Oliver Wright writes:

One of my seasonal ‘jokes’ goes that you can tell when Christmas is approaching by the adverts on TV. Thus, like many others I suppose, I am thrust from my usual lethargy into a mild panic, making hurried calls to my siblings and parents, enquiring what they might want for Christmas, with the implicit fear that the shops might somehow run out of appropriate gifts.

In spite of our recessionary times, the high street in London has done surprisingly well for itself compared to 2008 when the onset of the recession dampened the Christmas (spending) spirit. November sales are up only 1.8% on last year nationally, but in the capital sales are up 13.3%.

Even if we are short of cash, we certainly shouldn’t be short of ideas: most of the major newspaper websites have a glut of buying guides, telling us what we could buy, and for whom. But for every article about ideal presents, one often finds a dissenting contributor in the comments sections, outlining the merits of a presentless Christmas. Capitalising on these frugal sentiments, The Green Thing has created a cunning spoof of the Amazon.co.uk website, delightfully titled Amazero.com, encouraging us to buy their single product – nothing (it’s priceless, of course). With a slightly more traditional approach, Adbusters sponsored ‘Buy Nothing Day‘ on the 26th of November this year.

Both of the above campaigns make the claim that Christmas – or more simply, buying lots of stuff – is bad for the environment, and detracts from the true spirit of the season. However, if you’re more inclined to think that Christmas is a waste of money altogether, then Joel Waldfogel’s book ‘Scroogenomics: Why you Shouldn’t Buy Presents for The Holidays’ may contain some more compelling arguments. Based on US surveys, he suggests that people would generally be willing to spend 20% less on the gifts that they received were they to buy them for themselves. This difference – in economic jargon, the deadweight loss – is worth $13bn a year in the US. He continues:

There’s every reason to believe the deadweight loss is as big elsewhere. That would get you to $25 billion a year around the world in value destroyed through gift giving.

Waldfogel isn’t against gift giving – just bad gift giving. Tim Harford has some useful recommendations based on Waldfogel’s arguments: spend modest amounts (hence reducing the likelihood of a large deadweight loss), or increase the sentimental value of your gift – invest time or creativity into making something personal. In other words, give it value to which you can’t attach a price.

In a neat twist, Waldfogel’s book is out for Christmas. But before you buy it, make sure the recipient wants to read it first.

The Image above is taken from the Amazero.com website, and is used with thanks.

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