Gee, Thanks: 4 Presumptuous Gifts That Can Strain A Budget

Merry Christmas my a$$. If this means I'm going to be coughing up $750 per month for the next 7 years, I would rather have gotten a nice tie ... or some underwear and socks.

I remember the worst gift I ever received. It was a vacation to the Bahamas that an old girlfriend of mine gave to me. It was one of those too-good-to-be-true ultra-low-cost package “deals” that was exactly that — too good to be true.

Did you know the Bahamas had ghettos? I didn’t either until we pulled up in front of our Freeport “resort.”

To this day I also can’t confirm that the sun has ever been seen in the Bahamas; while we were there it rained incessantly.

It turns out the whole experience was so bad that we ultimately came home after three days.

Yep. Definitely the worst gift I ever received. Truth be told, it flat out sucked.

Speaking of terrible gifts, British charity organization The Brooke conducted a study of 3000 people regarding the most unwelcome Christmas gifts. I notice package-deal vacations did not make this particular list, but here were the top ten items that did:

1. Bubble bath
2. Bath salts
3. Socks
4. Candles
5. Belgian chocolates
6. Knitwear
7. Books
8. Ties
9. Moisturizer
10. Movies you’ve already seen

Gifts Aren’t Supposed to Cost the Recipient Money

Personally, I don’t see the problem with many of those so-called dubious gifts listed above.

Okay, I lied. I would definitely end up regifting knitwear. As for the moisturizer and bath products, well, I’d probably just pass those on to the Honeybee.

Still, I’d argue that it’s not fair to have expectations or requirements for a gift. That’s because, by definition, a gift is supposed to be something that is given to you for free.

You know, it takes some real chutzpah to pooh-pooh a free gift that somebody cared enough to get for you.

I know what you’re thinking: But, Len, you just belittled the gift your girlfriend gave you. Hypocrite!

Well, to paraphrase a famous Frenchman whose name escapes me at the moment, au contraire mon frere!

See, I said it takes chutzpah to pooh pooh a free gift. Free. F-R-E-E. As in costing nothing.

Before I could take advantage of the trip my girlfriend gave me, I had to shell out money for the airfare to Fort Lauderdale — and that’s just one of several other expenses that weren’t included in my “all expenses paid” vacation.

Now I know it’s tough coming up with great gift ideas, but it’s important that you don’t out-think yourself by getting a gift that ends up costing somebody money they’ll need to pay down the road.

In addition to the previously-mentioned vacation package deal, here are three other examples. Given enough time, I’m sure you can probably think of a few more.

1. Automobiles.

Initial Recipient Reaction: “I absolutely LOVE IT, Sweetheart!   Who wants to go for a ride!”
Likely Morning-After Musings: “It looks like I’ve been taken for a ride.”
Remorse Meter: The idiot light is ON.
Comments: Every time I see one of those commercials where the happy housewife looks outside the window at her brand new luxury car in the driveway — complete with an over-the-top red bow that would be two sizes too big for King Kong — I have to laugh. So why does hubby have such a smug smile on his face? Unless he paid for that car up front (unlikely) his wife is going to be saddled with making monthly car payments for several years at least. Talk about the gift that keeps on giving.

2. Puppies, kittens and other pets.

Initial Recipient Reaction: “Oh, she’s absolutely adorable!”
Likely Morning-After Musings: “That was my brand new couch, not a scratching post!”
Remorse Meter: Gagging on a hairball.
Comments: Giving someone a pet as a gift is probably the purest example of presumptuousness I can think of. Pets are an imposition on people; they not only require lots of money to keep healthy, they are a huge commitment.

3. Laptop computers.

Initial Recipient Reaction: “Oh, Honey, it’s absolutely perfect!”
Likely Morning-After Musings: “What do you mean it didn’t come with [fill in the blank]?”
Remorse Meter: Keyboard is missing. Press F1 to continue.
Comments: While a laptop computer usually comes with a built-in keyboard (well, at least the good ones do), there are several items that aren’t included. For example, most owners who care about their laptop will probably want to buy a case. Many folks will also realize that they hate using the little touch pad and so they’ll end up having to pay extra for a wireless mouse as well. Those two items alone can end up costing an additional $100 or more, depending on the quality of the accessories.

