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Big Assets: Couples, don’t break the bank on gift-giving

Thank goodness I’m going to make it through another holiday season as a single guy. That's an extra $100 in my pocket not spent on some dispensable gift for a special someone.

OK, I’m not really a big, old Grinch. Of course it would be great to give my TBD boyfriend a gift. Studies have even shown that a gift-giver gets a turbo boost of psychological good stuff. Who doesn’t want that?

But some couples take it too far. They openly admit there is no budget when it comes to gifts for each other.

It’s a common problem, especially in those first few years when things are new and you want to express how special your loved one is to you.

The bigger the price tag, the more you love them!

That’s a myth that will rack up credit card debt real quick.

Here's a creative fix for couples that can’t break the “golden gifting” habit. It’s fun, makes gift-giving more meaningful, and oh yea, it saves both of you money.

Begin with totaling up what the two of you spent on gifts for each other during the previous year. Don't say you can't remember! I know you used that credit card to buy all those expensive gifts, and old statements are easy to get online.

Take that combined total and cut it by 25%. Let’s say the total was $1,000 for birthday, anniversary, Valentine’s Day and Christmas gifts. Your new gift budget for 2012 will be $750, or 25% less than 2011.

Get six, eight or 10 popsicle sticks to represent the number of gifts for the year. Write different dollar amounts on the end of each stick, and the total has to add up to $750. Here’s an example for a couple planning to give eight gifts: $200, $150, $125, $100, $100, $50, $20 and $5.

Stab the sticks into a foam "gift" ball so the dollar amounts are hidden. Feel free to get creative with making your gift ball too. Decorate it with glitter, bedazzle it, do whatever makes you smile.

Before any holiday or birthday, the gift-giver draws out a stick and that's the amount they can spend on their partner’s gift. Don't tell each other what amount you drew! That's the fun part, anticipating if you’ll get an expensive gift or the least expensive one.

If you drew the $5 stick, better start getting creative if you want to stay in a relationship. One idea I’ll throw out (just in case my TBD boyfriend is reading this) is a love letter and a cheap bottle of red wine on the beach. That’ll cost less than $5 and the memory will be ever-lasting.

So get that gift ball put together to make gift-giving fun again and save some money in the process.

Steve Doster, CFP®, is a Certified Financial Planner offering fee-only, hourly financial advice for do-it-yourself investors. Visit his website or his Facebook page to see his favorite personal finance article of the week.