I Feel Awkward Receiving Gifts … Time to Get Over It? 🤷‍♂️

I haven’t told many people this, but my wife decided she wants to go back to grad school and finish off her masters in special ed.

Her plan is to continue working full time as a teacher during the day, plus take on a full schedule of graduate classes at night. Crazy, I know!

But it’s also very inspiring… Because she doesn’t need more schooling (she doesn’t even really need to work anymore if she doesn’t want to) but she’s doing them both anyway because that’s what she enjoys and wants to do in life. Also, this specific master’s degree + special ed credential will unlock even more possibilities and challenges within her field of passion in the future. 

Anyway, this post isn’t about how awesome and smart my wife is (there aren’t enough words to describe that), this is about how we are planning to pay for graduate school. Or rather, how *her parents* have offered to pay for her grad school.

Accepting Big Gifts as an Adult Feels Weird …

When we started sharing her plans for grad school late last year, my wife’s parents’ eyes lit up!… They’d been saving for her college education their whole life and proudly put her through undergrad with the intention of paying for more schooling if she wanted.

About 10 years ago (before we were married), my wife started grad school but stopped halfway through to pursue other stuff. So, her parents think it’s only fair that they continue paying for the remainder of her education now because they had planned to and never finished.

But, if I’m being honest, I feel a little uncomfortable accepting their offer. I wasn’t raised with an option of free college (don’t get me wrong, I come from an extremely privileged background – my parents gave me everything *except money*) so it feels strange accepting a gift of this size.

Not to mention, my wife and I are self-sufficient adults now. We have earned and saved our own money to pay for the things we want to pursue in life, whether it be vacations, lifestyle upgrades, or continued education. I feel it’s our responsibility.

Why let someone else pay for our stuff when we can afford it ourselves?

Now you might be thinking… “Joel, this isn’t a gift for YOU, this is a gift for your wife. It’s between her and her parents.” And while yes that’s a valid argument, we actually both benefit financially from this. My wife and I share everything in life – our money, our passions, our successes, struggles… everything. A gift to her is a gift to me. And vice versa.

Why Do I Feel Awkward Accepting Gifts?

I need to grow up and get over this feeling. So I’ve started asking myself WHY I feel weird getting gifts… And most of my reasons are pretty dumb now that I write them out:

  1. I don’t like feeling “in debt” to other people. I don’t know why, but whenever I get a gift, I feel guilty until I can give back something equal in return. Especially big gifts… Like, if a friend got me a gift worth $500 for my birthday, I kind of feel obligated to spend $500 on their birthday, even though that’s way more than I would regularly spend. 
  2. I have too much pride and ego. These are things I’m learning to swallow more and more as I grow older and get more mature. But I’ll admit, earning and paying for my own stuff myself makes me feel better than just getting things for free.
  3. Maybe deep down I don’t feel worthy? There are 7 billion other people on this planet who probably deserve gifts more than I do. No matter the gift size, someone out there needs it more than me and my wife.
  4. I don’t want to be a financial burden on others. Having parents pay for stuff feels like the opposite of financial independence. (Although ironically, receiving money brings us closer to FIRE because we can save more.)
  5. I’d rather be the giver than the receiver. I’m getting better at this as I grow older… I’m realizing that part of giving IS receiving. Refusing gifts robs the other party of the very feeling that I love.

Whoa, that was a lot of sharing my feelings. I know this is a first world problem and you probably think I’m an ungrateful little shit. Believe me, I know how blessed I am in life and I 100% acknowledge these are good problems to have. I’m just sharing my situation and being honest.

Accepting Gifts and Changing My Mind-Set

Sooooo… long story short, we are accepting the parents’ offer and they will pay for grad school. My wife only has about 12 months of classes left to complete her degree, and she found an online university that’ll cost about $20k all in.

And going forward, I’m releasing my bottled feelings of guilt, embarrassment and discomfort when receiving gifts… Instead, I’m converting all those feelings into gratitude, appreciation, celebration, and respect for the gift givers. Generous parents set amazing examples, and their acts are teaching US how to be more generous.

Ultimately, my wife and I hope to pay forward all the blessings we receive in life. Perhaps we should add some more funds to our nephews’ UGMA gift accounts? Actually, maybe we should start setting aside money for our future adopted kids’ education?

Any of you out there received massive gifts from your parents? Would love to hear your thoughts/feelings if you’re open to sharing.

Sincerely,

Joel

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17 Comments

  1. Crystal February 7, 2022 at 7:48 AM

    I feel sometimes it’s a gift to accept their gifts. I feel joy in giving something that can help others without reciprocation. If you deny people to chance to help you deny their gratification.

