Monday, October 6, 2008

Non-Materialistic Gifting: 3 Strategies

In last month's post on the Essential Rules of Modern Gift Giving, asserted that gift giving is not a materialistic enterprise. 

Of course, anyone who watches TV within 2 months of the holidays might find it hard to remember this rule. Retail stores have done a wonderful job of convincing us to spend more and more with subtle tactics. Notice, for instance, if you shop online, that many sites have a gifts section, and that some divide them into categories by price. It used to be common to find an "Under $10," but increasingly, it's more like "Under $50." When Under $50 is the lowest category, the implication is that surely no one would be looking for a cheaper gift than that... right?

Well, we disagree. As we also said in last month's post, the value of the gift is according to its worth to the recipient, not its price.  To keep that in focus, we suggest 3 strategies for non-materialistic gift giving.

1. Set a Price Limit

If you're doing a gift exchange with friends, try setting a price limit ahead of time. While this can help keep gift giving budget-friendly, that's not the real benefit. When you're forced to stay under a particular limit (and this works especially well if the limit is pretty low), you have to get creative. You will automatically begin thinking of ways to pick something that will be of more value to the recipient than what you actually pay for it. 

Example: I have a price limit arrangement with one good friend around birthday gifts. Last year she gave me a set of "secret message pens" from a toy store. My brother and sister-in-law were visiting me for my birthday, and we had a lot of fun writing secret messages like we were little kids. It was a great gift for under $10.

2. Give Symbolic Gifts

As we've said before, gifts mirror to the recipient something about the kind of person you think they are. Be conscious of that. Find something of symbolic importance, rather than monetary value. Often it's the symbolic gifts that wind up being lifelong favorites. 

Example: In the movie Pan's Labyrinth, there's a scene in which the main character draws a door on the wall with chalk and goes through it to another reality. After a conversation about the movie, a friend and mentor gave me a gift of a piece of chalk. It was one of the best gifts I've ever gotten.

3. Focus on Meaning

We spend the most on gifts when time is pressing, when we realize, at the last minute, that Mom's birthday is tomorrow, and we haven't even started looking yet. Sometimes we spend more out of guilt, or just to get a social obligation out of the way. Even when time is not an issue, we tend to think of the price question first: Is this a $20 occasion? Or a $50 one? Focusing on meaning instead of price can lead us to make better choices. That's not to say that the price question has no place in the discussion, but perhaps it should not be the first question. Ask yourself instead, what can I give this person that would convey my love and support? Where is he in his life right now, and what can I offer to let him know he is cared for? 

Example: I had a roommate during a rough and transitional year of college who I've kept in touch with ever since. A few years ago, when I found myself in a rough spot again, she sent me a care package and included an old, chipped mug from the apartment we shared that year, along with a note that read, "I just thought you could use a reminder that you can get through anything." 

We'd love to have readers ad to this list: Let us know what your strategies are for de-materializing gift-giving. 

4 comments:

jmwn said...

Creating calendars where you use photos that have real meaning for the recipient is an easy and great idea.

Anonymous said...

My cousin is much younger than I, and I can't help but think of what she's missing in her childhood with our grandmother slipping further into Alzeimer's, she'll never be able to make cookies with Grandma, or possibly not have christmas with candle on the tree, which used to be a HUGE tradition in our family. I am planning on giving her a book I found that was literally everything she needs to know as a girl, down to cooking basics, and even how to play dress up or shoot marbles, or even how boys think! I thought it was adorable, and hopefully, it will show her how to be a kid without needing dresses and horses to be a princess. I hope this is a good Idea for someone. The book was found at Costco inc. :)

Anonymous said...

Valentine's day was fast approaching and I hadn't gotten the chance to go out a d get something for my husband. Moreover we were in a bit of a financial fit. So I took a clean nuttella jar and filled it with 365 little red hearts. Written on each heart were quotes and actions one for each day of the yr. (eg. Get a kiss today, a romantic drive, meal of your choice, watch a movie together etc.) I wrapped it in a red net tht comes with fruit baskets from the supermarket, tied a ribbon n gifted it with a card. My husband was over the moon. He was very touched n looked fwd eagerly to each day so he could pick a little heart which was in itself was a gift for each day of the year.

Anonymous said...

one of the most memorable presents i got was from a friend's mum who i knew was hard-up on cash, she simply gave me a small brown bag full of plastic gold, shiny buttons. she said she thought i'd like them because they were shiny and pretty, she was so right! weird but wonderful.