As for my old girlfriend, although her heart was certainly in the right place at the time, I guarantee you that her vacation gift will always have the dubious honor of being the worst gift I ever received from anyone, if only because it ended up costing me a lot of wasted cash.

By the way, I swear that opinion has nothing to do with her unceremoniously dumping me a couple years later either. It really doesn’t.

Okay, okay. Maybe just a little.

Photo Credit: Lexus

(This is an updated version of an article that was originally published on December 13, 2010.)


  1. 1

    Olivia says

    My friends and I are negotiating a suitable and geographically fair drop off point for the dud chocolates. We’ll even write thank you notes to the appropriate parties.

    What we absolutely don’t want for Christmas. (Family and friends take note.)

    Battery operated toys. Those little sticky guys from the dollar store you throw on a wall and creep down on their own.

    Art supplies intended for children. Oil based clay. Glitter. Paint by number kits. Pastels. Finger paint. (No Sis, red does not “just wash out”.)

    Chia pets. Famous last words, “I thought you watered it.” Along similar lines, Christmas Cactus. The instuctions indicated it’s a tempermental warm weather plant. It died. Also African Violets and Advacados grown from seeds. They also died.

    Single function tools. Nutmeg grater. Lemon reamer. Onion chopper. Smoothie maker. Tea bag squeezer.

    Fingerless gloves. Socks with toes.

    Unprepared food from a dinner guest. “I thought you could just throw it in the oven with some fresh lemon juice, fresh chopped parsley, and a little olive oil to serve tonight.”

    Anything with candied fruit in it.

  2. 3


    Candles are the most regifted gifts of all. I have never regifted a candle. A bunch of them are gathering dust in my house. Maybe I should start regifting, but I am not sure a dusty candle would be a nice gift.

    Your vacation story reminds me of the sweaters I used to get as gifts. I think they must have been very cheap – for a good reason. The good news is that I can use these sweaters at the start of marathons to keep warm before I start running. The sweaters end up as donations to a clothing bank. So, they come in as a useful gift twice.

  3. 4


    I like Belgian Chocolates! And I know a couple of persons who like getting socks – if it is not the only gift you give… But I don’t like having candles and I don’t like getting spices, coffee mugs, souvenir spoons or another “My only use is getting the dust” kind of thing, unless I asked for those (which would be very surprising).

  4. 5


    I think it is important to know the person to whom you are gifting. One of my good friends paid $17,000 for one of those tubs that you can open the door and walk into. She loves bubble bath so I always get her a couple of sets a year. One thing I would say is if you know a collector, don’t assume he or she wants another dolphin or wolf. Maybe he or she is trying to taper off on collecting. On the automobile commercials, I sure hope the wife isn’t now having to make the payment when the husband picked it out and bought it for her! Oh, what about buying someone a satellite radio – what is it that XM Radio? Maybe buying someone a receiver for the car and then they have to pay a monthly subscription. That’s a bad idea.

  5. 6



    You should never look a gift horse in the mouth. :-)

    I give socks and underwear to my wife and kids every Christmas. Of course, I also get them nice gifts, as well. At first, they thought it was lame. But, now they have grown up and they appreciate it and even expect it. I’m just happy my son doesn’t have to go commando at work.

  6. 7


    I love books! I can’t believe this is on the list. Worse case situation, you get a book you don’t want to read and you have to go exchange it for one you do want.

    Another thing to add to the list: Clothing picked out by grandparents.

  7. 8


    Love the car example, Len. What if you buy the wrong thing, then are stuck with 5 years of luxury car style payments and similarly high insurance?! Who wants that for christmas – it’s like the gift that keeps on taking.
    As far as the terrible gifts list, I dont think those things are all that bad.

