opinion . Living

The Art Of Gifting: Is Cash Better Than Gifts?

Which one is better?

Choosing the right gift for someone takes more than just picking an item off their wish list. It requires planning, curating, and of course, a lot of loving. So for this month's INSIDER series, we explore the complicated yet exciting art of gift-giving from the perspective of the giver and the recipient.

Let's be honest, during the holiday season, there are times we receive gifts we don't like. Whether it's a shirt that's not aligned with our style, or a perfume that doesn't suit our taste, some presents just end up not being useful. The result? Waste. And it's not just detrimental for the giver's wallet but also a burden to our environment. Unless it's re-gifted, when an unwanted item isn't used, it will ultimately end up in the trash — and to our landfills. Sad, right? 

To lessen this "dead weight loss", economists are proposing a new solution: give cash or gift cards instead. While it sounds practical, is it really a better alternative? Ahead, we investigate.

The case for giving cash

Gifting Tips

Although deemed cold and thoughtless, cash is sometimes the preferred gift from acquaintances. "I'm the kind of person who prefers practical gifts. If they don't know me very well, I would rather receive a cash card than a wrong gift," says Carrie* who had her fair share of receiving unsavvy gifts from colleagues that have no idea about her preferences. There are also cases when giving cash is surprisingly the more thoughtful route. Take it from Luis* who has received random items that he has found no use for. "The worst is when people just give something for the sake of giving something. I've lost count of times when I got picture frames. What am I supposed to do with them? I'd rather have something I could use."

On the other hand, Crystal* confessed that she was once a bad gift-giver. "The worst Christmas gift I've ever given was to my boss. It's a mug, and I loved the quirky bear design but he didn't like it and I even ended up just using it for myself. The subtle rejection feels horrible. In hindsight, I should have just given a gift card from a clothing store."

The verdict is in: It seems to be that for acquaintances, colleagues and other people you don't really know too well, the best thing to do is to give a gift cheque rather than a poorly picked gift that would just clutter their house.

The case for giving gifts in kind

Gifting Tips

While cash or gift cheques are great for acquaintances, it's not the ideal gift for every situation. Imagine if everyone would give cash to each other, then it would just offset each other's present — almost like there's been no exchange at all. "Although I would gladly take cash from aunties and uncles, to be honest, I would be pretty upset if someone close to me, like my boyfriend, will just give me cash. It's like a slap in the face," says Crystal.

Truly, some of the best gifts are the ones with a personal touch. "The best gift I've given is a '12 Days Of Christmas' package for my sister in Melbourne. I personally handpicked and packed everything. However, most of the items got barred at customs since Australia has strict policies so it could have been also the worst gift. However, my sister was so touched by the gesture (cue, tears of joy) so I still consider it as the best even though the item itself is pretty horrible," Carrie shares.

Gifting Tips

For a giver, shopping for someone you love can also be a great experience. "I am still pretty traditional when it comes to gifting. I love shopping and guessing what my friends would like. It is really the thought that counts, and I like putting in thoughts to what I am buying. It makes the gift more sincere and genuine," Mimi* says. She also offers a tip, "For cases when you have to give something to someone who you don't really know but it can't be cash (like to a client), I suggest tea-time snacks, chocolates or wine. It's quite hard to go wrong with these."

Yes, it's still the thought that counts

Whether you're giving cash or buying a present, what gift-giving boils down to is a practice of thoughtfulness. Consider what the recipient would really like and not just your own preferences. If you're not sure of what they want, be thoughtful enough to just give them the flexibility by gifting cash or a gift cheque. The thought behind each gift is a value that can't be accounted for but will forever be appreciated. This Christmas, consider making this your new motto: "Think before you gift." And when everything else fails, you can always just ask what they want.

*names have been changed to protect identities