Sorry, But I am Likely to Return Your Gift

by Katy on January 4, 2012 · 39 comments

Today is my 44th birthday, and I am sitting at my dining room table wearing my new Keen slippers, and looking at my new For Life teapot with built-in stainless steel filter.

Both gifts are from my husband, who is scarred from decades of me returning his gifts. In fact, he gave me a different ( but almost the same) pair of slippers for Christmas, and I declined to even try them on. (I didn’t want to make them unreturnable, plus we weren’t supposed to buy gifts for each other!) The poor guy returned the slippers, discovering that R.E.I. had now marked the slippers down half-price! So now he and I both have new slippers. (Hmm . . . does he get that “half-off” is no savings if you buy twice as much?)

Anyway . . . gotta go now. I have new Japanese exchange students coming tomorrow, as well as a whole day devoted to fun birthday activities. Like going to the main Goodwill to see if they still have that small $1.99 filter-included teapot that I almost bought the other day.

That way I can return my birthday gift and put the money towards the kids’ Japan trips.

My poor, poor husband . . .

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

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Ellen January 4, 2012 at 8:59 am

Isn’t that a tiny bit harsh? I mean, it seems like he respects your frugality by going along with it 363 days a year and buys you rather small, practical gifts. If he wants to buy you a little something for Xmas and your birthday, just let him. It seems he wants to do you some good – even if it’s not the way you’d want it…

Katy January 4, 2012 at 9:21 am

What can I say? I like a bargain, and we need to put aside $8000 for our 3 Japan trips this year.

It involves some extreme belt tightening.


Margaret January 4, 2012 at 10:45 am

I totally support this! My husband and I have not officially exchanged gifts in many years. We are way too focused on bigger financial goals and having a clutter free home. I love him because he respects that.

Faun January 4, 2012 at 9:02 am

Seems a bit rude. Of course, I’m more interested in maintaining a kind, loving relationship with my husband than in making a point.

Katy January 4, 2012 at 9:14 am

Hey, we’ve been together for 24 years and outlasted 97.5% of celebrity marriages, so I think we’ll pull through. 😉


Megg January 4, 2012 at 9:25 am

My husband and I are getting into the habit of getting birthday and Christmas gifts, (small, usually) but no anniversary gift. Our gift is a nice dinner together. Sometimes you don’t NEED a gift to express your love for each other.

Katy January 4, 2012 at 9:34 am

I totally happy without a Christmas gift, and we’ve never done anniversary gifts.


Courtney January 4, 2012 at 10:53 am

We always take a weekend getaway with just the two of us for our anniversary every year. We appreciate the time and travel together much more than anything we would buy.

Megg January 4, 2012 at 9:24 am

Happy birthday!
Totally unrelated, but I gave my husband the shaving kit that you bought for your husband for his birthday. He absolutely LOVES it and I’m so excited for the savings that it’s going to bring us! Also, a friend from work told him about a “safety razor” which apparently costs about $30, but has refills as cheap as about $7 for 10. That sure beats the $30 refill cartridges we’re buying right now! When he runs out of those we’re going to get a safety razor too 🙂
I just thought you’d be pleased!

Katy January 4, 2012 at 9:33 am

We’ve been really happy with the shaving brush kit. With my 16 y.o., it sees double duty, and there’s probably still four months of soap left in the bowl. (Started using it last May.) I’ll replace it with a chemical-free shaving soap, although this one does not have a strong smell, which I really like.


Kirsten January 4, 2012 at 9:35 am

Happy Birthday!
My first time commenting, but I’ve been reading for several months (and am a fellow Portlander) Just had to say, I don’t think you’re rude:-) Honesty seems like a pretty good policy.
Enjoy YOUR day!

Samantha January 4, 2012 at 9:41 am

I am exactly the same, my family members know me well enough to never give me a gift without a receipt. It has nothing to do with me disrespecting them, but everything to do with them respecting MY choices and preferences. For my birthday this year my mom took me out to lunch and a fully funded trip to Value Village – happy day!

Dogs or Dollars January 4, 2012 at 9:44 am

Good for you! There is no sense in keeping something you arent going to use.


I struggle with the etiquette of this. The Husband I can be pretty straight forward with. He usually sticks to my list (if I have one) and is fine with me exchanging, but everyone else… Not so much.

I will admit here (under the cloak on anonymity) that more than one of my Christmas gifts (which could not be returned) went straight to the Goodwill, without passing go or collecting $200.

Margaret January 4, 2012 at 10:53 am

Same here! We have many family members who feel very hostile about our de-cluttering ways. I think they enjoy bringing us crap… hoping we’ll “lighten up” and be more like them or something. From what I observe, their belongings are really stressing them out. So I feel zero guilt about taking bags of stuff to Goodwill right after Christmas. It does frustrate me that some of this stuff even exists, though. For example, a bank that requires batteries so it can growl, “eat” the change, and then burp at you. Other examples include toys with choking hazards and a craft project that includes permanent fabric markers in a house with a two year old and a baby on the way, clothing with the logo of a local country club I am not a member of, printed coffee mugs… the list goes on.

