On my way home from my first - yes, first - Christmas shopping trip after work this evening, I gave my friend Monique a call.
I knew she would understand the stress I was feeling about the presents I'm only now beginning to buy.
Me: Did you get a present for Zazzi yet?
Monique: No, not yet, I think I'm just going to do a gift card.
Me: OK, so how about Zazzi's baby? And husband?
Monique: Yeah, I'm not sure what to do. I was just going to spend the usual, (like we have since we started exchanging presents in college). But I feel bad because I know she's going to spend a lot more.
Welcome to the world of Single Santas, the prickly position unmarried people end up in around the holidays when you want to be generous with the friends you've had forever -- but then it starts to get a little out of hand.
Take Monique's case for example. One of her closest girlfriends is married with four kids. Another is married with three. Two of her other close girlfriends had babies within the past year.
Monique has remained close to these friends and plays with the kids regularly, so she feels like she should have a little something for everyone at Christmas.
But even if she kept the gifts for the kids really little, say $10 a piece, that still puts her at almost $100 more than she used to spend on just her girlfriends.
Monique's a teacher that waits tables on the side to pay the bills. So that extra $100 is a lot!
I realize talking about this is kind of Scrooge-like around Christmas, and I'm sure some people are going to make the case that Christmas isn't about the gifts. Just give them something from the heart.
Easier said than done when your married/settled down friends are still buying you really nice presents. They have dual income, after all, and can afford to treat you.
So giving them and their kids nothing in return is kind of embarrassing. And besides, this isn't about not wanting to buy them all presents -- it's about not being able to afford to do so.
After two years of buying little presents for all my friends, I decided I had a choice. I could rack up all kinds of credit card debt trying to be Super Aunt Vikki. Or I could buy for just a handful and send everyone else heartfelt cards.
Monique came up with her own practical solution. She buys magazine subscriptions for each of her friends' families. True, she still feels a little sad that she doesn't have the means to get every kid their own gift.
But she's learning to deal with it.
Single Santas can only give so much.