Christmas confessions: exposes the who, what and why behind America’s
wasted $9.5 billion in unwanted gifts

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 the ones we love (and the ones we tolerate). According to research, Americans in 2016 are expected to waste on average $71 in unwanted gifts, totaling $9.5 billion. That’s a number that could 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, then in-laws and partners coming in last place, with 8% of Americans saying that their partners give their least favorite gifts. Lovers are resting on their laurels: Nearly 1 in 5 Americans thinks their partners are hopeless at buying presents for them.

How much are we wasting?

If you’re one unhappy recipient, $71 went into your forced smiles and false gratitude, with an average of $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 gift-wrapped box of disappointment are clothing and accessories, followed by household items (13%), cosmetics and fragrances (12%), literature (6%), technology (5%), food and drink (4%) and music (3%).

Many of us are more willing to get gifts we know others don’t want than to show up empty-handed. More than 1 in 10 Americans (12%) admitted they have deliberately bought someone a present they knew they wouldn’t like. Hinting about what you want to the men in your life is not working: 21% of men admit to intentionally gifting non-treasures, while 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 reported that their favorite part of Christmas is when it’s over. And 1% of people said that getting drunk is their favorite part.

How to save money during this tough financial season

  • Organize a Secret Santa. Doing this at home and in your social groups allows you to come up with a few thoughtful gifts while spending less. Deciding on a maximum price for gifts lets you advocate for a reasonable amount without dipping into your savings account.
  • 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 card. Those gift cards that have burning a hole into your wallet since last year can be used to purchase items on those pesky wish lists. It’s like regifting, but it won’t come back to haunt you at a white elephant party.
  • Earn some 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 having to commit to more time than you have. In fact, is a champion of the side hustle. Take a look at our Earn More Money page to get started.

Get smart about gift giving


Just ask people what they want.

It may not seem 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.


Gift in cards.

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


Sell your unwanted wares.

Plenty of sites like eBay and Craigslist allow you to easily unload that spare tool set or ice cream maker, while clothing sites like Poshmark let you unload those grandma sweaters to hipsters who will truly appreciate them.