Why you should stop buying holiday gifts for adults


The holiday season is here, and shoppers have started the annual scramble to find the perfect gift for everyone on their list — most of whom are probably adults.

Here, frankly, is why you shouldn't.

"I think it amounts to a lot of crap that people don't need," said Kathryn Jezer-Morton, an American writer living in Montreal. "We've been saying this for years to our extended families at Christmas."

Jezer-Morton, 35, is proof that it's possible to end gift giving without ruining the holidays. She said she keeps gifts to a minimum for her husband and children and typically doesn't buy anything for her parents or friends.

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Eschewing gift giving doesn't make you a Grinch, some say — it might make you more of a savvy Santa. Here are reasons not to buy gifts and what to do instead:

Gifts are a waste of resources

Americans will spend about $967 on average this holiday season, putting the country on track to spend more than $678.8 billion in total, according to an annual survey conducted by the National Retail Federation.

"It can start to feel like it's a sort of arms race around spending," said Jezer-Morton.

And she's not alone. A 2016 ING study found that 70 percent of Americans feel that Christmas is too focused on spending, yet we're expected to spend even more this year.

Economists, such as University of Minnesota professor Joel Waldfogel, say gift giving just isn't an effective way to part with your money.

"We're making guesses about what other people need or want or like," said Waldfogel, author of "Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays." "If I go out and spend $50 on you, I may buy something that's worth nothing to you."

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In fact, Americans waste $9.5 billion, or $71 per person, on unwanted gifts each year, according to a study from Finder.com.

Even for gifts people want, Waldfogel said recipients underestimate a gift's monetary value by about 18 percent.

That percentage multiplied by the amount Americans spend on gifts each year represents how much money "we're basically lighting on fire through the process of gift giving," Waldfogel said.

If an unwanted gift can't be returned, it might end up collecting dust in a closet or tossed in a landfill.

During the holiday season, Americans produce 25 percent more household waste, or about 1 million extra tons, according to the EPA. This includes not only unwanted gifts, but also gift packaging materials like bubble wrap and wrapping paper, which can't be recycled.

Holiday shopping can literally feel like a marathon

The holiday season not only puts a dent in your wallet, but it can also be a serious source of stress.

A study done by online retailer eBay found that holiday shopping can be as stressful as running a marathon. Shoppers in London were fatigued by the 32-minute mark, and their heart rates increased 33 percent during the experiment.

Stefanie O'Connell, a millennial financial expert and author of "The Broke and Beautiful Life," said when her budget was tight, she "felt constantly stressed and overwhelmed and even a little bit resentful of the sense of obligation that came with gift giving."

Now, O'Connell said her family decides each year whether they'll exchange gifts, pool their resources for a group gift, or opt out of giving altogether.

"It's a point of discussion each year," she said.

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What you can do instead

Instead of enduring the headache of holiday shopping, consider giving up gift exchanges altogether. O'Connell suggested using your personal and professional skills to volunteer as a family or do a favor for your loved ones, like knitting or building furniture.

"If money is a limitation, go give of your time," she said. "Don't discount those things that you can offer others that don't have a monetary value."

Just be sure to have a conversation with your family first.

"You need to get a consensus or at least a majority rules to get a new policy in place for your family," said Leah Ingram, a New Jersey native who runs a financial advice blog. "It's perfectly OK to at some point say to your adult family members 'let's just stop giving each other gifts.'"

Ingram explained that in her family, all the grandchildren get Hanukkah gifts until they turn 21, and her siblings instituted a no gifts policy a few years back.

But, if you're not ready to quit cold turkey, try simply cutting back on gifts or changing up the style of gift giving.

"I love the idea of coming up with a Pollyanna or secret Santa or white elephant among families, especially extended families," Ingram said.

Instead of hunting for physical gifts, consider giving cash or gift cards. Gift cards have been the most popular item on people's wish lists for the past 11 years, according to the National Retail Foundation.

Ingram said she uses her credit card rewards each year to get gift cards for her daughters in college.

"If you're stumped for a gift, a gift card to an appropriate store is great," she said.

Another alternative is spending money on experiences, like a family vacation or even just a meal together. Studies show that spending money on experiences tends to provide more long-lasting happiness than buying material goods.

Companies like Experience Days offer gifts like spa treatments, food tours or flight lessons.

"That's a great way to make memories and give something that isn't just going to end up in the back of a closet," said Experience Days president Michelle Geib.

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