Gift Guide

How Much 6 Women *Actually* Spend on Holiday Gifts

Six editors share their budgets for family, friends, and significant others.

By: Samantha Sutton

Bustle and Coveteur are working together to bring you the best mix of the season’s hottest releases, shopping tips, and gifting ideas in ways that are both inspirational and attainable. Check The Holiday Edit channel weekly to see what we’re up to.


It’s easy to go overboard when it comes to the holidays and gift-giving—especially if you find joy in surprising your loved ones with things you know they’d like. But girl, you’re not Santa Claus! You’ve got a handful of bills and exactly zero elves, meaning you could easily end up depleting your bank account if you’re not being too careful.

So how much should you really spend on gifts for friends, family, and significant others? For that, we turned to our editors, who weighed in with their actual budgets (instead of their dream ones), and responses ranged from $0 to sky’s the limit.


Samantha Sutton, Editor

Parents: $100 - $150 each

What you’re buying: I am an only child, so I always feel strange receiving a ton of gifts (yes, I’m spoiled) and giving my parents one each. I usually try to make them little “sets” or packages filled with small things I think they’ll actually use. For my mom, anything practical like a scarf-and-gloves set, minty-smelling lotions, and makeup are always hits. My dad is a bit more tricky, since he’s more of a movies, reading, and tech dad, and doesn’t watch sports or care about stereotypical “dad” things. I’ll probably compile a set of Blu-Rays and popcorn, along with some movie tickets so we can go together. Otherwise an Amazon gift card is always appreciated!


Significant Other: $250

What you’re buying: My boyfriend and I often just tell each other what we want rather than do any guesswork, but I always try to work in some sort of apparel. A nice dinner at a place he’s been talking about for a while is his idea of the perfect present.


Friends: $30

What you’re buying: My main friend group sticks to a limit when it comes to gifts, and we also do Secret Santa rather than buying for everyone. I’ll usually find a cute top for $30 or under, or even buy some sort of gift set for whoever I end up choosing. But I never show up without a little something for everyone—even if it’s something cheap, like candy.


Katie Becker, Beauty Director

Parents: $0

What you’re buying: My immediate family stopped buying gifts for each other about 10 years ago. Now we each plan something to read aloud and go around the living room sharing poems, articles, song lyrics, and book chapters. Something from David Sedaris or The New Yorker is usually a hit.


Significant Other: $350

What you’re buying: The Bose headphones I got him for his summer birthday still make him so happy, and he constantly tells me so. However, he needs literally nothing else. Most likely I will take him out to a super nice dinner. I’m thinking Public Kitchen.


Friends: $100

What you’re buying: Mostly likely a round of drinks for the whole lot of us when we get together for Christmas karaoke at a dive bar called The Lookout in Seattle every year.


Meg Gegler, Audience Development

Parents: $100

What you’re buying: Like Katie, my family and I decided long ago not to give gifts during the holidays. Instead, we swap unwrapping on Christmas morning for a night of Chinese food and a trip to the movies. Now that I make my own income, I’m planning on giving back and treating them this Christmas—dinner and movies on me!


Significant Other: $250

What you’re buying: I (try to) never participate in Black Friday/Cyber Monday, as it’s a black hole for me and my budget. However, I got an amazing deal on a five-pack to Lift Next Level Floats (the best sensory deprivation tank experience that my boyfriend loves), so I couldn’t help but get in on the deal, which originally retailed for $450.


Friends: $45 each

What you’re buying: I’m a sucker for Sephora’s holiday value sets, so I love to get three to four sets and split them up with a number of different products for my friends! I end up spending about $150 total for eight of my friends’ gifts!


Hannah Baxter, Assistant Editor

Parents: $100 each

What you’re buying: Since my parents aren’t together anymore, I have to budget their gifts separately, plus step-parents. They don’t really need anything, but I typically try to find something sparkly for my mom and a couple of great books that I’ve read that year for my dad (two of my favorite things that I’ve clearly inherited). For my stepmom, it’s usually some super luxe bath products, and for my stepdad, a pair of fleece-lined jeans from L.L.Bean.


