Saturday, November 7, 2009
"Deloitte Touche conducts an annual survey of holiday gift giving. According to their 2007 survey, respondents planned to purchase an average of twenty-three gifts for friends, family, and other acquaintances. Twenty-three gifts!?!"
Although the subtitle of Scroogenomics is "Why you shouldn't buy presents for the holidays," that's not really what author Joel Waldfogel is saying. For close family and friends - especially those you see frequently - you can probably make good gift selections. Rather, his quibble is with our gift-giving to those we don't know as well: more-distant relatives we seldom see, etc. (OK, he also has a quibble with going into debt to buy holiday gifts.)
As an economist, this who-knows-what-they-want gift-giving disturbs him. He says, "My beef is not with the level of spending and consumption at Christmas but rather with the waste this spending generates ... producing a meager amount of material satisfaction for the amount of money spent."
While cash gifts would solve the problem, cash is considered inappropriate in many cases. For example, while a grandparent may give a grandchild a cash gift, a cash gift from the grandchild to the grandparent just isn't done.
Gift cards would seem like another way around the gift-giving dilemma, but about 10% of the value of gift cards is never redeemed. "People forget about their cards, or lose them, or they redeem part but then can't find something they want that costs less than the remaining balance, or the store issuing the card goes bankrupt."
His solutions? On the realm of what's available now, he likes charity gift cards, including Charity Navigator's "Good Card." Data indicates that most people would give more to charity if they could afford to do so - and many charities "allocate resources to activities with high social return."
Ideally, he'd like to see retail gift cards which expire after 12-18 months, with any unused balance going to charity - perhaps a charity chosen by the giver.
This is a tiny book - 4.25 inches by 6.25 inches, and 146 pages excluding the notes and index. But I enjoyed the different perspective Waldfogel brings to the subject of holiday gift-giving - and I learned more than I expected to learn!
"'There are worlds of money wasted, at this time of year, in getting things that nobody wants, and nobody cares for after they are got.' The observer was the prescient Harriet Beecher Stowe, writing in 1850." With this book, Waldfogel is doing his part to try to change this.