ECONOMISTS SUGGEST we stop spending excessively on Christmas gifts and instead buy more prudently or efficiently, according to an NPR story. Modern scrooges, you say? Not really.
The economists questioned believe huge amounts of money are wasted because we buy gifts that recipients don’t want, like or keep. In the interview, economist Tim Harford suggests more thoughtful gift-giving by, say, using wish lists to buy folks what they really want. We’ve been doing this in my immediate family for years, and it works. We suggest multiple items, so an element of surprise remains.
On the other hand, I’ve loved when people gave me presents that I didn’t ask for or expect. When I turned 14, my mom bought me a mini-bike so I could tear around the dirt and gravel roads of the campground where we had our weekend cottage.
For the most part, however, my extended family of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles usually stuffed an envelope with cash for Christmas, birthdays, religious rites, graduations and so on. There were no gift cards back then, or at least not that I recall.
It seemed impersonal, but I enjoyed being able to go downtown or to the mall and buy what I wanted. I also saved some of that money, not something you can do with yet another shirt or sweater. And yet many of us have conflicted feelings about cash gifts. While 61% of people would prefer cash, only 40% want to give money, according to a 2019 article.
Eventually, I married a woman who loves to give gifts and knows how to do it well. She introduced me to wish lists, which we had never used in my family. Still, even if an item isn’t needed or on a wish list, you can’t ignore gifting traditions. For many years, I’ve included a piece of vintage jewelry among the gifts for my daughter. She doesn’t need more jewelry, but she’s really loved some pieces and that made both of us happy.
This Christmas, my grown kids and I aren’t writing wish lists, and I expect nothing. Yes, I think we’ll have a few small things—what you might call stocking stuffers—to exchange. But my real joy will be spending time with them. Being together is what matters most.
My family has wavered on this point. For years we were all expected to produce lists, and we’d start getting pressured in November for our lists—and in my case, I’d have to provide ideas for my husband (who hated the whole idea of lists and wouldn’t cooperate) and my kids. It was actually kind of exhausting.
Then a few years back, my mom and her partner sat us down around Labor Day and said we should stop doing the lists because it was too impersonal. That was fine with me except that everyone, especially my mom, STILL kept bugging me for the lists for my husband and kids. As a result, I no longer had other people’s lists to help guide my shopping but still had to provide lists to make it easier on others.
Now I think everyone has given up and we’re just all sort of providing lists again. I’ve concluded that holiday gift giving can be a fun, thoughtful, creative process, especially for some who are really good at it, but also a lot of work.
We used to do wish lists for my wife and myself. Now we buy our own presents and we don’t know what we gave each other until opening the presents. Its perfect, we get exactly what we want!