Present and correct

by Bill Ralston / 20 December, 2012
Go on, give yourself what you’ve always wanted.
“That’s not true, I do listen. I’m just not very interested.”/cartoon by Steve Bolton.


Okay guys, listen up. There are only about 52 shopping weeks to Christmas 2013. Going by 2012’s performance, I suspect we had better start now. No, not buying presents for others; buying them for ourselves.

You’ve heard of “buyers’ remorse”, but many of us suffer post-Christmas “receivers’ remorse”. It’s the sinking feeling you get when it dawns on you, yet again, that you’ve become the proud owner of several garish ties (that you no longer wear unless you’re going to a funeral – then you realise, depressingly, you are going to a lot more of those as you age) and some smart black Gold Top socks. Except the problem is that it’s early January and the only thing on your feet are jandals – and it’ll probably be another month before anything resembling a shoe comes near your feet.

Sadly, most of us buy stuff we want for ourselves, then give it to others who probably won’t appreciate it and so will feel let down. The best cure for receivers’ remorse is to buy yourself presents you actually want. The Wall Street Journal reported in mid-December that a US research company had discovered a shopping trend called “self-gifting”.

Apparently, 32% of American Christmas shoppers were now buying goodies for themselves – a massive increase over a figure of just 12% who were self-gifting before the global financial crisis.

Analysts also noted, in the US at least, consumers were spending more than the previous year. It seems recession-hit retailers were massively discounting in pre-Christmas sales and shoppers rose to the challenge. According to the US National Retail Federation, consumers were spending 20% of their total Christmas cash outlay on stuff for themselves.

Canadian newspaper the Globe & Mail attributes this surge in self-gifting to “economic sobriety”, of all things. The fact is that people don’t want to waste money giving others items they don’t need or want and so they’re exchanging gift vouchers and cash in a “buy yourself something nice” kind of way.

As well as retailers heavily discounting, good old Time magazine identified cunning stores that were placing tempting gifts on display to lure you into a self-purchase. Along with the august international media, the Listener – or me, to be precise – believes greed plays a big part in self-gifting. Forget such homilies as “It’s better to give than to receive”. It’s not. It’s far better to receive, especially when you’ve chosen what you’re getting.

With all due respect to my lovely late mother, the worst gift I ever received was a beige woollen T-shirt she had painstakingly knitted for months. Every summer, whenever she visited, I was forced to dig through the drawers for hours before I unearthed the damn itchy thing and put it on. I tried the “Oh, it must be in the wash” excuse once, but then got subjected to an hour-long dissertation on the best method of washing woollens.

When children are small, it’s fine to buy them gifts. If you gave six-year-olds cash and told them to buy what they wanted, heaven knows what they’d come back with. A puppy, a goat or an anaconda. Once the kids hit the teenage years, just give them cash. Any present you buy will embarrass and humiliate them. Then go and buy yourself something to assuage the guilt of not having taken the time and effort to buy them something.

Once your children have become human – usually in their twenties – you really should just give them gift vouchers, because they know exactly what they want and you’ve long since forgotten what people of that age are into. Worse, you can remember, and based on your own life experience from your twenties, you present them with a copy of the Whole Earth Catalogue and a Cheech and Chong album. Behold their confused faces.

Nope, start looking now for what you want for Christmas and begin self-gifting immediately.
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