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Four shortcuts for holiday giving

Four shortcuts for holiday giving

This holiday season, give generously and freely, and try not to burden yourself or your gift recipients, suggests Mary Ann McGrath, PhD.

By Mary Ann McGrath, PhD | Professor of Marketing

Relative prosperity combined with natural generosity motivates us to remember and give to those we value and love this holiday season.

Indeed, a survey by the National Retail Federation indicates that this will be a green Christmas for retailers. Shoppers are projected to spend an average of $967 this year, up 3.4 percent from $935 last year. This number is even higher among younger consumers aged 18 to 24.

But there are some easy and sustainable shortcuts to assure that givers, receivers, and the Planet Earth have a satisfying holiday exchange.

1. Focus on one or two special people

In searching for that perfect gift, understand that all recipients are limited in what they can love, honor, and display. So do not worry about giving special, keep-for-all-time gifts to everyone on your list. Rather choose one or two special people in your life — perhaps your significant other, a very special friend, or a parent — and find that special gift for him or her. 

2. Consider "services" or nonprofit contributions

Great gift-givers always have their radar attuned for gift ideas that fit seamlessly into an individual recipient’s life. These gifts do not have to be expensive, but they are important and communicate the giver’s care and affection. For older adults, this may be a service such as grocery shopping, driving to an appointment, or an afternoon out.  Couples with young children appreciate evenings of babysitting, perhaps combined with a restaurant gift certificate or a movie pass.

We may assume that children prefer toys as gifts, but they may enjoy a day out at the zoo, an afternoon at an appropriate theater production, or a special at-home activity such as making cookies or working on an art project. Present these services as coupons, presented in carefully wrapped packages, as you would any gift.

For those who have everything, making a contribution to a favorite charity in their name simultaneously makes the world a better place and captures the spirit of the holidays.  If you are not sure which groups your recipient favors, a charity that benefits children is always a good choice.

This is also sustainable gift giving: gifts that do not create waste. 

3. Remember co-workers and service people

Many of us have work acquaintances and service people that we want to remember in a small way. If a tip is appropriate, give that in cash. Gift cards can be tricky — sometimes they diminish in value, but they always present the receiver with a task, which is not the spirit of the gift.

Be sure to present this in a festive way in a gift bag with a small token gift such as hand cream, a candle, a tin of cookies, or a box of candy.

4. Thoughtfulness over expense

The most successful gifts are small and need not necessarily come from a store. In fact, a study I conducted asking about “the perfect gift” found that it was the handmade gift of a child.

In just that spirit, give generously and freely, try not to burden yourself or your recipients, and enjoy the company of family and friends.

About Mary Ann McGrath
Professor McGrath’s research on consumer rituals, gift exchanges, and shopping behavior is well-known and widely cited within the area of Consumer Behavior.

In recent years she has expanded her research into the international marketplace, publishing several papers related to shopping and consumer behavior in China, where she lived and taught for two years.

Read her faculty profile →