Gifts Analysis

Happiness, spending, pressure, and thoughts on the gifting culture

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You can read below, or have me walk you through it with this video

Cam’s Main Takeaways

  1. Our respondents think the culture of holiday spending is way out of hand.
  2. Our respondents feel the most pressure to give gifts to their immediate family and partners.
  3. Our respondents give gifts to people in need more than I expected. That’s great!

Table of Contents

  • How Analysis Posts Work
  • Health During Holidays Survey
  • Our sample’s demographics
  • Do gifts make people happy?
  • What types of gifts are preferred?
  • How much do people spend?
  • Comfort level with spending?
  • This year’s spending, compared to last year?
  • Who gets gifts?
  • Is there pressure to give gifts?
  • Is the spending culture too much?
  • Insightful Comments
  • Don’t buy it? Make it better.

How Analysis Posts Work

In our analysis, we take a deeper look at our survey results and highlight the patterns and insights we find under the surface using segmentation across meaningful demographics (like age, gender, and location).

By spreading the word, you can help us increase our awareness and participation and help us have a larger positive impact on our communities. And now, to the main event…

Health During Holidays Survey

With Thanksgiving behind us and other holidays approaching, many of us are thinking about the special people in our lives, and we might be considering giving them a gift. Simultaneously, there are ads everywhere, special offers galore, and it seems like everybody’s spending more money than normal. I wanted to know how people feel about all this.

Here are our questions and results, and below’s what I found most interesting.

Our sample’s demographics

(When you look at survey results, it’s always a good idea to look at the types of people that responded. Since we often track how each person answers, we’re able to pull in responses from previous surveys to help with this. If some subscribers didn’t take the survey where we collected a demographic, they’re denoted by a “?” in the charts.)

(Here’s my commentary on these charts)

We had a decent amount of responses this week (129), though that’s quite a bit less than some of our recent surveys (like Homelessness, ~380). I’m realizing that some people find these “lifestyle” surveys interesting, but they’re less intriguing than the public policy -relevant topics to most.

Anyways, for the respondents we have survey history for, our sample appears to be more women than men, younger than older, mostly without kids, and mostly from Ada county.

(One other thing to keep in mind — this is an opt-in survey, which means respondents decided whether or not they wanted to participate. I expect those that took the time to respond are more interested in this topic than others, so our results may not represent the views of an “average” Idahoan. But, this is still the best we’ve got to work with, so, onward!)


Do gifts make people happy?

To start the conversation off, I wanted to know how much happiness gifts bring people. Both from receiving them and from giving them. This is good context to gauge whether people might be excited by gift giving during the holidays or if they’re just bearing it.

(Here’s my commentary on this chart)

The default chart for our overall results is visualized as a weighted average. This shows us that people indicated feeling more happiness from giving gifts than from receiving them, by a pretty big margin. But the value of this overall view is somewhat limited. We can get a better idea of how people answered if we do some nifty calculations for reach respondent.

(Here’s my commentary on these charts)

Doing that, I was able to calculate how many people indicated that they feel more happiness about giving, or receiving, or if they feel the same about both. That angle shows us that most folks (~70%) report more happiness from giving. I especially like the honesty of two of our respondents that say they get more happiness from receiving gifts than giving (#honesty #respect).

So, now we know whether people feel happier giving or receiving, but I was also curious to know how much more their happiness was. After filtering out the “Same” group, since that’s irrelevant for this, you can see that about half of the people choosing Giving said it makes them “A little more” happy, and the other half indicated more than that. Kinda interesting.


What types of gifts are preferred?

Alright, let’s get into some specifics. Instead of talking about “gifts” in general, let’s talk about types of gifts that people prefer to both give and receive — whether those are physical things, experiences, quality time, etc.

Interesting differences here. Our respondents prefer to receive experiences (like travel), but they prefer to give something physical (like clothes), by a pretty big margin. I guess it’s just easier to gift things than experiences? The “Other” votes indicated things like donations to charities, cash, gift cards, and a combination of things.

