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Expert: Cut Back on Gift-Giving Without Feeling like a Scrooge

By Lori Wright, Media Relations
November 26, 2008

With more Americans feeling financially pinched this year, many may feel they’ll be perceived as a scrooge if they try to rein in spending. But according to an interpersonal communication expert, putting the brakes on gift-giving can make the holidays more meaningful.

“Most people know what's happening with the economy. This is a good opportunity for us all to take stock: the success or happiness of the holiday season does not need to be measured by the amount of money you spend but should be measured by the quality of time and personal commitment we offer to each other and those we care about,” says Sheila McNamee, professor of communication at UNH.

McNamee encourages people to talk to family and friends about how they intend to approach gift-giving and celebrating during this financially challenging time. People should not assume their loved ones understand their motives for cutting back on spending, she says.

In addition to these honest discussions, McNamee urges people to focus on giving well thought-out gifts, which don’t need to be expensive but usually are more meaningful than expensive ones purchased with little consideration of the recipient. Whether it’s finding “just the right gift” or making one, McNamee says showing the recipient that you put thought into the gift makes them feel that they are important to you.

“It's easy to spend a lot of money and ‘wow’ someone with a gift. It is much, much harder to think of a meaningful gift for someone and give it from the heart,” she says.

Going green this holiday season also could inspire people to be more resourceful with gift giving. According to McNamee, “we have the chance now to reclaim the holidays and return to a semblance of what they used to be like before consumerism exploded.”

“When people have less, they seem to value their relationships more. When we feel threatened, we take stock of what we do have and we have control over. This can be a wonderful moment to be thankful for our health, our relationships, and all that we take for granted in our daily lives,” she says.

Gift giving at the office can be a particularly touchy area, especially when employees feel they are “forced” to buy gifts for their coworkers. However, McNamee says offering an alternative such as a secret Santa or a Yankee swap with price limits may be a welcome change. 

“We have a Yankee swap in our department and it is really fun to see what amazing gifts people come up with for only $10. Most are coveted. Alternatively, you can propose a meal together or a cocktail party where everyone brings something that can serve as their gift to each other: time and food or drink,” she says.

McNamee studies interpersonal communication and has produced five books and 50 journal articles and book chapters. Her work on the intersection of language and social construction has attracted broad acclaim and spawned a range of related work on personal interaction.


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