By Heather Compton and Dennis Blas
Who among us hasn’t been guilty of the classic faux pas of giving a lame Holiday gift? Bad ties, goofy gadgets – the latest fad gizmo – often needless, frequently last minute desperation moves in order to have something in hand or under the tree.
Great gifts take patience, creativity and time, knowledge of the recipients and careful shopping – regretfully, all that may be in short supply at this time of year. Perhaps it’s time to re-think the whole gift-giving experience. Dennis and I are well aware that we have no need for more “stuff”.
It’s the Memories that Matter
Two recent studies confirm what most of us instinctively know. University of San Francisco psychology Professor Ryan Howell found people who spent their money on simple experiences like going to the movies, a meal with friends or trips were happier than those who purchased items like televisions or clothes. Ryan says “A memory of life experiences tended to give a greater sense of vitality and being alive, material items did not do that to nearly the same extent”.
In a related study from the University of Colorado – Boulder, psychology professor Leaf Van Boven confirmed that positive emotions attached to experiential purchases stay with us longer than those associated with the purchase of material goods. He further discovered there was a real social cost to being perceived to be a materialistic person – “they are less happy and more prone to depression and others are less likely to choose them as friends”.
What if we gave those we cared about the gift of a lasting experience? Tickets to the symphony for the classical music aficionado, a movie gift certificate or a movie night out for the film buff, a cooking class for the budding chef , a day on the ski hill or a snow shoeing date for the outdoors person? A regular coffee date with my sons would make this Mom very happy indeed!
Gifts that Keep on Giving
The Bad Tie Boycott is the tag line for a new marketing campaign by the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Their program promotes the gift of habitat protection for some of Canada’s most threatened species.
I love this evolution into giving meaningful, symbolic gifts that can change the lives of people or animals or habitat the world over! A gift that leaves its mark is powerful for the giver, the receiver and the beneficiary. The Gifts of Hope program allows you to give the avid reader on your list “the gift of a library-in-a-box to a community of children who have never held books in their hands”. A free gift card notifies the person you are honouring. Some gifts attract matching funds by governments or other donors and can multiply the value of your gift. With Plan Canada $100 buys 10 mango trees and that gift is matched for a $700 value. A gift that grows in more than one way!
Year after year a “best seller” for World Vision is the gift of two hens and a rooster. A $50 gift produces 150 eggs and a new flock of chicks each year – nutritious food and a steady income.
Some of us want to know our gift would benefit someone closer to home. Through Calgary’s Mustard Seed just $3.11 gives a hungry person a delicious Christmas dinner. Every city or town has similar programs through food banks, hostels and homeless shelters.
Gifts from the Heart
I also love to give and to receive gifts made by caring hands. The giver’s love seems baked right into the bounty from their kitchen labours or stitched, crafted or built into the parcels from handy family members and friends.
The season invites us to open our hearts, our homes and our wallets to share what we have with those we love and with those that need our support.
About the Authors: Heather Compton has presented seminars on financial and retirement lifestyle issues for over 30 years. She retired as Vice President and Senior Investment Advisor with a major financial services company. Heather and husband Dennis Blas co-present retirement seminars for a variety of corporate clients and are the co-authors of Retirement Rocks! Canadian Boomers Invest in Life. You can find their book, online or in independent bookstores. See more of their advice at Retirement Rocks.