Save. Spend. Splurge.

Is it necessary to give gifts to people to make them feel good?

Had an excellent comment / point from Nico on my post a long time ago about reaching a Minimalist No-Gift Christmas as an adult that made me think:

In regards to giving children under the age of 5 gifts. 

Yes, it’s true that the majority will not remember anything from those years. But we all know that these years are crucial to their development as humans.

The emotions from these experiences, whether good or bad, will stay with them forever.


 Would I really be hurting their developmental well-being and feeling of being loved if I didn’t buy them a gift except on their birthdays?

(Note: When I say “no gifts” I do not mean I will never ever buy them anything in their lives.

For instance, when the kid is old enough, we will buy a bike so that we can all go biking together as a family, but this is not a “gift” because they’re special or because it’s a certain holiday.

It’s just because they’re part of our family.

We  would be buying a tool, or something so that our children can also enjoy the same activities as we do (biking), and spend time together as a family and bike together.)

I don’t disagree that how we treat our children (no matter how young and unaware we think they may be) will stay with them forever, but my question following this would be:

Is it really necessary to give gifts to children to make them feel good emotions — to feel loved and cared for?

I am not entirely convinced that we can’t generate the same emotions without giving stuff.

Does a gift really change everything?

What happens if a parent can’t give their child a gift? Do they feel like they aren’t loved enough?

Can you show love, care and make a child feel secure without giving them a gift?


I can only remember once in my life when I was 10, desperately wanting some $100 pink organizer to enter in data about friends and their birthdays with their telephone numbers (yeah I was a geek.. still am), and not getting it at all. 

I cried and cried on my bed, not understanding why it was such a big deal.

It wasn’t until my brother decided to come in and gently explained that $100 was a lot of money for a toy (I didn’t know, I was only 10 and no one talked about money), and it was not something important that I’d be able to keep forever that I stopped crying.

I looked at him, I considered what he said…. then accepted it.

I remember that incident only because of the lesson I learned that day about $100 being a lot of money for a toy.


We have more than enough to basically spoil our kids rotten if we wanted, but it’s the idea of wanting them to grow up without the expectations that getting a gift means you are loved and cared for.

(Truth be told, I’d rather save the money to be able to send them on field trips with the school, buy them necessary things for school and their life, and feed them good food, not crap instead of spending the money on a big birthday bash with a bouncy castle or buying them a ton of presents each year.)

I get that it’s a way to make people happy, but I wonder if we should really tie the emotion of happiness with gift-getting.

I personally don’t really like getting gifts from people for 3 main reasons:

  1. No one can really know what I want or like, except myself — why not let me buy myself what I want?
  2. I never know what to give back to the other person because I want the gift to be useful and functional too
  3. I feel bad that they spent money on me when they didn’t have to — I’d be happier just getting together why wouldn’t I want to pass these kinds of values (which I hope are good ones, as I am following them) onto my kids early on?

I learned this stuff rather late in life.


My parents never explained any of the above to me to make me the way I am in regards to receiving gifts because truly, they had no logic for the way that they had acted.

They simply didn’t give me gifts because they didn’t want to spend the money on a kid’s toy that would be forgotten in due time, and frankly because they had other priorities & wanted to waste the money on trying to win the lottery… again.

I resented not getting gifts as a child, for sure, but it was because I didn’t understand that what I was asking for, was considered a frivolous expense for them and not a priority for them above gambling.

If for instance, my parents had followed the same rationale that I am currently following today for myself (no gift can ever represent love for someone), and explained to me WHY I was not getting a gift for my birthday like all the other kids, etc, maybe I would have understood the reasoning and their point of view.

I’ll never know because I can’t go back in time, but I have a feeling that it would have made sense to me, had someone explained the situation to me.

(See situation with the $100 pink organizer above.)


How many times have you heard that buying experiences is more rewarding than stuff?

I have heard this repeated ad nauseum and if you want a good succinct article regarding why we’re so materialistic even if we know it is illogical, read this.

An excerpt:

Think about the last time you really wanted something.


When you wanted it, you probably couldn’t think of much else.

When you eventually get that iPad, you sit and admire it the first few times you interact with. As time goes on, that iPad means less and less to you.

[…] none of this means that you need to get rid of all your stuff, stop giving gifts, or boycott iPads.

It’s just an explanation of why we’re so prone to buying things, even when we don’t really need them.

For some people, that iPad offers an experience on par with a vacation.

