Our Background

My girlfriend was born in Laos and is currently living with her family in France. Money has always been a problem for her and her family. Her parents both don't earn a lot and regularly ask her for "financial help". While they claim it's just temporarily, they never showed any intention of paying anything back to her.

I was born in Austria, where I currently live and where she intends to move in with me. I myself do not have such monetary problems. I am currently studying for my BSc in Information Security at university. My monthly income is currently €600 and I have about €25,000 saved up in various assets (savings accounts, investment funds, etc.). Also, my chances of getting a well-paid job in the InfoSec industry are very good.

My Problem

I enjoy giving my girlfriend gifts. She enjoys playing videogames together with me, so sometimes I buy her a new game off her wishlist, or a DLC for a game we enjoy playing together, or an in-game item or similar. A while ago, for example, she showed me a video about some ultra-rare in-game emotes for the game Killing Floor 2 and said how much she wanted to have one specific emote. I looked around the Steam Marketplace until I found someone selling that emote for 60€. I bought the emote and when I told her that, she was rather upset at me. She didn't want me to spend so much money on "a stupid emote" and told me how many other things I could have bought for myself with this money.

I was rather surprised by her reaction, and I don't really know how to proceed with it. She knows how much money I have and how much I earn, so I am not pretending to be barely making it through the month. I considered that she might consider those gifts "flexing", but this was never my intention, given that the cost of my gifts are not exorbitant and never exceed €100.

Is there any way I can convince my girlfriend that she should not worry about the gifts I give her? Or should I accept that it makes her feel uneasy and stop giving her gifts?


Questions from the Comments:

  • Q: "You mention that you're planning to live together. Have you discussed finances with respect to that yet?"
    A: Yes, my girlfriend would plan to stay at home and take care of the household. While a single-earner household does not have the same economic strength as if she were to work part-time, I do certainly see it within our possibilities to have good standard of living with only one income.
  • Q: "I don't think the problem is on the offering. It's on the gift - a digital cosmetic item. I consider myself a gamer as well and to be fair that's a lot for a cosmetic and I think that's why she got upset. Can you confirm this?"
    A: I agree that it's a lot, but as far as I understood, she didn't want me to spend as much money on her, not that she was upset that the item was so expensive. She had the same reaction when I bought her a game for 15€, which was worth every cent.
  • Q: "So she just said she wanted it, but didn't ask you to buy it for her and you also didn't tell her beforehand that you would?"
    A: Correct. She wanted it and I wanted to surprise her with "Look what I got for you!"
  • Q: "How long have you two been together?"
    A: One and a half years now.
  • 1
    How financially secure is your girlfriend? Is it possible that she's tightening her belt and making sacrifices in order to send €50 to her parents while you're spending €60 on electronic tat for her that she doesn't need? – patstew Dec 5 '17 at 16:59
  • 1
    @patstew She is currently not in a good spot, since her family basically take any money she has. Even if I would give her any amount of money for financial support, her family would only increase their spending, and in turn again leaving nothing for her. They are like leeches, keeping her in a vicious cycle of guilt and a misplaced sense of honour. – user6497 Dec 5 '17 at 17:01
  • 6
    You mention you've discussed how you would approach finances if you moved in together. Have you discussed how that might change the relationship she has with her family, if all of the income comes from you? I don't think that question is actually too important for the question you asked, but it does seem like something worth thinking about as you go forward. – Cort Ammon Dec 5 '17 at 18:46
  • 21
    OP, have you met your girlfriend in person before? How well do you really know her? I hope you don't find me rude for asking but the whole 'She doesn't have any money, parent's use her as an ATM and the fact that after a year of being together (and not even living together) she already plans to become a stay at home mom? This raises a LOT of red flags for me. – Summer Dec 6 '17 at 10:06
  • 12
    It doesn't look like anyone's asked the difficult question here, and perhaps I'm a cynic for approaching it but... You mention that you live in Austria, and your girlfriend, originally from Laos, lives in France with her family. She has told you she has to give her parents money. How often do you see each other in real life? What does she do for a living? – TCassa Dec 6 '17 at 10:31

11 Answers 11

up vote 101 down vote accepted

Is there any way I can convince my girlfriend that she should not worry about the gifts I give her?
Or should I accept that it makes her feel uneasy and stop giving her gifts?

