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Posted on Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 5 a.m.

Woman fears mother-in-law won't curb gift spending

By Carolyn Hax

Hi, Carolyn:

I'm pretty apathetic about receiving gifts because of my practicality. If I want or need it, I'll buy it myself.

My in-laws love to give presents for holidays and birthdays. As my mother-in-law is not well-off, these gifts are dollar-store items -- body gel, notepads, ugly earrings -- that I neither want nor need. Even if she spends only $20 each on my husband and me, it is too much when we are giving her money to help with expenses each month.

How can we let her know we really do not want her to give gifts this year, that her gift to us would be saving the money or spending it on something less trivial? If she asked me what I wanted, I would reply a meaningful Christmas ornament, but I fear this wouldn't curb spending.

-- Non-gifter

I feel your pragmatic pain.

But: How do you regard that money you give your mother-in-law? Is it intended purely to keep them from starving, or is it to boost their quality of life above what their own resources permit?

It's an important distinction, because to someone who derives a sense of well-being from giving, the ability to spend $20 on others is a quality of life issue.

Just as it's a priority for you to take care of them in your way (i.e., monthly cash), it's likely a priority for her to take care of you in her way. I.e., bath gel. To tell her you don't want her "trivial" gifts (ouch) is a slap in the dignity.

This year, please try broadening your definition of pragmatism. Something along the lines of, "To her, these gifts are a baseline household expense." Seeing things her way once or twice a year can be your gift to her -- a cost-effective one at that.

--0-- --0-- --0--

Dear Carolyn:

My ex-boyfriend still has feelings for me. He knows I don't. I would like to be friends (monthly lunch, etc.). We dated for eight months, broke up in August, and I've never met any of his friends, co-workers or family.

He wants me to accompany him to an office Xmas party that he attends each year. He's been divorced for six years and wants to bring a date for the first time in many years. He understands that I don't consider it a "date."

I don't know what to think or do. Would I be leading him on? Or "pimping" myself out for the sake of his appearance?

-- Party with ex?

If he were asking me whether to bring you, then I'd shake my head and say, no, don't do it to yourself.

Advising you is harder. The tempting answer is to shake my head and say no, don't do it to him. Don't give him false hope, don't play a role for his audience, don't delay the inevitable.v But: Compassion and the holidays go together like trees and lights, like ex- and -mas. If he genuinely has no need for another fine-print disclaimer that you Don't Love Him Back -- if he gets it, gets it, gets it -- and the guy has just had it up to the garlands with going stag to this party, then there's no law saying you can't just be a pal and go (and mop up as needed from there).

Email Carolyn at tellme(at), follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

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