Nov 29, 2022 - Economy & Business

Axios Finish Line: Gifts that cost nothing

Illustration of an opened gift box with a glowing light bulb inside.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

This article originally appeared in Axios Finish Line, our nightly newsletter on life, leadership and wellness. Sign up here.

Inflation is driving up the cost of holiday gifts and stressing out shoppers, but gift-giving isn't about price tags.

  • Why it matters: Most of us care more about thought than monetary value. And there are a slew of gifts that cost little or nothing.

🧮 By the numbers: The average U.S. consumer plans to spend a whopping $998 on gifts this season, per the National Retail Federation.

  • The price of gifts has been rising sharply, up 6.9% between 2020 and 2021, and projected to rise another 3.4% this year, according to the St. Louis Fed.
  • The cost of gift wrap is up 12% from 2021.

The thought of holiday shopping is worrying people from coast to coast.

  • Here's how one Washington Post reader put it in a note to the paper's advice column: "I am 62 and still working, but this year I have no real disposable income. I mentioned to my mother that I kind of wanted to opt out of the gift-giving this year due to finances.... The thing is, I am embarrassed to do that."

💡 Reality check: What most gift-givers don't realize is that it really is the thought that counts.

  • In a recent paper, researchers looked at a range of studies on gift-giving and found that gift-givers tend to overestimate how much recipients care about the relative value of a gift and underestimate how much they consider thoughtfulness.

In that spirit, here's our list of great gifts you can give that rank high in thoughtfulness and low in price.

  • Write a handwritten letter. Fill it with cherished memories and qualities you admire about the person, and decorate the note. As we've reported, a short note goes a long way.
  • Gift a favor. Acts of service can be free and impactful. You could offer to be a sitter for the recipient's kids or pets so they can take a break, or step up to shovel show or mow the lawn.
  • Cook something delicious. If you're talented in the kitchen, use that! You might bake an irresistible holiday dessert or wrap up a homemade jam or pickles.
  • Give the gift of music. Maybe there is a musician, genre or album that reminds you of the recipient. Lean into that and build them a custom playlist either on a streaming platform or burned onto a CD.
  • Make it yourself. Many of us picked up artistic hobbies during the pandemic. Maybe you paint or knit or garden and could gift your art or a warm scarf or handpicked flowers.
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