We don't buy each other gifts for birthdays, anniversaries or holidays. To us, it doesn't make sense to be required to give someone gifts on a pre-defined schedule. Obviously, this is not a popular opinion to hold during the holiday season.
I can appreciate how gifting became a thing historically. When resources are scarce, life is full of unmet needs. And when all you have is $20 to your name, your choice to spend that on someone else shows them that you put their happiness above your own.
My favorite gifting story is The Gift of the Magi.
"[They] are now left with gifts that neither one can use, they realize how far they are willing to go to show their love for each other"
In today's world, we have turned gifting into a cultural norm, so expectations start to skyrocket. How much of a surprise is it really when you know that you're getting a gift? What's worse is when you're conditioned to expect a gift for your birthday or anniversary, and are woefully disappointed when you don't.
Shopping is Stressful
When a whole country decides to go shopping at the same time, it has its own set of interesting socio-economic consequences. It's the perfect time for retailers to hike up prices. People are going to buy regardless, so why not enjoy expanded margins?
You also have to deal with competition from other shoppers. The best things may become out of stock. Finding parking at the shopping mall is a real nightmare (if you still do that physical store shopping thing).
You have a laundry list of people to buy gifts for, and the insane amount of cognitive overload during decision making just leaves you distressed. If I caught you in the middle of your shopping "adventure", would you tell me that you're feeling extra affectionate towards those people at that very moment?
I Don't Have a Wish list
This year, for the first time ever, I voted "Pass" on my coworkers' Secret Santa Gift Exchange. The $25 limit doesn't break the budget, but I really don't want one more box of chocolates from Walgreens and a Happy Holidays greeting card.
Some people are open about their wish lists to take the guesswork out of gifting. Personally, when I want something, I decide if it's a good value for my money and go buy it myself. I don't have a wishlist for things I can't pay for. It's far easier to control my wishes than it is to spend my days waiting for a freebie.
We are incredibly lucky and grateful to live a life of abundance. We are conscious consumers and are thoughtful about how we spend our money. With that kind of attitude towards spending, we really can afford anything we need in our lives.
Who are you really doing this for?
Take a moment to think about this. If everyone shares their wishlist, and all gifts are within a $100/person budget, why bother with the gift exchange when everyone can just go spend the $100 on themselves? Buy what you want, and be done with it!
Imagine this: Your friend Sarah buys you a gift for $100, and you buy Brian a gift for $100. A week later, both Sarah and Brian (separately) come and ask you for a favor. You can only help one of them, so who are you more likely to help?
Sarah spent $100 on you, would you return her favor?
I am going to hypothesize that there's a bit of the Ben Franklin effect at play here. If that's the case, you're actually more likely to help Brian, because you've already given him a gift. Your brain rationalizes this by thinking "I must really like Brian, that's why I got him a gift in the first place!"
If you buy family and friends gifts because it makes you feel closer to them, do it by all means! But if you're going to be stressing about your holiday to-do list and worrying about finding room for gifts in your budget, you may need to take a step back. Most importantly, please don't take on debt to spend money on gifts.
According to this study by Nerd Wallet:
56% of Americans who shopped during the 2016 Holiday Season incurred credit card debt. 24% of Millennials who incurred debt when shopping for the 2016 Holiday Season have not paid it off as of November 2017.
Gifting is not mandatory, and there are plenty of other ways to enjoy quality family time together without emptying your wallet.
The best person to buy a gift for is your future self by adding money to your emergency fund, or investing that money instead in a diversified stock portfolio. With the power of compounding, a dollar invested today in your 20s can easily become ~$25 when you retire at 65.