Holiday Wish Lists: Practical or Tacky?

Holiday Wish Lists: Practical or Tacky?

Ah, the wish list.

It made a lovely debut when we were little, often addressed to a certain Mr. Claus. It had a good run for a few years, but retired itself in adulthood as the stuff of kids and dreams (with the exception of weddings and babies, when they take on the adult guise of "registry").

And now that we are adults, wish lists (outside of those socially acceptable registries) are at best silly and at worst mercenary, right? That's what many think.

Are We Becoming More Mercenary?

A recent New York Times story discussed the recent trend of the wish list—it's back, along with more mercenary attitudes towards gift-giving, like a desire for gift cards instead of actual gifts. (According to the story, for the last five years, gift cards have been the most requested gift, according to National Retail Foundation surveys.) A study released earlier this year showed that people who receive gifts they had requested actually derive more pleasure from them and appreciate them more.

On the etiquette front, though, wish lists have a negative taint. Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, takes a particularly strong stance against wish lists in the article, saying, this is not “what the ancient and noble practice of gift giving is supposed to be about, where you notice a person’s interests and think about what they might like and you try to please them.” Her argument: Making a list, or outright requesting a particular gift, doesn’t just rob your giver of the opportunity to be thoughtful or creative, it can make you appear greedy.

But you can't argue with wanting to make the recipient happy, and to give them what they want—after all, isn't that the whole point of gift giving?

Could Wish Lists Lead to Less Waste?

Wish lists are imminently practical. We’ve all been the recipient of a sweater that would look better on a dog, when we really wanted a coffee maker. And if you're in the giving position, wish lists could be a lifesaver if you don't know the person that well.

Which brings us to another point: gift giving is a lovely and meaningful practice, but in practicality it can also be hugely wasteful. Think of all the gifts exchanged every year that end up going to waste (unused, tossed, donated, regifted) because the recipient doesn't like or use them. All that money could have gone toward things that would be truly useful and appreciated.

At LearnVest, we're not fans of money being wasted, period. There just aren't enough resources in the world for money to be wasted on things that won't bring joy or be used. So, in the name of three major things that are important to LearnVest: (1) money well spent, (2) increased happiness all around, and (3) heeding taste and etiquette, we propose giving the wish list a little makeover this holiday.

Wish Lists: Only for the Greedy?
“Blatant greed,” Miss Manners decries, “is the No. 1 etiquette problem today.” She blames a lack of etiquette training and the widespread idea that being honest means expressing your every wish. That latter situation is what one wishlister’s aunt recently faced. Seeing that every item on her niece’s list was a gift card to a different store, she concluded that this "wish list" was less a request for a special present, and more of a demand for cash.

We all at some point or another get asked what we want for a holiday or birthday, and a thoughtful and tasteful wish list can fend off unwanted and wasteful gifts.  So what makes a tasteful wish list?  Follow a few rules of thumb:

1. Try an Oral List Instead of a Written One

It's nicer to convey our desires to people casually in a conversation when asked what we want. Your oral "list" might be only one item long ("I've had my eye on this bread stone"); or you can mention new hobbies or pursuits instead of actual items, which is naturally timely during the holidays ("I really want to get into pilates next year" or "I've been wanting to get back into my painting in the new year").

2. Use Technology to Soften the Tone

Amazon has a wish list feature that allows you to create a casual list on the fly of books, gadgets or other items from their site and around the internet. Many folks use Amazon's wish list function for themselves to bookmark items for later, so the list feels more casual and less blatantly aggressive than a registry or gift site. Another way is to direct people to your Pinterest board, an online bulletin board where you can publicly share the things you love.

3. Mix Up the List

Make sure you include gifts at a wide variety of price points—from stocking stuffers to bigger items—from at least a couple of different places. You should also include a mix of tangible gifts and requests for certificates to stores you love, to allow the gift giver more flexibility in what to get you.

4. The No-Gift or Charitable List

If you don't want gifts, consider a "no gifts, please" list. But sometimes people still want to get you something, so you can also highlight a donation to a favorite charity as your wish list item.

5. Message Only to Your Inner Circle

No matter how fabulous your list is, never send it to anyone outside your inner circle of friends and family members, or it can appear tacky and mercenary.  You can count on your inner circle to pass on what's on your list if your brother's girlfriend wants to know what to get you.

6. Give Your List Only If Asked

Finally, this is the most important rule of all: NEVER pass on a list unless someone requests it! Do not email blast it; do not paste it to your Facebook profile. Otherwise you're sending a mercenary (and ungraceful) message.

If You're Giving ...

If, as a gift giver, you're worried that buying off a wish list will make you seem lazy, squelch that thought. The same study we mentioned above showed that people who receive gifts off a wish list deem the giver more thoughtful, not less. The same study showed that the gift givers wrongly thought the recipients would appreciate their wish list items less.

So let go of that guilt: There's a reason that wish list is there—namely, so your recipient doesn't have to feign excitement.

Still not convinced buying from a gift list is the way to go? Read this for tips on how to stalk someone to get that perfect gift.

What Do You Think?

What's your take on wish lists? Are they practical or tacky?

For More on LearnVest

For ideas on what to give to those on your list, check out our holiday gift guides:
For the Creative Type, Do-Gooder, Adventure Seeker, Fashion-Loving Female, Fashion-Forward Guy
For the Sports Fanatic, Gourmet Guru, Tech Buff, Domestic Diva and Intellectual

Master holiday etiquette with these tips.
Get people what they really want (whether it's a gift, a kind word, an act of service or something else).
And get more ideas in our Guerrilla Guide to the Holidays.



Financial planning made simple.

Get your free financial assessment.

Related Tags

Get the latest in your inbox.

Subscription failed!

You're Now Subscribed!