Birthdays used to be a free-for-all for my husband and I. For months before the big day, I’d jot down notes about possible presents for him. The gifts would pile up in secret stashes around the house – small things at the bottom of my underwear drawer, big things behind my tall stack of pants and the surplus hidden in the nooks of my office.
I love spoiling my favourite people on special days. Birthdays are an opportunity to make someone feel loved, appreciated, respected and celebrated from morning ‘til night, once a year. It’s an opportunity too tempting to resist!
No matter how old you are, it’s fun to feel loved. But there is one thing about birthdays that gets a little weird as you get older – presents. It’s awesome knowing that someone took the time to think about what you might like then go out and find it for you. It’s one of the many forms of feeling loved and appreciated.
(photo: My 21st birthday - wayyyyy before I started thinking about budgeting!)
But there’s one thing about presents that changes as you get older. It’s the fact that whatever it is you’re lusting after, you can probably buy it for yourself. When you’re a kid, presents are truly incredible; you’ve barely got ten bucks in your piggy bank but your birthday rolls around and suddenly people start handing you shiny new bikes, water guns, video games, puppies.
But as an adult with a career, I could usually just go out and get whatever I wanted. At least, until my husband and I started budgeting.
On the advice of a financial advisor, we opened a bajillion bank accounts and set up bajillions of weekly auto-transfers to get a set amount of money from our ‘income account’ into accounts for bills, family goals, travel, savings and personal spending. The amount going into our separate personal spending accounts each week is all we have to spend for the week – on eating out, coffees, clothes, haircuts, movies and, you guessed it, gifts.
All of a sudden, we couldn’t buy ourselves whatever we wanted. I'd never felt like I spent much money on anything but food (so much food) but the budget made me realise that I had been spending more than I thought. So, when my birthday rolled around, there were so many things that I really, truly wanted but hadn’t been able to save up for just yet. Like hoop earrings. And Moonglow by Michael Chabon. A pedicure!
Receiving those things as gifts meant so much to me. They would have been awesome gifts regardless of the budget, but the fact that I couldn’t just go out and get them whenever I wanted made it all so exciting.
And on the flipside, I know that my husband had to spend his precious personal spending money to buy me those presents. As his birthday approached, I had to do the same – I started tucking money away every week to make sure I’d have enough set aside to get him a great gift.
Sometimes gifts get a bad rap because of the obligatory nature of them. I can totally understand that point of view. But I also believe gifts have an incredibly precious place in our culture and if you’re feeling a bit down on the ritual, it might be time to find a way to reinvent it.