That’s interesting, but I’m curious about the overlap between these two questions — I’m expecting to see most people want to give to others what they prefer to receive.

(Here’s my commentary on this chart)

From that angle, it looks to be true — the most popular answer within each preference group matches — but it’s not a big majority. Except for people that like to receive something physical — 80% of them like to give physical things as well. For every other preference, the majority usually likes to give something different than what they like to receive.

I’m guessing that’s because people think they’re unique and other people don’t like what they like as much?


How much do people spend?

Now let’s talk dollars. I wanted to know how much people typically spend on gifts during the holidays.

(Here’s my commentary on this chart)

I was surprised to see how many respondents said their household spends over $1,000 each year (~15%)! Wow.

That said, most respondents landed between $100 and $500 (~50%). If I had more demographic data about family sizes, I think it’d be interesting to see if that’s a big factor on the amount of money spent. Guessing so.

Next, I was curious to know if people spend more on gifts because they get more happiness out of the experience. We have that question from above, so let’s do some segmentation.

(Here’s my commentary on this chart)

It looks like that could be the case. (I’m saying “could” because our sample size is fairly small in each category so these findings might not hold if we heard from more people.)

Respondents that spend over $500 on gifts seemed to have a much higher percentage of people saying they get “A great deal” of happiness from either giving or receiving gifts, compared to respondents that said they spend less.

Next, I wanted to see if there are any patterns with the types of gifts people prefer, if they spend more or less.

(Here’s my commentary on this chart)

Differences didn’t seem very clear though. For the most part, “Something physical” was the top giving preference of each spending group. However, I did think it was interesting that both groups spending more than $500 had pretty high proportions of giving “an experience,” compared to the lower-spending groups. I imagine giving experiences is more expensive, in general.


Comfort level with spending?

Now that we know how much people spend, I wanted to know if that degree of spending feels comfortable, or if people are maybe stretching their budgets a bit more than they feel they should.

(Here’s my commentary on this chart)

Overall, the most common answer was “somewhat comfortable.” I feel like I can paraphrase that as “this is a bit more than I’d like to spend, but it’s not a big deal.” Of the people that didn’t answer that way, the more-comfortable respondents (40%) were almost 3 times as big as the less-comfortable respondents (15%).

But let’s see how this breaks down within spending levels.

(Here’s my commentary on this chart)

There doesn’t seem to be a big difference in comfort based on how much you spend. With that in mind, I’m guessing that either the people that spend more have more income, or it’s just a bigger priority for them, and they budget accordingly.

What about by happiness though? Do people feel more comfortable about their spending if they get more happiness from gifts?

(Here’s my commentary on this chart)

Maybe yes. The people that said they get “A great deal” of happiness from receiving or giving gifts seem to have a higher proportion of people saying they feel very or extremely comfortable with their level of spending. Perhaps it’s easier to justify the spending when it feels meaningful or gives you joy.


This year’s spending, compared to last year?

And now let’s look into whether people are expecting to spend more, less, or the same amount this year, compared to last year. There have been some kinda scary headlines in the news about the economy lately, so I’m wondering if people are tapering-off spending or not.

(Here’s my commentary on this chart)

Overall, the most common response was “About the same” amount of spending. And the people indicating less spending (30%) was a bit bigger than the people indicating more (15%).

Let’s look at this by spending amount.

(Here’s my commentary on this chart)

From this angle, it doesn’t look like people that spend more are planning to cut back any more than people that spend less. Seems like a pretty uniform response across everybody.


Who gets gifts?

And now let’s get into the types of people that get, or don’t get, gifts. I broke this into two questions so that I can understand who has different types of relationships in their life, so I can understand who doesn’t give gifts because they don’t want to, versus they don’t give gifts because they don’t have anyone to give them to.

From the overall view, it looks like people give gifts most often to their partner and their immediate family. Below that, people in need and best friends are the most likely relationships to receive gifts, but they’re less often. Let’s look at these answers in a different way.

