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The problem with the "perfect" gift

This article is by staff writer April Dykman.

When it comes to gift-giving, I like to buy gifts that are exciting, maybe something that the recipient wouldn't necessarily buy themselves because it's not practical.

In fact, I so enjoy finding the perfect gift that I even have secret Amazon gift lists for my family members. When I come across something I think they'd like, I add it to their list for future gift-giving occasions. (Sound crazy? I got your crazy. I also have a "Gangsta Wrap" Pinterest board full of gift-wrapping ideas, so who's crazy now? Oh yeah, still me…)

Anyway, many years ago, buying the perfect gift often meant I'd spend more than I should. For instance, when my best friend had her first baby, I went a little overboard with the cute baby clothes, buying pretty much everything at retail price. Designer retail price. The parents reading this are laughing, because they know that those fancy baby clothes were only worn for a couple of months before baby outgrew them.

These days, I'm smarter about buying gifts on sale, with coupons, and picking things that will last. But I still go for the exciting gift, the one that the recipient would love to have but wouldn't buy for themselves.

And according to a recent study, that's the wrong approach to take. Not only am I spending more than I need to, but I'm giving a less desirable gift. Gasp!

Recipients don't want the exciting gift

The fancy, exciting gift is actually not the most desirable one according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research (PDF). And we're giving that fancy, less desirable gift because we're focusing too much on the recipient.

Wait -- what? Weren't we always taught to think about the recipient and what he or she would like?

"The problem is that you create distance by focusing on the recipient too much," says Ernest Baskin, one of the authors of Why Feasibility Matters More to Gift Receivers than to Givers: A Construal-Level Approach to Gift Giving. "Because you're thinking more abstractly, you'll tend to choose gifts that are more desirable and weigh practicality less."

Hmm…sounds a lot like those fancy baby clothes I gave my friend. So why do we over-focus in the first place?

"We think that by concentrating on the other person, we can give the best gift," says Baskin. "But the problem is that although you have good intentions, you're not thinking about long-term effects."

The study authors also say that we give fancy gifts to try to make our friends happier and because we think that the exciting gifts will make them like us more and show just how much we care.

The problem is that it's not the fancy gift that accomplishes those three things. So what kind of gift does make recipients happier, make them like us more, and show that we care?

It's the practical gift.

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