At lunch in our freezing cold break room, my coworkers and I were talking about how we determine how much to spend on gifts for Christmas. We ate our newly microwaved lunches as we asked, Do you prioritize staying in the same range of prices? If so, do you go off the market listing or the discounted price? What if someone gets you a nicer gift? Do you reciprocate?

My friend said, “I don’t know. I usually try to spend the same amount on everyone. Friends, family, doesn’t matter.”

I said, “I base it off of what the price precedent is for that relationship. Like, my boyfriend always gets me something nice, so I get him something nice. My sister always does small or medium things, so I match that.”

But they questioned it a bit more. Is it right to buy something more expensive for your boyfriend over your sister? Do we just base what we give people off of what’s given to us?

I started relating it to a video essay I watched about how Venmo might be making our relationships more transactional. The ability to instantaneously send exact quantities of money had TiffanyFerg wondering if it erases our urge to be generous to each other, offering to send the price of lunch and tax and tip instead of offering to cover it. And if our culture moves towards individualism and away from generosity, is there less room for love?

Of course, money is a huge factor for this. I’d love to build my mom a library for Christmas or give my boyfriend an apartment with a dishwasher, but that’s not exactly in my 23-year-old-entry-level-assistant budget at the moment. Getting presents for all eight of my little cousins is a strain, even if for only ten dollars a kid. I had to hype myself up to buy a pack of three dollar udon at the grocery store—I certainly can’t afford the forty dollar Roblox gift cards on the kids’ Amazon wishlists. It’s easier to be generous when you have something to give away, and it’s a bit ironic that such a virtue is typically reserved for those who can give away a lot, those who won’t feel the loss of what they’re giving away.

I’ve always been a people pleaser first, so it’s not particularly surprising that my metric of gift giving is based around social harmony. What do I need to give so the other person walks away happy? And how do I fit everything into a reasonable budget so I’m not taking out a month’s savings for my family alone? But I’ve realized that my posture has me giving gifts out of obligation instead of love and then feeling bad that I can’t do more for the people I care about.

A bunch of my friends have talked about how Christmas has lost its magic in their 20s, and for me, I think some of that is because I’m trying to juggle all these competing interests, like how much money to spend on whom. So this year, I’m trying to reframe my mindset a bit and think about doing what I can for the people I love and giving myself grace for what I can’t. ‘Tis the season, and I’m just going to try to show up for people whoever I can.

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