(Here’s my commentary on this chart)

After filtering out answers where it’s not applicable (for example, you don’t have a partner to give gifts to), we can see the proportions of respondents that give gifts (big or small) to each relationship type. About 90% of respondents give some sort of gift to their partner and immediate family, and half of those are giving “big gifts.”

But I would expect this to be affected by how much you spend on holiday gifts. Let’s look at that angle.

(Here’s my commentary on this chart)

Definitely looks that way. The <$100 group doesn’t give big gifts very often, and the >$1,000 group mostly gives big gifts to their partner and immediate family.

I thought it was interesting to see how many people are giving gifts to “people in need” across all spending groups. And gifts for “extended family” doesn’t increase much. Also interesting is the “Coworkers” group — no one in the low-spending group is giving them gifts, but a lot in the other groups seem to be.


Is there pressure to give gifts?

Now to the stressful part of gift giving. I wanted to know how much pressure people feel to give gifts to these different relationship types.

(Here’s my commentary on this chart)

The overall picture is showing the people feel the most pressure to give gifts to their immediate family (by a big margin), then to their partner next, and thirdly, to people in need.

Let’s go back to the view we were looking at before, that shows proportions for each relationship type.

(Here’s my commentary on this chart)

Looks like some people feel pressure about every relationship type, though neighbors are the least. Pretty interesting that about 70% report feeling at least some pressure with their immediate family.

And now I’m curious to see if there’s any difference with this across spending levels.

(Here’s my commentary on this chart)

There’s a few things that stand out to me from this view. If you spend <$100, it looks like you don’t feel pressure to give gifts to most types of relationships besides the closest ones. And then, if you spend more than that, the proportions of answers about pressure are about the same.

Maybe there are two psychological groups here. The people that see themselves as “few gift givers” and the people that see themselves as not “few gift givers.” Or maybe not. Speculating here.


Is the spending culture too much?

We’ve covered a lot of ground. Let’s close out this discussion with a bigger picture question — essentially, is all this holiday spending out of control?

(Here’s my commentary on this chart)

Overall, it looks like people are really in agreement here — Yes, the holiday spending culture is too much. Only 5% indicated that they don’t think it’s too much. That’s pretty wild.

Let’s see if the amount of spending seems to have anything to do with this.

(Here’s my commentary on this chart)

It kind of seems that way. The proportion of people answering “Yes, absolutely” seems to decrease a bit, the more you spend. Maybe an interpretation on this is that people still feel like it’s too much, but if they have the means to “comply” with the culture without too much hardship, it’s not too bothersome. Whereas, if you can’t really comply easily, it’s more concerning.

But I’m wondering if the amount of happiness you feel from gifts changes the way you answer this.

(Here’s my commentary on this chart)

Seems like this could be true as well. Less of the people that said they get “a lot” or “a great deal” of happiness from gifts answered “Yes, absolutely,” the culture is too much. That said, it’s still the most popular answer in those groups, but it’s just a little more moderated.

Looks like most people could stand to pull back on the spending. You can do it!


That’s all for quantitative analysis. Now, we’re going to shift gears to qualitative, and see what insightful comments came through.


Insightful Comments

Lots of interesting comments, as usual. I’ve highlighted several that I think are particularly thought-provoking or representative, and I’ve bolded key phrases to help you skim.

What gets too much attention?