You noted also

Money has always been a problem for her and her family.

So she probably learned to be careful handling money and to rather think twice, before spending money.

Now, she said she wanted something costly and pretty insignificant, to be honest, but didn't ask you to buy it for her. You also didn't ask, if she wanted you to buy it for her. Then, you surprised her...

I suggest you do neither of what your questions suggest. Instead, you should start to take her serious. She probably felt like she made you throw your money out of the window. Keep in mind that she doesn't take that lightly. Also, be glad about her reaction - she cares for you, else she would have been happy about you buying her whatever she wants.

Have a discussion with her about how things shall be handled from now on. Some time has passed and she probably calmed down, so now give her the opportunity to better explain her feelings. You can also do the same and Jess K's excellent answer covers that already.

I suggest that you better ask her next time to give her the opportunity to say "No" (or "Yes") and who knows, maybe she says "No" and suggests an even better way for you two to spend the money together and enjoy it even more.

  • 66
    So she probably learned to be careful handling money and to rather think twice, before spending money - I find people who have grown up having to be careful with money tend to keep that mentality well after becoming financially secure. As I get older life becomes less about affording things and more about justifying the cost to myself. – Trebor Dec 5 '17 at 16:46
  • 6
    Thank you for giving me such a good perspective on how she might feel. I will talk to her about it – user6497 Dec 5 '17 at 16:51
  • Great answer! Maybe she just isn't a "gifts" person. She likes playing video games with you. Maybe she likes the quality time more than the gifts. New games are a portal to that kind of time. Can you frame the gift giving as a means of spending more time together? Could you include her in the process of choosing the specific gift so it seems like less of a "waste"? Some things to think about as you move forward. Good luck :) – starrise Dec 5 '17 at 18:58
  • 19
    +1 for starting to take her seriously. Differences in financial philosophy must be addressed and compromises should be made, because these problems are among the most malignant in a relationship. – BlackThorn Dec 5 '17 at 19:54
  • 13
    +1 All this is doubly true since they plan to become a single-earner household. The OP needs to stop thinking of it as "his money" and start thinking of it as "their money". I can see why she's not impressed that he spent 60€ of "their money" on something dumb without talking about it first: that indicates that he''ll keep this spending habbit once it really is "their money". – Mike Ounsworth Dec 8 '17 at 12:07

When you grow up with financial insecurity you learn certain attitudes and habits. It's likely been drilled into her to not spend "frivolously". Things like presents and games fall into this category of non-essential expenses.

Since she is planning to stay at home and rely entirely on your income, how you spend your money is now her concern (after all, it will soon be her money too). She may have some anxiety over this: What if you can't find a job right away, or you run into hard times in the future? Are you responsible enough to know when to forgo buying fun stuff? Will you prioritize supporting her parents like she has?

Make sure that she is comfortable with your (plural) future plans, financially. Do you budget? If so, go over it together and agree on spending levels - say you decide on 60€ each per month of "fun money" that you can spend however you please. Then you can say:

I wanted to use my fun money this month to surprise you :)

She might think it's silly, but she knows it isn't cutting into the parental assistance or grocery fund for the month.

If you don't budget, this would be a good time to make one with her!

Another benefit of the "fun money" allocation is that you don't need to tell her exactly how much the gift cost. In my culture (US) we don't normally tell people how much gifts cost anyways because it leads to awkward situations. The budget lets her be secure knowing that you have spent within the agreed limits, without needing to know exactly how much this one item was.

If she is unhappy with what you've spent your fun money on, try to get solid answers of why. It may be that she didn't want it all that badly, and feels embarrassed by the perceived extravagance. Consider asking her in the future before buying her expensive things - you'll need to figure out what "expensive" means in your relationship, and again having a budget can help with defining this. Some couples agree on a particular amount over which they have to consult the other before purchasing, for example.

This might sound like an overly serious reaction, but financial issues are a leading cause of divorce, which means this has real potential to sour your relationship if not addressed.

