If you’re like me, you’re still not finished with your Christmas shopping. It’s true that Kris and I are big believers in home-made gifts, and it’s also true that my family only exchanges inexpensive Christmas presents, but there are still a handful of gifts I like to shop for. And every year, I put this shopping off until the last minute.

Part of the problem is that I want to find the perfect thing for each person. Yes, I know that the perfect is the enemy of the good, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. I’m a maximizer. I want only the best for the people on my list.

According to John Tierney at the New York Times, however, maybe I’m putting too much thought into this. Citing research from Stanford University, Tierney says there are three rules for holiday shopping:

  1. You don’t have to spend any time looking for “thoughtful” gifts.
  2. You don’t have to spend much money, either.
  3. Actually, you may not have to spend any money.

Here’s a quote from the article:

“Our research shows that while gift-givers think they’re being more thoughtful by picking out expensive gifts, the recipients don’t appreciate the hefty price tag,” Dr. Flynn [from Stanford] said. His experiments have shown that the price of a gift matters more to the giver than to the recipient, and that people like a surprise gift less than cash or something they picked themselves through a gift registry like Amazon’s wish list.

According to the research, the time and money we put into finding the perfect gift does matter to us, the giver. But that’s because we’re ego-centric. In reality, the recipients have no idea how much time we spent shopping, and they don’t know whether we thought about buying them something cheaper — or more expensive.

If you want to have the best of both worlds, choose a gift from a wish list. Then you know you’re getting something the recipient actually wants and you’re able to satisfy your own need to spend time finding the perfect thing. (Plus you’re able to stick to your budget.) And if you want to go all the way? The research suggests it’s okay to re-gift things, thus saving time and money. (But I’ve never really found this possible. I mean, how often do you receive something that seems appropriate to pass on to somebody else?)

As for me? Well, I’m not going to be so methodical. I’m going to head out to a couple of Portland’s quaint little shopping districts (not the mall) to see if I can’t find the perfect gifts for those on my lists. And if I’m smart, I’ll do it today instead of Friday. Wish me luck!

[The New York Times: Aiming for the perfect gift? It's much closer than you think.]

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