Shannon Breen January 4, 2012 at 9:46 am

While I personally wouldn’t go without birthday gifts, I don’t think it’s a problem if that what someone else chooses to do. After this many years I’m sure your husband isn’t shocked by your returning his gift. If it’s not something you really want, if it doesn’t bring you joy, and if the cost bothers you, why keep it? Hubby gets points for trying. 🙂

Sherry January 4, 2012 at 9:52 am

I absolutely love that teapot! I would definitely keep it, especially if it is actually that lovely color in the photo. I would give my husband a big hug and say “thank you, darling!”. (We’ve been married for 46 years.)

Margaret January 4, 2012 at 11:19 am

It is a cool teapot. I have one in white, and I use it a lot. I like buying tea in bulk, which saves the waste of tea bags and boxes, and plastic wrap on the outside of the boxes. Plus the tea is a lot better tasting, and usually cheaper per serving.

Megyn @Minimalist Mommi January 4, 2012 at 9:54 am


Secondly, for the negative commenters, I can understand this from both ends. I’m exactly like Katy. So much so that I made my husband return flowers. I totally get the saving money aspect and only having things you really want and love. However, there’s always the gifter’s perspective. My hubby used to be hurt by how I reacted to his gifts…felt like he couldn’t do anything right and still has a lot of anxiety over gifting (and subsequently I rarely, if ever, receive gifts from him). It really has more to do with the person’s reaction to the gift. When i made my hubby return flowers, I acted like an ungrateful B. However, when he bought a vacuum, but it wasn’t the right one, I was eternally grateful for the gesture. Instead of being a B, the gesture went over well, and we researched vacuums together and went out and got the one I really wanted.
I have no clue how Katy & her man’s relationship is. I assume she acts with grace and dignity when the item is received, and her husband does not experience the same stress my hubby feels over gifting. Thus, the negativity is unnecessary IF both parties feel happy about the situation. Gift returned or not.

Claudia January 4, 2012 at 10:12 am

Happy birthday!

Kristen@TheFrugalGirl January 4, 2012 at 10:22 am

I think it’s hard for any of us to say what’s right in Katy’s relationship, since we’re not there.

I can say how things work here, though! 🙂 Mr. FG is like Katy’s husband, in that he likes to buy me gifts. It brings him great joy to research and figure out what I might like, and he’s so anxious to give me my gifts, he can hardly wait until the appropriate day (I make him wait.)

Sometimes he spends more than I think he ought to, but I’ve decided that this is not a hill to die on, and that it would be sad to rob him of the joy he gets out of expressing his love to me in this way.

That said, he does know that I like encouraging words MORE than gifts, so he always makes a card for me and writes a sweet note inside, and every day he makes a point of encouraging me verbally.

I guess if he only ever gave me gifts and never encouraged me, I’d be upset about the gifts, but as it is, I’m content to let things lie. I know he would be really hurt if I made him return flowers or another gift because he puts his heart and soul into buying gifts. So, I thank him for the gifts, see the love they represent, and make sure I express my appreciation.

But of course, this is not necessarily the right way to handle this in every relationship…I’m just convinced it’s right for mine. 🙂

Katy January 4, 2012 at 10:35 am

Thanks, I am neither all right or all wrong. And with more than half of our lives together, we don’t have to walk on eggshells with each other.


Laura's Last Ditch--Adventures in Thrift Land January 4, 2012 at 10:32 am

We used to give each other gifts, but it became something we felt obligated to do. Neither of us want anything (not something the other could very well buy, anyway), and it became problematic when a gift-giving occasion rolled around, to feel like we “must” come up with something. There are few things in the house that I have but don’t want, and the ones I do have are gifts from hubby. I don’t want to hurt his feelings by getting rid of them.

We settled upon not purchasing gifts for each other, and both of us are happier. He knows I am distressed by gifts in general, so he shows his love by NOT buying me stuff. I really appreciate that in him.

Susan C January 4, 2012 at 10:34 am

Happy Birthday!

I say it’s your birthday you can do what you want. Your husband loves you for you, that’s all that matters.


Katy January 4, 2012 at 10:35 am

By the way people, if you send rude comments in on my birthday you will get deleted.


Kristen@TheFrugalGirl January 4, 2012 at 10:57 am

Hugs, Katy. It’s so hard to deal with mean comments.

Dogs or Dollars January 4, 2012 at 11:09 am

HA! That is completely fair!

Margaret January 4, 2012 at 11:22 am

Love it!

Barb @ 1SentenceDiary January 4, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Boo hiss to the mean comments! And happy happy birthday to you. (And now I can tease you about being “older than me” for a few months! Woot!)

Hope you’re going doing something super-fun!

Courtney January 4, 2012 at 10:58 am

Every relationship is different. What works in one marriage would be disastrous in another. Happy Birthday!

karen January 4, 2012 at 11:13 am

Happy Birthday!

