Why We Should Stop Buying Gifts for Adults

Melissa Martin, Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Certified Pilates Instructor |

I am about to trigger you by challenging one of our country’s biggest pastimes: buying Christmas gifts. But not just buying gifts, specifically buying gifts for other adults. I promise this isn’t written in some scrooge-y spirit, but rather, learning about what economists and research has shown us on this topic so we can spend and give more efficiently.

A recent study from finder.com found that more than $15 billion will be spent on unwanted Chrstmas gifts this year. That amounts to a lot of wasteful spending. Some economists have actually compared this to the equivalent of lighting your money on fire. If you’re being totally honest with yourself, do you like, keep, use, and love all your gifts each Christmas? We usually end up with a pile of gifts we do not need want, or even asked for. Then what? We usually try to regift when we can or end up stuffing our already overly cluttered homes full of even more things we don’t need or want and/or they end up in our landfills.

Let’s just face it- generally speaking, no one likes the gifts we give or receive. For this reason, economists recommend either forgoing gifts all together or just giving cash. Second to this would be gift cards, however, each year up to $3 billion in the form of gift cards get unused. So there’s that. One of the reasons people insist on still purchasing gifts for others is the fear that cash and gift cards seem to “impersonal” and they want their loved one to have “a little something to open” on the holiday. This couldn’t be further from the truth because when polled, most people say that cash is their number one desired gift for Christmas. Also, in my personal experience, my husband and I dedicate an entire day after Christmas for returns for most all of our “little something special to open” gifts. We usually don’t have the receipt and then end up either unable to do a return or store credit at a lot of random places with not enough to buy something we’d actually use or enjoy.

Also, how much someone values a gift may not be how much you personally value a gift. For example, $100 spent purchasing a vase for a family member may not translate into $100 worth of value to them, and therefore, you might as well just give that $100 to them in the form of cash. How they assign value with that cash may be completely different to what it would be for you because what we value is completely subjective to each individual.

The stress alone is worth considering forgoing gifts, too. Research has found that Christmas shopping is more stressful than we may realize. Studies have shown that heart Tates ted to increase by 33% while shopping for gifts- which is equivalent to the increase experienced while running a marathon. This is compounded even more when we have people calling and demanding we give them gift ideas because they “don’t know what to get you!” Which makes it feel even more disingenuous or the last minute family you hadn’t planned on seeing which sends us back to the mall on Christmas Eve trying to get those last minute gifts so it doesn’t look like you snubbed them. Sound familiar? Let’s just call a truce and find ways to make the holidays more meaningful and spend our time and money more wisely and efficiently.

Alternative Ideas To Gift Giving For Adults:

  1. Cash is king. Whatever money you have allotted or budgeted spending for each person on your list, save you and them the hassle and include cash or a check in a lovely Christmas card you can either send or give in person.
  2. Gift Cards. With a caveat that you KNOW it’s something the receiver will love and use. Find out what their favorite store is or a current need they have.
  3. Time together. Trade in the gifts for just spending time together. This can be going to a festive holiday event together or going to a nice restaurant for a sit down lunch or dinner with your loved ones where everyone splits the bill.
  4. Gift an experience (such as a restaurant coupon or tickets to a movie or museum) or donate in someone’s honor to their favorite charity.
  5. Adopt a family or buy gifts for people truly in need. Think foster kids and families, or those experiencing hardship. Operation Christmas Child is a great program that sends gifts to children in developing countries who would otherwise not receive anything.
  6. If you absolutely cannot resist the urge to buy something, you can either do homemade/sentimental gifts, a white elephant gift exchange, or consumables. Consumables are the safest bet and can be food, wine, a product, or candle. Everyone loves gifts like that and they can be enjoyed and used up without creating extra clutter. And even if they don’t like it, these are the easiest to regift to someone else or bring as a hostess gift to another holiday event.


I hope this inspires and encourages you to rethink your spending this year and take some stress off of you and your family. Planning and communicating these ideas in advance is absolutely key and you may surprised how many others feel the same way and would love to participate in any one or more of the alternative ideas with you!