Gift-Giving: What’s the Point?

December 22, 2020 Updated: December 22, 2020

The simple act of gift-giving has become extremely complicated. I blame that on the consumer credit industry.

Think about it: You can be completely broke but still spend thousands of dollars on Christmas gifts—and believe it is not only your right to do so but that you are obligated to do it.

This culture has created a message that we have to spend a lot on Christmas gifts.
Gift-giving is a custom that has pretty much run amok. But we can choose to make wise decisions about the gifts we give.

How many of you cannot recall the gifts you gave last Christmas? How about the ones you received? Come on, let’s see those hands. OK, that’s just about everybody.

It’s not because we’re total ingrates that we have trouble remembering the gifts we gave or even the ones we received.

It’s because when it’s all over, the gifts pale in comparison to the joy they deliver—the love and best wishes for the season.

Gifts are Messengers

Without the care, love and concern that gifts express, they are empty. Giving a gift just so you can mark a name off a list is a hollow effort that is likely to fall flat, no matter how much money you spend.

OK, here’s another question: How many of you still have a sense of the joy associated with gift-giving from last Christmas, even if you cannot recall the specific gifts?

Look at that. Hands are going up all over the room! At least some of those gifts delivered joy and the love and then quietly slipped out of the spotlight.

Those who couldn’t raise their hands may be remembering the stress of finding the perfect gift or the hassle because you waited until the last minute. You may be recalling the guilt for spending money you didn’t have on things you don’t remember.

Think About It This Way

Think of the gift-giving the same way you would think of a special meal you prepare. You want it to be delicious and for your guests to enjoy it thoroughly. But no matter how fluffy your mashed potatoes or how delectable the prime rib, it’s still a meal, and it will end.

Your gifts should bring a momentary sense of joy, but it’s the memories of your expression of care that will live on.

It’s the Thought That Counts

Not every occasion requires a gift. Sometimes, a card with a thoughtful sentiment is an excellent way to go.

Being a responsible gift-giver will help you to be an excellent recipient as well. Knowing that it’s the thought that went into the gift that counts will help you to be genuinely grateful. You cannot be too grateful. But you can fail to express your gratitude, and that’s always a bad thing.

Give Something You Made

Whether it’s something from your kitchen, craft room, woodworking shop, or computer, there’s nothing like a homemade gift. A tree ornament, a plate of cookies, a box of fudge, a bottle of pure vanilla extract, and some notecards are just some of the kinds of homemade gifts with universal appeal.

Give What Matters Most

If you don’t know what to give someone, ask this simple question: What matters to him or her? You have to know this person pretty well to know the answer. You have to pay attention, listen, and observe. Do you want your gift to say how much you care? Then find a way to show you care about what matters most to that person.

Is he or she passionate about medical research? Become a bone marrow donor. Is the individual an environmentalist? Plant a tree in his or her name. Write a description of your experience, and give it to your recipient.

Give What You Do Best

What do you do well? Cook, clean, babysit, garden, sew, drive, shop? Whatever it is, create a unique gift certificate, and make what you do the gift that you give: a weekend of babysitting, a day of housecleaning, six hours of errand-running—you get the idea.

Hint: Follow up within a few days to set the exact time your certificate will be redeemed. Your recipient may be too embarrassed to remind you to make good on the gift.

Give It In Writing

Worried that your gifts are not quite right? All of your doubts will vanish when you include a short note telling the recipients what they mean to you and the value they bring to your life.

The best gift is one that delivers a message of love and joy that remains with the recipient long after it has been consumed, used, or put away.

Mary invites you to visit her at, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at, “Ask Mary.” Tips can be submitted at This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.” Copyright 2020