Money at 30: Are Gifts Between Couples a Waste?

Serious question: why do married couples buy gifts for each other? Surely I understand that it’s nice to be surprised and receive things you’ve had your eye on, but, in most cases aren’t you really just spending your own money anyway? With today marking my third wedding anniversary and then, of course, the holidays just around the corner, my wife and I have been thinking a lot about gift giving and these very questions.

In our experience we’ve actually found happiness and success in buying our presents together. This isn’t to say I won’t surprise her with little “just because” gifts throughout the year but, when it comes to the main holidays, we discuss our plans to buy. The more I think about this method the more it makes sense to me and here’s why:

You can save money

This is obviously the biggest advantage to skipping giving presents between couples. Sometimes there’s just no need for gifts and buying them just because you’re supposed to would be a waste. This is especially true if you’re on a tight budget and are just trying to make ends meet.

People like to say “it’s the thought that counts” to the point that it’s gone beyond just being cliche. However it is true that you don’t need to spend a ton to show that you care. Be creative and be thoughtful but also be frugal — that way you and your significant other will both benefit.

You can get a better gift

As someone whose birthday is in January — close enough to the Christmas to make such a plan feasible — there were undoubtedly times I tried to talk my parents into buying me a larger gift, which I swore would cover both events (and that I wouldn’t even complain about it when my giftless birthday rolled around). Admittedly my success rate was questionable but the concept was strong enough. Similarly it’s not uncommon for friends or coworkers to pool their funds together to buy someone a single really nice gift instead of several hit-or-miss ones.

For our first holiday season together as we were still getting settled financially, my wife and I decided to opt-out of buying gifts for each other. Instead we elected to just purchase something we both liked and that perhaps would cost a little more than either of us should spend on each other. Since we barely qualify as adults, that eventual gift turned out to be a LEGO set. In fact the LEGO tradition rolls on as our little brick city grows 2,000 to 3,000 pieces larger each winter. 

I don’t reckon that many others reading this would go for LEGOs as their big annual gift but the idea remains the same. Under this plan you can get something both of you really want without running up your credit cards or blowing your budget to get it. Plus, if you really want to, you can still do some stocking stuffers or buy a couple of small gifts to exchange as well, but just keep it under a certain dollar amount that you discuss beforehand.

You might be able to get a smarter deal

Next month my wife and I will be driving to Disneyland to participate in the run Disney Super Heroes Half Marathon. As you might imagine this means that we’ve been doing some physical training over the past few months. Sometimes on our walks or jogs I’ll mention how nice it would be to have a fitness band or Apple Watch to assist me in the training process. OK — I actually just want an Apple Watch because it looks cool, but the fitness angle is pretty legit.

Anyway, while we were doing a 5K charity run last weekend, my wife admitted to me that she actually strongly considered breaking our no-gift pact and buying me the watch for our anniversary but eventually abandoned the idea. While I surely would have been excited if she had purchased one, the truth is that it’s way better that she didn’t. Even if we were fine with spending $369 on something I barely need, her buying it in secret would have cost us more.

Let me explain: as I mentioned in my Discover card review, my wife’s credit card would only earn us .25% cash back on such a present since it didn’t fall into one of her card’s special categories. Meanwhile my card would at least earn us 1% back and, if she were able to find the watch or some other gift on Amazon, we would get 5% back this month. So while the element of surprise would be out the window, discussing the purchase was the better financial move. 

I doubt this situation is limited to just us either. In addition to the potential credit card reward you might miss, perhaps you’re spouse has some coupon or discount hook-up you’re unaware of. That might be a bit of a stretch but you will only know if you discuss the possible purchase. With all of the upcoming holiday sales perhaps the item you’re eyeing is likely to go on sale — wouldn’t it be better to just hold off until then? 

I am very much aware that these ideas aren’t for everyone. In fact I suspect that most couples buy each other gifts and have no reason not to. However, if you’re like me and are budget conscience, buying gifts for your partner just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Instead give “gifting by committee” a try in order to save money, get what you really want, and secure the best deals for you and your better half.


Kyle Burbank

Kyle is a freelance writer and author whose first book, "The E-Ticket Life" is now available on Amazon. In addition to his weekly "Money at 30" column on Dyer News, he is also the editorial director and a writer for the Disney fan site and has recently starting publsihing his own personal finance blog at

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