Saturday, December 23, 2006
I hate to sound curmudgeonly in the run-up to Christmas, but it’s a pretty well established maxim that up to a third of all money spent at Christmas is wasted. The recipient either doesn’t like it or doesn’t want it or would not have paid as much as you did for it. Even gift cards aren’t a true solution. The get lost or forgotten, or they expire or aren’t good with other discounts. I have a real problem with this. At some point, someone used real money to buy the gift card and why should money be less useful because it is on a card instead of a piece of paper with a picture of a president.
On the other hand, gifts have value more than the price of the item. A recent Washington Post article told of a study that determined people (well, college students, but they are close enough) thought something they were given was worth more than the same item if they had to buy it. A coffee mug was worth up to four more dollars more in their minds if it had been a gift. I think it just reflects the buyer/owner divide. A quick glance through Craigslist will reveal people think their used stuff is way more valuable than it really is.
Sentimental value goes to the heart of the real purpose of presents. My parents visited recently and we had a discussion about gifts. My dad and I thought you should give people something you think they would like. My mother insisted that you gave a present because it was something you want the person to have. That is a really, really, big difference and explains a lot of gifts over the years.
Some presents just scream that there was no thought whatsoever. The lamest present I ever got was from my brother. Still wrapped in the paper bag it came in, he gave me a copy of the Bhagavad Gita he had clearly picked up from a Hare Krishna in the airport on his way home. Nothing like last minute shopping from religious fanatics with shaved heads.
My wife has a lot of experience with useless gifts. She is a teacher and every Christmas she is bombarded with tacky crap. There are just so many cliché teacher gifts. You only need so many Christmas tree ornaments featuring apples. She finally had to institute a no-candles policy because she got tired of hauling an entire bag of them to Goodwill every year. She is very appreciative of gift cards for places where she shops, which is about everywhere. Even that is subject to some horse-mouth checking. She tells her students she likes books, so they get her a gift card from OtherBigBoxOfBooks which is near where her students live but not as convenient as the OriginalBigBoxOfBooks near us. At least the kids' parents were thinking of her.
If you do subscribe to the silly useless presents school of throwing money away, nothing is better than the Dave Barry's Desparation Gift Giving Guide. My favorite on this list it the Electronic Message Brassiere. This $500 light-up lingerie lets a woman display a message across her chest right where men will most notice it most. My wife’s suggestion was to write “TAKE OUT THE TRASH”. She figures she might as well as ask me do something useful while she has my undivided attention.
Blatant Comment Whoring™: What is the worse present you ever got or gave? Start here to read some answers from the Achenblog.