Significant Other: $1,000

What you’re buying: For the past two years, my boyfriend and I have decided to forgo material gifts for each other and instead splurge on a tropical vacation in March—right when the weather is about to break our spirits. Last spring it was Jamaica, and this year is still TBD, but in my opinion the pictures and memories are way better than any other present.


Friends: $50 each

What you’re buying: I like to consider myself extremely Etsy-proficient, which is super convenient for the holidays. Whether it’s a needlepoint pillow with “YASS KWEEN” on the front, or a rose quartz mobile, I could spend hours scouring the depths of my favorite shops for one-of-a-kind trinkets for my besties.


Tara Gonzalez, Assistant Editor

Parents: $300-$500

What you’re buying: This Christmas is incredibly special for my family, because earlier this year we almost lost my dad. In an attempt to shower him with extra love, I’ve been giving him presents all year long, but my sister and I want to do something extra special for the holiday. He and my mom have been going out since they were 15, and ever since his emergency heart surgery, they have a whole new outlook on life and have been going on dates constantly. Every week during the summer, they actually sent me photos of themselves having a pizza picnic in the park, which made me break down into a very audible awwwww whenever I received their text. My budget allows for more than just pizza, so my sister and I were thinking a weekend trip, a concert, or a Broadway show might be the perfect gift so they can spend even more time being incredibly cute together.


Significant Other: ~Priceless~

What you’re buying: I’m only 25, but I’ve been dating my boyfriend for 10 years, which means the pressure is on every year for gift-giving. I’ve already bought him every kind of present imaginable and want him to be surprised every Christmas. Last year he made me a vintage-looking boarding pass, and it was a coupon for a trip anywhere in the world. I ended up choosing Havana, Cuba, and it was the greatest gift I’ve ever gottenso consider the pressure extra on. I was going to get him a film membership to our favorite theater (Metrograph!), but now I’m thinking of starting a savings account for the next big trip we want to take together to Tokyo. I may not have all the money for something like that yet, but I can help us get a head start.


Friends: $35-$50

What you’re buying: I have a group of friends that prefers to do Secret Santa instead of individual gifts, and the limit this year is $35. I like to do little gift bags with a couple things all centered around a theme and tend to spend a little bit over the limit. Stores like STORY in Chelsea help when it comes to finding a bunch of little gifts that, when paired together, feel really special. I’ll probably throw in a mini champagne bottle for fun!


Brooke Bunce, Social Media Manager

Parents: $200

What you’re buying: My parents are definitely the toughest two people to buy gifts for. They’re retired teachers from the Midwest that really want for nothing, so I always have to put on my creative gifting Santa hat each year to come up with something useful, practical, and special. My mom gets to spend most days at home, so I jumped at the chance to get her a monogrammed pajama set from J.Crew during their Black Friday sale. As for my dad, I’ll most likely treat him to a steak dinner, since he’ll never say no to that.


Significant Other: $100

What you’re buying: Since I’m currently one of the few ~single and lovin’ it~ gals in the Cov office, my roommate is the closest thing I have to an S.O. We’ve lived together for two years, and he’s the first person I talk to when I wake up and when I arrive back home. I tell him literally everything, so I’d say it’s a pretty good substitute. He recently got his first Heyday 30-minute facial and loved it, so I’m gifting him a full one-hour session to treat him for being the most wonderful person to share a living space with.


Friends: $40

What you’re buying: My best girlfriends and I do a Secret Santa exchange every year, and since we’re all spread across the country with different salaries and situations, we agree to spend about the same price on gifts so no one feels one-upped. The friend I’m gifting just recently relocated for a new job in Oklahoma City, so I’m shipping this Urban Outfitters Keo Metal Side Table straight to her new pad.


Want more stories like this?

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Part of the series:

Gift Guide