When Is the Right Time to Stop Giving Gifts to Nieces and Nephews?

My daughter, Nina and her friend, Ashley. My little girl keeps growing up, no matter how nicely I ask her not to.

When my daughter, Nina, was still measuring her age in single-digits, I’d tuck her into bed every evening and, just before kissing her goodnight, ask her to stop getting older.

She didn’t listen.

The truth is, kids are always in a hurry to grow up.

Unlike many adults, who prefer to stop counting at 39, kids proudly embrace every new candle on their birthday cake as a badge of honor.

Why else would they typically go out of their way to volunteer that they’re not just, say, “six” — but “six-and-a-half”?

Nina officially became a teenager earlier this summer. Never mind that she had been telling anybody who would listen that she was “almost 13″ only a few months after celebrating her twelfth birthday.

For Nina, getting to her 13th birthday was especially important because that was the milestone we established she had to reach before she could have her own Facebook account.

Of course, every kid also looks forward to their 18th birthday because that’s the day they officially become adults. Hopefully, upstanding responsible ones.

Not coincidentally, age 18 also happens to be the last time my nieces, nephews, and other close friends and family members get birthday and Christmas gifts from their Uncle Len. After that, I still mark those occasions by an appropriate Hallmark greeting card — but sans cash, gift certificates or gift cards.

If people think that makes me a penny-pinching curmudgeon, so be it.

As I see it, you have to draw the line somewhere and, frankly, I have no intention of sending a thirtysomething niece or nephew who’s earning a six-figure income a birthday card with a sawbuck in it.

Come to think of it, I see no point in sending a thirtysomething niece or nephew who’s earning almost zero income a birthday card with a sawbuck in it either.

Of course, if not handled correctly, that kind of gift policy can become an extremely delicate situation — especially when you’ve got multiple nieces and nephews still living in the same house who are on both sides of 18. That’s when things can get really … interesting.

I found that out the hard way a few years ago. The Honeybee and I ran afoul of a 19-year-old relative after she opened up her Christmas card from us and found no cash or gift card inside. Her disappointment then turned to resentment after she saw that her younger siblings still got their gifts.

What soon followed was some very, let’s just say, unseasonal holiday “greetings” sent in our direction. Over time, I think she eventually came to accept our household gift-giving policy — but not before she regretfully expressed a lot of hard feelings.

That little incident taught me the importance of giving my teenage nieces and nephews — and their parents too — a friendly reminder of my gift giving policy at least a year or two before the annual gift door closes. That way there are no surprises.

And before any of you fire off one of your own nasty-grams telling me what an inconsiderate cheapskate I am, you can rest assured that all my nieces, nephews and other close relatives will still be receiving gifts for their high school and college graduations, and their weddings and baby showers too. Assuming I get an announcement, of course.

See there?

I may be a crusty curmudgeon, but I also have a heart.

Photo Credit: Brandon Gay


  1. 1

    Ashley says

    All of the hurt feelings could have been avoided if you’d made this “policy” clear to the rest of your family before it became an issue. I’d have been upset as a 19 year old kid, too, if I found out about your policy on the spot. A slightly larger last gift with a “this is your last one”! (written more politely) would have worked, too.

    • 3

      Mike says

      At 19 your’re an adult sulking over not getting a present is childish behavior. What was he supposed to do call a meeting to tell all his nieces and nephews that the gifts would stop when turn 18. Did you ever hear the saying expect not and you shall not be disappointed?

  2. 4

    Diana Masone says

    Loved your post and the clarity of your gift-giving policy. One might add to it that generosity towards those under 18 may also come to a screeching halt in the absence of any expression of gratitude for 2-3 gifts in a row (one oversight may be forgiven).

    • 5

      Len Penzo says

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Diana! One of my biggest fears when writing anything is whether or not anyone will be interested in the topic I’ve chosen to write about.

      I know a lot of folks who feel the same way you do about lack of gratitude. And right so. I give a lot of slack when it comes to birthday and Christmas gifts … but I have little to zero tolerance for that when it comes to weddings, graduation and shower gifts. Don’t ask me why the difference. That’s just how I feel.

