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Gifts with an Impact

Some people consider me a bit of a grinch. I’m generally not a big fan of required gift giving, considering it an inefficient use of money. You may have seen my favorite article on the subject, “The economic argument for never giving another gift.” I quote it a lot. Another good one is “The economist’s guide to giving Christmas presents that people actually want.” They argue that we value things less (20% less!) when we don’t buy them for ourselves. Expected gifts (Christmas, birthday, anniversary) are especially devalued.

Pink and brown is the new red and green.

How to avoid this trap without looking like a total scrooge?

  • Give to people you know well. Daily or weekly contact translates to gifts that are 10% more satisfying.
  • Give experiences, not things. Interpersonal relationships and new experiences consistently make people happier than material goods.
  • Surprise them. Whether the surprise is in the timing or the present itself, unexpected gifts are the most satisfying.
  • Give to those less fortunate. Redistributing wealth—even if it’s just from comfortable adults to broke students—is a particularly good way to make gifts more efficient.
I’ve already received one of my gifts early this year, and it was a donation to Against Malaria (the #1 rated charity by GiveWell!). And a favorite tradition is trading Angel Tree presents with my sister. These gifts not only move resources to people who can really appreciate them, but they also reduce the resources wasted each Christmas. What are some of your favorite gifts?

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