He Said She Said – The Best Worst Present You’ve Ever Received


Merry Christmas!  Have some spray paint.

Today we’re bringing you another round of He Said/She Said. These posts are really your chance as readers to hear how discussions (and sometimes disagreements) play out when managing our lives with each other. For a look at some of the past He Said/She Said discussions – check ‘em out here.


We’re smack in the middle of gift-giving season in the PoP household, that roughly three month period from October through the end of the year in which we cram the vast majority of birthdays on both sides of our families and then close it out with Christmas. It’s a doozy of a season, and when you combine it with all the organizing we’ve been up to lately, finding the right gifts for our family is definitely at the top of our minds.

But what is the right gift? For us, that’s something that the recipient wants, needs, and will value… while also keeping an eye toward our own budgetary needs and values. But that’s not always an easy balance to achieve. Especially when some of the worst gifts at the time, can turn out to be some of the best with enough time and reflection.

So without further adieu, here are the best worst presents we’ve ever received.


He Said


Now much-loved and oft-used, the Ryobi power tool set.

Oh man, I still wince about this!

I was heading back to college after taking a year off for travel, and my parents were acting like my birthday that year (21) was a big one. In retrospect, I’m not sure what I was hoping for, but when Mom and Dad gave me a Ryobi 18-Volt Tool Combo Kit I was less than thrilled.

Make that dejected.

Up until that point I had been able to “borrow” Dad’s tools for as long as necessary, and saw no particular reason to halt this practice, much less use up a perfectly good birthday gift on a toolset. It was right up there with getting socks and a tie for christmas – way too grown up.

A decade (!) later, the Ryobi set has traveled the continent with me, working on no fewer than 5 various apartments, duplexes and homes, along with a few miscellaneous roofs and additions over the years. It gets a new battery pack every 3 years, and the tools work like new. I’m not sure if it qualifies as “buy it for life,” but I think it has gotten more use and saved me more time and money than any other tools that I own.

So Mom, Dad, sorry for the sour face when I unwrapped the Ryobi set all those years ago, I just didn’t understand what a great present it really was!


She Said

I was probably 9 or 10 years old that Christmas, and was the youngest (and smallest!) of three kids. That day, my parents had a surprise for us all. The first present we were allowed to open was a small package with all three of our names on it. My sister ripped it open and inside was a piece of paper.

Sidenote – Yes, it would have been an awesome best worst present if this was a stock certificate for the recently IPO’d Starbucks (SBUX) that since then has returned a CAGR of about 25%. But it wasn’t.

It was a clue. My parents had organized a scavenger hunt for us to find our “big” presents. A half dozen clues led us around different parts of the house and yard as a family and the final clue led us to the storage shed in our backyard. Opening the shed doors, my brother, sister, and I faced two fully-assembled brand new 7-speed bicycles.

You read that right. 3 kids faced 2 new bikes.

The tag on one said “Big Sis”, the other read “Big Bro”, and it was only after a few seconds that I found a box about the size of a child’s shoe box with my name on it. It contained a can of spray paint, that I would get to use to turn the bike my sister had outgrown and no longer needed into my own.

I’m not gonna lie, I hated memories of that Christmas for a long time. The presentation of the three “new” bikes could probably have been improved and my parents long ago admitted they hadn’t thought much about the optics of the situation, especially not from a 3rd grader’s perspective.

But 20-someodd years later, I see that as one of the many times that my parents showed that “new to you” can still be a ton of fun and that “function” matters a heck of a lot more than “form” most of the time. Because when it came down to it, I really did love my “new” bike (with its awesome 1970’s banana seat and DIY early 90’s paint job – sky blue with a sea green sponge paint finish, oh yeah!). I thought I was way cooler than I actually was.


What’s the best worst gift you’ve ever received? Or given?

