Holiday Gift Giving Tradition

The Want/Need/Wear/Read Strategy

Over 20 years ago, economist Joel Waldfogel came up with the theory he called the “Deadweight Loss of Christmas”. It describes the gap between how much a gift-giver spends on a present and how much the recipient appreciates it. His survey of Yale undergraduates found that between 10% and 33% of the value of the holiday gifts was lost. In a recent interview with Waldfogel last December, he acknowledged that stopping giving gifts altogether is not realistic. Instead, he suggests having a strategy to minimize wastefulness during the holidays. I think the Want/Need/Wear/Read concept might be the perfect approach.

The idea is that you only give four gifts to each child: Something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.

Readers of ASE know how much I LOVE giving presents, buying presents and celebrating traditions. That makes Christmas about my most favorite holiday. I have been guilty of rampant spending on Christmas presents for years. Recently, my oldest daughter heard about the gift-giving concept of Want, Read, Wear, Need – one present from each category. That’s it, finito, cease and desist with all that extra shopping.

I personally think it’s a lovely idea, in theory. My first reaction was shock, but it’s hard to argue with the practical, environmental and financial advantages. That daughter asked her two other sisters and they all agreed to the new plan, so the Chief Present Purchaser also agreed. We recently had a conference and they were kind enough to still allow stockings.

As I’ve let the idea sink in, I admit to being relieved at the reduction in time spent shopping and wrapping, money spent and waste. My children are all at ages where they would rather receive fewer higher quality items than piles of items they might not want. Meaningful presents have much more emotional and long-term value than heaps of presents they didn’t ask for.

Limiting presents helps children of all ages give careful thought to the things they truly want or need. It makes the giving and receiving of presents special. The idea has caught on in social media in the past couple of years and has become a gift-giving trend.  It is not for everyone. Some find it too ‘preachy’, stingy and restrictive. Since this idea came from my children, I don’t worry about disappointing them. Many families tweak the concept a little to fit more comfortably with their traditions.  For example, some families allow one ‘mystery present’, which the child does not know anything about.  It could come from ‘Santa’ depending on the age of the child, or from the parents.  It is not something the child has asked for, and it is a fifth gift.

If you implement this new strategy and your children are furious, please don’t tell them where you read about it!

Note: A just released Harris poll shows that nearly 7 out of 10 Americans would give up gift-giving this holiday season if their friends and family would agree! The poll was conducted in early October among American adults 18 years and older who said they felt pressure to spend money and buy gifts. Hmmmph!