  8. 9


    @Olivia: Great list! Is it just me or do socks with toes creep you out too? What about The Clapper? Is that on your no-no list too? :-}
    @Candy: Okay. I definitely know The Clapper is not on your wish list.
    @Ctriet: The Honeybee loves candles. I hate ’em myself. I love your use of the sweaters!
    @DoNotWait: I think I am with you on all of those mentioned — especially the spices. I’m the chef and I’ll buy my own spices, thank you.
    @Mrs. A: Dolphins are so 90s. Wolves are passe too. It’s all about the platypus now.
    @Bret: I’m with ya! The Honeybee specifically asks for socks every Christmas. I’m easy; besides, they’re cheaper than a new car. LOL
    @Jenna: Yes, clothing picked out by grandparents is a great example! I also think books can make great gifts. I disagreed with another unwanted gift listed by those polled — movies I’ve already seen. I say that depends on the movie. For example, I’ve seen the Godfather and Godfather II a dozen times but I wouldn’t mind getting a version on DVD of either of them! Then again, if it was a DVD of the Good German, that’s another story.
    @Jeff: I know. I’ll never understand the car thing. I just won’t.

  9. 10


    What if you brought the chocolates back from Belgium with you? I actually like getting chocolate and socks and some books (but not the ones in the coffee table isle..real ones).

    I’d say another place not to shop is the middle aisle of a department store, you know the place where they have all the seasonal gift items like tie organizers and gimmicky stuff.

    Last place not to shop is your kid’s fund drive magazine. You know the one that peddles 5 pound tubs of cookie dough and random other stuff.

  10. 11


    Alright, I never talk about my personal life on here but I had to chime in.

    A certain someone – if you read our blog, you don’t have to be too smart to figure out who – bought me a satellite radio receiver for Christmas 5 years ago. (We’re Howard Stern fans, and this was for his much-anticipated switch to Sirius.)

    The receiver cost like $50. However, it wasn’t compatible with my truck. And it would have replaced, not just augmented, my existing AM/FM. And it didn’t come with an install kit. And the install kit I had to buy required me to drill a hole in my liftgate, which meant I had to suck it up and go to a professional install place (Tweeter, RIP.) Which botched the job so I had to go to their other location across town. Which they charged me double for, which meant I had to apply to corporate for a refund. Which was hard for them to do, seeing as they were in Chapter 13 and went defunct a few weeks later.

    Oh, and I had to buy a subscription, too. Her $50 gift ended up costing me >$1000.

    Since then, we now have a hard and fast rule. I can buy her gifts, but she can’t buy me any under any circumstances.

    • 13

      Ellis says

      It’s not Christmas without socks and underwear (and maybe pajamas) wrapped up nice and fancy just like the gifts you really want!

  11. 14


    You can send me Belgian chocolates ANY DAY!

    I have received a sweatshirt with the ink tag still attached, numerous ugly sweaters, and the Michael Jackson ‘Bad’ album. I would add those to the list.

  12. 15


    anyone from outside my immediate family (i.e. not within the family budget) with inclinations to give me laptops and/or cars would be my favorite person for the whole next year.

  13. 16


    I think similar thoughts when seeing those commercials where the guy points out the window, holding his wife, suprising her with her brand new car with a super sized bow on it. Like you alluded to, I think of how he probably gifted her with an equally beautiful and charming 5 year loan. What a kind and considerate gift:)

  14. 17


    @FirstGen: Oh, I’ve bought my share of kids’ fundraiser gifts. I traded all that cookie dough in for some love handles.
    @Greg: I love Howard Stern too. i wish he was still on terrestrial radio. (You’ve just made my laptop computer example look fairly tame by comparison.)
    @Mary: I’m not Jewish, but call me when the latkas are ready.
    @Everyday: Speaking of bad albums, how about Styx’s Mr. Roboto album?
    @101Centavos: Fair enough.
    @Squirrelers: I just hate those commercials. I really really do.

