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Friday, November 23, 2012 12:57 AM

Do Gift Cards Make Any Sense? Is it Time to Ban Christmas Presents Altogether?

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Here is the "Black Friday" question of the day from Martin Lewis at the Telegraph: Is it time to ban Christmas presents?

Is it time to ban Christmas presents? Across the country people are growling at the enforced obligation to waste money on that they can't afford, for people who won't use it. Festive gift-giving has lost its point, risks doing more harm than good, misteaches our children about values and kills the joy of anticipation of what should be a joyous time.

Before you think this is just curmudgeonly bah humbug, this rant isn't about presents under the spruce from parents or grandparents to children or spouses. It's about the ever growing creep of gifts to extended family, colleagues, children's teachers and more.

The next year, I polled 10,000 people on whether we should ban presents. Seven per cent said ditch all of them, 30 per cent said to all but children, and a further 46 per cent said limit it to the immediate family. Fewer than one in five supported giving beyond that.

Social convention says give a gift to someone, or their children, and you usually create an obligation on the recipient to buy back, whether they can afford it or not. If that obligation is something they will struggle to fulfill, you actually let them down.

Gift giving misprioritizes people's finances.

Christmas presents are a "zero sum" game, as people usually swap gifts of similar value. Look at it as a simple equation:

 David gives Nick a £40 blue tie for Christmas; Nick gives David a pair of £40 designer orange socks.

The net result ... Nick has spent £40 and got a blue tie; David has spent £40 and got orange socks.

Effectively, you pay to receive someone else's choice of object. Fine if people have wealth, but consider Janet and John. Financially, everything's bonzer for her, so she decides, generously, to buy gifts for all and sundry. In her cousin John's case, it's a pair of £25 funky cufflinks. Yet he's skint, in debt, and has three kids but pride obliges him to buy her something of equal value.

Without the gift giving obligation, would John have really chosen to prioritise spending £25 to receive cufflinks? Instead, perhaps he'd have replaced his children's shoes or repaid some debt. Worse still, maybe he borrowed more to buy Janet her gift.

In other words, giftswapping skewed John's priorities. He would've been better off if Janet hadn't bought him a present.

Final thought

Some will say my view is unromantic, and others more bluntly call me Scrooge. However, this isn't about stopping festive fun, it's a challenge to pressured, blithe and habitual gift giving.

When buying's a chore, a thing to tick off a list, does that really help our pockets or our souls? Spending your time making tokens others appreciate, or even just being more considerate, is more in keeping with the spirit of winter festivals. Perhaps the real gift is to release someone from the obligation of buying you a present.
Banning Goes Too Far

Certainly banning voluntary actions goes well overboard. We do not need more ridiculous regulations telling people what they can or cannot do.

That said, it is certainly a sad testimony that every year people trample others to death, rushing to get the latest hot toy for their kid, when the toy will be forgotten or abandoned days or even hours later.

Gift Cards

Gift cards are popular, but what the hell is the point?

I give you a $50 gift card to Kohls and you give me a gift card to Home Depot? Is there any point to this madness?

Getting a gift card to a place I shop certainly is better than getting something I have to exchange (or throw away), but how is a gift card better than just getting $50 in cash. Yet, if I give you $50, and you give me $50 what is the point?

The obvious answer (yet one that few see), is there is absolutely no point at all.

Christmas Is For Kids

Young kids cannot shop for themselves, nor do they have any money, so I suppose a case can be made for getting children presents, provided one does not break the bank to do so.

Matter of Practicality

Other than shopping for kids, the whole Christmas charade makes no practical sense whatsoever.

Yet every year, the vast majority acts like a herd of lemmings, rushing around wondering whether or not Aunt Martha or Sister Suzie will like will like the gifts we bought them.

I actually like shopping. However, I hate crowds and I hate shopping under pressure.

Instead, I buy gifts for people that I am sure they will like, whenever I see them. Frequently my Christmas shopping is nearly finished by June.

This way, shopping is a joy, not a chore. And gifts from the heart are always more appreciated.

For everyone else it's high time to be practical.

Call the Whole Thing Off

If all you are going to do is exchange gift cards, or worse yet buy any damn thing just to get Aunt Martha, Sister Suzie, or cousin Louie something they may not need and/or could not afford to buy on their own, then why bother?

There is no need to ban Christmas, but there is certainly a need for common sense, and common sense suggests the best thing to do is have a "family gathering" suggesting to call the whole Christmas exchange charade off.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

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