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.