    • 6

      Karen says

      I may be a little late in commenting, but when I never got so much as a thank you for generous cards and gifts at all, I stopped alltogether. Karen

      • 7

        Len Penzo says

        It’s never late for too late to leave a comment, Karen. I think your response to the lack of a thank you is a reasonable one.

  3. 8


    I come from a large family so we just do a draw for one person to gift each year and it’s assumed we don’t do gifts for the kids. It would lead to bleeding our bank account. This system works and is insurance no one’s feelings get hurt.

    • 9

      Len Penzo says

      That’s what we do too, Jerry. After 18, it’s time to get into the annual family gift exchange where we draw names.

  4. 10


    I am not yet in this situation and wont be for a while but I will definitely be keeping this in mind. It also helps that I don’t have a massive family.

    I would he disappointed I didn’t received a gift but I would not have been nasty about it. Different for every person I guess.

    • 11

      Len Penzo says

      I’m with ya, Lance. I didn’t raise a stink when my aunts and uncles stopped sending me gifts. But you’re right, I guess some kids can’t help but feel entitled to their gifts — and I blame that on the parents, who should be responsible for properly setting their kids’ expectations so they don’t feel that way. But that’s just me.

  5. 12

    Bill says

    This used to be a controversial subject in my home too. The wife wanted to never stop giving gifts, but I insisted we stop the gift giving after the neices and nephews turned 18. I actually stood my ground and won that argument. Probably the only one I ever won. We’ve never had a problem after we stopped putting money in the cards. Now that I think about it, I’m kind of surprised we haven’t.

  6. 14


    18 sounds like a pretty good policy to me – why continue to subsidize someone into their 20s? “Happy graduation! Here’s $200!”. “Oh you’re second promotion? Have $50!”. “You’re a director now? Happy birthday, here’s $100!”

    On the flip side, how do you get grandparents to stop sending money (once they have decided that no age is too high)? Let’s be serious here – college marks shouldn’t receive generation skipping payments.

  7. 16

    Kelsey says

    Why do gifts have to equal money? I’ve always found gift cards and cash a little cold as presents. It’s much more meaningful to give something that made you think of the person. My husband and I went to half-price books yesterday and got gifts for almost everyone we know for a grand total of $86. The cheapest of those was a $3 book about fairies for my cousin; the most expensive was a $9 dry-erase learning book for our young niece and nephew. We were able to get more gifts and spend less money than if we had bought gift cards–who wants a $3 gift card?

    • 17

      Len Penzo says

      You’re right, Kelsey. It’s just so easy giving cash.

      Then again, I’ve got to be honest with you. When I was a kid, a thoughtless cash gift (of any amount) almost always trumped a thoughtful tangible gift. (I said almost.)

  8. 18


    I deal with four nieces/nephews on my side of family on a case by case basis: I just sent $50 to my niece who turns 21 today. She needs the cash (heading to grad school), is appreciative, has a good head on her shoulders, etc. On the other hand, my two, younger nephews I’ve cut off because they fail even to acknowledge gifts and their family is wealthy. I don’t feel any obligation to treat them equally–I don’t think equally is the same as fairly, yes?

    • 19

      Len Penzo says

      You’re right … “fair” and “equal” are not synonymous. At least not in my world, Kurt.

      But that seems to be a minority opinion these days.

  9. 20


    You should ask her where your gift is? Now that she’s an adult she can start buying gifts for her relatives.

    We don’t buy Christmas/birthday gifts for our nieces and nephews. We spoke as siblings and agreed. We still have birthday parties, but only the grandparents, and parents fork out for gifts. It’s a good system, I like it; so does my sanity as the toy room is already overflowing :)

    • 21

      Len Penzo says

      Mandy … speaking with your sibs ahead of time was a smart move. It diffuses a lot of potential issues before they can crop up and cause big problems. Good job!

  10. 22

    Allyn says

    My first husband and I both came from large families (I was one of 8 kids, and my ex was one of 7) and most of those siblings had two or three kids so Christmas for us was a stressful, account-draining event. After a couple of Christmases went by, we realized we simply couldn’t afford to buy for all those people. We decided that we’d buy for the kids until they were 13 yrs old and we’d take a basket of homemade baked goods to each house as our Christmas present to the family. We let everyone know when we made the decision (well in advance of the holiday) and then we gently reminded each youngster when they turned 13 that they were no longer on the rolls. Each year, our Christmas-buying list got shorter and shorter until we were finally left with taking the big basket of baked goods to each house. It’s a tradition I’ve continued with my second husband. We don’t buy gifts; I spend the first three weeks of December in the kitchen.

