The Gifted Few Gifters: America’s Gifting Habits and Expectations Explained

The Gifted Few Gifters

From Me to You

Gift-giving is an interesting combination of science and art. You have to consider hard facts like price, location, and timing, while also intuiting the wants of the person and the occasion. Often, this can come with a certain amount of anxiety, budget-stretching, or mistakes. To get to the bottom of how it’s done from a data-backed perspective, we spoke to 1,010 people in the U.S. about how they manage the gift-giving process. 

Americans revealed how much they’re spending on each person, who was the hardest to shop for, and which person left them with the most regrets. Various demographics also shared their favorite types of gifts to both give and receive, as well as their expectations for the next gift they might give. To improve your own gift-giving skills and learn about the state of modern gift-giving, keep reading. 

Key Takeaways

  • Moms were the easiest to buy for
  • Americans spent $106, on average, per gift given
  • Nearly 1 in 2 Americans had gone into debt because of gift-giving
  • On the receiving end, 62% expected the gift they receive to match theirs in thoughtfulness, and 36% expected it to match on a monetary level

The Easiest and Hardest Parts About Gift-Giving

Our study begins by asking respondents who they buy gifts for and how easy or difficult they felt it was to buy for that person. We also asked about standard financial rules and general etiquette for gift-giving and broke down the responses by generation. 

America's favorite gifting occasions

Moms were the most common recipients, with 74% of respondents saying they give gifts to their mother. This may explain why Mother’s Day generates an average $25 billion in the U.S. annually, while Father’s Day garners around $16 billion. 

While most people enjoyed gift-giving for birthdays, we may be seeing a decline in this trend among younger respondents. Gen Z’s least favorite time to give a gift was birthdays. This generation also had a harder time buying for their mother and father. Overall, respondents also preferred events like winter holidays or anniversaries for the gift-giving experience. 

Gift giving etiquette and financial rules

When it came to etiquette, respondents were surprisingly divided when it came to receiving a gift they didn’t like. While 42% agreed that someone should show feelings of appreciation no matter what, more than half felt the opposite – that instead, it’s better, to be honest. We most often heard that the value of the gift didn’t have to be matched, so long as it was thoughtful. 

Gifting Confidently

This piece of our study looks at how much time, money, and knowledge the average American is incorporating into their gift-buying efforts. We also asked how certain they felt after making their gift choices, and how often they experienced regret. 

Gift giving strategies

Buying a single gift took the average American two hours of research, which is perhaps more generous than the ultimate dollar amount of the purchase. Most people wanted to take the practical and useful route (58%) when gifting, but millennials were particularly fond of this type of gift. Forty-two percent went with gift cards, while another 37% preferred to gift experiences. 

Gift giving regret

78% of respondents had experienced regret after handing over a bad gift for their dad at some point. Moreover, perhaps unsurprisingly, Father’s Day was also one of the top holidays for gift-giving regrets. Regret with gift-buying didn’t appear entirely avoidable, no matter where you shopped.

While most Americans (72%) went with Amazon to buy their gifts, half had regrets. Walmart and Target were other common choices for gifts, but both of these also left about half of their consumers with regrets. The most regretful purchases, however, came from Wayfair and CVS. Thankfully, at most 11% of respondents chose to buy gifts there. 

Where America shops for gifts

Financial Decisions with Gifts

Of course, the question of how much to spend is bound to come up as you’re browsing for gifts. There’s the question of how much you have, what message you want to send, and what you anticipate the other person may spend. Maybe there’s even a requirement or limit. This piece of our study asks Americans exactly how much they spend on a gift, how much they spend on each person and occasion, and who has gone into debt for the sake of a gift. 

How much people spend on gifts

Americans reported spending an average of $106 (or 3.9 hours of work) to purchase one gift, across all recipients and occasions. This number went up when it was just for significant others, with respondents spending $116 for their romantic interests. Fathers were actually the second most expensive recipient category, which is unfortunate knowing this was also the most likely group to experience regrets with their purchases. Siblings and grandparents received the least expensive gifts, on average. 

Blowing the gift budget

Trying to find the absolute “perfect” gift caused most respondents to consider blowing their budget. Perfect may come with the price tag to force this consideration. Very few respondents considered blowing their budget when very pressed for time. If they ran out of time to make the thought show, perhaps they can make up for it in expenditure. We were surprised to find that half of all respondents had gone into debt to make a gift purchase at some point – a true testament to American generosity. 

On the Receiving End

There’s evidently an art to receiving gifts as well. The last piece of our study asks respondents what they expect from others and the types of gifts they like to receive. 

How people feel about gifts received

Thoughtfulness was about twice as important as money, but both were definitely common considerations among gift recipients. Regarding receiving gifts from those you have already given a gift to, 62% expected the gift they received to match the one they gave in terms of thoughtfulness. If you receive a gift, also know that 32% expect a gift in return as well. Also keep in mind that the more money a person spends on your gift, the more likely they are to expect a gift of their own. 

While respondents previously reported enjoying giving experiences as gifts, it may not be the best idea. Only 16% of respondents said they like to receive this type of gift. To save time and money, perhaps consider another option. Most respondents and especially millennials agreed they liked to receive practical things that they actually needed, while another 23% just wanted money or gift cards. 

Giving the Perfect Gift

Respondents revealed there may be no such thing as the perfect gift, but we can learn and improve each time we give or receive a gift. When respondents put pressure on themselves to find the perfect gift, they often ran into budget considerations and even experienced regrets, especially when it came to buying gifts for their dad. 

We also found most Americans displayed extreme generosity in their gift-giving endeavors. They spent an average of two hours of research plus an additional $106 for each gift they gave, while half even went into debt to make the purchase. Considering the time and effort that is likely behind your gift, we’d agree that it’s important to show appreciation for it, no matter what you ultimately receive. And if you make a mistake, there’s always another occasion around the corner to give it another go. 

Methodology and Limitations

We surveyed 1,010 people who are used to buying gifts for other people. Among them, 57% were men, 42% were women, and 1% identified as nonbinary. For generational breakdowns, the sample sizes were as follows:

  • Baby boomers: 171
  • Generation X: 356
  • Millennials: 357
  • Generation Z: 118
  • Others: 8

For short, open-ended questions, outliers were removed. To help ensure that all respondents took our survey seriously, they were required to identify and correctly answer an attention-check question.

These data rely on self-reporting by the respondents and are only exploratory. Issues with self-reported responses include, but aren’t limited to, exaggeration, selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and bias. All values are based on estimation.

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