The holidays are rapidly approaching and with them come the need to buy gifts. Unless you’re from the planet Neptune, you’re probably worried about this. Will your family and friends love your gifts or will they be disappointed? Will you break the bank by spending too much money and end up with a January hangover? How about food as gifts or for a family dinner or office party? The fact is that whether we like to admit it or not the task of choosing gifts can be nerve-racking, stressful and can take a lot of the joy out of the holidays. But it doesn’t have to be if you follow the advice in this article.
Tips for making gift giving decisions
While choosing the right gifts for your family and friends can feel overwhelming, here are two principles to follow that could help.
First, if you want to make a good decision, you need to identify your underlying concern. Is it important that your children or grandchildren end up feeling that they were treated equally? Do you have a tight budget and are concerned about affordability? Do you want to give unusual gifts that that will be memorable or something fun and whimsical?
Next, go out in the world to see what’s available. Now that you understand your underlying gift giving concerns, go shopping, attend craft fairs, go to antique malls or whatever to see what solution options are available. In other words, don’t just sit home trying to think what gifts would be appreciated. Check out stores like World Market where you’re likely to find dozens of inexpensive and whimsical items you’d never think of when sitting at home in your favorite arm chair.
The moral here is that before you make any gift buying decision, clarify your underlying concerns and make a plan of action. Then go out and explore your options.
Avoiding those psychological tricks that stimulate impulse buying
It’s easy to get caught up in the fun and excitement of holiday gift buying. But when we do, we open ourselves to buying stuff on impulse. And believe us, today’s retailers are masters at “tricking” us into impulse buying. In fact, whenever you go shopping you will likely be subjected to a multi-pronged sensory campaign designed to get you to spend more. However, you can cut down on this by understanding and recognizing the psychological signals used by many retailers.
Here’s one example of this. Retailers know that colors create more than just a scene. They can influence our moods and perceptions. Red energizes and stimulates – even our spending. If you don’t believe this, one recent study found that waitresses wearing red got 14% to 26% higher tips than waitresses who didn’t. And another study found people on eBay bid more assertively for products that were shown against red backgrounds than blue backgrounds.
Or take smells. They have a unique ability to remind us of memories and moods. Many retailers know this and use scents to enhance our perceptions of their products and brands.
Music has the power to stimulate our buying. If you don’t believe music doesn’t create moods and intensify emotions, try watching a move without the soundtrack. A song such as “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” can get us into more of a holiday mood – and the mood for spending.
Nostalgia is also a powerful stimulate. It can transport us from the present back to a time that was more positive and where we felt more in control. It can cause us to feel more connected to others, more positive and more into the holiday spirit, which can cause an immediate bump in our gift buying budget.
You can break the appeal of these psychological symbols just by being aware of their effects. Plus, it’s always best to have a shopping list and to make sure you take occasional shopping breaks.
How to avoid breaking the bank
It’s not necessary to break the bank when you’re gift shopping. There are simple rules you can follow that will help you be a good gift giver and without the fear of overspending.
The first thing to understand is that our gifts should be based on what you think the recipient would want and not what you want to give. You might think a red sweater is just the best thing since sliced bread but if you choose red for everyone’s gifts you may have an epic “gift fail.” Try to determine which presents would make the recipients the happiest. Look at the world through their eyes. Think about the person’s hobbies, habits and interests and select your gifts on this basis.
Don’t believe that your gifts have deep symbolic meanings
There are times when a diamond does mean forever but watch out for those overly analytic advice columns, which suggest that gifts have some deep symbolic meanings. You will find gift buying a lot less stressful if you don’t worry about what the present says to its recipient about your relationship to that person.
Give yourself enough time
If you wait until the last minute to do your gift buying you’re almost certain to have a disaster. You need to keep an eye on the calendar but at the same time, it’s okay to leave some leeway for last minute sales. Why buy a toaster oven at 15% off when you believe the store will mark it down 25% next week? It’s okay to play some “discount roulette” but be careful you don’t wait too long as that oven (or whatever) could sell out, forcing you to buy another at a different store and for more money.
Ditch your ego
Don’t let the response you get to a gift define your self worth. So what if you bought the wrong size, color, make or model? Assuming you didn’t buy the gift at a flea market or ate the receipt, the odds are that the gift can be returned. Don’t have hard feelings if you didn’t just nail it. The gift you bought can always be exchanged and happiness assured.
Ask for a suggestion or two
Finally, if you want your gift to be a real hit don’t be afraid to ask for a suggestion or two. Your gift doesn’t have to be a big surprise in order for it to be a great one.
Sometimes it’s just impossible to think of a good gift. Your friends and family may be scattered across the country so there’s just no way for you to know their habits, hobbies or needs. As an example of this my wife’s sister who lives three states away, almost always sends gifts that leave us laughing. But then how could she know what would please us when sees us in our home for a few days every five years or so?
If you can’t think of a good gift, you could give a bad gift – a gift card.
So why are gift cards bad gifts?
It’s because according to some psychologists a gift card is a symbol of a lack of intimacy. They are thought of as a lazy person’s gift as they are not gifts so much as they are “placeholders” for gifts. What they say to the people who receive them is I am not going to think about what you are or what would make you happy. I’m going to leave the shopping to you. Plus, if you believe it’s the thought that counts, a gift card is only about how much it cost because that’s all there is to it.
If you are stumped and can’t think of a single gift to give outside of a gift card, there are things you could do to make it more personal. For example, you could send that son and daughter-in-law that lives 1,000 miles away a bunch of restaurant gift cards along with the cash to hire baby sitters. Failing that you could at least choose gift cards you believe would match the recipient’s interests. If you think the they like movies, you could send a gift card for AMC or Regal Cinemas. Is he a hunter? How about a Cabella’s gift card? If she’s an athlete, you could choose gift cards from Dick’s or Sports Authority.
Will you be bringing food to an office party or family gathering? And will it be “indulgent” food, that is food that’s just loaded with sugar, carbs and calories? You might want to rethink this. The holidays are just not a great time to foist indulgent foods on people we care about. While we might think that they will enjoy the cookies, cakes, pies and drinks we bring to the table, don’t assume they will feel this way.
Your family members, friends and coworkers might be thinking about their health and weight. So it could be worthwhile to reconsider what you want to feed them this year. There was one study done recently that revealed women feel the happiest after eating an unusually healthy meal. On the other hand, indulgent meals had the opposite effect. They increased stress and negative emotions. So, consider bringing something to the office or family get-together that’s not so indulgent. It may be a relief for many people to see something healthy on the table to balance all those sweets and that heavy holiday fare.