    • 23

      Len Penzo says

      I think that is an awesome tradition, Allyn. Who doesn’t like fresh baked cookies and pumpkin or banana bread during the holidays? Fudge too! My mouth is watering just thinking about all those goodies. mmmm mmmmm!

      When you have lots of brothers and sisters who have families with several kids each, the annual gift expenditures can really add up.

  11. 25

    Lola says

    When I was growing up, my sisters and I each received a gift from our godparents. We didn’t get anything from any other aunt or uncle (and we had MANY). I now have 11 nieces and nephews. I used to buy them each a birthday gift and a Christmas gift. A couple years ago I finally gave up trying to keep track of all their birthdays, and bought them each 2 gifts at Christmas time. Last year I didn’t have money for 2 gifts each, so they each got one for Christmas. That’s how I’m leaving it for now. My oldest nephew is 24 and there are 2 more that’ve passed the 18 mark, but I think my cut-off point will be when they move out of their parents’ houses. I’m ok with this because I don’t have any kids of my own, and I enjoy shopping for them. (I also used my credit card points for the gift cards I got the oldest ones, so there was no actual out-of-pocket money there :)

    • 26

      Len Penzo says

      “I also used my credit card points for the gift cards I got the oldest ones, so there was no actual out-of-pocket money there.”

      That is a clever idea, Lola. Good thinking! I might have to borrow that one.

  12. 27

    Matt says

    This is PERFECT! It’s just what I was looking for–an idea of what age is the cutoff. Age 18 is ideal. Like you did, I currently have one niece over 18 and two under 18 living in the same house. I plan to say that this is the last year the 18-year-old will get cash. Always enjoy reading your articles, Len, even that political one weeks ago that drew some heat. I may not have agreed with you 100% on everything, but it’s your blog, so you’re entitled to write whatever you want. You also provide sound financial advice, so if people wanted to quit reading because of that, then I guess they don’t want your $$ advice. Oh well. Keep up the good writing–I learn a lot!

    • 28

      Len Penzo says

      “Always enjoy reading your articles, Len, even that political one weeks ago that drew some heat.”

      I’m still trying to forget that one, Matt. Thanks a lot for reopening that wound for me. ;-)

      Seriously, though, I’m glad you found this piece helpful.

  13. 30

    KIM says

    This is great Len. And no, you’re not a cheapscroogemiserass turning Christmas trees upside down or peeing on other’s yule. My policy is that when the last one is out of the house, I’m done. I’ve been lucky though–they all HAVE gone off to college and not one of them has “squatted” at the ‘rents. One of two more to go so only 2 left getting the big bucks (I’m generous to a fault).

  14. 32

    SassyMamaw says

    The policy is good. I just think some advance warning may have been in order. My in-laws have policy that all their grandkids get gifts until they turn 18 or finish high school. At that point they go into a drawing, along with the grown-ups. But you are always reminded (and kidded!) when your last one comes around.

  15. 33


    A good idea really – we only give to our immediate family anyway, as Maria has posted recently. There is so much commercialisation of Christmas that it takes away the fun. But perhaps, if adopting your sensible standard of stopping at 18 (and forewarning at 17), you should point out that they received gifts when they were 0, 1, 2 etc which their younger siblings didn’t!

    Of course really clever young people would start counting their age in hexadecimal for presents and binary when they wanted to appear grown up! A friend sent birthday cards for our son when young when he was 1, 10, 11, 100. I sent him one for his 46th birthday a few years ago!

    We stopped sending Christmas cards some years ago now but still seem to get the same number! It’s an experiment really and we conclude that (a) some people want to send Xmas cards anyway for religious reasons (although I wish they would then buy them in charity shops), (b) other people just don’t notice and (c) while we lose a few each year, we gain a few hopefuls as well!