Likewise, sometimes we just need to buy stuff and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The difference between need and want is that we rarely expect the things we need to make us happy.

Really good food for thought.


That said, I do plan on giving a gift to my children on their birthdays, but not on any other holiday because I don’t follow those traditions / religious views.

What other holidays could I give a gift for? Let’s do a short list:

  • New Year’s – Well it’s not really a holiday but maybe people.. give gifts?
  • Valentine’s Day – I also don’t believe in this (never have), I think it’s a retailing scam
  • St. Patrick’s Day – Again, not Irish. It’s a retailing scam, and kids can’t drink beer until they’re 19 here.
  • Thanksgiving – No gift giving here, just a big meal!
  • Mother’s Day – I’m the mother in this case, and I also think this is a scam; you should love her all year
  • Father’s Day – Retailing scam.
  • Christmas – Am not religious nor traditional

Am I missing any others?

The farthest I will go, is for Thanksgiving and Christmas, to celebrate with a good meal as a family together to take advantage of the holiday spirit that everyone is bursting at the seams with around us.

No gifts, just hanging out, chatting and catching up by spending time together instead (no couch-potato-ing in front of the TV here!)

What do you think? 

Is it necessary to give gifts to children to make them feel loved and special?



  • Me

    I do think that there is a value in giving gifts if that is someone’s love language. Have you heard of love languages? The love languages are categorized into words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, gifts and quality time. The book that they are based on basically says that each of them is equally of value (that is, don’t judge someone because they like gifts more than words of affirmation) but that people tend to give love in the way that they most like to receive it. And so while I don’t value words of affirmation (I know I’m awesome, no need to hear it from other people) I DO value acts of service (coming home to a clean house?? SWOON). I don’t value gifts very highly, but one of my best friends does. And it doesn’t make her shallow or unable to appreciate her friends or the quality of her relationships. It just means that she feels loved when someone thinks of her and gets her a gift even though she can afford anything she wants on her own. So, for her birthday, I often send her flowers or a piece of jewelry because I’ve thought of her and taken the time to show her love in the way she most wants it.

  • Revanche

    I still have the first blanket gifted to me at birth, tattered and in shreds, but honestly, it’s my sentimentality that I keep it, not because I have any recollection of being a 3 month old rolling around on that blanket.

    And I don’t remember a darn thing about getting gifts before the age of five. I don’t think it takes gifts to elicit joy and love, we play with LB pretty constantly and ze laughs a LOT. That joy is measurably greater than when ze received a first present. Ze just looked at the box, tried to chew off the corner, and moved on to petting hir dog because the idea of opening gifts just meant nothing yet. I am unconvinced that regular or frequent gifts are necessary to build that feeling of love and being loved during the developmental stages.

    LB will get a birthday and Christmas gift yearly but I don’t really see doing any more than that.

  • DJ

    Your example of loss of focus, excitement, and/or engagement after fulfillment reminded me of a study concluding that people focus more on the next problem or challenge on their list, rather than savoring the resolution once achieved. We are apparently hard wired to seek out stimulation, the new and different (applies to things as well as people, experiences, our own evolution and point of view), and solve the problems rather than to simply savor our achievements. Part of being a parent is choosing what experiences and things to give your child; I applaud your efforts to do this in a thoughtful, meaningful way.

  • Anne

    In my family, we mostly give immaterial gifts to each other, like movie tickets, a visit to amusement park och a dinner in a favourite restaurant. When we didn’t have that much money (and even now that we do ok), the gifts were free things, like making pancakes for breakfast every Saturday during all winter. One of my best presents ever is a gift card from my husband for 20 Sunday promenades. He does not like walking, I love it. Especially with him.

    I think gifts show your child/partner that you are thinking about what would make them happy and that you want to share the moment with them. But I don’t think that gifts necessarily have to be given a certain day (well, I do celebrate my birthday) or that they have to be material things, although sometimes they are. I feel equally loved every morning when I read the digital newspaper in my native language on my iPad and every Sunday when I promenade with my husband.

  • Ladysarahinlondon

    Some of the best presents I remember getting as a child where gifts, that cost NO money at all. Things like my cousins making me a huge Wendy house out of a cardboard box. We painted it and everything and it was amazing. Also a car my uncle made me with a box again. So I think it’s nice to receive gifts But the cost is not proportionate to the pleasure they give. Some of the most disappointing gifts I received, were things bought by my godmother, very expensive and clearly bought in a hurry out of guilt.

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