Children, literally they want you to buy enough gifts to bury kids in and its horrific.
Things like jewelry and tvs and furniture and items that really don’t mean anything. I think giving gifts is, yes, about getting someone something they wouldn’t get for themselves but might need or want, but so much attention is on the deals and steals of the day and not the thought of the gift.
When something is chosen or made thoughtfully and personally for a specific person. Sometimes makes them feel like the gift is too much.
Black Friday. I really don’t like Black Friday or the fact that it’s increasingly overshadowing Thanksgiving.
Sometimes people don’t want anything, but there is a lot of pressure to give the important people in your life wrapped objects, regardless.
Superfluous presents. It seems we all have to guess at what someone wants (understandably, thoughtfulness is part of this as a good thing), while actual things people need are underfunded or go without. I guess that gets pretty wasteful when it is an entire society. Everyone has bought the obligatory gift. It’s an economic driver, but for unnecessary, superfluous gifts no one needs while actual needs go under or unfunded.
Dollars spent. We’ve all heard that what really matters is the care you put into selecting a gift, and that seems to be entirely true. For better or for worse, one way we show each other love through gifts and because of that, we have the potential to hurt each other’s feelings when a gift seems careless, inconsistent, or given out of obligation. If you are giving an expensive gift because you want someone’s gratitude/for them to react a certain way/make a big deal out of it…just don’t.
I think the culture of buying shit to show your appreciation for someone is consuming the culture of the holidays. Giving a lot of cheap shit from China rather than either one large, meaningful thing — or even better, a meaningful experience — is largely forgotten in many American households. We pay too much attention to quantity at the expense of quality.
The quantity of gifts. I remember when my niece was younger, seeing her just be overwhelmed with the amount of gifts for her under the tree. She would not even know who gave her what gift.
The idea that successful and fulfilling relationships require gift giving. They don’t, and every relationship is different.
The timing. I love giving gifts, but throughout the year when it’s not expected. The expectation takes away from the sincerity of gift giving, in my opinion.
Not everybody needs a physical gift. Sometimes a card with a personal note is enough. I’m one of these people (I would rather give a gift than receive one that doesn’t speak to me). I’ve been sick of swimming in un-personal bath set baskets for years. I don’t like them, I don’t use them, they take up space in my house, but I continue to get them from people in my life who don’t really know me that well but feel like they *must* get me a gift. I would really rather not get anything at all! I try to apply that same perspective to my gift giving. If I don’t know someone well enough to truly tailor a gift, I’ll write a card instead and maybe include a gift card.
The rules are in flux with different groups. I feel most comfortable when the rules are set (let’s do a gift exchange, $10 cap!). It’s harder when the exchange rules aren’t as clear. I’m always worried about under-giving.
Holiday/Occasion giving. I hate the idea of saving up ideas or waiting to give/get something wanted/needed until an appropriate calendar day arrives. I prefer to just give someone something or do something for them in the moment, all year long.

What doesn’t get enough attention?

