Gift givers are getting ready to cut.
Against the backdrop of record high unemployment and other financial struggles, people are taking out their holiday gift lists and finding themselves having to cross off friends, relatives and co-workers this year.
“Like the rest of the world, this economy has me cutting almost everyone off the gift list,” says Trish Bonsall of Charlotte, N.C., who lost her job as a sales manager for a new home builder in June.
“In the past, it was a very long list. This year, we’re cutting it drastically.”
For Bonsall, 51, that means losing all but about six people – her four sons and their significant others – from her list of 35.
“Christmas is my favorite season. I like to buy presents,” she says. “It hurts.”
A survey earlier this fall by market research company NPD Group found that 27 percent of people said they would cut their personal or business lists this year.
But when gift comes to shove, not everybody can go through with it. Marshal Cohen, NPD’s chief industry analyst, expects about 19 percent will actually trim the list.
Still, it’s the first time in the five years the question has been asked that the number has topped 10 percent. It’s usually 5 percent to 8 percent.
“Every year, the consumer’s gift list got longer and longer and, during affluent times, you didn’t think anything of adding people to the list,” Cohen says.
“Now, with consumers having to be frugal, the list is not only getting checked twice, but cut twice.”
While it may be a relief not to have to buy for a family friend or your book club, breaking up with a gift giver can be hard to do. To avoid hurt feelings and awkward situations, experts advise, be kind and tell the truth.
“Be honest and say, ‘Times are tight this year and I’m having to cut back. Do you mind if we don’t do gifts?’ ” says Peggy Post, director of the Emily Post Institute.
And don’t wait too long, she says: Do it early so your friend doesn’t buy you a present before you break the news.
In place of the latest best-seller or pair of gloves, come up with an alternative, like a holiday lunch.
“Don’t forget there’s a lot of gifts that are free – your attention, your time, maybe your talent,” says gift expert and author Robyn Spizman.
When it comes to friends, Spizman suggests cutting people you don’t see any more. Instead, send a card with an offer to get together.
If you live nearby, invite the person over for dinner. “If you’re broke, say, ‘Let’s have a drink together or a cup of coffee,’ ” Post says.
When it comes to family gifts, you can skip grown-up gifts and buy only for children, or draw names for the adults, so each person buys and receives one gift. The same can be done for children, by drawing names for, say, all the cousins.
When it comes to thanking people, a gift isn’t always necessary.
“If you give your business to someone, you can shake their hand and thank them,” Spizman says. “You give them your business – that’s a gift.”
Though Bonsall will miss picking out presents, she too feels this celebration will be more meaningful.
“I’m actually looking forward to putting the real meaning of Christmas back and taking away the gift part and getting back to spending time with family friends and enjoying each other,” she says.
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