  • 6
    I didn't say "Hey, look at this really expensive gift I bought you". I said "Look what I got for you" and she asked me how expensive it was. I didn't want to lie, especially since she could easily have found out how much I paid for it. – user6497 Dec 5 '17 at 16:56
  • @DavidStockinger Understood (I wouldn't have recommended lying or deflecting after being asked directly either). I do think that having a set amount for fun money will alleviate her wanting to ask these questions, because she will know at most how much it would have been, and that the money was specifically set aside for you to spend however you please. – Em C Dec 5 '17 at 17:13
  • I will definitely suggest such a thing to her. – user6497 Dec 5 '17 at 17:16
  • 3
    +1 for the "fun money" concept - I budget carefully and end up with a small but tidy sum at the end of each paycheck that goes into a "fun fund", that I allow myself to spend however I please. My friends used to balk that I was spending real money on in-game perks for them in the games we play together until I made it clear that it was coming out of my fun fund, increased my enjoyment of our time together and was not impacting my overall ability to provide for myself. (They do still protest of course, but not nearly as loudly ;3 ) – Alex Dec 5 '17 at 18:36
  • 5
    +1 for budgeting in general. So many relationships get into trouble because money is never talked about, then you find out your SO has 200k in credit card debt when you get married, and that's an unpleasant surprise. If you're working to budget with her, you can help her to feel at ease that essentially "the money is already spent", some is just undecided on the specifics of "what". – Anoplexian Dec 5 '17 at 19:44

Well, the key problem is in your question:

How can I convince my girlfriend not to worry about gifts I give her?

You want to do something because it makes you feel good, and you want to be in control of her reaction. She doesn't get to choose because you are the one bringing gifts.

That doesn't work. Because she does not have the means to give you back anything similar, she'll feel indebted, and debts are a bad feeling. Too many gifts she is not in a position to return, and she might leave you. Because such a one-sided relation makes you feel good, and her feel bad. And then you'll be resentful for her ungratefulness.

It's a stupid story, and a terribly common one. Disproportionate gifts of the "not expected to be returnable" kind, in particular those paid for with money rather than time, are for mistresses, not for partners. Avoid trying to feel good at the expense of her feeling bad.

That may mean hunting for weeks for some bargain she could have afforded herself even though you'd have been able to earn enough money fourfold over in the same amount of time to buy it at list price. Because then you are investing time instead of money, and she can reciprocate. Her exchange rates between time and money are different than yours, and you have to keep presents affordable for her.

This is doubly important since she sees that you have contempt for her family because you think her family sees her just as an ATM, and yet you want her to behave as if she sees you just as an ATM, a convenient source of money that could not otherwise be had.

And she definitely has more to feel indebted for to her family than you have cause to feel indebted to her.

So in future when trying to buy her a present, don't just consider "will this make me feel good" but also "will this make her feel good". And if you aren't sure about it, talk it out. Or substitute a present which you feel reasonably safe about making her also feel good.

  • 8
    This answer shows great insight. She probably does not want to be seen as a mistress, but that is essentially what she is. Since they are not married, she is probably ashamed to take expensive presents from him, but needs him to pay all the bills anyway. An uncomfortable situation. How does her family feel about her giving them money obtained in this way? Off-topic, I know, but still... – RedSonja Dec 6 '17 at 10:23

Just be honest with her about how you feel, but keep in mind that she might never feel fully comfortable with it (whether it be cultural, personal, etc).

I really enjoy giving you gifts. I'd rather spend this 60€ on something we can enjoy together than something I'd be enjoying alone.

You should also acknowledge her feelings though, in case it really is making her uncomfortable (and she doesn't think she will adjust).

If it makes you really uncomfortable, I can stop - but I'd really like to be able to continue gifting you these things. It makes me happy to have things we can enjoy together like this.

