Vive la Revolution!
by Ellen Katz
A holiday gift is supposed to be an expression of affection and esteem.
In reality, there's a lot more wrapped up in the decorated boxes piled up in our homes. Whether we're trying to buy love or recreate the yuletide magic of the past, emotional gift giving often leads to overspending and, ironically, heightened disappointment.
"There's a great deal of power and vulnerability involved in gifts," explains psychologist Dr. Joyce Brothers.
Not to mention ego, status, nostalgia and a desire to please.
This year, we'll dole out more than $1,600 for the holidays, according to an American Express poll. That's 8 percent more than last year.
"One person can inadvertently ratchet up the spending level just by splurging once," explains economist Juliet B. Schor in her book, The Overspent American. "You feel compelled to reciprocate with something a bit nicer."
Perhaps this is why 40 percent of our holiday purchases go on a credit card, which we don't pay off until April.
No matter what the price, a single disappointing gift can cause arguments resentment, particularly if it shatters expectations.
If you grew up in a family where your parents gave each other romantic presents like a diamond necklace or a cashmere sweater, your spouse will probably wind up in the doghouse for giving you a vacuum cleaner.
Worse are the gifts that are expensive and meaningless. How many items have you returned, relegated to the back of a closet or thrown in a trashcan? Chances are, they came from a last-minute buying spree that ended after your husband, or wife, picked up the first thing displayed in the store.
"For some men, shopping is like storming the Bastille," notes Dr. Brothers.
So before you buy another useless knick-knack for your spouse this year or plunk down a fortune on a gift you know won't be treasured, ask yourself if there isn't a better alternative.
"I remember trying so hard thinking of what to buy someone at Christmas who had so much excess and no appreciation for how much she had," says Wendy Thrasher, from San Diego.
"A light bulb went off and told me I didn't really have to participate in the gift-buying orgy." Thrasher said on the Simple Living Network website. "My husband and I have large families and we are the only ones who don't do it. Getting off that merry-go-round is a big relief."