Consumers are very much paring back: RBC Economist Carrie Freestone
Five years ago, Julie Blais Comeau received a present. Then she learned the Christmas-themed apron and dish towel weren’t for her — originally.
“I got a gift from somebody that was intended for someone else,” she said, laughing. The gift tag hadn’t even been swapped for one with her name.
Regifting remains one of many fraught areas of trading presents with family, friends and colleagues, a holiday dance as delicate as a Christmas ornament. And as consumers grapple with higher interest rates and inflation, questions about how to juggle second-hand items, bargain hunting and personal expectations loom larger than ever.
An Equifax survey found that some 68 per cent of respondents plan to budget for holiday shopping this year, up from 57 per cent in 2022.
One starting point is simply talking frankly with loved ones or co-workers to lay out ground rules — guardrails, hard or soft, that aim to accommodate everyone’s financial situation.
“Have that family meeting,” said Blais Comeau, an etiquette consultant and author. And do it a few weeks ahead of time, in person or digitally.
“Make the decisions about what traditions will be honored, what may be altered, to ensure that everyone can participate inclusively.”
The guidelines can establish that all presents must be within a certain price range, or handmade, or from a thrift store.
“A family I know ‘pooled’ all their gifts and auctioned them off at the family gathering on Christmas Day,” said Louise Fox, who runs The Etiquette Ladies coaching company. Money from the bids went to charity.
A direct discussion can also head off worries beforehand and awkward scenarios on the day of.
“Gifting can cause anxiety, even conflict” — including between partners that harbour lopsided notions of giving — Blais Comeau said.
“There's a lot of dreams and expectations associated with gifting.”
Thrift giving is a growing trend, consumer experts say, especially for clothes and accessories. If a jacket or handbag looks tailor-made for your friend, grab it. “You know your people best,” Blais Comeau said.
On the thorny subject of regifting, the first rule is to make sure it’s something the receiver will like, rather than simply passed along for convenience. In general, the item should be effectively unused and in its original packaging. And of course, no wrong names or price tags.
You could even let the initial giver know their present found a new home. “You tell them you appreciated the gift but you already owned one, and instead of the hassle of returning it, you have given it to someone who really needed it — and loves it!” Fox said.
Of course, treasured possessions or heirlooms — “Grandma’s bracelet or the quilt Aunt Helen made” — need not come in their original, mothballed chest.
A final rule of thumb for subtle regifting is to keep your spheres separate.
“If it's something that you got at work and you're going to hand it off to your sister-in-law, that could be fine,” said Blais Comeau.
“If, for example, you got it from work and your child saw it, and then your child sees you regifting to Auntie Sue, your worlds have just collided.” So think it through.
Home crafts and cards can also offer more value than a pricey product from a chic boutique.
“If I'm giving something to my mom and dad for Christmas, I might work hard to create a collage of their pictures over the 40 years since they have been married. That's the effort,” said Vivek Astvansh, a marketing professor at McGill University.
If you’re struggling to find the words, there’s an app for that. Using AI chatbot ChatGPT to help write a card isn’t necessarily cheating.
“It's not new that people go online and type, ‘Birthday wishes for my brother,’” Blais Comeau said. But chatbots can inject a fun element if fed suggestions moulded for the recipient.
“If one of my friends is very much a fashionista, I'm going to say, ‘Write holiday wishes in the form of 'Sex and the City's' Carrie.’” And just like that, a thoughtful card is born.
One sensitive area is gag gifts. “If you feel you have to say, ‘It’s just a joke,’ that means … stay away,” said Blais Comeau. “You may belittle them, you may offend them." Cultural sensitivity is another consideration, she added.
To keep your wallet flush, Astvansh suggests bargain hunting — and remembering that Black Friday sales aren’t always a steal. Reading the fine print and avoiding buy now, pay later plans are also key.
For online purchases, including via Amazon, Walmart and Best Buy, return policies can vary by product. For example, items sold by a third party on Walmart.ca can't be returned in store if they're more than $250 or oversized or overweight, such as mattresses and large appliances.
“You need to contact the seller — which may be located in any random country — exchange emails with them and then return the product,” Astvansh said. “It becomes an extreme mess.”
As for buy now, pay later, he warned: “You should not spend more money than your payment capacity. That’s a huge alert.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 23, 2023.