To gift or not to gift is the question. The answer to that would depend on the individuals involved. Psychological studies show there are many positive and negative emotional consequences of gift-giving.
Positive emotional consequences can include experiencing the satisfaction of being able to give someone something they've wanted or needed, or showing others that you remember and care about their special events/dates.
Negative emotional consequences can include irritation at spending more money than you should have, hurt feelings of not having your gift reciprocated, realizing the gift you gave freely has made someone feel bad because they cannot reciprocate, or seeing the gift you made/carefully selected end up at the back of someone’s closet or on a table as a "white elephant gift" the following year.
As this gift-giving season gets underway, take a moment to stop and think about what you are doing and why you are doing it. Prepare a list of the people you would like to give gifts to and make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. Prepare a budget beforehand so you do not spend more than you intended or more than you can afford to spend. It may also be helpful to pay close attention to the recipient—the things they like and don’t like. Find a tactful way to do a little snooping if necessary. This time of year, people often start daydreaming out loud about items they’d love to have so listen and watch carefully. Needless to say your gift will be received a whole lot better if it appears you’ve given some thought to the recipient.
There’s been much debate about whether it is appropriate to give cash as a gift. Again, you have to know your recipient. If they are inclined to think that your giving them cash is a lazy cop out, you may want to shop for an actual gift. On the other hand, if they have been struggling financially as a result of job loss, etc. they may really appreciate a gift of cash. If you decide to give cash gifts, purchase a nicely decorated money envelope, make sure the bills are as clean/crisp as possible, tuck them into the envelope, and write a personal message on the back of the envelope, (“Dear Mark, I know you’ve been saving for a new guitar so here is a little something to help with your purchase. Happy Holidays!”) or something to that effect.
If you decide to opt out of the gift-giving frenzy due to the economy or other reasons, find a tactful way to inform people who would normally expect a gift from you as soon as possible. Also, be prepared to deal with any feelings that may arise from receiving a gift you cannot reciprocate.
The most important thing to remember is that you should always operate from a place of true authenticity. The holidays should be a fun and magical time so do not allow yourself to become stressed out based on what others are doing or expecting. If you decide to participate in gift-giving activities, weigh your options carefully and do what makes you feel good--during the holidays and long after they are gone.
Want ideas on inexpensive handmade gifts from your kitchen? Read my blog post: Handmade Culinary Holiday Gifts.