    Reply
    1. Joel February 7, 2022 at 9:50 AM

      Thanks Crystal. I couldn’t agree more. It’s about putting myself in their shoes and treating them how I like to be treated when giving :)

      Reply
  2. Christine Luken February 7, 2022 at 8:01 AM

    Receiving also used to be hard and weird for me. I think part of it was the conditioning of, “You have to work really hard for your money!” In December of 2020, I decided to incorporate two new money mantras (feel free to borrow): 1) I’m a generous giver and a gracious receiver. 2.) I’m more than willing to receive all the money, gifts, and compliments people want to give me.

    Since then hubby and I received:
    A passive income source that provided us multiple six figures in 2021
    A free place to stay in Florida for 6 weeks this winter (I’m here now!)
    $15k checks for each of us (gift from family member)
    $1,000 check from my bestie for money I lent her almost 15 years ago (I totally forgot about it)

    I know how much joy I get from giving, so who am I to deprive someone else of that? I’ve decided to graciously receive what people give me and thoroughly enjoy it!

    And in your case, it sounds like your in laws are excited about helping and giving the money with no strings attached.

    Reply
    1. Joel February 7, 2022 at 9:44 AM

      Thanks Christine. I’m definitely stealing them!!! 1) I’m a generous giver and a gracious receiver! 2.) I’m more than willing to receive all the money, gifts, and compliments people want to give me!

      Reply
  3. Michelle Marcus February 7, 2022 at 8:12 AM

    I agree with Crystal…sometimes you have to allow others to give you a gift because it means so much to them to be able to do so.

    And don’t worry…at some point you’ll have to take care of them so it’ll all work out then.

    Reply
    1. Joel February 7, 2022 at 9:43 AM

      haha! Yes good call. We’ll be taking care of them any way we can later, and that’s what they’re trying to do now for us. :) That’s what families do.

      Reply
  4. Impersonal Finances February 7, 2022 at 8:31 AM

    That sounds like the kind of gift that means more to the people giving than it does to the recipient, so of course you should accept! I am actually more uncomfortable with smaller gifts on holidays as I age. But I suppose in many of those cases it is also about allowing someone to show their love through gift-giving as well.

    Reply
    1. Joel February 7, 2022 at 9:41 AM

      Allowing people to express love is really big. And the gift of education is such an amazing opportunity these days.. You’re right, it means a lot to them and I can understand why.

      Reply
  5. Stevo February 7, 2022 at 9:00 AM

    I feel your pain! My mom has offered to give us 1/2 our mortgage payment every month since my wife decided to quit working her stressful toxic job and stay home with our toddler. We’ve crunched the numbers are will be fine on one salary, so i feel bad taking up my mom on her offer, although I have so far for 4 months so far. They have plenty to spare so I guess its ok, but its a weird feeling for sure!!! I’m glad to hear i’m not alone lol

    Reply
    1. Joel February 7, 2022 at 9:40 AM

      You’re not alone Stevo. I’ve began to flip the scenario and try thinking in their shoes. If my kids needed to escape a toxic job and I could make the transition less stressful, I would 100% try to offer money if I had spare. It makes it easier to accept knowing that I would (and will) do the same if in their shoes.

      Reply
  6. Adam February 7, 2022 at 9:57 AM

    Last year we needed to replace my wife’s car. We also had to fork over for an exterior paint job, new sewer line, and new roof for our century-old house. We were well set — our savings account could manage it, and we don’t spend a large fraction of what we earn so it replenished quickly — but my dad still randomly shunted $10k into an old checking account that he had access to from when I was a kid.

    Dad has a federal gov’t pension from back when that really meant something. He doesn’t have much to spend it on, so most of it goes into VTSAX. It was no hardship for him. Still felt weird, though. I’ve nagged him once or twice since to do something comparable for my kid brother (who owns a 72-year-old home and all that entails). And to balance things out a bit we’ve made it a point to give directly to folks in need: in-laws in South America dealing with COVID, a first-generation immigrant who got accepted into med school, that kind of thing. We’re fortunate and privileged; I figure there’s an obligation to pay it forward as much as possible.

    Reply
    1. Joel February 7, 2022 at 1:33 PM

      Thanks for sharing all that Adam. Paying it forward is such a beautiful thing, especially to those who really need it. That’s really awesome of you.

      Reply
  7. Jeffrey February 8, 2022 at 1:05 PM

    Perhaps it would help to consider that accepting a gift graciously honors the giver.

    Reply
    1. Joel February 8, 2022 at 2:04 PM

      Absolutely. Especially such a personal and large one.

      Reply
  8. Olaf, the Mile High Finance Guy February 18, 2022 at 4:24 PM

    Joel, I think it is incredible that her parents are willing to help pay for the remainder of her education. While challenging, I believe that your shift in attitude towards the gift is a great way to approach the situation. Sometimes you will be on the receiving end of good gestures, and other times you will be on the giving end. Regardless, both sides are beautiful places to be as it means there is love and compassion for all involved. Have a great day!

    Reply
    1. Joel February 18, 2022 at 7:43 PM

      Yep, sometimes you give and sometimes you get. Have to be OK with both sides of the process. :)

      Reply

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