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The guys on Cal Stafford's McMaster Marauders rugby team got together to buy him a lookalike action figure. (Glenn Lowson for The Globe and Mail/Glenn Lowson for The Globe and Mail)
The guys on Cal Stafford's McMaster Marauders rugby team got together to buy him a lookalike action figure. (Glenn Lowson for The Globe and Mail/Glenn Lowson for The Globe and Mail)

Group gifting can be cost-effective - but beware the family feud Add to ...

The big-screen TV that Matt Stankiewicz, his siblings and his mother are giving his dad for Christmas is purchased.

The family just hasn't figured out how to pay for it yet.

The siblings decided they'd chip in $80 each and their mother would cover the balance for the $700 to $800 TV. But a younger brother proposed that Mr. Stankiewicz's wife should contribute.

"He said, 'You have to put in double because there's two of you,' " says Mr. Stankiewicz, a 31-year-old Torontonian. "I thought it was ridiculous from the start."

He expected sparring before he and his family even decided on a present. Splitting the cost of a group gift has been the source of family drama for years.

Rather than choose a modestly priced "regift" candidate, many people pool with family members, friends or colleagues to buy something substantial. The downside? Quibbles are guaranteed over how much money to contribute and when to pay.

New Yorker Tina Del Purgatorio ended up caving to her older brothers' unfavourable group-gifting rules.

Milton, Ont., resident Spencer Fullerton, however, proved through a group gift to his rugby coach that the challenges are well worth the results.

In Mr. Stankiewicz's case, he says he's argued with his brother for years about how much he should contribute to gifts. One year, he and his wife bought his mother a Lululemon gift card for her birthday, and his brother sent him an admonishing Facebook message, calling the couple cheap.

What makes things worse is that group gifting is a stress-free affair between his wife and her brother. "I don't understand why everything's so monetary in my family," he says.

Ms. Del Purgatorio, a 30-year-old social worker, has argued with her brothers about gifts for her parents. She thinks her married siblings should be chipping in more.

Last year, for her dad's birthday, the group bought a GPS device for $250. She wanted to split the cost five ways (to account for her brothers' wives), but they thought it should be split just among the siblings. In the end, they won. She's since given up arguing.

"After the first couple of times it felt like a fruitless battle," she says. "I'd rather get along with them than be fighting about money."

Group gifting is fraught with tension because people don't want to pay more than their fair share or get less credit than they think they deserve for the gift, explains Toronto etiquette expert Louise Fox.

Ms. Fox also says the role of gift organizer is stressful: As the purchaser, you expect reimbursement, but it's up to you to get it.

To minimize quarrels, she recommends treating the process like a business transaction: Be clear on the terms from the start, and send e-mail reminders and digital money requests to people who have agreed to participate.

But if you feel you've gotten the short end of the stick in the deal, let it go, Fox she advises. "It's up to you whether you choose to let it affect your relationship or not."

Mr. Fullerton took on the role of organizing a group Christmas gift for his rugby coach with zeal: The man in question was worth it, he says.

Cal Stafford, an assistant coach of the McMaster Marauders (as well as two other teams in Stoney Creek, Ont.), is well loved by his players. Mr. Stafford, also a pastor, had even performed marriage ceremonies for former players.

When Mr. Fullerton, 27, learned of a company that designed custom action figures, he knew it would be the perfect gift. The price was steep - $425 (U.S.) - so Mr. Fullerton sent out e-mails, set up a Facebook group and hounded other players at practices for cash.

He received generous contributions of about $20 from some, but many others explained they didn't have the cash. Mr. Fullerton said it wasn't a problem, and coughed up extra money himself to cover the balance.

He invited everyone to the surprise presentation of the gift - including those who didn't contribute. The action figure (whose resemblance to Mr. Stafford is uncanny) was a hit, and sits beside Mr. Stafford's TV today, three years later.

"Having those guys in the room was as much a gift to him as getting something physical," Mr. Fullerton explains. "It's not about the organizer or the money; it's about who you're trying to do something nice for."

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