From 1990 to late 2008, inflation-adjusted per-person expenditures on furniture and household goods rose 300 percent, according to Schor’s research. Spending on apparel rose 80 percent, and between 15-20 percent on vehicles, housing, and food.
In other words, gift givers today are right to be afraid they’ll come up short. Studies have confirmed a sorry phenomenon known as the “deadweight loss of Christmas.” That’s the difference between what a person spends on a gift, and the value the recipient puts on it. Economist Joel Waldfogel puts the deadweight number at 18 percent, meaning the $100 gift you buy for your uncle produces the satisfaction he could have obtained from $82 spent on himself (but really, it’s the thought that counts).
It’s no wonder that gift cards are this season’s hottest gift, according to the National Retail Federation, or that self-gifting is predicted to hit a 10-year high of $139.92 per shopper. (Disliking what you buy yourself is a whole other story.)
With the holiday clock starting to tick louder, a recent weekday found Lori Hartnett, 41, and her mother, Joan McGregor, 61, making the rounds at the South Shore Plaza. The women were asked if they knew anyone who was hard to buy for.
Hartnett, a stay-at-home mom from Quincy, shot her mother an accusatory look. “She has everything she wants — she buys it herself,” she said.
McGregor smiled a guilty smile, but offered a defense. “I don’t want anything,” she said.
It was obviously well-covered ground. “She says that,” Hartnett responded, “but when she wakes up Christmas morning, she wants me to come over and give her a gift.”
The two bickered good-naturedly until Hartnett put an end to the conversation with a truth universally acknowledged: “Everyone wants a gift,” she said.
And with that, the pair headed off to do some more shopping.