71 comments to He Said She Said – The Best Worst Present You’ve Ever Received

  • Ha, those are some great worst presents. :-)

    The bike story reminds me of when I was around 10 and was wishing for a Nintendo Game Boy, almost for a whole year. My friends and cousins all had one already. It was ALL I had on my Christmas list. Christmas morning came and THERE IT WAS! Just what I wanted! The only problem was that it was also given to my younger sister and younger brother, who hadn’t asked for a Game Boy at all! This meant equal playing time for all. Groan. That gift taught me 2 things: how to share better, and not to expect too much from Christmas presents…
    FI Pilgrim recently posted..Seriously. I Really Did Save 15 Percent Or More On Car InsuranceMy Profile

    • The game boy story reminds me of being given Atari games as gifts… the only problem was that the Atari set was in my brother’s room, which he had no problem denying my sister and I access to if we didn’t want to let him play too!

  • My mother-in-law still gives me clothes that are size small in juniors. I mean, I’m a small person but I no longer have the body of a twelve year old. She has given me clothes that literally did not fit over my head before!
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..More Confessions From a Cheap-Ass SantaMy Profile

  • My ex gave me a backpack, one of those multi pocket ones with a laptop compartment. I was expecting jewelry or a trip or something romantic but many years later I love my backpack and take it everywhere!
    Pauline recently posted..A job may cost you more than you thinkMy Profile

  • My mom often groans about the stuff I give her (or the ideas I have) and comes back later every single time to tell me how wrong she was and what a great idea/gift it was. :-) It bugs me at first, but then I get to revel in some “I told you so” for awhile afterward, so that helps make up for it. :-)
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted..7 Money Saving Tips To Follow During Your VacationMy Profile

  • The best gift I ever received was definitely when I was little and my parents got me an electric train set. I thought it was the coolest thing ever!
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted..3 Easy Projects To Get Your DIY Juices FlowingMy Profile

  • Oh wow, that bike one is funny. I think I would have been pretty pissed at the time, but then again I was the oldest so I probably wouldn’t have been the one getting the spray paint.
    Matt Becker recently posted..Cavalcade of Risk – Separating the Good Risks from the BadMy Profile

    • I can’t remember if I acted like a brat about the spray paint (it certainly would not have been unusual if that were the case), but I was also pretty used to having hand-me-downs wrapped up and given to me as gifts. The joys of being the runt of the litter, I suppose.

      • Debbie M

        I’m the oldest, so I never had that problem. But now I get “hand-me-ups,” as we call them, from my sister, who has superb taste, so it’s awesome. Also, she’s bigger than me but likes to wear her clothes tighter than I do, so sometimes that works too!

  • I remember when I was 18 my parents getting me luggage. I was so underwhelmed. I also had no appreciation for the cost of luggage and how much I would use it in my adult life. I’d be thrilled to get luggage now. Funny how things change.
    Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life recently posted..Lunatik Athletiks Performance Compression Sock Review and GIVEAWAY!!!My Profile

    • Oh yeah. Luggage at 18 feels a little like Mr PoP’s tool set. “What do you mean I can’t just take yours when I go to college?” And “Are you trying to kick me out of the house?”

  • I still remember a watch story my now husband gave to me. It was our 2.5 year dating anniversary and I suggested we buy each other watches. Nothing fancy, but something around the $100 range as neither of us had a watch to our name. It turns out that I didn’t specify the price point enough for the watch and my at-the-time-boyfriend bought me a $20 digital watch! Turns out that he had sprung for an engagement ring so he was trying to cut costs, lol, but I did let him know my disappointment in the gift. He has since gotten me a dressy but reasonably-priced watch and I love to tell that watch story to friends!
    Tara @ Streets Ahead Living recently posted..You only have how much for retirement?My Profile

  • How about this one: my wife is Jewish and my parents gave her a manger scene.

    When she opened it and just stared my dad looked at my mom and said, “I told you she wouldn’t like it!”
    Average Joe recently posted..7 Steps to Quickly Sell Your House – 2 Guys and Your Money PodcastMy Profile

    • Bwahahaha! That’s awesome. Were your parents clueless or trying to convert?

      Reminds me of the year my gram gave all of the grandkids personalized bibles (she liked bulk gifts where everyone got the same thing). The only problem was that we were all grown up and had become very happy agnostics and atheists and no one had told her….