    Christmas here is made by the carol singing around the neighbouring two streets on Christmas Eve, come rain, snow, wind or whatever. Minced pies, mulled wine. Lovely.

  16. 35

    Mrs H says

    We do this with my family. Its tradition that once you graduate high school, you are able to find a job and you get included in the Adult Secret Santa Gift exchange. It has been fun this way and a great way to welcome new grads into the adult section of the dinner table :)

  17. 36

    Grace says

    I enjoyed this timely topic and the comments. My close friend has college kids 21 and 25. I have known the parents before the kids were born. I always gave cash as X’mas gifts because it was most practical. Now I am really have a hard time deciding when to cut this off. Maybe when they graduate from college. The college graduation money gift will be the last one.

  18. 37

    Tamekia says

    Mr. Penzo, I really enjoyed your blog, my question/dilemma is that I have 12 nieces and nephews ages 2yrs to 16yrs old. I am known as the aunt that ALWAYS give everyone of them something for Christmas, this year due to cash being short — I’ve come up with the idea to give each one a card with a single gold dollar(for collecting) inside. My question is… would this come across as me being a cheap skate or not? Thank you in advance for your input!

    • 38

      Len Penzo says

      You know what, Tamekia? Don’t you worry one bit about whether or not that makes you look cheap. You’re not cheap. In fact, you are being very thoughtful. I think it is a great idea — I used to give my kids “gold” Sacajawea dollars for their teeth (from the tooth fairy, of course). They loved them!

      Furthermore, it shouldn’t matter to any child or teenager who has been properly raised by their parents to understand that they are: 1) not entitled to gifts from their relatives (or anyone else for that matter); and 2) the value of the gift is not measured by its price tag.

      Hopefully, they have been raised that way — but if not, then it will become a teachable moment for them. (Just as it was with my 19-year-old relative.)

  19. 39

    Sisophous says

    Give gifts through their 18th birthday and no more unless it is something you feel you truly enjoy doing. After the 18th birthday it stops from me. And, I do not give advance warning after all it is a gift and not something one is entitled to. Writing a letter giving advance notice of your intent to stop gift giving is very awkward and likely to draw some resentment. I would let the parent know informally that you intend to stop gift giving to their children after the 18th birthday and they can tell their kid if the kid even really cares or not.

  20. 40

    Earl W. says

    Sadly I have had several friendships ruined on the expectation of gifts. I have been accosted for not spending enough on gifts by both friends and family. Scenarios such as “Our daughter’s wedding cost $200 a head, so you you and your wife should have bought at least a $400 gift since you both came and enjoyed it,” or flat out saying “Since in addition to a shower gift we gave your son a large check at his baptism, you can just buy us a super nice baby-shower gift from this list since we don’t plan on baptizing our baby.”

    I’m sorry, I thought you wanted me at the wedding for the pleasure of my company, not the gift. Nothing says you needed to spend $200 a head anyways. I was married in a church gym with a cake from Publix and a bbq caterer, so I could afford as a young man to invite everyone I wanted without breaking the bank. If the right gift was more important, don’t invite me, save the catering cost and buy what you want for your daughter. I am sorry I did not budget in $400 for a gift on top of my plane tickets and hotel costs. I could have sent you $400 cash, stayed home, and we both would have saved money.

    Likewise I invited you to my son’s baptism for the pleasure of your company and to join us on a celebratory day. Thank you for the gift for my son, but I thought that was of your own choice and generosity, not a quid-pro-quo for any future children you might have. I will buy you the gift you want, but understand that maybe we don’t need to attend each other’s events in the future, we’ll just go shopping on our own and it will work out to be the same thing.

    I find it sad that people have taken what was once considered good manners (“bring a token gift to such-&-such events if finances allow”) and turned it into expectation (“Should we invite them? May as well…it’ll be another gift “)

    As for my nieces and nephews regular birthday gifts stop at 12 years. After that they are no longer children and should learn to appreciate the thoughtfulness of a phone call or a card. This is not to say they never get a gift from me again, but rather, “Here is a high end gift every other year or so when I am in town” vs “here is something at every holiday.”

