Background (skip if you don't want to read it )
For the first time in my adult life, I find myself financially stable. Right out of college I was living in LA and making $22K/year and then I moved overseas to do development work and was making $3600/year (no, I didn't forget a zero ). Then the divorce... so now I have a job that pays decently well, I avoid spending money like the plague, and I have built up a few months' savings in the bank.
I think I spent more on my parents than they did on me this past Christmas. This has definitely never happened before. I got them a joint gift. I should mention that they always spend exactly the same amount on my brother and I down to the dollar, to the extent that one year I got a 3 pack of chapstick (which I don't use) because his gift cost $2 more than mine.
My parents are not "stuff" people. We've never been big into gifts or holidays. We are also not close, although I've always been closer to my dad than my mom. The years they remember my birthday, I generally get a $50 check about a week late. The years they forget, occasionally I'll get a $100 check a few months late, because they feel guilty. Some years they have completely forgotten.
My mom is very weird about money. She does not spend. Ever. They don't have a mortgage because she "pays herself" what they would be paying in a mortgage instead and saves up in that way for a new home. Same for car loans. When we were kids we have extremely strict budgets (for things like clothes) and small allowances tied very closely to chores. Money is a big "currency" for my mom (no pun intended, but I don't know how else to describe it). My dad isn't really the same way. He's much more relaxed; maybe he has to be, since Mom gives him an allowance every month and that's all the control he gets.
So for Mother's day/Mom's birthday (about a month separated), I got my mom a $200 knife set. She's never owned more than a few cheap paring knives, which have been getting duller and duller in the drawer for the last 30+ years. She doesn't actually know anything about knives, so I would say she doesn't even realize how much I spent on the set, except that I can guarantee you she went online and looked them up on Amazon afterward to see how much they cost, because that's what she does with gifts.
She called and was all teary about it, etc. since I normally just send a card, having been broke off my ass for so long. So it seems that it meant something to her, and I'm glad if it did. That was the intent.
Father's day is coming up. Dad's birthday was a few months ago, and I didn't get him anything. I'm wondering if I've inadvertently suckered myself into needing to figure out $200 to spend on him.
Do you try to keep gifts "equitable" or focus more on the sentimental/emotional value of the gift?