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Should we do away with gift giving?

Admit it, you'd rather buy for yourself than lash out on a gift gamble for others? Wouldn't you?

Published on January 4th 2010.


Should we do away with gift giving?
Yes: - 41%
No: - 59%

THEY say it is better to give than to receive. That's maybe true, but how much better would life be if you cut other people out of the equation altogether? Yes, that's right. Imagine if you made yourself the sole recipient of gifts bought by.... you.

Think of how happy you would be.

Sound selfish? Hang on. Christmas may be a time of seasonal cheer, parties, present buying and therefore a massive bonanza for the retail sector, but how many of us actually get gifts we like?

And how many of us give presents not having a clue what recipients want? Or approach the office “secret Santa” with a heavy heart knowing it's all money down the drain?

American economist Joel Waldfogel's new book, Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays, got us thinking about this. He says it's time to stop the madness and think twice before we start on our Christmas shopping extravaganza.

Our consumer spending generates vast amounts of economic waste, he says — over £50 billion, globally, each winter.

When we buy for ourselves, every pound we spend produces at least a pound in satisfaction, we shop carefully and purchase items that are worth more than they cost.

Gift giving is different. We make less-informed choices, go to the hilt on credit to buy gifts worth less, in terms of happiness, than the money spent. It leaves recipients less than satisfied, creating what Waldfogel calls "deadweight loss".

And it's a self-perpetuating problem. When we get some revolting jumper, says Prof W, our response is not “why did you get me this crap?” but a smile and a thank you. As a result, bad gift givers don’t get the feedback that would cause them to improve their performance.

However, there is a ray of hope, glimmering in the sky: Not all gifts do destroy value.

Waldfogel estimates that around one-third of them actually increase value, with gifts from “significant others” being, on average, likely to do so; it is gifts from aunts and grand-parents that are most wasteful. This happens because partners know our tastes and sometimes have better knowledge than we do of the products out there, so they might buy us a book or CD that we come to love.

But is the main thrust of his theory just clinical bah humbug? After all, there is much more depth to gift giving than economic waste, isn't there?

Gifts aren’t just physical products, but ways of cementing social ties - of saying “I’m thinking of you”. For this reason, exchanges of gifts are a widespread feature of all societies.

Gifts up the generations - from children to parents and grandparents - could add enormous value, in large part because of their function as love tokens.

And what about the memories? We quickly forget bad gifts but remember good ones forever.

So, would you feel happier this year going out and buying that £300 dress from WAG haunt Cricket, a nice new shiny iPod for yourself, or a 20-year-old single malt - or all of them - than trawling around the shops wondering what to buy your distant relatives, as payback for last year when they turned up with a foot spa/chocolate fountain that will never be taken out of its box?

Indeed perhaps you should just perplex Auntie Peggy and instead of that Woods of Windsor gift set, use the tenner to buy her a herd of donkeys for a school in Mali.

Go ahead, tell us what you think - and away you go and vote on the Homepage!

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LauraDecember 21st 2009.

I never get a Christmas present off my boyfriend any more and I don't get him one. We buy something special that we each really wants. In his case a yearly membership to a massage clinic in Everton. He loves it and goes three times a week. In fact I never see him. Lol!

Madame PalmDecember 21st 2009.

Yes, my five daughters and I know him well

Truculent of ToxtethDecember 21st 2009.

I need some vests and underpants and I'm damned if I'm buying them myself!

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