  • I think the worst presents I’ve received are the “since your birthday is a week before Christmas, we just got you one gift!” presents. My parents never did this to me, but just about everyone else has. It doesn’t bother me now, but I do have to force myself not to roll my eyes. I mean, it’s fine if you can’t afford a present (or simply don’t want to get me one – there’s no one I expect presents from!) but come on, do you have to make a big deal about how you intentionally tried to roll my birthday into another holiday? Just don’t say anything!
    Kali @ CommonSenseMillennial recently posted..Twenty Things Twenty-Somethings Should Know About MoneyMy Profile

  • The bike story brought me back to childhood a little. First, that’s horrible! As the youngest of three in the same situation I would have been devastated. My parents saved bikes for birthday presents thankfully, but my sister was able to get a brand new bike for her birthday. By the time I had outgrown her old bike, my family was in a different financial situation and I was given an old bike purchased at a garage sale instead of being able to pick out a fancy new one like my sister did.
    Rachel recently posted..Men’s Shirt to Little Black DressMy Profile

    • Using birthdays would have softened the bike blow, but not by much due to the proximity (and order) of our birthdays. My sister’s (the oldest) is first, then my brother’s three weeks later, and mine a week after my brother’s. I’m sure my parents put some other gift they thought was awesome (or monetarily comparable) under the tree, but for the life of me none of us remember what that might have been. =)

    • The ups and downs of my family’s finances definitely meant that my sister and I didn’t always get “equal” gifts on the same time lines, so I can definitely relate to your bike story.

  • Awe that would have made me so sad!! It’s hard to understand that kind of stuff as a youngster. We always had it pretty good as kids, not gonna lie. But one year we (my brother and I) accidentally found our new bikes for Christmas and we stupidly told our parents how happy we were. My mom, ever the clever one, lied to us and told us the bikes were for our family friend’s kids and not us. We started bawling like entitled little brats. Of course we woke up Christmas morning elated that the bikes were actually ours. Probably the dumbest gift I ever got was from my ex boyfriend’s mom. She bought me a whole big beading kit. I never wanted to make anything myself. I really had to fake being happy about it.
    Budget and the Beach recently posted..A Peek Inside the Writer’s Room: Life in the ParenthoodMy Profile

    • The beads probably would have been awesome to someone who beads! =) Crafty gifts are tough and I tend to stay away from them unless someone is an absolutely devoted crafter. Otherwise it can feel like you’re gift comes with a huge obligation of time on their part.

  • Man, I would have cried had I seen two shiny bikes and neither were for me… but that’s a great lesson learned! Best presents are usually tech-driven, or things I didn’t think I really needed but once I had them I loved (like CD players when I was still latching on to cassettes (you mean I can just *skip* to the song I want instantly – wow!), or iPods that clip on to versus wearing that huge arm strap).
    anna recently posted..Giving to those in needMy Profile

  • I can just picture the look on your face when you realized that no, you didn’t have a new bike, but just a can of spray paint for Christmas. Glad to hear that in the end you loved your “new” bike and appreciated the lesson, but it does seem like it wasn’t planned out as well as it could have been!
    This Life On Purpose recently posted..Flexing That Frugality Muscle: Is there such a thing as overexertion?My Profile

    • Parents aren’t perfect. But I do remember riding that bike all around the following few summers, until I outgrew it and inherited that fancy 7-speed my sister had gotten that Christmas.

  • CincyCat

    The best worst present I ever got was one of those “choose your own gift” catalogs. My parents were involved in one of those direct multi-level marketing companies at the time, and you were pretty much guaranteed to get one of these catalogs, no matter the occasion. In this case, it was for my college graduation. I ended up choosing a set of kitchen knives. The gift truly sucked at the time because they were REALLY into this company, and already had a stack of these catalogs at their house. No thought went into the gift at all. It was a good/practical gift over time, though, because I did use the knives for many years.

    • Haha – this reminds me of the mini catalog we got to choose our own gift when we refinanced our mortgage. I had no idea that people have that as a normal gift. =)

      • CincyCat

        Exactly! Those kinds of catalogs are impersonal on purpose, and are intended to be corporate or client “thank you” gifts. My husband’s workplace HR department gives similar catalogs for “years of service”.