  • Thank you very much for your answer. I will try and talk to her about it, and depending on how she feels, I will accept your answer. – user6497 Dec 5 '17 at 16:00
  • 5
    No problem. I have dated someone before who came from a large family with a smaller income - so money was always scarce. They also had a history of partners using gifts to 'guilt' them into feeling bad for not reciprocating. Being honest that you aren't expecting anything in return and are just doing it because it makes you happy could help alleviate any lingering concerns. – Jess K. Dec 5 '17 at 16:16
  • 2
    +1 But you should really add the "not expecting anything in return" part to your answer, based on the information about her financial situation, this might really be the true culprit. – s1lv3r Dec 5 '17 at 18:21

I suggest that it would be wise to investigate gently into how your girlfriend actually sees her financial relationship with her parents. While you see the situation as being like an ATM it is possible she sees it as merely the natural responsibility of a daughter. It is possible (even likely) her parents have sacrificed a great deal to get her into her current situation.

The extent to which children are expected to provide for their parents, and even siblings and wider family network, varies a great deal from culture to culture, so there is potential for cultural misunderstanding there.

If she does see financial provision for her parents as part of her duty to them, it may explain her response. She may not feel comfortable receiving luxuries (even if these are relatively trivial) while her parents have more basic needs unmet.

If this is the case then my suggestion is to first identify any pressing needs in her family that might need to be met before she can be at ease.

Then start to think about how much you can put aside to help her family over the long haul (examples might be putting a little aside every month for education related expenses for a sibling, or to help her parents out on home repairs). This should be done out of love, striking the balance between being generous without feeling used. This balance of responsibility for parents is something you should talk with your girlfriend about.

Your girlfriend may find occasional treats much more of a delight when you have taken steps to show her that her loved ones are being treated with fairness and generosity.

If you've always had disposable income --if you've never experienced real poverty, or at least seen it up close --it may be difficult for you to put yourself in your girlfriend's place. I'm guessing her parents aren't asking for money for luxury goods and fancy trips, but to help with basic subsistence. If that's the case, she may be dealing with a lot of guilt about how well she is living in comparison to them (or other friends and family members at home).

To be absolutely honest, if I were her, your purchase, no matter how well-meant, would set off alarm bells, because it's such a lot of money for something so ephemeral. She may be questioning your priorities, and maybe even your values. She might also be thinking ahead to when you might have a family together and might need to plan your budgets more carefully. She may also feel she needs to be more guarded about what she says so you don't think she's asking you for things. If I were you, I would try to help her understand that this wasn't just a careless impulse purchase, but an honest attempt to make her happy by paying attention to her wants. But until you have a better handle on what those really are, I would cut out the surprise gifts and make sure you make those kinds of decisions together.

This may sound very negative, but actually I think there is a lot of positive things here. As someone else mentioned, you are fortunate to have a girlfriend who is not a gold-digger and who seems to care about you for you. And her frugal habits may help you in years to come. Especially when you are the bread-winner it is nice to not have to also be the person who puts the brakes on the household spending.

  • +1 for if I were her, your purchase, no matter how well-meant, would set off alarm bells – Marjeta Feb 8 at 0:02

As I see it there are two fundamental issues you are dealing with here.

1) Your GF has been living in a world of scarcity. A world were spending 15€ for a video game would actually be irresponsible since there are other necessities that need to be purchased with that money. You on the other hand have been living in a world of plenty were you can afford responsibly to buy some luxuries.

2) Your GF may also be feeling guilt about having so many nice things (luxuries) when here family does not.

Solution:
1) don't stop getting her gifts. She will most likely get used to having more nice things over time.

2) keep the gifts more conservative for now. for example 15€ gifts instead of 100€ gifts. With a big gift maybe once a year on your anniversary.

3) tell her you get her these gifts because you love here and want to show her you love her.

4) Once in a while give her the gift of helping her family. Be very careful with this one as it has the rick of morphing into you supporting her family. Make the gifts for special occasions like holidays or a major life event. And try to give service more than physical things.

Personal Note My wife grew up poor (though she didn't feel poor at the time) And she has a really good talent for being frugal. It's been a huge benefit in our marriage. She also had to adjust to me spending money on her (for example taking her out to sushi which she loves) She has gotten used to it over time. And I have also learned to be a little more conservative with my money. So we have both grown from the experience.

