Sane Holiday Gift Giving

Sane Holiday Gift Giving


Singles advice guru Marnie Macauley has humorous and savvy solutions for Los Angeles singles faced with the perils of holiday gift shopping.

Sane Holiday Gift Giving

IKO / 123RF Photo

Just as we’ve finished our Thanksgiving leftover recycling that included “bean laced turkey guacamole” and considered a stint on a reality show called “My Big Fat Fanny,” it’s time to rev up again. While Christmas is supposed to be about peace and love, it’s also gift-giving whoopee time, starting on Black Friday with the help of 200 shopping network channels and an abundance of newspaper inserts designed to get us to waddle-run to the malls. True, there’s a diet needed in there somewhere, but sadly, where we end up losing is around the wallet while gaining aggravation. Can one celebrate in heavenly peace? Let’s look.


Dear Marnie: I’m a 37-year-old with a HUGE family and group of friends.  I’m working my way up the ladder at a publishing firm and make a decent living — until Christmas rolls around. Every year I wind up maxing out my credit cards to buy over 40 gifts! Any ideas on how I can survive the holidays financially?  – Humbug Hannah

MARNIE SAYS: Heaven help the naive shopper who hits the stores or online sites with nothing but cheer and a credit card. They’ll find her three hours later, wallet plucked like a turkey, the bewildered buyer of a $300 boa to give a cousin who’s a nun. Sweetie, the key to staying solvent is one word: “Prepare!”

Getting It!  Your Personal Gift Strategy:

* Budget! The fastest way to blow a budget is to not have one. If you shop on impulse add an “IM” (Impulse Margin), or price range for each gift, that when totaled, will keep you debt-free and on good terms with the electric company.

* Make a list and check it thrice. Have a plan for each giftee. That means listing what you’re spending on what, and for whom.

Principle #1: Notice what the giftee(s) like! Nothing is more appreciated than evidence that you cared enough not to buy everyone a toaster.

* Gifts Ideas that won’t bankrupt you:

— Memories.

1)  Do you have old photos? Family writings? Duplicate, copy and frame. On a tight budget? Dupe it at Kinko’s and buy a frame at an outlet house. I’ve bought magnificent ones for as little as seven dollars.

2) Variation A: Go through those photos in the cartons-you’re-meaning-to-go-through and create a small album for sis.

3) Variation B: Rhyme your feelings around a few photos of you and the giftee. A heartfelt tribute is worth a million kitschy trinkets.

4) Variation C: Dupe a family video the rest would adore having.

Any of the above is a treasure to be remembered, kept and handed down.

-– Use your talents. Whether you’re a writer, a painter, a needle pointer, a baker, create a gift for those who’ve oo-ahed your flair. I’d way prefer your special artisan bread than a “one-size-fits no one” blouse.

— Start traditions. Think ornaments or any small token that, given each year, can become heirlooms. How about a memento to mark the holiday? An opal pin you haven’t worn since the Reagan administration set on a chain would thrill your niece.

— An event. Offer a night of the Nicks, a revival of “The Sound of Music” or the Ice Capades. Variation: Choose something the giftee would adore, but might hesitate springing for, like a batch of instant lottery tickets for Uncle Seymour, the ticket scratcher.

Principle #2: Better to buy small but mighty than huge and tacky. Think little but elegant. Department stores have “gift galleries” filled with designer trinkets like pill boxes, frames, key rings, from ten to 20 dollars. Scour re-sale stores and the Internet for that remarkable odd little Rubik’s Cube that turns into a jet plane for your brother, the playful one.

* Group Gifting:

— Grab bag it, or pick names or family groups out of a hat so all become a “Secret Santa.” Set the amount to be spent and Boom! Done.

— Think nuclear families. If Costco can sell a jar of curry that could blanket Calcutta, you can shop family-style. Buy gift certificates or passes to restaurants, amusement parks, a sporting event for four and you’ve just reduced 20 people to five gifts.

* Presentation! “Wrap it beautifully!” advises Christine Bates, Nordstrom’s (Las Vegas) personal shopper. Packaging is to presents what location is to real estate.

* Shop early and inventively all year round. Right after the holidays is whoopee bargain time. With list in your computer (and memorized), should you come across that perfect puce scarf on sale in August that cousin Penelope would die for at Scarfs ‘R Us, buy it and put it away.

Well, that about “wraps” it up. Wait … Cousin Ida bought 40 fruitcakes! Ah well … if all were calm and bright, what would we possibly talk about next year?


Dear Marnie: OK, here’s the problem. I just graduated and got my first apartment that I fixed up myself. I did every little detail to make it perfect! I’m thrilled with it. Then yesterday, my mom was so excited that she showed me what she and my dad bought me for Christmas. It’s truly ugly! (Of course she LOVES it!) It’s a huge, I mean HUGE hallway chair that’s all wrong for my apartment. I love my mom, but she always thinks she’s right and doesn’t exactly take criticism. You should have heard her while I was decorating! More, she carried on about how much she paid for it, so I’m really stuck. I’d love to return it and get a credit.  Am I awful? What do I do? — Mena

MARNIE SAYS: Well, a Save the Head Lice rally has more holiday spirit, but that said, onto “business” — that odious chair. First, I’m hiding under mine. Yes, I know the season is about peace and love. But as you’ve probably passed the peace part, let’s get practical.

Getting It! Your Personal Strategy:

* Lose the chair. (Happy angel?) Here’s why. If you don’t, you’ll be forced to shlep it to and from wherever you can find to hide it every time you see your folks through your stained glass peephole. (Horrors!) Also, you sound a trifle … persnickety. Keep the chair and it will chaw through your colon.

* Do NOT sneak back to store and get a credit. It’s cruel, it’s tacky, and besides, she’ll notice.

* Think Motive: Hers. In your defense, if you were my daughter, I’d get you a gift certificate to Finicky Furnishings. I tell you this, not only because mama may be offended — but then, there’s also the chance she’s looking to be back in control, so your M.O. must be faultless

* Say, “Wow! Ma. You noticed I could use something in the hallway. How thoughtful and generous!” Once you reward her sensitivity, the matter of “taste” becomes a bit easier to whack. Tell her you loved her idea and her intention so much … but purple chintz won’t go with the red marble floor you have in mind. After you argue about the red floor, suggest that the two of you pick out The Most Perfect chair hallway … thing, together that you will cherish almost as much as you do her splendid gesture. To make the last sentence come true admirably, after shopping, the happy Thank You lunch is on you!

Copyright © Marnie Macauley / 2013 Singular Communications, LLC

Marnie MacauleyAdvice guru Marnie Winston-Macauley — therapist, author, speaker — has been a radio, TV, and syndicated advice columnist and counselor for over 20 years. Witty, wise and totally irreverent with a self-professed loathing for psychobabble, she’s written over 20 books and calendars, along with  hundreds of relationship columns and features for prominent publications.  She has her MS degree from the Columbia University School of Social Work.  In media, her work has garnered her Emmy and Writer’s Guild Best Writing nominations. She is widowed and now living single. For personal advice, you can also find Marnie Macauley on or on Presto Experts. She invites you to join her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. 
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