  • Aww that bike story makes me sad!

    Just last year my sister-in-law’s dad gave me a really weird Asian styled shirt that was obviously used and looked like it was about 100 years old (I am half Korean, so no one take offense to what I just said). It was very awkward when I opened the present because I didn’t know what to say. I’m still not sure if he was trying to be funny, offensive, or if he truly thought that I would like it.
    Michelle recently posted..How To Become A Full-Time Freelancer Part 2My Profile

  • My former stepdad brought a new and horrifying gift-giving tradition to our family as a child. He decided it would be hilarious to take a pair of our underwear out of the hamper the week before Christmas, wrap it up, and then videotape the unwrapping of my own yet-to-be-washed boxers on Christmas day. I really cannot express the horror that I felt as an already anxious 11 year old going through what, even to this day, seems like and evil genius sort of prank. My sister and I both freaked out while my parents cracked up behind the camera.

    In retrospect it’s kind of a funny gag but man, I hope those videos are lost in a box somewhere…
    Done by Forty recently posted..They Want to Help You…My Profile

  • Wow, I can’t get past the vision of the can of spray paint. So not fair, but sounds like you made the best of it.

    My best worst present was by far the Chainsaw I got a while back from my wife. It looked like nothing more than back-breaking hard work in a box and I wanted nothing to do with it. But I have grown to love it. It provides great exercise and I saved a ton of money by cutting my own firewood and burning it all winter long.
    Kyle | Rather-Be-Shopping.com recently posted..Rather-Be-Shopping Exclusive: A Goat UpdateMy Profile

  • My mother in law has come up with some doosies (doozies?), over the years, but we though she’d lost her mind when a huge box showed up one December. We opened it up to find it was full of airplane seat covers. We though she had made a mistake and thought they were car seat covers and almost didn’t say anything, but it was a shipping mistake and I guess the airplane guy got our gifts as well. It took a month to get everything back to where it needed to go.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Who Pays For Long Term Care?My Profile

  • “It contained a can of spray paint, that I would get to use to turn the bike my sister had outgrown and no longer needed into my own.”

    Wow, just wow! This sounds like something right out of a movie. Did you start crying?

    When I was in my early teens, my grandparents gave me those one piece pajamas with the feet built in. Wow, did I ever hate that.
    Mr. 1500 recently posted..Bad Car Bill ReduxMy Profile

    • Can’t remember my reaction. By then I was pretty used to hand me downs, so it might have been suppressed. But if you ask my sister I was a complete brat until the age of 14, so who knows? =)

      As for the footie pajamas, those are awesome. I totally would have rocked those in the college dormitory halls.

  • Debbie M

    This is a fun topic. I finally thought of something that qualifies! Last time my microwave broke I decided to go without one. I did have to dirty up a few more dishes heating up my food on the stove first and then putting it onto my place or bowl, but I thought it was going well and I was enjoying the counter space.

    Then my boyfriend got me a cheap-o replacement microwave. (He loves giving electronics for presents.)

    Fifteen years later that thing is still working perfectly (apparently it’s the opposite of a lemon) and I don’t want to go back to not having a microwave, especially in the dead of summer when it’s nice to heat up some food without taxing the air conditioning!

    I still fantasize about the day when I can tell that guy (now married to someone else but still my friend) just how good of a present that was. Maybe I should just let him know once every decade!

  • I would have had a full on melt down if my gift was a can of spray paint to update a bike! Luckily, I am the oldest so that would’ve happened to my sister.

    One of the “worst gifts” I got at the time was a fancy-pants wine bottle open for my 21st birthday. It was from my Aunt who had asked earlier that day if I liked wine and I put my foot in my mouth by saying — meh, not really.

    These days I absolutely love that wine opener (and wine).
    Broke Millennial recently posted..Let’s Do Something New and Talk About How to Handle DebtMy Profile

  • That bike story! !!!!

