For a very long time — as in from about age 13 to age 26 — I cared a shit-ton about how much Christmas presents cost. I'd set a $50 limit with friends (which was obscene because we were poor students, who shouldn't have been spending anything), I maxed out more than one credit card, and I actually expected my parents to spend a certain amount. (They didn't, because I was completely off my rocker, and they shamed me accordingly.) But ultimately, I was an asshole.
The first time I worried about spending money as opposed to giving a gift that came "from the heart" was in grade eight. At 13, I had my first experience with Secret Santa, and saw just how condemned the presents were that obviously didn't make the $10 limit. High school brought even more empty gift exchanges, and by the time I had real-life good friends, aside from one or two best pals, we were spending upwards of $50 because that was "fair."
I have no idea why any of us thought anything above $10 was "fair" because we were all poor students, but it took until the honesty of our mid-20s to finally preface presents with, "Yeah, I don't have much money right now…" before we realized, who cares?
Who cares how much you spend? Who cares where you bought something? Who cares if you bought something? Contrary to what holiday ad campaigns would have you believe, Christmas isn't about making yourself look like a baller and impressing your friends with a cashmere sweater. Truth is, nobody is going to have that cashmere sweater in a year. Nobody's life was enriched by a cashmere sweater. Anybody could've been on the receiving end of that gift, and it would've gotten the same reaction: "Thank you!" (No offense to anybody involved in the world of cashmere — but we both know the beauty of your product is that it's adaptable for everybody, and hey, that's why you're successful, so congratulations.) Gift-giving isn't about filling a quota or crossing names off a list or even getting "everything done" — it's about hanging out with people you like. If you see something that stands out for a person, pick it up and give it to them. If you don't, wait until you do. Or take them for dinner. Or compare war stories of how poor you both are. (One night a few years ago, three of us sat around comparing how little money we had and after I admitted I used rolled coin to pay bills and my friend admitted she bought cheese in bulk and froze it if it was on sale, our friend won after telling us about splitting a junior hamburger for dinner with her boyfriend a few weeks earlier because that's all they could afford. And it was the best, and we laughed so much.)
Anybody worth anything to you wouldn't judge anyone based on how much or how little they spend on a gift. Only a monster would follow up a "oh, it's nice!" with "and how much was this?" or "where did you get it?" I mean, remember that commercial where a woman gives her friend a vase, and the others get rattled about their $30 limit? (But it's okay because the woman got the vase ON SALE.) Think about them. Because if you're starting to think like they were, it's time to put the vase down, march right into a coffee shop and calm down with a cup of tea while re-evaluating how we all got here and how we can fix our lives.
It's easy to get caught up in monetary present value when we live in a world that's consumed by it. But think of Christmas like this: remember when you were a kid? And you were psyched just to put on that sweet dress and put a shit-ton of marshmallows in your hot chocolate? And sure, Santa brought presents, but you were just psyched to, well, be alive? You can have that again. You can have that by deciding to have it. Once money starts to dictate worth and happiness, we're doing it wrong. We know money can buy things, but it can't buy fulfillment, and you're certainly not going to find or deliver fulfillment via dollar minimums and expensive labels for the sake of abiding by a monetary guideline.
We're too smart to fall in the "and I still need to spend $5 on so-and-so to finish her gift" trap. We think and we question, and we should know better. The holidays aren't a time for shaming (unless you count grandparents at dinner asking why you don't have a boyfriend), and they're not a time to be shamed. Don't be the vase ladies. Honestly I was be emotionally destroyed if someone thought they could appease me by bringing me something they picked up and spent money on just do to it — spend that money on snacks we can hang out with and eat on the couch, instead.