Good luck mate! :)

I think the skill to learn here is the difference between what someone casually says they want and what they really value more than its cost. I realize that's a tough one to figure out sometimes but saying that something in a video game looks cool and "I want that" doesn't really mean "I want it" when getting it involves spending real money. A good test of whether or not a significant other really cares for you is whether or not they have the same reluctance to spend your money as they would have towards spending their own money.

Getting to the point you made about the €15 game that she also got upset about. Have you considered the possibility that she is not as into video games as you are? Maybe she is playing them in order to have more in common with you. I think if you got her something completely unrelated to video games and instead was something she is independently into or cares about or maybe even just flowers then she probably would have a nicer reaction than more video game stuff. If we assume I'm right (you know her better than I do obviously so maybe I'm not) then she can't tell you "I don't really like video games that much I just play them so we have stuff in common so don't spend money on video games for me" so instead she says "Don't waste money on me."

You have plenty of good advice here. I will just add two data points.

I have been in this situation - my girlfriend was from a poor family while I did not have any financial problems (I live frugally, but this is a choice).

When we were going out, I was always the one who was paying and I knew she would be uncomfortable with this (but one still has to eat and when we were young a McDonalds was simpler/faster than to cook at home - good times).

She mentioned that, and I just told her that

  • I have more money than she has so this is normal for me to pay
  • if the roles were inversed then she would be paying OF COURSE (I emphasised the "of course" in a silly way)
  • I have to eat and when I am hungry I cannot think so we have to eat NOW.

I was always trying to add some humor in this to deflect the money part. She also knew that I did not care about money (it is good to have some but then it is not my life goal either), so that part was not a reference in our relationship.

She got used to that.

Data point number two: I receive presents from relatives which are poor and I hate that - because I literally do not need anything material, just the fact that I spend time wth them. I told them this once very clearly - stating that I do not want any presents from them except that particular [whatever cheap, a cake or something] which I love. I then had this cake forever but this deflected the money part as well.

It doesn't seem to me that she's worried about the gifts you give her.

Smart spending is just something people look for in someone they're going to share a bank account with. The only thing that varies is people's understanding of what "smart spending" is. It seems she doesn't think $60 for an emote is smart spending, even if it's a gift for someone you love.

Is there any way I can convince my girlfriend that she should not worry about the gifts I give her? Or should I accept that it makes her feel uneasy and stop giving her gifts?

Neither. You should figure out what gifts she likes and stick to those. She's already given you a hint that this involves her thinking the item is worth its price. When giving gifts, sometimes a thoughtful cheap gift is valued more than even an equally thoughtful expensive gift. Expensive gifts are problematic for a multitude of reasons*, so best steer clear of them for a while.

The above applies to 90% of women and men you'll ever be romantically involved in, the amount of money she grew up with is of little relevance here.


*Some of the reasons are: One sided, partner cannot reciprocate. Implies purchase of affection (or other "services"). Creates guilt in partner. The timing of few large gifts may result in an unintentional and unfortunate pattern the partner might notice.

Over time, this will become a non-issue as long as you keep open communication about it.

Right now, the money is still a place where you two differ, so it's good to remember the general rule of gifts, which is that it really has to be for the other person. If it stresses them out, even if the stress comes from a situation that no longer applies, it's not serving its purpose. For instance, I enjoy eating my favorite treats whenever I come across them, so I used to buy my husband his favorite snacks any time I was at the store. Eventually I learned that he prefers not to have them very often and to get the anticipation of buying them for himself. Likewise, my grandma loves figurines and trinkets but learned that I don't decorate and, to me, they're just dust collectors.

When it comes to someone who has anxiety about money, one way to give them a gift that doesn't make them uncomfortable is to tell them you saw something that reminded you of them and that you decided not to get it for them but that you wanted to. (You can either leave it at that or you can ask if it would be okay.) The gift you're giving then is showing that you care about them enough to try to give them both what they want and what they need. Even if it's unintentional, giving a gift that makes someone uncomfortable can actually send the message that you only care about the "best" parts of them, by implying that you don't respect their flaws. In general, the only thing for it is communication. As she gets used to a less stringent lifestyle, and she sees that you know how to spend money on fun things and remain financially secure, she'll appreciate those little gifts more.

protected by John Dec 5 '17 at 22:35

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?