This Holiday Season, It’s the Thought that Counts

By Virginie Montet
Agence France-Presse

With the holiday season in full swing, Americans hit by the recession and unemployment are remembering “it’s the thought that counts” and finding budget-friendly ways to give their loved ones gifts.

“People want to know how to manage the holiday on a budget without offending anyone. This is a huge topic right now,” said Anna Post of the Emily Post etiquette school in Vermont.

Nearly one in two Americans – around 45 percent – plan to spend less this year than last on their Christmas presents, according to a study by marketing bureau Retail Forward.

Fully 62 percent say that price will be their top consideration in weighing a purchase, according to another survey by research firm NPD.

Unemployment in the United States, despite an improvement in November figures, is still at 10 percent and has been at 26-year-highs in recent months.

And so the question many consumers – and retailers – are asking is: “Will the economy force the consumer to dip into savings or just cut down those on the list?” asks Marshal Cohen, an NPD analyst.

“Perhaps if you are an in-law, you might just find yourself getting a card rather than the gift this year,” he adds.

Newspapers are full of advice about how to be frugal and suggestions for alternative presents that Americans can give without busting their budgets or short-changing their relatives.

“Just because you spent $50 last year it doesn’t mean you have to do that this year. People worry a lot about that. It’s just not true,” says Post.

“You want to think about your own budget. You don’t have to explain nor to apologize for it and you want to think about what that person might like.”

It’s also acceptable, Post adds, to “think about the relationship with that person.”

“For example, I can spend more on my sister than on my cousin, that’s okay.”

A director of the Post Institute, Peggy Post, suggested to readers of the Washington Examiner ways they might compensate for not being able to afford expensive gifts.

“Pick up your phone. Call someone and say, ‘You mean the world to me,’” she advised.

“I think this is wonderful advice to tell someone. We give gifts to people to show that we value them, think about them. You can say those same things with words if you can’t afford a gift,” Anna Post said.

Other advice in the newspapers includes suggestions to “part with a possession that was meaningful to you,” “spend some time” with your loved ones or “share a dinner or coffee.”

Another option for gift-givers looking for something thoughtful this Christmas is a charitable contribution, where a donation is made in the name of a family member or friend.

One scheme allows participants to spend $20 to invest in wells in Africa. In return, the organization sends a card or stuffed toy to be presented to the gift’s recipient, thanking them for their help.

Humanitarian group Save the Children has a Christmas catalogue packed with “gifts of joy for lasting change,” including the $30 purchase of a small goat for children in Ethiopia.

The gift can be purchased online with the click of a mouse, and will provide both milk and revenue to its new owners, the charity says.

In return, the organization sends a stuffed toy goat to be presented to your loved one at Christmas.

Toy manufacturers, who make around 40 percent of their sales during the holiday season, are adapting to the changing economic landscape by producing cheaper toys and keeping prices low.

In 2009, some 80 percent of the toys manufactured by giant producer Mattel cost less than $30.

“Last year we probably had four to five toys in the $50 to $100 range. This year we have two, said Ken Price of Jakks Pacific, the fourth largest US toy manufacturer.

One other way Americans are handling the economic belt-tightening is by engaging in a practice once deemed too tacky by manners mavens but that has gained traction as a thrifty holiday strategy: “regifting.”

“Regifting is defined as the act of taking a gift that has been received and giving it to somebody else, sometimes in the guise of a new gift,” a study carried out by the Patron Spirits Company said.

The tequila manufacturer’s survey found 68 percent of Americans claim they have regifted or considered regifting a holiday present.

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