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Terry Prone : Rushing to splurge on a last minute gift? You're better off with a memory


Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen

The Christmas Law of Economics kicks in tomorrow and the next day.

That Law of Economics holds that those who have left it this late to buy presents for their nearest and dearest will pay twice as much and get half the payoff as those who devoted a bit of time to it, earlier.

Late-purchasers pay over the odds, comes into play because of guilt. And early buyers put more thought went into the process.

People who at this late stage haven’t bought a gift for their wife or husband, partner or very best friend can’t go bargain-hunting, that’s for sure.

It’s not like they could find the perfect package sitting in that supermarket fridge where they put a ‘Clearance’ sign over goods nudging against their sell-by date and marked down to bargain basement prices.


Not only can they not go bargain-hunting, late-purchasers are also limited in the number of shops they can favour with their custom.

Department stores are going to be almost as over-crowded tomorrow and the next day as they will be during the January sales. Things stay a bit more civilized in electronics stores, and a lot more civilized in jewellery stores.

So that’s where they will go, the late-purchasers, with a price-no-object mentality and the hope the shop does gift-wrapping (likely if it’s a jewellers, much less likely if it’s a computer shop).

One way or the other, they will pay a fortune for the removal of a headache.

And that’s all because, according to new research from New York’s Cornell University, material goods are in the ha’penny place compared to experiential purchases, when it comes to delivering remembered happiness.

“Experiential purchases” could be taking someone on a weekend to Paris, for example, or bringing them to dinner in a special restaurant where they’ve never been before.

Those are the gifts we remember, apparently, whereas the earrings or the pendant or the bracelet becomes almost invisible after a few months, as the recipient gets used to it.

Same story with the electronics gift. By the time the shine wears off the iPhone6 or the thinner, faster iPad, by the time friends stop commenting on the designer headphones or the Michael Kors handbag, they have become just something someone gave you that gets replaced the following season.

Whereas – like Humphrey Bogart said – when you’ve set up a romantic break for someone, they’ll always have Paris. Similarly, they will never forget their first trip to an icy, windy, bright Manhattan.


The study happened because money is tight at the moment, and the researchers wanted to find out what, as they put it, delivers “the most hedonic bang for the consumer’s buck”.

They wanted to find out what kind of present delivers lasting, if not life-long, happy memories, and they were in no doubt about the end result.

“Experiential purchases, such as vacations, concerts and meals out,” they report, “tend to bring consumers more enduring happiness than material purchases, such as clothing, jewellery, and electronic gadgets.”

The research shows that people almost forget material possessions after a while, but constantly remind themselves of the enduring joy provided by a present which amounted to a life-changing, or at least life-enhancing experience.

 They’re also less boring. A lot less. Someone recounting the thrill of watching Bruce Springsteen live is a lot more interesting than someone telling you about the number of gigabytes of memory their gadget holds.

So if you’re behind the ball in terms of your most important present, don’t think gems or gadgets.

Think, instead, of moments.