How Do I Give My Family Gifts Without Upsetting Them?

Our editor-in-chief makes cents of buying loved ones gifts without flaunting wealth

Illustration of wrapped presents

The Balance/Alice Morgan

Dear Kristin,

I've had a lot of financial success, especially in contrast to my socioeconomic background. My family is so supportive, wonderful, and kind and I literally wouldn't have any of this success if it were not for their love, advice, and encouragement (not to mention all the loans my parents took out to send me to college!). I find myself wanting to just shower them with gifts, experiences, etc. but I also do not want to be seen as showing off or overriding their own agency (they are so responsible and are not in any financial crisis). How do I walk this line in a way that recognizes that my good fortune is only possible because of them and all they gave, but also does not take it too far? 


Sharing the Wealth

Dear Sharing,

It’s great that you are in a financial position to give back to your family and loved ones, and that you had so much support growing up. So, how do you show them your appreciation without coming off as arrogant, flaunting wealth, or as if they need you to take care of them? That really depends on your family. 

I understand the desire to express your gratitude by using your money to make their lives easier or by spending it on things you think they’ll like. Your parents worked hard to get you to where you are today, and studies have shown that well-being rises with income, so it’s natural to want to shower your family in lavish gifts. But don’t let your wallet do the talking—you can express gratitude in smaller ways, too. The first step in expressing your gratitude is by telling them that you wouldn’t be where you are today without their help. You can write this in a card, or even better, by telling them the next time you’re with them. 

Your parents might consider sacrificing for you part of their role as parents, and one that they were happy to do. So they might look at you spending lavishly on them as knocking you backward financially, thereby negating that sacrifice. If, like my parents, they say they don’t need anything, you could get them something that is smaller, but meaningful. Make sure to be open with them that any presents or gestures of thanks aren’t harming you financially, and something that you’re happy to do. 

You’ve expressed concern that any presents you give might show off your financial success and could take away their agency, especially since they don’t need your financial help. 

Avoid any presents that might indicate they need you to “save them,” like paying their bills, or buying something they might consider excessively expensive, like a car. Instead, try to get them something thoughtful, like a nice dinner, or a pair of earrings your mom might have been eyeing. Experiences, where the price tag is more easily hidden (like a night at the theater), may be a better way to go, so they don’t feel uncomfortable with how much you are spending.

Lastly, the best way you can honor their efforts is to continue to succeed—and to help your other family members do the same. Your parents worked and sacrificed so you can stand on their shoulders and reach something they couldn’t. 

Do the same for your children, younger relatives, and anyone else in your family by offering guidance, support, help, mentorship, or advice. Continuing to build wealth and success through each generation of your family will be the best way to show them you understand what they did for you—and why. 


If you have questions about money, Kristin is here to help. Submit an anonymous question and she may answer it in a future column.

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  1. Matthew Killingsworth. “Experienced Well-Being Rises With Income, Even Above $75,000 per Year.” PNAS.

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