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.