Wedding Woes

You can't fix her insecurity.

Dear Prudence,

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

Re: You can't fix her insecurity.

  • edited November 2023
    I was with you up until the signature, because that feels like you want to flaunt money when you spent the entire letter saying how it doesn’t matter to you. 

    You can’t solve for her insecurity, so in this case, ignore it. She’s not being rude, or making comments about your spending, or even saying anything about what you’re gifting. She’s gifting and behaving in a fine, albeit a bit weird, way. So let her. Who cares if she gave you a free gift bag that came with the purchase- did you like it? Did you use it? Maybe she thought you’d like it along with whatever else she got. You’re making some assumptions here about her motives that might not be entirely fair. 

    Maybe she is adding up every gift and spending the exact amount- let her. Get your niblings gifts your think they’ll enjoy and let her do the same. Don’t try and spend her money (or rather not spend her money) for her. 
  • I think the easiest thing here would be to set limits. Every christmas exchange or brithday present for regular gifters in my life has had quick chat about a limit/target. SIL is being a little obnoxious and she's obviously insecure, but if LW is gifting huge expensive things knowing that the other family probably can't reciprocate in the same way comfortably, honestly I think that's shitty. Start getting them moderate gifts and put aside a little $ in an account to gift the niblings when they turn 18 or something. 
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