Joint Accounts

‘My Partner’s Family Spends Too Much On Holiday Gifts’

How to navigate a gifting culture clash

Kristin Wong
Published in
3 min readDec 16, 2019


Illustration: Laurie Rollitt

Dear Joint Accounts,

My fiancee and I both have children from previous marriages, and this is the first year we’re doing Christmas as a blended family, celebrating with her parents, siblings, and their kids.

The problem is we have very, very different traditions when it comes to gifts. My kids have grown up getting one gift each, while my fiancee’s family goes all-out: multiple presents, some expensive, plus stocking stuffers, even for the adults. Is there a way for me to gracefully navigate this culture clash without giving in to what I view as excess?


Frugal Santa

SSounds like it’s time for some new holiday traditions! You and your fiancee are creating a new family, so this isn’t about picking one way of celebrating over another, but finding a new way to celebrate together. It’s best to approach the situation that way — not as a problem to be solved, but as a fun, new thing you’re doing as a family.

It’s totally fine that you’re frugal. But everyone’s spending habits and priorities are different. Some people love giving gifts and prefer to prioritize their spending that way. For a lot of people, part of the fun of the holidays is surprising other people with thoughtful presents. (And receiving gifts is one of the five love languages, after all.) Your fiancee and her family might like to give in a different way than you do, and that doesn’t mean it’s wrong or necessarily materialistic.

On the other hand, it’s fair to be wary of overspending, especially considering the fact that one in four Americans is expected to go into debt over the holidays this year. But there are ways to approach gift-giving that can incorporate both of your philosophies. And when you agree on the approach, it makes the act of giving much more thoughtful.

An easy fix is to set a spending limit for everyone. For example, maybe you agree to spend no more than $50 on each kid. You could set a gift limit, too. Perhaps everyone gets one big gift. Or, for a more creative approach, maybe you can give different types of gifts: one object…



Kristin Wong
Writer for

Kristin Wong has written for the New York Times, The Cut, Catapult, The Atlantic and ELLE.