Christmas confessions: Half of American adults receive unwanted gifts

Christmas gift confessions 2017

Over half of American adults receive gifts they dislike, worth some $16 billion combined

If you’re part of the 7% of Americans who knowingly gift unlikeable presents, then listen up!

Christmas is just around the corner, and many of us plan to splurge on gifts for our loved ones. But what if we told you that according to our survey of 2,000 Americans, an estimated 130 million Americans (53.10%) typically receive at least one unwanted gift each holiday?

Of those who’ve received these undesired gifts, they received an average three such gifts.

Last year, Americans wasted an average $31 on each unwanted gift unwrapped for the holidays. For 2017, that average is expected to increase to $49.45. This means we could potentially waste $16 billion on unwanted gifts this year, compared with $9.5 billion last year.

Christmas confessions (2)

What do Americans do with their unwanted gifts?

We’re maybe able to excuse gift givers who thought they really did buy you the perfect present: 37.35% of those who disliked their gifts report they politely kept them, while only 2.56% had the audacity to give them back.

About one in four (22.89%) chose to pass along their present by regifting it to someone else. Still, another 31.48% determined to turn their lemons into lemonade by selling or exchanging their gifts.

Only 3.69% admitted they’re wasteful enough to throw those gifts away, while 2.03% reported other plans for their disliked gifts such as donating them or packing them away.

What types of gifts do people dislike receiving?

With more than half of us likely to receive an unwanted gift, perhaps knowing the forms these presents take can help avoid the awkwardness. Almost half (45.35%) of our gift receivers report their unwanted present as some form of clothing or accessories, while 18.19% said it was a household item.

Cosmetics and fragrances come in third at 13.61% of unwanted gifts received. Music appears to be the safest option, with only 2.75% of disliked gifts falling into this category. This is followed by technology at 5.15%, food or drinks at 5.99% and literature at 6.06%. Within the “other” category are decorations, gift cards and junk in general, accounting for 2.89% of all undesired presents.

Who gives the worst gifts?

Friends. If you’re thinking of gifting your friends with something this holiday season, perhaps you should give it a bit more thought. Our survey finds that nearly a quarter (23.53%) of our unwanted gift receivers say it’s friends who gave them the worst ones, followed by their parents at 16.42% and parents-in-law at 12.73%.

More than 1 in 10 people (11.06%) report their partner as the horrible-gifting culprit, followed by grandparents at 7.79%, their own children at 7.29% and their boss at 5.53%. Other categories include coworkers and such relatives as aunts, brother and sister-in-laws and siblings, with 15.66% calling them out as bad gifters.

But who do we want to avoid gifting the most?

Of those in the spirit of gifting, 13.80% say they’d most like to avoid buying gifts for their boss. This is followed by 6.65% for their mothers-in-law and 4.45% for their friends.

What do people look forward to during the holidays?

More than half (53.25%) of all respondents say they most look forward to spending time with their family during the holiday season, while 5.95% claim they’ve nothing to look forward to.

Food (12.10%) is the second thing people most look forward to during the holidays, followed by the festive atmosphere (11.80%), time off from work (9.60%) and gifts (3.25%).

Getting drunk appears to be the top holiday priority for 1.85% of people, while 2.20% say they have “other” things to look forward to — including overtime at work and donating to those in need.


Women appear to be the pickier of the sexes, with 54.90% saying they’ve received an unwanted gift, compared with 51.22% of men. The average expected value of these unwanted gifts is $50.56 each for women and $48.21 for men.

Women (26.07%) appear more likely to give their unwanted gifts to someone else, compared with 19.07% of men. When it comes to pointing out their partner’s flaws, 11.85% of women and 10.21% of men say their partners gave them the worst gifts.

Men (7.96%) are more likely to be guilty of buying gifts they know a recipient won’t like, compared with 6.08% of women.

When it comes to spending time with family over the holidays, a higher proportion of women (58.73%) than than men (47.55%) look forward to it. On the flip side, a higher proportion of men (2.65%) than women (1.08%) look forward to getting drunk during the holidays. They also anticipate taking time off work more than women: 13.06% of men compared with 6.27% of women.

Christmas confessions-gender


Sorry, millennials: It appears that you might be the most ungrateful of the generations — or, maybe, just the hardest to buy for. More than three in five millennials (61.91%) say they’ve received gifts they don’t want. They’re followed by Gen Xers at 55.80% and baby boomers at 44.61%.

The average number of unwanted gifts reported by baby boomers is two, compared to three for both Gen Xers and millennials. And the average estimated cost of these unwanted gifts are $43.29 for baby boomers, $47.88 for Gen Xers and $58.43 for millennials.

But Gen Xers and millennials might be the more practical generations, with millennials (14.08%) most likely to sell their unwanted gifts, compared with 7.18% for Gen Xers and 2.33% for boomers.

Gen Xers are also the generation most likely to exchange their unwanted gifts (26.02%), compared with 25.32% of baby boomers and 18.78% of millennials. Whereas at 42.12%, boomers are the generation most likely to graciously keep their gifts, compared with 34.37% for Gen Xers and 36.62% for millennials.

