Boomerang gifts are not new, and they're about to get a lot more common as consumers seek to uphold gift-giving traditions on a shoestring budget. Thrifty is good, thoughtless is bad and public humiliation is even worse.
According to a recent survey by the National Retail Federation, Americans plan on spending an average of $682.74 on holiday-related shopping this year. That figure represents a 3.2% drop from spending in 2008 -- and it's not because we have fewer friends.
The sitcom Seinfeld in 1995 was the first to go public with the dubious practice of regifting, and the comedian is credited with providing us the name for our guilty secret. The truth is, however, recycling a gift is not always a bad thing. In fact, Dec. 17 is officially, "Regifting Day" in the U.S. (created by a debt-counseling group called Money Management International as a way of espousing recycling and avoiding debt). Even etiquette experts admit there is a right way, and a wrong way to go about regifting.
Do: Regift quality, duplicate items you already own, or have read, watched or played -- you will be able to pass it along with pride and a personal endorsement. Double-check for personal inscriptions on the inside of book covers and definitely remove old cards, wrapping and tape -- a dead giveaway. It's cool we all do it, but we're still not completely out of the regifting closet.
Don't: Regift something you don't like and hope the other person feels differently. Tacky is as tacky does. Save it for the white elephant gift exchange -- just make sure whoever gave it to you won't be attending the same party (which actually happened to one poor PTA member last year.)
Always: Make a list or stick Post-Its on gifts you have every intention of passing along. It will remind you of who gave it to you, and when. This is a tip from one of my most gracious and organized friends, and I'd probably be thrilled with one of her regifts
Never: Give something in the old, crinkly wrapping that you your-very-own-self received it in. Ditto for slightly used items, perishables, dusty or dirty packaging, or partially redeemed gift cards. Yeah, it's great to receive a Target gift card, but $13.68 screams regift!
One friend watched as her toddler opened a large, loud, noisy truck at his birthday party that was clearly missing all tags, labels and packaging. "That's just like the one I have!" his little friend exclaimed, while an inscrutable expression (Guilt? Horror?) flickered across the mother's face.
By getting creative, you might be able to avoid regifting altogether. Those items that fall into the "never" or "maybe" pile of regifting rejects might find a buyer on eBay. The income could allow for the purchase of a new, more personal present while stimulating the economy at the same time. Win! Win!
Yard sales are another way of fund raising for holiday gifts and clearing out the clutter. I will never forget the framed, hologram picture of E.T. I received as a gift in high school. It was the only thing I actually sold at our garage sale that year. Good times.
In addition, donating questionable regift items to a charitable organization such as Goodwill or Salvation Army provides meaningful support to those in need and will reward you with a write-off come tax time.
Author and business coach, Melanie Jordan is looking to put an end to regifting this holiday season. Period. Her new book, What You Know Is Worth More Than You Know is designed to help readers empower their lives by profiting from the talents and skills they already possess. "I defy anyone to say they don't have anything to contribute," said Jordan in an interview with WalletPop, "If you live and have existed on this planet, you know something." Jordan is passionate in coaching others into the "infopreneurial" lifestyle and believes in the power of cultivating individual strengths.
In the spirit of the book's live it, learn it, pass it on philosophy, sharing time and talent could be the ideal gift this year. Whether it's giving a friend a facial, helping set-up a website, teaching a relative how to download podcasts, or offering to babysit, providing a service or teaching something for free is one of the best gifts of all. There's nothing more valuable than time. Like any gift, however, make sure Aunt Nellie likes ice fishing, and your best friend actually wants his closet reorganized.
If all this seems overwhelming, there remains the obvious choice, ask for a list.
In the end, what makes one gift perfect is the same thing that makes another perfectly awful: it's always the thought that counts.