    Same with the events I alluded to above. It’s not that I don’t plan to give what I believe is appropriate for the occasion and the relationship, it’s just that I don’t if your only concern is strong-arming me into bringing a pricey enough gift for your taste, please just leave me out of your event.

    • 41

      Amber says

      Couldn’t agree more, Earl. I too have had people (attempt to) guilt me into upgrading to a more lavish gift. Like you implied, I do not live just down the road from all my friends and family. For me to show up to an occasion in my hometown such as a shower, wedding, or anniversary party I need a plane ticket and possibly a hotel (if it’s not convenient for me to stay with family). I have made the mistake I guess of assuming that my traveling half-way across the country was in essence my “gift.” I don’t have a huge budget, but usually try to bring some sort of small token in addition (such as a decent bottle of wine, a specialty snack treat that I know the honoree likes, or some such) thinking it was the thought that counts. More than once I too have been told “It cost us X dollars for you to attend this party, so we were insulted that you only gave us a $20 bottle of Shiraz.” Ne’er do they stop to think that it cost me a plane ticket, food and accommodations for a weekend or so, a rental car or cab costs, and possibly several of my vacation days from work because I thought they genuinely wanted me there. Over time I’ve come to learn who really treasures my being at there, and who is looking to show off with a snooty affair yet wants it subsidized by fancy “gifts” from their “guests.”

      As for the nieces and nephews, as Mandy said above when the first of my sisters had the first child among us we all agreed no Christmas or birthday presents from the aunts. When I come to visit I usually try to make a small treat for my nieces and nephews, but more in terms of a fun time together. For example Aunt Am might treat the kids to a trip to Chuck-e-Cheese or rollerskating or something. I’d like to think that years from now when they’re grown they’ll appreciate remembering that I always tried to take them fun places when we were together more than if I bought them all some toy that will be long forgotten in a matter of months.

      • 42

        FloridaGuy says

        I too wish the culture of giving so many gifts at so many occasions would go away. But let me say it is because feelings can be hurt too when some people do seem be cheapskates when it’s their turn to give. I don’t presume to know the above posters situations and aren’t saying they’re wrong, but some people are more than happy to take generous gifts from you but tighten their wallets when it calls for them to give a gift.

        Example: There was a period when in three years some neighbors and good friends of ours had three kids graduate high school and one get married. We received generic announcements each time and were invited to fancy graduation parties where we were expected to pay for our own dinners. Each time we were happy to give a check for $100 to the graduate. The wedding was held about 100 mi away at a fancy hotel, and even though we had never met the daughter getting married at that point we were invited, considered the family good friends, so we paid to go and stay, and gave a nice kitchen set to the bride.

        Then it was our son’s turn to graduate. He sent out graduation announcements but we said he had to include a personalized note of his plans for school and the future with each (and he must send thank yous for any gifts he got). We held a party for him, mostly for his friends but some of friends and neighbors too, and we picked up the tab. Our friends gave him and unsigned graduation card with a $15 itunes gift card inside. We were fairly offended. If it was a matter of not having extra money it certainly wouldn’t have mattered, but we knew they ate out at nice restaurants routinely, took nice vacations, and lived a higher end lifestyle. I’m not saying they needed to go back and calculate what we gave their kids and match it, but they were definitely rude for expecting us to give to all of their kids and then they go comparatively so cheap to ours. Eventually we decided to just let it go cause aside from that incident they were and are good friends, but we had hurt feelings for some time.

        Presents should go away for everyone other than the closest people in your life for only the biggest events.

        • 43

          Amber says

          I’m sorry to be so blunt, but your hurt feelings are your own fault. You should have given the gifts purely out of what you wanted to give and never expected any gift back in return. That’s why it’s called a gift and not a trade. Maybe if they gave big gifts to everyone who sends them announcements they couldn’t afford do their vacations and restaurants. It’s up to them to give what they want. You should have been grateful for what they did give because they didn’t even have to do that.

          • 44

            FloridaGuy says

            No they didn’t HAVE to give anything. but they were more than ok with taking nice gifts from us. And I mean it wasn’t to put money in our pocket but it was for our son. We were always generous with their children. If they didn’t feel comfortable with the amounts and a reasonable expectation that in turn they would be generous to our son they could have said, “Thanks, but that’s probably too much,” after the first or second time we gave. Since they didn’t they could have given a a nice gift with zero impact on them in real terms with only giving up one nice dinner out.

