonder how it would play out if I ordered what I wanted….but as soon as I thought it was too much I just told the person who had offered to pick up my tab that I was planning on now ordering (bottle of wine, extra desert, whatever) something that exceeds what I'm comfortable them paying for, and that I would put the rest on a separate tab. They could object, or maybe they'd be appreciative….but at least everyone would be on the same page.

        What do you think of that, Jon?
        My recent post I Love You Like a Blogger Roundup – 11/9

    4. M@BarbaraFriedbergPF says:

      I feel ashamed of myself when somebody pays for the food I ate or the beer I drunk because I could not afford to pay for it because I was in debt. In return, I prepare gifts in another form. Being in debt developed my creativity in giving gifts. Last Christmas, we baked cakes and cookies which we gave to our friends. This year, we will be making personalized calendars with their photos. I believe that gifts should not be really expensive but it should show your appreciation to the people you love.

      • We've done our share of “creating” gifts over the last few years, and we've also been the recipient of many such gifts. I think calendars with photos are a GREAT idea – I'd include pictures of favorite memories that you have with that person – I just may have to “borrow” that idea! Thanks for your comment M!
        My recent post Reduce Expenses and Get Out of Debt – Use Mental Toughness

    5. Pauline @ Reach Financial Independence says:

      I am terrible at receiving gifts too. And I am not in debt, well, just mortgage, but because I am frugal, people tend to think that I am poor. I chose to work less, earn less, and have more free time. So when my mum works hard, late nights, and then gives me money, I feel very bad. But I think she is trying to please me and I should take the money anyway. Sometimes I think this is that much less that will be taxed in my inheritance so I'd rather have it now 🙂
      My recent post Friday recap, plugged in, hammock hung!

      • Congratulations on having your mortgage as your only debt…..I'm looking forward to being in that kind of position. That's quite a unique perspective on gifts from your mom….LOL. Thanks for sharing your personal situation, Pauline!
        My recent post Reduce Expenses and Get Out of Debt – Use Mental Toughness

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