Any advice on how to handle different financial situations within families when it comes to the holidays? As background, after following our interests in STEM fields, my husband and I are in a significantly better financial position than his brother and sister-in-law are—they both got liberal arts degrees they were passionate about and now she’s a stay-at-home parent and he works in a public service field. It seems like my sister-in-law in particular is very insecure about this income disparity.
In general, if we mention a purchase, big or small, around her, she’ll immediately respond by talking about wanting to buy something or actually buying something. A few years ago, while making Thanksgiving dinner, I mentioned that we were planning on finally replacing the car my parents bought me in high school. Her response was to stop helping cook, pull out her phone, and start shopping for her friend’s MLM holiday sale “before it ended.” It constantly feels like she is trying to prove they too have money to spend. I don’t think I have ever done anything to indicate I look down on their financial situation. I’ve just lived my life in front of her, but have made an effort to not mention money or vacation plans in front of her after I noticed the pattern. During the holidays, she is so focused on making sure that they give us exactly the same value of presents that I got a gift card and a makeup sample set labeled with its value that she obviously got as a gift with purchase. It just so happened that the gift bag brought the combined cost to the exact cost of the gift we give her husband each year (a renewal of an annual subscription). This is absolutely unnecessary and I don’t know how to address it! I just want them to spend what they can comfortably afford and let us be generous!
The biggest problem is now we both have kids. And I want to spoil my nibling! But I don’t want them to feel like they have to match our budget when shopping for our kid. We’ve tried to be very cautious about our gift suggestions for our son, making sure that we suggest specific items that are lower cost or come in a variety of price points (like just saying LEGO and no specific sets so they can pick whatever they can afford), but it still seems like they know how much we spend on them and match it as closely as possible. I feel like I can’t bring this up without sounding like I’m calling them poor. I know I could suggest that we don’t do gifts for the adults or add a cap on adult gifts, but that would ultimately cost my brother-in-law more money since the gift we get him annually saves him money (it’s a video game subscription). Do you have any suggestions on how to navigate this?
—Just Let me Be the Rich Aunt