    I’ve been pretty lucky in the gift department but I’d say that last year’s Christmas was very interesting. Let’s just say there’s more than one reason why I’m happy that my ex is my ex 😉
    Jen @ The Happy Homeowner recently posted..The Intersection of Money and Life: The Evolution of The Happy HomeownerMy Profile

  • I once got an expensive coat from my mom and I was annoyed because I think she spent too much on it. I tend to not like expensive items as I don’t take care of it. Turns out it became my all time favorite coat I wore for years.
    Charles@Gettingarichlife recently posted..How Someone Can Earn $60,000+ Pre Tax On Welfare In HawaiiMy Profile

  • Michelle G.

    I just laughed and laughed and laughed out loud at that bike story. Oh god. That is pretty effing hilarious. Although, I feel bad for your third grade self.

  • I had an ex who used to shoplift my presents, but that’s just worst presents. I blogged about my best-worst present ever, which isn’t quite as exciting as either of your stories.
    Leah recently posted..Best-worst giftMy Profile

    • oooh, shoplifting for gifts? Yikes!

      • yeah. Sad revelation. I’m still not sure what was shoplifted and what was purchased, so I gave it all away. He even gave me a diamond ring at one point (hopefully purchased), and I donated it to a local church to sell and use for their soup kitchen.

        I still love this post and the idea of the importance of gifts evolving over time. I have several gifts that I’ve been meh about that end up being something I use regularly later.
        Leah recently posted..Best-worst giftMy Profile

  • I would’ve cried when I got the spray paint. My best worst present stories aren’t as good as yours, it was just a lot of practical stuff before I went to college than seemed boring but I’m glad I didn’t have to buy myself — vacuum, cleaning supplies, etc.
    Erin @ My Alternate Life recently posted..Minimalist Christmas Gift GuideMy Profile

  • Haha, I love that spray paint story! I remember receiving similarly unjust gifts as the youngest of thee. My best gift was a 5 for tall stuffed snowman. I had no idea how Santa got it down the chimney. That’s what amazed me more than anything else.
    Cash Rebel recently posted..Do extroverts or introverts make more money?My Profile

    • I think it comes with the territory of being the youngest. You get the weirdest gifts and there are precisely 2 baby pictures of you compared to the 100+ of the oldest sibling… or is that just in my family? =)

  • wow, i can’t believe your parents didn’t put a little more thought into it! that is just so cruel. like i’m sure they didn’t see it at the time, but man…wow, haha

    my ex-bf was notorious for horrible presents. one time he got me a box of godiva chocolates. I HATE godiva chocolates. Like i never ever eat them even if they’re free bc i don’t enjoy them. He knew this, because he handed me the box and said “i know you don’t like godiva chocolates….” then added something about how it was wrapped in christmas paper and he knows how much i love christmas. and i’m all like “huh?” I hate tomatoes too, but are you going to hand me a basket of tomatoes and say “i know you don’t like tomatoes but the basket is just so pretty!”

  • […] Mr. and Mrs. PoP told some great stories (especially the one about the spray paint) in: He Said She Said – The Best Worst Present You’ve Ever Received […]

  • Oh man!!! That bike story was a tough one!!! I’m trying to think of the worst gift I’ve gotten. I can’t think of one specific moment but I can always tell when there was zero thought put into it!!!
    Cat Alford (@BudgetBlonde) recently posted..Saving for and Planning a Mini VacationMy Profile

  • The 3 kids 2 bikes I guess is the worst anyone could receive when you are the youngest. I can’t believe parents could think like that.
    Alexis Marlons recently posted..Help with Setting up a BusinessMy Profile

  • […] week’s post on the best worst presents hat Mr PoP and I have ever received sent me down memory lane thinking of all the bad gifts that I […]

  • […] Shopping starts to creep up as we buy presents (hopefully not bad presents!) […]

  • […] Growing up, there were always two separate calendars.  The school year, which started in August, and the calendar year that started in January.  This was great.  Because when everything got crazy at the end of the school year (and it really could get crazy!) it was fine because that was all you had to worry about.  There were no major holidays or events requiring travel and excessive shopping and bad gift giving. […]