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Everyday Cheapskate: It Really Is the Thought That Counts

Mary Hunt on

Are you worried that your gifts are never good enough? Certain that your friends and relatives will write you off as cheap and no longer worthy of their love and friendship? Before you rush out to replace gifts you've made or purchased with pricey alternatives, consider the findings of a respectable study that might just challenge your perspective on gift-giving.

As one who struggles with gift guilt, but at the same times loves to both give and receive handmade gifts, I almost stood up and cheered when I read a very impressive academic study. Me? No more guilt. That heavy cloud has been lifted as I write here with one hand and knit with the other. OK, just kidding, but that should tell you of my great love for crafting.

The fascinating research conducted at the Stanford Graduate School of Business suggests that, contrary to common belief, less might actually be more when it comes to spending on gifts. The study reveals that while many gift-givers assume that the more they spend, the more their gift will appreciate and love them, recipients don't necessarily value expensive gifts more. As shocking as that may be, it sure points to the timeless adage: money cannot buy love.

The researchers delved into the dynamics of gift-giving by surveying recently engaged couples. Interestingly, they found that men often believed their fiancees would appreciate more expensive engagement rings. However, the fiancees themselves did not rate their appreciation any higher for pricier rings. This revelation challenges the notion that the cost of a gift directly correlates with its perceived value.

I find the study's ramifications to be profound, suggesting that individuals need not feel inadequate if financial constraints limit the budget for a desired gift. It underscores the significance of the thought behind the gift, a sentiment that proves especially relevant in today's challenging economic climate, where many people find themselves financially strained.

In another section of the research, participants from a nationwide sample were asked to reflect on recent birthday gifts, either given or received. The gifts ranged from T-shirts and CDs to jewelry, wine, books and home decor items.

Gift-givers, consistent with the engagement ring study, anticipated that recipients would express greater levels of appreciation for more expensive gifts. However, the recipients' responses echoed the engagement ring findings: They did not feel increased appreciation for pricier presents. The study reinforces the idea that the perceived value of a gift is not tied to its cost.


Let me sum this up: Reliable research suggests that 1) you need not feel guilty for setting spending limits and 2) if you are so inclined, making your gifts should be embraced rather than shunned; such personalized gestures are a unique reflection of you.

The key takeaway is that recipients value the thought and effort put into a gift far more than its price tag. In the realm of gift-giving, it truly is the thought that counts.

So, the next time you find yourself fretting over the adequacy of your gift, remember that your recipients will cherish the tangible proof that you cared enough to think of them. Gift-giving is an expression of thoughtfulness, and it's this sentiment that nurtures enduring connections and appreciation.


Mary invites you to visit her at, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at, "Ask Mary." This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

Copyright 2023 Creators Syndicate Inc.




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