  15. 18


    2 years ago my daughter surprised me with a kitten for my birthday. **Best gift ever**

    Even Mr. “Don’t buy me gifts” melted at the sight of her big blue eyes and little white socks.

    It’s like a Control Your Cash reality show, right here on Len’s blog :-)

  16. 19


    Every year I get bubble bath products, and every year I just re-gift them during “Secret Santa” parties. I know, that’s so tacky, but you’d be surprised to know that people sometimes fight over the silliest things.

  17. 20


    First of all, everybody please send their unwanted chocolates and books my way! :-)

    I think that any gift given without the recipient in mind sucks. Bubble bath and rock salts are awesome for my friend Tonia since she loves soaking but they would suck for me since I do not. Books are great for me but sucky for whoever wrote that list. A pet is a great gift if everybody agreed on it in advance and wanted a pet, but it’s cruddy from an extended family member if the poor parents end up having to take care of something that the kids ignore.

    It’s all a matter of perspective and thoughtfulness. :-)

    Your crappy vacation present sucks no matter who you are, lol. I’m glad you found Honeybee!

    • 21

      Olivia says

      Dear Budgeting In the Fun Stuff,

      My friends and I agree with you about the chocolates. Maybe we could make a direct deal with the Brits who don’t want them for Christmas. They can have Hersheys. We’ll take the Belgian.

  18. 22


    A pet is also a cruddy gift if the parents already cannot pay their bills on time and the breed eats minimum $10/week in dog food. What horrible grandparents.

  19. 23


    @Betty: Awww.
    @Little House: I wonder what is more despised, bath products or fruit cake?
    @BIFS: Boy, I’m glad I found the Honeybee too, Crystal. :-)

  20. 24


    My husband’s grandmother gives her grandchildren toilet paper and a 12 pack of Coca Cola every Christmas. The first year we were dating, I thought, “WTF!?” Now I really appreciate the toilet paper. It serves as back-up when one of us forgets to stop by the store on the way home. :-p

    On pets as gifts, I think they make awful *surprise* gifts, but if an adult asks for a puppy for Christmas, I think it’s okay to assume they’ve thought through the continued cost of pet upkeep. Pets as presents for children though? No way, Jose. I think that’s the worst idea there is. Children don’t need to associate a living creature with the other toys they receive Christmas morning – which are likely discarded after two months of play.

  21. 25

    Steve says

    I’m not sure I agree about the laptop. Those are optional accessories and would you really complain if someone bought you a laptop? It’s not an ongoing expense.

    I would replace it with cell phone – with a nice contract. The bigger the data plan the recipient has to pay for, the better!

    Also, anything you give with the expectation that the person use it regularly in your presence, or otherwise prove that they use and/or like it.

  22. 26

    Cybrarian says

    Well, I disagree with just about all of the “terrible” gifts. I’m a librarian who goes through an average of three books a week – books are always welcome. I also love soaking in bubble baths and bath salts and lotions, and my sister and I both love oddball socks. I married a fellow chocoholic, and he’s Belgian, so yes, Belgian chocolates – or any good chocolate – is most welcome. I also wear sweaters a lot, so as long as they’re not tacky, I am happy with knitwear. We also do buy a lot of movies we have already seen – classics we want to watch several times. Okay, ties are useless in our household – my husband last wore one 20 years ago on our wedding day. But otherwise, I really think this is more like my “what I want for Christmas” list! And as far as books being unwelcome – well, I guess it depends which books, but I think it’s telling

  23. 27

    Seth says

    One of our regional vice presidents at work bought her husband a limited edition truck out of the blue and gave it to him. Maybe even with a red bow on top! So there are people out there that do those purchases. Although, she also wears a +7 carat diamond ring on her hand, so I think they probably have the money.

    As for me, I like practical gifts. Something I will use tops the list every time. My wife loves books and kitchen things. I’d say we are both fairly easy.

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