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5 ways gift giving ruins the holidays

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Reuters

I have a love-hate relationship with the holiday season. It has changed from a time of reflection and gratitude for memories past and present to a montage of messed up values.

Now, it’s about ‘the present’, all right, but the ‘gift’ kind, not the moment in time. 

Americans are expected to spend $602 billion this year.  That’s billion, with a B… JUST in November and December.

Materialism isn’t new in America, but we’ve gone over the edge. Maybe you race to Black Friday or Cyber Monday and even mark Free Shipping Day on the calendar. (Confession: I have fallen victim once or twice myself.) Maybe you’re planning to leave the dishes in the sink and head out on Thanksgiving itself, now that many retailers are opening in many places on the holiday itself.

There is an e-card that reads, “ Black Friday: Because only in America people trample others for sales exactly one day after being thankful for what they already have.” It’s only funny because it’s sadly true.

We buy more, give more to fill a need, much in the same way some people have a baby to save a marriage or buy a bigger boat, home or (fill in the blank) when they are emotionally unsatisfied.

I’m not against gift-giving per se, but I contend the current wave of bigger is better and MORE means love can actually backfire and make the holidays worse. Here’s how:

We give up more than we get
When we jump on the “sales”, “discount” and “buy it now” bandwagon, we get sucked into a mentality that we are saving money; it feels good to grab a bargain. Is that cashmere sweater, iPad or new video game really at the lowest price? Will it be priced somewhere else lower tomorrow? How much time can you possibly take to research prices and wait for the perfect price? Unless you want to give up your job to shop, you’re wasting badly needed time, especially over the time-crunched holidays.

Gift giving doesn't 'work' the way you think it does
There is actual evidence that people don’t like the gifts you give nearly as much as you think they do.

Economist Joel Waldfogel of the Wharton School studied gift giving from an empirical standpoint.  He calls the shopping season, “An orgy of value destruction and misallocated resources.”

 His findings show that unless you know exactly what someone wants, you may spend $50 on a gift, but the person you are buying it for would only spend $20 -- if anything-- on the same purchase if buying it for him/herself.  If you are spending too much on stuff that isn’t valued up to the price of purchase, you are wasting money.

We pay dearly
We rack up debt, even after the recession was supposed to re-prioritize our values. Are the bills in January really equal to the pleasure you get when giving the presents in the first place? I believe you can get as much satisfaction by giving gifts for a lot less.

Wrong message for our kids
If we don’t take time to look around and realize what matters, what are we teaching our children?

Research shows this generation of kids is more entitled and narcissistic than the Baby Boomers ever were. They want nice things, but are less prepared to work for them in what is called a “fantasy gap.” If we let our children think they can get whatever they want for the holidays, we only feed into the fantasy.

Forgetting what matters
My kids’ favorite memories are about the things we do EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR. We destroy the kitchen while making more dozens of Christmas cookies than we can count; we set up ‘the village’ in the same exact place, in the same exact way; we make a gingerbread house, even though my kids are now teens. Of course, we can’t forget the hot chocolate while decorating the tree with all the ornaments of years past, my favorites of which are the ones my kids have made by hand.

Do you remember what you got your kids a couple of years ago? Probably not. So, this year I am putting down the fliers and coupons and shopping lists to regroup. I will spend Black Friday with my kids. Maybe we’ll set up the village.

If you need a little help to get in the right mindset, watch It’s a Wonderful Life. Oh, there is a remaking of the classic in the works. THAT is a travesty for another post.

Charlene Bert is the Co-Founder of GalTime.com, a leading online magazine for women. She is also an award-winning veteran journalist who spent twenty years in local news as well as nationally syndicated broadcast and digital news for NPN Media . You can follow GalTime on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest.