New life for unwanted gifts

PERSONAL FINANCE

Your Money

December 19, 2006|By EILEEN AMBROSE

Let's settle this upfront: Regifting is OK. The Emily Post Institute says so.

That's good news, because two out of three of us have regifted already or are thinking about it, according to giant credit counselor Money Management International.

"Whether you like it or not, regifting has become common practice," says Kim McGrigg, a Money Management spokeswoman. "It's possible that it has always been common, but we are just now talking about it."

McGrigg, an admitted regifter, says people do this to save money or time, or because they think that the recipient will really enjoy the item.

Regifting is passing a present someone gave you onto someone else. Seinfeld gets credit for coining the term in a 1995 episode, but the online encyclopedia Wikipedia notes the concept appears in J.R.R. Tolkein's 1954 novel The Hobbit.

Actually, the practice may go back even further if you believe The Simpsons. In an episode last year, according to Wikipedia, one of the Three Wise Men confessed to giving the infant Christ a recycled gift, saying: "Nobody needs myrrh."

But regifting is a serious matter. Money Management is promoting the practice to help people from busting their budget during the holidays. It launched the Web site, www.regiftable.com, to encourage consumers to share their experiences.

Recycling presents can save green another way. It reduces the amount of unwanted tokens clogging up landfills.

"You are kind of passing on something that is not of use to you without wasting it," says Joyce Cavanah, with the Texas Cooperative Extension in College Station. Cavanah regifts perfumed candles and soaps because strong scents give her migraines.

Some regifters say they recycle presents for stocking stuffers or office exchanges. Indeed, most regifting is done among co-workers, McGrigg says.

Manners guru Peter Post, great-grandson of Emily, personally would like to see regifting stamped out. Still, he concedes, it goes on. The Post Institute offers specific guidelines on regifting, adding it should be done rarely.

A cardinal rule, experts agree: Remember who gave you the gift in the first place so you don't return it to them.

Laurie Dutra of Portsmouth, R.I., broke the rule, but lived to laugh about it.

As a teenager she received from her aunt a "hideous" applique sweater featuring a deer. Years later, when rummaging through her closet for an extra gift, she came across the sweater. And yes, she gave it to her aunt. She realized her mistake just as her aunt tore open the package.

"I could see her face as she was opening it. She was happy and then had a confused look."

Recovering quickly, Dutra says, she told her aunt, " `Do you love it? Years ago you bought me a sweater almost exactly like this one. When I saw it in the store, I thought this is too much of a coincidence.' She loved it."

Years later, Dutra fessed up. Her family - including her aunt - had a good laugh.

Here are other regifting rules:

Do give items that the recipient will want.

Don't regift just to avoid shopping.

Do give brand-new items. "If you have to dust something off, it's probably not a great regift," McGrigg says.

Don't give away handmade goods crafted especially for you.

Do check out the condition of the gift, especially if it's been stored away for years. McGrigg says one recipient reported opening a box to find a gift and the remains of a mouse. "It had been in someone's garage for some period of time," she says.

Don't regift food with a short shelf life. (Does fruit cake even have an expiration date?)

Don't give clothing that might not fit, which could cause a recipient to ask for the receipt to exchange the item at a store.

Don't lie. If you're found out, admit it.

Have you ever regifted or been the recipient of a recycled present? Share your stories by writing personal.finance@baltsun.com.

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