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Dear Margo

Dear Margo column

Q. As you and the rest of America know, we are in the Christmas season. (Who could forget with the never-ending ads?) I’m 22 years old, and here’s my problem: I can’t help over-spending on gifts.

I’d like to know when it came about that one should buy presents for friends, friends’ children, aunts, uncles, cousins, and the mailman. By the time I’m done shopping, I’m stuck with a credit card bill I can’t afford and have spent money I could’ve used on necessities. I miss the Christmas spirit I used to love. Now I dread the entire thing.

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I like the feeling of making people happy, and seeing how everyone’s a little broke these days, I find it nice to get them something they wouldn’t get themselves. But . . . I work two jobs just to support myself, and I’m trying to pay off student loans. So my question is: Would it be terrible to only buy gifts for my mom, dad, and brother?

A. Given your young age and circumstances, by all means winnow your list. And don’t forget that it’s always meaningful to give a homemade gift, like baked goodies. If you do shop for your immediate family, I would set an outer limit, and a modest one at that. Since you have identified your proclivity to overspend, decide on a budget before you go shopping — and stick to it. It sounds hackneyed, I know, but it really is the thought that counts.

Q. I’m in a relatively new marriage with all the taking care of kids, cooking, etc., happily behind me. We are both middle-age and have an active social life. My husband has suggested we have a few couples over and, knowing I don’t cook, says he’s perfectly happy to serve Chinese take-out. That is very sweet of him, I admit, but the cardboard containers would embarrass me when I actually live here. I suppose I could have a caterer come in, but I feel that would seem like overkill for just a few couples. What do you think?

A. I think the key here is more attitude than food. What you would be serving is what many people choose to have when it’s just family. You could follow your husband’s suggestion in one of two ways: Using your good china, you could let people serve themselves from the little cartons, or you could put all the different selections into serving bowls. (I doubt you would be fooling anyone, however, because, really, who makes that kind of food themselves?) If your manner is more “Isn’t this fun?” than apologetically announcing regret that the dinner is not homemade, that will allow you to finesse the fact that you don’t cook.

For whatever it’s worth, I don’t cook, either, like a fair number of the older “girls,” and I am not embarrassed by it. What gets me over this hurdle is something my mother used to say: It’s not what you put on the table; it’s who you put in the chairs. Truly, when there’s good conversation and fellowship, the food is secondary.

All letters must be sent via the online form at www.creators.com/dearmargo.

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