            Like I said I wouldn’t even expect them to go back and say, “Oh we owe them like $500 worth” or even, “Oh, they gave our kids $100 each at graduation, so we owe $100.” But a $15 gift card after taking our gifts without saying anything? That’s just being cheap.

          • 46

            FloridaGuy says

            YOU’RE (as in “you are”) stilling missing the point of reasonable social expectation. IT’S (as in “it is”) not unreasonable to expect that if you accept nice presents routinely at your occasions you will give a relatively comparable present to that person when IT’S their turn (not “they’re” turn, just so you know) if you have the means. IT’S called common courtesy and manners. If you don’t want to be expected to give a nice gift at times to someone don’t accept generous ones to begin with. At least not repeatedly without at least saying that something along the lines of, “Oh thank you, but YOU’RE being too generous and I’m a little uncomfortable with it,” so everyone knows where you stand.

          • 47

            Amber says

            YOU’RE being rude by acting superior just because you pay more attention to typos on internet posts then me. But more to the point the problem is as I originally posted the expectation of gifts at all. It’s nice, but should never be expected in any instance. Only give a gift if you want to and never expect anything in return. Otherwise it takes the entire point of giving the gift out of kindness away.

          • 48

            FloridaGuy says

            That should be “than” instead of “then.” ;) I’m just teasing you. Don’t have a cow, man. I wasn’t trying to be rude or superior, just having a little fun. But I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on when a gift is expected. As I said I agree with you that I wish presents weren’t expected all the time for the reasons I’ve stated. But the reality is society does expect a certain standard of gift in certain occasions, and most people will look down on you if you don’t meet that social obligation. Until everyone in society changes their attitude that’s the reality we face.If you don’t want to participate in the social custom, you need to let people know to avoid awkwardness and hurt feelings.

          • 49

            Amber says

            So you think that when someone gives you a gift you should immediately begin planning on when you will have to “owe them back”? I think it would be more insulting to tell someone you don’t want their gift THAN ;) to assume they genuinely gave it because they wanted to and not out of obligation. I would be more hurt if someone thought I only gave them something because I thought I was supposed to and not because I just wanted to do something nice. Expecting gifts will only go away when we all just stop expecting gifts.

  21. 50

    Lizzie says

    This article has really touched a nerve because I’ve kind of been at both sides of the fence.

    Eg. When I was at college and on zero income (student loans just about covered the rent, I basically lived off baked beans & had to walk everywhere because I couldn’t afford public transport, nevermind study books) some of my family were really offended when I didn’t give gifts at their weddings & birth of babies etc. Now I feel bad about it because I think surely I could have bought something inexpensive, but at the time, I felt that I was between a rock and a hard place.

    On the other hand, I give very regularly to nieces and nephews (birthdays, christmas and lots of unexpected pressies as and when I feel like it) but yet my child has never received anything from them. (He is nearly eight.)

    As much as I am trying to tell myself not to get upset or bitter about it, I can not help but feel a little hurt for my son… but I am not sure what to do.

    • 51

      Mike says

      Lizzie you remind me of my wife she’s from a big family and has lots of nieces and nephews, many of which are her God children. The trouble is they are in their 30’s now and she still gives them generous cash gifts even those that are not her her God children. Her sisters and brother in laws are all party mad and they get cash gifts for their decade birthdays. The thing is when the tables turn the gifts are very stingy indeed, even though I couldn’t care about parties and presents as they are tacky in my view. Trying to get my wife to see sense is impossible.

  22. 52

    julie smith says

    My daughter who just turned 12 has an aunt who lives in town. She stopped by our house to wish a happy B-Day to her niece. Her only gift to her was a card. We spend hours of our family time helping her with health issues, driving back and forth to attend to her every need. Is it really appropriate that an aunt does not gift her niece? At Christmas, we had her over for a nice meal, bought her gifts. She told us she does not “do Christmas” to explain why she came emprty handed. For our daughter’s fist communinion, she accepted our invitation and only attended the nice meal, not the first communion ceremony, and brought no gift. I am puzzled. Please help.

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