Shoppers Play Santa -- for Themselves

While they're out braving mad crowds and stuffy malls this season, grumbling, stressed-out holiday shoppers might be sneaking in a gift (or several) for themselves too.

Shopping for me, myself and I — or self-gifting, as the phenomenon is called — is far more common during the month of December than people might think, according to a survey by Euro RSCG Worldwide, a marketing communications agency.

Through its annual holiday-shopping-trends survey, the agency found that for every one gift respondents buy for someone else, they purchase 1.5 items for themselves.

"The amount of self-gifting during the holiday season is vastly underestimated," said Marian Salzman, Euro RSCG's chief strategic officer.

Each year, the surveys of 1,000 women between the ages of 18 and 34 have revealed that many self-gift because they feel they deserve a little something for their holiday shopping troubles.

"I went Christmas shopping. It was a horrible day. At the end of the day, I bought myself a bunch of tulips," wrote one anonymous respondent.

"I went to the Gap and bought mittens for my teenage nieces and ended up buying six pairs for myself!!!" wrote another.

"I went to Target and bought things for my sisters, nieces and nephews. I have to admit I indulged myself with several kinds of bubblebath," confessed a third.

Analysts like Salzman don't think the phenomenon is about selfishness. Instead, they attribute it to a simple bit of psychology.

"Christmas shopping sucks," said Salzman. "We're all totally on overload and we want to indulge ourselves. You get to a place selling things that seem like a relief to you and all of a sudden you say, 'I'm going to buy this for me!'"

Candles, fragrances, lipsticks and other accessories, as well as items for the home are all popular purchases for self-gifters, according to Salzman.

"It's a guilty pleasure," she suggested.

It's also about crossing things off on one's "To Do" list. Aside from the self-gifters who want pampering, others fall into the shopping-evader category.

"Christmas is the one time of year I get out and shop," said Kristen Bloom, 32, of Baltimore. "I find things I never see and think, 'Oh, I need that.'"

Since Bloom normally doesn't like to shop for clothes, 'tis the season to replenish her wardrobe.

"That's one of the few times of year I buy clothes for myself," she said. "Normally, I prefer shopping for other people."

This time around, she bought a Swedish recipe book online while purchasing books for other people on her list, some new clothes and chocolate.

"I regift for myself," she quipped. "If I buy a gift and like it too much to give away, I give it to myself and go buy something else."

Fear and loathing of the mall is the reason behind Grellan Harty's self-gifting habits. He tends to limit it to one item a year; for the last two it's been in the clothing category.

"I bought four (Brooks Bros.) sweaters – three for my brothers and one for me," said Harty, 28, of New York. "I hate shopping so I figure if I'm out I might as well get something for myself too."

This year, he plans on purchasing something a little different.

"I'll probably get a back wax," he joked. "Assuming that's too expensive, I might get myself cordless earphones for my home stereo or a digital camera."

Salzman said the average holiday-gift budget for the 18-34 set is $700 to $1500, and estimated that between a third and a half of that is spent on me-me-me.

"They tend not to be big purchases," she said of the self-gifts. "But the pattern is becoming more pronounced."

One Long Island 30-something has a slightly different definition of self-gifting – she gets her husband to be an accomplice.

"I tend to buy gifts for myself and say, 'Look, honey, look what you got me,'" said Cristina Barden. "Jewelry is the big favorite, high-ticket items. He rolls his eyes and chuckles."

A few years ago, she took it to a whole new level.

"I bought that Tiffany bracelet with the heart and even had it engraved," she said, laughing. "I signed it from him and said, 'Look what you wrote!'"