Adventures in Old Age

A candid look at aging, old age, and eldercare.

Stamp Out Regifting—Give Cash

When it comes to gifts, "Show me the money!"

You're about to open a gift, and you notice that the bow on the Macy's box is a bit off-center, and then you unwrap it, and the tape on the package is at an odd angle.

You may be the victim of regifting.

Or it's countdown to the office party, and you have nothing for Secret Santa, and there's that oyster opener you got back in ancient days when banks gave out gifts for new accounts, and you're kosher.

You may be the perpetrator of regifting.

Johnny Carson, the patron saint of regifting, put this on the stone tablet: "The worst gift is fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other."

As an amateur economist I say this is a sin in our consumerist economy.

Regifting=No spending=No growth

My hands are clean. I've never regifted unless you count a last minute invitation to dinner and I have that wine someone brought me in ancient times that I'd never drink myself before it aged into vinegar.

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Those who study this kind of thing estimate that two-thirds of us regift, and almost as many have no guilt about it. I think it's on the same moral plane as hand-me-downs.

I'll admit it's not in the same circle of hell as freestyling, the honorific name for buying a dress, wearing it to a party, and returning it for a refund.

Regifting is for amateurs. Freestyling is commercial fraud.

Not that it bothered the women in a survey reported on in the UK's Daily Mail.

One in three admitted to wearing a dress with the tags still on before returning it.

"This Vera Wang just didn't fit and, besides, it doesn't coordinate with this Jimmy Choo clutch, which I'm also returning."

One in ten admitted freestyling is their go-to shopping practice whenever they have a big event like a wedding or fancy dinner.

Only a fifth of the freestylers felt a pang of guilt. And an unscrupulous 28 percent said it gave them a buzz.

The sun has set on the British Empire.

Even though standards have lowered to the point where stealing from the big department store or international clothing conglomerate is rationalized as borrowing, I can understand that most people have a still easier time recycling gifts.

You're clearing out clutter, and maybe Aunt Zadie will really like that leopard skin Snuggy.

But I doubt it, unless you really believe that everyone else has worse taste than you.

Let's stop this in its tracks. Give cash and get a clear conscience.

Time was when cash was the tacky gift, but now it's the antidote to the endless fruitcake loop.

It's not the thought that counts in this cold, hard world. It's cold, hard cash.

If my uncle or nephew gives me cash, I'll buy whatever it is that I want (and here's hoping that I'm not the Hamlet of shopping).

Even if you take a cash gift and give it to someone else that's not regifting. It gives someone else the opportunity to buy whatever it is that they want.

The buck, it doesn't stop here—or there.

I prefer to give cash--and if you're thinking of me, send me some too—although if it's a long-distance gift I'll settle for an Amazon online coupon (full disclosure: I used to own the stock but not anymore) or an online coupon for wide-ranging ecommerce site where all tastes can be satisfied.

I prefer not to give those plastic gift cards. They're basically a scam in which the store relies on the fact that you will probably lose them, and we'll be happy to pocket the money (kind of like the thinking that goes into those fill-out-these-triplicate-forms-and-if-you-crossed-every-T, maybe we'll remember to send you a rebate six months from now). And how are you going to spend that $2.53 gift-card balance on anything unless you lay out some of your own legal tender?

I'd also avoid a gift card to a store with a narrow line of merchandise. That's just as hard as trying to pick out a tangible—even if not regifted—gift. I could easily make the mistake of a gift card for my teenage daughter to Old Navy, when everyone one knows, now she tells me, that's so yesterday, and Urban Outfitters is the way to go.

There is scientific warrant for my off-the-cuff suspicions about this whole shopping-gifting thing. Jeff Waldvogel, economist, and author of Scroogenomics, said in an interview on Public Radio's Marketplace: "The answer I've come to is that people value stuff that they've received as gifts 20 percent less per dollar spent than stuff they buy for themselves. So multiplying that 20 percent times that $65 billion gets to you about $12 or $13 billion a year in destroyed value, or missing satisfaction in the U.S. Worldwide the number is about twice that big."

Plus if you're in a hurry, cash is just the thing for last minute shopping.

So stamp out regifting and unwanted fruitcakes, and "Show me the money!"

Let's get this economy moving.

Or to borrow from the sign in the store on the corner, "In God we trust, all others pay cash."

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My book, Nasty, Brutish, and Long: Adventures in Old Age and the World of Eldercare (Avery/Penguin, 2009) provides a unique, insider's perspective on aging in America. It is an account of my work as a psychologist in nursing homes, the story of caregiving to my frail, elderly parents--all to th accompaniment of ruminations on my own mortality. Thomas Lynch, author of The Undertaking calls it "A book for policy makers, caregivers, the halt and lame, the upright and unemcumbered: anyone who ever intends to get old."

Ira Rosofsky, Ph.D., is a psychologist in Connecticut who works in eldercare facilities and the author of Nasty, Brutish, and Long: Adventures in Old Age and the World of Eldercare.

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