You be the judge: should my brother give me better birthday presents?

The prosecution: Elsie

My brother is really tight with spending on birthdays, and refuses to make an effort

Ollie, my younger brother, is a nightmare every time a birthday in our family rolls around, but he’s especially bad with mine. I am thinking of banning presents between us as it has caused a few arguments.

He doesn’t put in the same amount of effort as I do for him. For years he wouldn’t even get me a card, whereas I go all out. I know it’s partly because I’m five years older than him, so when we were kids I wouldn’t expect much. But now that he’s 24, it offends me. Over the years I have given him designer shirts, clothing vouchers and electronics he’s asked for. He has bought me a cheap supermarket card with the sticker still on, a scented candle that smelled of nothing and a horrible scratchy scarf.

A few years ago I snapped, and told him his gifts weren’t up to scratch. Ollie apologised, but then last year I got a text on the day and a cheap bouquet of flowers a month late. That year I had bought him some AirPods.

For his 21st birthday, I bought him an expensive engraved gold necklace. He was really grateful, but that year I didn’t even get a birthday card – he completely forgot. I texted him the day after saying, sarcastically, “Thanks for your birthday message”, and he said he was sorry – he’d been stressed with his new job, but I don’t think that’s a valid excuse.

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Our youngest brother is really close with Ollie and they swap decent gifts all the time. Maybe it’s because they are boys, or because Ollie just knows what to get him. As the older sister it feels like the responsibility is always with me to keep up with birthdays, and his lack of effort makes me sad. Birthdays are a time to show a loved one that you care.

He has known me for more than 20 years – so he should know what to get me. It’s especially important as we grow up. He needs to start being more thoughtful with gifts or it’s going to continue to affect our relationship. I feel as if I should start spending less and be less thoughtful, which is horrible, but what other solution is there?

The defence: Ollie

I admit I could do better at giving birthday gifts, but Elsie never tells me what she wants

I am terrible with presents, but it’s usually because I forget Elsie’s birthday, or I’m preoccupied. This year I have put the date in my calendar, but I should have done that before.

Girls are really hard to buy for and Elsie never tells me what she wants. I don’t have a girlfriend, so how am I supposed to know what to do? In the past, when I’ve tried to keep things simple with presents, Elsie has been offended.

The time I got her a scented candle she was thankful to my face, and then months later I heard from our younger brother that she had actually been annoyed about it. She won’t tell me until long after the birthday has passed. I would love her to make a few gift suggestions so I have a rough idea of what to get her.

Over the years she has let rip at me when I’ve forgotten her birthday. She’s like: “I don’t know why I bother.” That’s her favourite line. I sent her flowers in the post last year but they were late: it was lockdown, everyone was stressed. She wasn’t impressed but at least I did something. I think she also holds a bit of a grudge when I give our brother, Michael, a good gift, but he’s easier to buy for because we’re closer in age and he’s a guy.

It’s true that Elsie is really good with my birthday. She has always been a super-thoughtful big sister. One year she got me this amazing gold chain that I had wanted for ages. I thought my parents were getting it for me, but Elsie told me she wanted it to be from her. She loves the feeling of being a good gift-giver, and I wouldn’t want to take that role away from her. It’s just that Elsie secretly wants me to repay her for all the presents she gets me and I am just not on her level.

I also don’t have her budget: I’m in a low-paid, entry-level job, while Elsie is a manager. I’ll try to step it up, because I want to preserve our relationship, but she can’t expect me to match her. That’s not what giving presents is about, after all.

The jury of Guardian readers

Should Ollie make more effort when buying gifts?

It’s Ollie’s lack of effort that upsets Elsie most, not the price tag – especially as he makes more of an effort for their brother. Ollie is aware his thoughtlessness upsets Elsie, so there is no excuse. He is guilty and should up his game.
Nadine, 56

Elsie is looking for commercial solutions to what is an existential problem. She should consider having an actual conversation with her brother rather than papering over the cracks in their relationship with vouchers.
Jac, 29

Overall, I side with Ollie. You give gifts because you want to give, not because you want something similar in return. Not everyone shows their feelings for others like this, so Elsie should take a broader perspective. However, Ollie should mark her birthday somehow as it clearly matters to her.
Michael, 52

Ollie’s excuse of “girls are really hard to shop for” is really poor. Aside from this, Elsie needs to accept that gift giving is dependent on our ability to spend. She’s thoughtful and puts her heart into it, but her demand for equal gifts takes some of that away.
Nicole, 35

Elsie says “he should already know what to get me”. Why should he? He is a 24-year-old single bloke! They need hints, or a list of possibilities. Maybe Elsie could prime her mum with a few suggestions in advance (within Ollie’s price range, of course) and she could tactfully pass them on.
Carol, 83

You be the judge

So now you can be the judge, click on the poll below to tell us: should Ollie get Elsie better birthday presents?

The poll closes Thursday 27th January, 9AM GMT

We’ll share the results on next week’s You be the judge.

Last week’s result

We asked if Annabelle should stop hogging the television, as it annoys her dad, Mick.

61% of you said no – Annabelle is innocent
39% of you said yes – Annabelle is guilty

Have a disagreement you’d like settled? Or want to be part of our jury? Click here

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