The extreme waste and perpetuation of a disposable, throwaway culture that most gift-giving occasions produce. Developing nations produce a majority of the products, decorations, and other accessories that accompany the holidays and do so at the expense of their health, their environment, and their local economy. If an item is cheap, it’s because you’re not paying the full price of producing that product. And most of the time, these same nations are then having to process the waste and garbage that comes out the other side of a morning of frantic gift opening.
People love to harp on commercialization and how it’s ruining Christmas. Gift giving can be an unpleasant obligation that draws on the worst aspects of consumerism, but it can also be a thoughtful way of expressing appreciation for the people you care about. The holidays are a time for family, love, and charity, and for people like myself, gift-giving naturally falls into all that. I do not give gifts because I feel like I “should” — I give gifts because I’m so darn excited about a relationship/ friendship etc. that I want to physically express it. I revel in finding the perfect gift for someone I care about. Each gift I give is carefully tailored to the receiver and is always something I think the person will genuinely like. I don’t enjoy gift giving because I’m a material person — I enjoy it because it’s a way I can express my love. I do not always spend a lot on gifts — some are quite inexpensive, because it is genuinely the thought that counts — but when I do spend a lot I don’t go into debt for it and I carefully rearrange my budget to make it work. Additionally, gift giving can be done in a lot of ways — sometimes it’s a thoughtful note, an experience, or an act of service — again, it depends on who is receiving it and what they will most like. Unfortunately, gift giving is often narrowly defined as giving a tangible thing, and spending anything on gifts can be seen as falling into the trap of capitalist commercialization. Gift giving for the right reasons and in the right fashion can be a beautiful thing — I wish it was viewed with more nuance and not seen as a chore or as detracting from the “true spirit of Christmas”.
Just spending time with friends and family is way more important that the size of the gift or the # of gifts. Take a trip together instead of doing gifts!
Thinking about what gift would really brighten someone’s day vs. just giving because we think we need to bring a gift. Obligatory gifting is the pits. Heartfelt gifting is where it’s at :)
How wonderful it is to give gifts. I love the whole process of getting gifts for the people I love. I sometimes feel pressure not to give gifts, but I love it and want them to have something special and to know they’re special to me.
Giving to those in need. I want to add a comment about an answer above, I spend a lot at Christmas because one of the gifts is 1,000 contribution to daughter’s college fund … It’s been a great way to talk about “going on” and the value of education
Things that can be of good use like clothes gift cards to grocery stores for people to get food they like and eat or gift card to get a oil change etc
That real needs go unmet through this season of giving. I find it interesting as someone who facilitates gift drives, that many would not consider a utility bill payment as a gift due to issues related to “handouts” or “welfare”, while superfluous gifts are granted in droves to satisfy a more personal selfishness to feel they are helping “poor people”. It sort of points to how the priorities in this country are out of whack.
I’m sure not everyone feels this way, but I get super stressed out trying to choose the “perfect” gift for people.
Set a budget. My family has a set amount that we spend on each other and it’s whatever works best for that particular person. That way it’s still fun, but not stressful. Buying presents is not a bad thing. Just keep everything in moderation.
The conflicted psychological politics of gifts. Are you a bad friend if you don’t participate in the common giving of small, meaningless gifts like chocolate bars or soap bombs — do they actually matter — and if they do, have you been a bad friend all these years for not giving them? How much money should you spend on your new boyfriend for Christmas — too little is bad, but so is too much — how do you find the middle ground? Are you spending too much money or too little money on your family — how do you make them feel pleasantly spoiled without feeling uncomfortable about the dollar amount and/or making yourself broke? Should you feel guilty for never giving your extended family gifts even though they sent you checks as a kid?
Anyone who actually cares about you would never want to see you put yourself in a financially precarious position to give them a gift. Americans can be awkward and rigid in not discussing money-matters but in most cases, if you have a conversation with someone about gift-giving they will be more than understanding if you want to do something non-traditional or a little alternative (volunteer together, do a gift-exchange with a group, set a dollar limit) that can be just as meaningful. The point being that the conversation is worth having. And if someone reacts badly, and demands a large or expensive gift, then you’ve learned something valuable about that person. If you are feeling overwhelmed, you have the power to reduce the pressure of gift-giving. Hopefully with an appropriate amount of grace. You may actually help others who want to say the same thing or make changes feel brave enough to join in your advocacy.
Donating to people/causes you care about. As I got older (into college) my parents started donating money to a cause that I cared about on my behalf as a holiday gift. As a poor college kid, I wasn’t super into it, but now I think that action is so important and one of the best ways to give gifts. I don’t see that culture getting enough attention in America today.
Something that does not cost any, or very little money. Cooking someone a dinner or watching their children so that they can shop or decorate or take a break. Baking Christmas cookies for a busy family. Inviting neighbors over to watch a Christmas classic with hot chocolate and popcorn.
How many people are in need, and especially this time of year. Don’t get me wrong — it does get SOME attention. But it’s so general, like “Help Feed the Hungry”. How about a commercial/ad/billboard that says “Here are 5 different levels of giving that you can choose from, and here is what those 5 different levels would buy”. Make it personal and specific, and show people how they are making long term change. If each of us cut our expenses down by 1/2, and gave the rest to ending homelessness — we could literally end homelessness in Idaho.
The wasted packaging. Use the same bags from year to year or wrap the packages in reusable fabrics or recycled newspaper. Wrapping paper really is a huge waste.

That’s all folks! If you want more analysis goodness, check out our other posts here.

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Source: Giphy

(This still image is for the cover photo. Gifs don’t work for that…)