We don’t exchange gifts. Years ago, it was about me giving him an “out” because he sucks at gifts and it made him way too stressed. He used to come home with flowers, because he thought that was what he was supposed to do, and being the cheapskate that he is, it was always carnations or something. I let him know that I was perfectly happy without flowers and he was relieved. At this point, it’s just we don’t really need anything. Things we need, generally for the house, like a new deck, we buy. Sure, all those small presents don’t equal the $20K deck, but it was important for everyone’s safety and our home’s value.
This year, the kids gave him some nice new sweatshirts because all the others have holes, but of course, I got them for a steal. If I see something that he needs, I’ll get it, but I just give it to him, not as a gift or anything.

Renee January 4, 2012 at 1:01 pm

oh….I love flowers. It makes me happy just to see them on the table. A few times a year I buy a bouquet at Costco. Usually carnations, because if they are fresh, they will last two weeks or so. Otherwise I’m good with whatever is growing in the yard. Last year I bought a small crysanthemum in bloom, cut off the blossoms to make small arrangements in vases for a new years party with greenery from my yard. Planted the plant in my flower beds and enjoyed a few bouquets this fall. I think I really got my moneys worth out of that plant!

Bellen January 4, 2012 at 12:41 pm

I really don’t understand all the hoopla over the relationship you and your husband have over gifting. It’s your life, live it your way.

After about 20 years of marriage, we’re at 44 years now, we stopped giving gifts for holidays & birthdays and went out to dinner on our anniversary. After about 30 years we stopped going out for dinner and instead bought and prepared something at home. We are at a place in our relationship that being together (we had a very bad, scary medical year last year) is gift enough for us both.

Now, you could be like our neighbor who buys her gifts, wraps them herself and has the gifter sign gift tag. Her reasoning is that way she gets exactly what she wants! I find it so dreary and sad.

Samantha January 4, 2012 at 12:57 pm

I think that in relationships we need to remember that it’s not about necessarily about what we want to do, but what our spouse would want us to do. I am not a gift giver by nature because I don’t like receiving gifts. My husband however LOVES presents, so I do give gifts to him. On Christmas morning he had an overflowing stocking filled with treats, and I had some stainless steel measuring spoons I asked for and a $20 bill. A successful relationship should be based on our knowledge of the other person’s wishes and our respecting those wishes.

Kristen@TheFrugalGirl January 4, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Samantha, I’m right there with you. I’m not naturally a great gift-giver, but my husband feels really loved when I put thought into choosing a present for him, whether the present is small or big (he just loves to give and receive gifts). So, I try to be mindful of that because my default mode would be to write a lovely card for him and not think so much about the present!

cathy January 4, 2012 at 12:57 pm

First, Happy Birthday! I hope you have a wonderful day.

A thought to share….frugality comes in more forms than just money…time, energy, talents, and even emotions. etc. I don’t doubt that you and your husband have a great relationship….but still, after knowing you so well and having experienced your previous reactions to gifts, he wants to give you a gift. Respecting your feelings is important, but that works vice versa. He must feel a desire to give the gift, and is it respectful to allow your desire to over-ride his? He used money, time, energy and emotions to purchase and give it, and to re-do the giving may ultimately save money, but you can’t get back the double use of time, energy and feelings. It’s more than money.

Barb @ 1SentenceDiary January 4, 2012 at 1:20 pm

Wow. I am finding all these comments so surprising. Katy hasn’t asked for marital advice!

For those who are writing “this is what works for me” — I *love* that, I’m interested in your comments, and as a reader I appreciate it.

If I was Katy (though I’m not, and don’t claim to be!), I would delete all the “advice” comments and go on with my fun birthday plans.

Happy Birthday, Katy! Here’s to another 44 years, and more. Ad l’meah v’esrim. 🙂

Dogs or Dollars January 4, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Amen to that! This wasn’t about marriage advice, which I dont believe Katy needs or has requested. This is about looking honestly at items (gifts or otherwise) and assessing what you truly need in your life and what you dont and what you are willing to pay for it.

I think if Mr. Non Consumer'[s feelings were hurt by a returned gift, well then, there’d be no Mr. Non Consumer.

Susan January 4, 2012 at 1:32 pm

Happy Birthday, Katy! I’ve been reading your blog for a while and this is my first time commenting. Funny, my husband got me a For Life tea mug with lid and stainless steel insert for Christmas, and I love it! I use the mug several times a day and it brings me great joy each time. He is a frugal guy (I usually need to return gifts I buy him), not one for gift-giving, but feels this one was worth the $$.

I also have a pair of Keen wool slippers that I wear in my home from October-June (Seattle damp) and have had for a few years. Purchased new off ebay, they were also worth the higher price, in my opinion. Sometimes it’s worth paying for a good quality new item, the item can lasts longer and won’t have to be replaced as often. Plus, I do find joy in an item well made. Just my 2 cents.

Hope your birthday is a good one! Your frugal ways are inspiring!

BLG January 4, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Happy birthday, Katy! 44 is, indeed, and awesome age.

In light of the title of the post, I am curious as to how you would react if your husband or sons wanted to return gifts that you gave them (e.g., in order to have enough money to get skinny jeans or something)? I know you think about finding gifts quite a bit during the year . . . Would it bother you at all?

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