Perhaps millennials are due for some self-reflection when it comes to holiday gifting. More than two in five say they’ve received a gift they dislike, and yet they’re also the worst for knowingly gifting someone an unlikeable present (9.57%). Baby boomers appear to put the most thought into their gifts, with only 3.86% of them buying a gift that won’t be liked, followed by Gen Xers at 8.44%. It makes sense, as 66.31% of baby boomers also report isn’t anyone out there they’d avoid buying a gift for. In contrast, only 53.96% of Gen Xers and 38.90% of millennials said the same.

Baby boomers appear to be the grinchiest of the generations, with 8.52% reporting there’s nothing they like about the holidays, compared with 5.01% of Gen Xers and 3.46% of millennials who say the same.

Household income

Those with lower household incomes of up to $25,000 appear to most appreciate their gifts, with 42.98% saying they’ve received unwanted gifts. Compare this proportion with 68.85% of those in households whose incomes fall within $100,000 to $150,000. All the more interesting when these higher-income earners report an average spend of $52.94 per unwanted gift, compared with $32.99 spent on lower-income earners. Guess the saying is true: money really doesn’t buy you happiness!

What does this mean for 2017?

With over half of us looking forward to spending time with the family, more even than receiving gifts (only 3.25% of us), it’s clear where our priorities lie. Perhaps instead of mindlessly gifting things that over 1 in 2 of us don’t even appreciate, we should instead devote that time to our family and friends. If you’re set on gifting your loved ones, a wishlist is a great place to start. After all, honesty is the best policy!
We calculated these figures from a survey of 2,000 American adults commissioned by and conducted by global research provider Pureprofile in October 2017.

2016 Christmas confessions

Christmas is the favorite holiday of many Americans — the lights, the songs, the time spent with friends and family. But this joyous time of year can be overshadowed by the stress of choosing the perfect gift for our loved ones (and the ones we tolerate).

According to research, Americans in 2016 are expected to waste an average $71 in unwanted gifts, totaling $9.5 billion. That’s a number to make Santa never want to leave the North Pole again.

It turns out that despite our best efforts, the people around us may not enjoy those hard-earned treasures as much as we think they will. Of the Americans surveyed, 54% said they don’t like at least one gift they receive every year. It’s not just the candle set you gave — these people also report receiving 2.3 unwanted presents every year.

Think your in-laws are bad at gifting? They come in third in the questionable-taste Olympics. Friends are actually the worst gifters, followed by parents and then in-laws. Partners come in last place, with 8% of Americans saying their partners give their least favorite gifts. There’s more to show that lovers are resting on their laurels: Nearly 1 in 5 Americans think their partners are hopeless at buying presents for them.

How much are we wasting?

If you’re one unhappy recipient, $71 went into your total forced smiles and false gratitude, with some $31 spent on each gift. Even so, you’re likely to keep it anyway: 39% of people reported keeping unwanted gifts. The most likely culprits lying in that disappointing box are clothing and accessories, followed by household items (13%), cosmetics and fragrances (12%), literature (6%), technology (5%), food and drinks (4%) and music (3%).

Many of us are more willing to buy gifts we know others don’t want than show up empty-handed. More than 1 in 10 Americans (12%) admitted they have deliberately bought someone a present they knew that person wouldn’t like. Further, hinting about what you want to the men in your life is not working: 21% of men admit to intentionally gifting non-treasures, while only 8% of women cop to it.


What else do we enjoy celebrating aside from the presents we actually wanted?

Only 4% of Americans say that there is nothing to like about Christmas. Others say that they love everything about the holidays: decorating, Christmas lights and celebrating the birth of Jesus. Some report that their favorite part of Christmas is when it’s over. And 1% of people said that getting drunk is their favorite part. (Cheers!)

How to save money in this tough financial season

  • Organize a Secret Santa. These gift exchanges at home and in your social groups allow you to come up with a few thoughtful gifts while spending less. Deciding on a maximum gift price lets you advocate for a reasonable amount without dipping into your savings.
  • Make your own gifts. The popularity of crafting has spilled into the mainstream so strongly that some people are actually excited to receive something handmade. A plethora of blogs are dedicated to DIY crafts, such as Studio DIY that outlines how much time and money you should expect to pour into every endeavor. Check out these Christmas-specific gift ideas from Country Living.
  • Regift cards. Those gift cards that have been burning a hole into your wallet since last year can be used to purchase items on pesky wish lists. It’s like regifting, but it won’t come back to haunt you at a white elephant party.
  • Earn extra cash. Consider adding a short-term revenue stream to help with holiday costs. The ease of the Internet and mobile apps make it simple to pick up a few gigs without committing to more time than you have. In fact, is a champion of the side hustle.

Get smart about gift giving


Just ask people what they want.

It may not feel romantic to ask, but chances are that you’re more proud of the vacuum you bought your girlfriend than she is. Sites like Wishlistr let others tell you what they want. So you don’t have to guess. Then snag the requested gifts during Black Friday & Cyber Monday sales.


Gift in cards.

Gift cards allow your friends and family to use the money toward items they actually want. Not sure where they like to shop? Visa and American Express gift cards can be used anywhere.


Sell your unwanted wares.

Plenty of sites like eBay and Craigslist allow you to easily unload that spare toolset or ice cream maker, while you can unload those grandma sweaters to hipsters who’ll truly appreciate them using clothing sites like Poshmark.

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