If your rich aunt or your aging parents have been insisting they don't want you to spend money on them this Christmas, maybe you had better take them seriously. Whether they are down-sizing their possessions, or simply feeling they have enough in life, this is the perfect time to give something from the heart and not from the stores or catalogues.
"Older people and the wealthy are among the most difficult groups to buy gifts for," says Eugene Fram, a research professor of marketing in Rochester Institute of Technology's College of Business. According to the marketing literature, says Fram, as we age, instead of wanting more, many of us get into "dispossession"; that is, where we tend to give things away and need fewer physical possessions. What such well-off folks will always appreciate, he says, are gifts that fill their emotional needs.
Fram offers the following gift-giving suggestions for "people who have everything":
* Don't give gifts that are obviously costly.
* Don't give gifts that are unhealthy, like cigars.
* Give something personal from the past, like a memento of a shared, special event.
* Make your own Christmas card or gift; if you paint the snowscape or knit the scarf, it's all the more appreciated.
* Frame copies of humorous correspondence that have personal meaning--how about some of those ridiculous e-mails?
* Frame photos of you as a child or of the grandchildren, or of someone special a long time ago. This is a sure hit.
* Give your time. Set some dates for bringing over dinner, going to a museum or art exhibit or just taking a drive in the country.
* Donate to a charity or an organization in the name of your family member or friend.
Fram says he practices what he preaches by rarely buying gifts and always giving to charities in the name of his family and friends; he's also made it clear that they do the same for him. As for gag gifts, they are anathema. "They only cost $5 or $10," says Fram, "but I'd rather see that money go to charity than have another T-shirt that says 'Greatest Professor in the World.' "
Going Too Far You may be suffering from grandiose-gift-giving syndrome if you're constantly worried that you haven't bought enough gifts or the right gift. So if there's a running ledger of gifts in your head (equal piles of presents for each and every one), or you worry whether you're online or in line, stop! It's time to take inventory of why you give too much and feel so bad.
"As children, we learn our model for giving from our parents," explains Myra Binns Bridgforth, a psychotherapist from Vienna. If you feel compelled to always give lavishly, she suggests you first examine your parents' motives. Did they use gifts for getting approval, or to establish control or instill guilt? On a more positive level, did they give out of a generous expression of their love?
One way to find your motive for grandiose gift-giving is to look at what you are expecting in return for your gift, says Bridgforth. Do you want something equally nice? Or perhaps you unconsciously play the one-upmanship game, hoping your gift is more imaginative or expensive than what you receive.
Another hidden agenda may be that you are afraid that if you don't come up with the perfect gift, your friends or family will withdraw from you. Bridgforth defines this as a lack of not having enough self--"No one will like me just for me."
Don't lose heart. Gift-giving is all about affection and it flows out of your generous nature toward another person. There's nothing wrong with wanting someone to like your gift, says Bridgforth, but it's also about being connected with that person.
Try giving less, or less often, and see what happens, says Bridgforth. Chances are you'll survive. If you give a tin of homemade cookies to a dear friend and she gives you a silver bracelet, the cost obviously is imbalanced, but it evens out if you are truly good friends. "It increases the intimacy because you trust that the friendship will stay in balance," says Bridgforth.