Opinion: Why bother buying holiday gifts? Just follow the ‘Seinfeld’ rule and give cash.

When all else fails, I turn to the great sage Larry David for wisdom. Especially when it comes to the subject of gift giving.

Yes, Larry David, the curmudgeonly comedian behind “Seinfeld” and HBO’s

“Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Among the many great “Seinfeld” episodes that David wrote is one called “The Deal” that involves Jerry and Elaine’s on-again/off-again romantic relationship and how it’s tested when Jerry has to find Elaine a suitable birthday gift. After some debate, Jerry opts to give her cash — specifically, $182.

Elaine finds this all too insulting, implying that cash gifts are best offered up by relatives — and relatives only. “Who are you, my uncle?” she quips.

But if you ask me, Jerry had given her the perfect present.

We’re in the midst of another holiday shopping season. And that means millions of us are in a race to find the gift that’s just right for our friends and family members. It all adds up to big bucks: The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans will spend nearly $1 trillion during the holiday season — and retailers will hire as many as 450,000 seasonal workers to keep pace with the demand.

Well, I’m here to tell everyone much of their shopping is a waste of time.

I’ve done my fair share of gift buying in my many (OK, 59) years on the planet. And sometimes I have gotten it right, especially when hints are dropped well in advance. But more often than not, I’ve been playing guessing games — and they are games I typically end up losing.

Millions of us are in a race to find the holiday gift that’s just right for our friends and family members. Well, I’m here to tell everyone much of their shopping is a waste of time.

So, at this point I simply don’t sweat it: I buy whatever is easiest to buy, understanding it’s the idea that matters more than the actual present (aka “it’s the thought that counts”). Or I just follow the Jerry rule and give cash.

It turns out there’s research to back up why my approach makes sense. Joel Waldfogel, an economist based at the University of Minnesota, has spent a chunk of his career exploring the inefficiency of our gift giving — meaning how the gifts we offer up rarely equate value-wise to the recipient in relation to their cost.  By Waldfogel’s measure, it could add up to billions of dollars in useless giving. And that’s especially true come December.

“The holidays roll around and suddenly you have an obligation to buy something for 15 people. This is a recipe for disaster,” Waldfogel told me.

Of course, Waldfogel was preaching to the choir in my case. And I love the title of his book on the subject: “Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays.”

But aren’t there times when going the cash route feels a tad inappropriate? I mean, isn’t it a gift you’re indeed more likely to expect from an uncle (or a parent or grandparent)?

To my surprise, Jacqueline Whitmore, a leading etiquette expert, generally refuted that idea, noting that her mother had no issues with receiving cash gifts from her own children. I’ll confess I would have found it pretty awkward to give my parents cash.

“Cash is king,” Whitmore told me. “I’ve never seen anybody return cash or regift it for that matter.”

Whitmore allowed there may be a few instances when cash doesn’t work — she recalled a recent incident when she and her husband gave cash to a friend and the friend took offense. But she also said if the issue is that cash feels impersonal, that can often be solved by including a thoughtful note or card with the cash gift. (Alas, Elaine also objected to Jerry’s card because it was deemed too casual.)

‘I’ve never seen anybody return cash or regift it for that matter.’

— Etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore

If cash still doesn’t work, there’s also the near equivalent — a gift card. (I’ve bought more than a few of those in my time.) Or even the gift of stock. (A new Yahoo Finance/Ipsos poll found that almost 70% of Americans like the idea of investments as a holiday present.)

Or just buy those on your holiday list a bunch of scratch-off lottery tickets — another preferred gift idea of mine. It’s sorta cash, with the potential for more cash.

Admittedly, I’m offering all this advice knowing that I’m hardly one to turn down a thoughtful holiday gift. My family knows I’m a sucker for a good foodie item — and they have a running joke of gifting me the latest book in Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series (yes, they’re written for kids, but I’m still a huge fan).

But in the end, even I’d venture to say I’ve gotten plenty of “thoughtful” gifts that turned out to be complete duds — and if I had received cash as an alternative, I could have easily used the money to buy what I really want.

What would Elaine have preferred to Jerry’s $182? She was hoping for a wooden bench, which is exactly what Kramer gifted her in the Larry David-penned episode — much to her delight. Kramer also included a heartwarming card, naturally.

Good for Kramer. Sometimes there are winners in the gift-giving game. But why expend all the effort knowing the odds are generally stacked against you? I’m fine with taking the easy way out, and offering up $182 or some other amount appropriate for the occasion.

Or maybe I should just buy everyone “Wimpy Kid” books.

Source link

Related Articles

Back to top button