For years, my mother-in-law has purchased a huge number of holiday gifts for us. This is frustrating because at other points in the year, she'll ask for small loans ($500-$1000 or so) to pay for necessities.

The other frustrating part of this is that we don't want the presents. She typically has two strategies. Either she'll overhear that one of us likes something (for instance, I like using pineapple juice as a mixer, and one year she showed up with a bag of 200 individual-serve cans of pineapple juice), or she'll just buy stuff she thinks we should like (she'll show up with a few of those 20-gallon plastic storage totes full of clothes for my wife to try on...which my wife hates to do in the first place).

She's an extremely stubborn woman, and we're not sure we can take this much longer. It creates a huge mess, it creates a huge expense for her, and it creates an honestly embarrassing situation when we have to say "Thanks for spending tons of money on us, we don't want anything you brought" (in a much nicer tone, of course).

Edit: to answer some questions...

She does pay the loans back.

As for refusing gifts, we've done that a few times, but it's typically a chore - just a lot of explaining for each individual item how we don't have space, or we don't really think we'd get a great chance to use it, etc. - which she typically argues against.

She asks for loans because she's bad with money, as far as I can tell. She works, but doesn't make a lot of money, and she has awful spending habits.

  • 2
    – apaul
    Commented Feb 16, 2018 at 0:15
  • 5
    When you say "loans", do you mean "loans", or do you mean "gifts" which are called "loans" for the sake of appearances?
    – Peter
    Commented Feb 16, 2018 at 0:58
  • Have you ever refused/tried to refuse a gift from her before? how did that pan out?
    – Jesse
    Commented Feb 16, 2018 at 3:23
  • Why does she need these "loans"? Does she not work or is she in retirement? Who else is there to support her? Commented Feb 16, 2018 at 7:30
  • She could just be offloading her stupid spending sprees on you once a year.
    – WendyG
    Commented Feb 16, 2018 at 8:35

3 Answers 3


I'm going to be honest here, stopping an overbearing parent from buying too many presents is a fight against windmills. You're not likely to succeed, at least not without severely souring your relationship with her. There are a couple of possibilities though that might work, but I wouldn't hold out too much hope:

1. Stop giving her loans, full stop.

This is the most likely to permanently sour your relationship with her, but also the most practical. Reason being that she'll be angry at you (angry == no presents, usually) and she also won't have the money to buy the presents. Might take a rude awakening or two when the end of the month is ramen only, but it'll get the point across.

2. Make a wishlist for important occasions (and keep the wishes on the list cheap & personal)

I've found this works with my aunt, who has enough money but also used to overgift on every occasion she visited. I found out later that this was because she was trying to get me to visit more often and allow her to visit more often, together with a feeling of guilt that she wasn't caring enough for me. It's useful to direct that helpful need (as in, she needs to feel like she's helping) in a way less embarassing and less expensive for her. This has the advantage that she's not likely to be angry or disappointed and that you can pre-select what you'll get (maybe it'll be something useful or something you like then, too)

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    Additionally, if you don't want to go all the way with the wishlist, actually emphasizing your specific wishes when you have them could help. Make a point of mentioning that nice set of plates and cups you have an eye on or that blanket you really liked but see as a luxury. Mention it multiple times. This can give her the chance to treat you while you actually like what you get.
    – skymningen
    Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 14:10

Many people feel that to maintain good relations, one must keep giving things, and getting things back in return. Some people give small gifts on a few occasions (e.g. new year's, Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, etc.). Others feel that they've got to make it big to keep the relationship healthy. I'm not stereotyping people here, just saying that there's different kinds of people out there.

It looks like your mother-in-law is the kind of person who loves to give big, overwhelming gifts, that you might just like. If you look at her intentions, she means well (I'm sure you knew that already).

Now, I suppose it wouldn't have been such a hassle if you had been given a single large bottle of pineapple juice, instead of the 200 individual-serve cans, right?

If you can convince her that you're okay with a little less, and she doesn't mind giving you a little less either (seeing her nature), then I guess it'll be better than making her stop giving you gifts altogether, which she might not like, and might put a wedge between you and her. I'm taking that you don't mind a few small gifts on special occasions. In that case, you can make a few special requests which she would be more than happy to fulfil.

I've got experience with my own uncle, who did the exact same thing on every special occasion (trust me, Indians have at least twice the number of special occasions that you guys do, so I guess you can understand how it was for my family).

About the loans, I guess you'll know best as to whether your mother-in-law really needs them or not, and do that accordingly.


The gift issue: It is reasonable to assume that when giving you a gift she is:

  1. trying to show you how much she loves you
  2. thanking you for being there for her
  3. releasing some guilt for when she does have to come to you for money
  4. pleased to do something for you as you obviously do for her

It appears that you will not change her financial patterns and the emotional association that she gets from gift giving. We learn our money patterns as a child and it is rare that many deviate from them.

You can continue to look at the gifts as an intrusion and irresponsible. It might be better for you to change your view of what is really occurring. We make the mistake in family of trying to fix each other that is not always needed or wanted. This as an opportunity to embrace her love to both of you. To celebrate your relationship. Let her feel empowered by giving back to both of you. Let it embrace the power of family.

The gifts themselves can be easy to remedy, once she leaves you can return them(offsetting the next loan) or gift them to a charity/food-shelf that can give them to another in need. There are so many that need help. Then you are really spreading her love.

If she mentions a gift at a later date, you reply that you love it or that you use it so much, or even that you used it and overtime needed to "lend" "give" it to another so they could be as happy as it made you, etc.

Financial Loans:

  1. you have the money with out financial strain
  2. she pays the money back (without constant reminding)
  3. you know in advance(which you do) that she will ask for it
  4. you can set it aside for her
  5. you can afford to lose it if she never pays it back

As it stands now you have made a non-verbal arrangement, this is not necessarily bad, if you can comfortably answer the questions above.

You understand that she has financial issues that impede her ability to regulate them. You sound as if you all care deeply for each other. To see it not as an annoyance, but as a dynamic that everyone has flaws, this is hers.

If any of the above are an issue then you need to set down a time when you can talk about it before she "needs" the money and there is no immediate pressure regarding finances.

Your lives will feel better when you control what you can, embrace what you can, help others along the way, and ultimately let go when you need to.

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