Vega, 34, who is head of a social media consultancy in Scottsdale, Arizona, hastens to say that her gift list hasn't always been quite so long. Seven years ago, there were a mere 50 names on it. But because she has moved a lot, collecting friends in each new location, and because she got married a year ago, collecting several new family members in the process, additions have been all but unavoidable. And as far as Vega is concerned, the more the merrier—it's part of her genetic code.
"I think I inherited a lot of this behavior from my mother," she says. "She always had a long list, even though I grew up poor. Shopping throughout the year became important because that way she could spread things out financially. She also taught me to listen to conversations to hear what people wanted."
Thus, several months ago, Vega snapped to attention when her friend Missy mentioned that she loves it when friends bring her Christmas tree decorations from far-flung places. So on two recent trips, "I picked up an ornament for her in Italy in the shape of the Colosseum, and one from Boston that's shaped like a swan," says Vega. Then there's her friend Nicole, who had long talked about her desire to lose weight but, having just started a new company, had no extra cash last year to pursue her fitness goals.
"I was looking at a catalog on a plane and saw a funny talking scale that goes 'You look fabulous!' when you get on it," she says. "That's what I got Nicole last Christmas. It reinforced her goals, and it wasn't expensive."
Now, about the cost involved in bringing joy to her world. That's something Vega's husband is curious about. "He's like, 'How much do you spend on presents? This is insane,'" says Vega, who estimates the annual expense at $4,000 to $5,000. "I try to do $50 for most people. For close friends, that goes up to $100 or $150." Sometimes it's considerably more. "But it's not like I pull a big chunk out of the account in December," she says. "I buy throughout the year."