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Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays
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46 of 53 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 24, 2009
Finally, someone willing to stand up and point out the white elephant in the room... This is a refreshing book for its honesty and frankness. I have tried to have this conversation with my family for a few years, but to only find deaf ears on the subject.

In a perfect world, everyone would put a lot of thought and effort into their gift buying decisions. But that doesn't happen; not to belittle the efforts that people make, which are often very much in earnest, but the average person is likely so caught up in their own day-to-day life that they really aren't as in tune with the people they know as they think. Even family members rarely truly know what others like or want - ask any teenager on that one.

As someone who has spent his adult life trying to make very personal gift choices, I have come to learn two valuable things: One, even when I think I know someone well, I still don't live inside of that person's head and thus can never truly look at something from his or her perspective, and never fully know how much or little they appreciated it; and two, since about the age of twelve, I have rarely received gifts that I valued as much as the gift giver probably expected (and most often, I have found the gifts more unwanted than anything and a waste of the natural resources used to make them from my personal world view).

Whether the giver has been family or friend or lover, unless it was something I had already expressly showed a desire for, the gifts have most often missed the mark; and sometimes when asked for specific gift ideas, the buyer chooses a different brand or version (sometimes even a more expensive option) thinking it just as good, when in fact is not what I wanted, which leads to disappointment. I greatly dislike the whole gift idea list as it proves the point - if I have to give you a list (and vice-versa) I am better off just buying it for myself as would anyone I would be buying gifts for.

The best gift is the one that is least expected; one, because since it is not expected, disappointment is not likely; and two, because the gift given unexpectedly is often the one that has had the most thought put into.

Since our society is not likely to reverse course in the foreseeable future and remove the expectations of Christmas gift giving (and return to a celebration of the season as in olden days - we're talking hundreds of years here), I believe that the gift card is the absolute best solution and will be the only thing I list to my family (I only provide the list because ignoring the repeated requests for one is usually more effort than just providing one), and is likely the only gifts I will be giving this year - luckily, I know exactly where my family likes to shop AND they know exactly what they want or need.

There is one other option, and that is addressed well in a great companion book to this one: The Hundred Dollar Holiday by Bill McKibben: Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case For A More Joyful Christmas. In this nice little book, Bill McKibben calls for a less wasteful Christmas that is more focused on the joy of spending time with family and friends and where the gift giving is restricted to a family total of $100 and where handmade gifts are strongly preferred.

In the end, I have changed my entire approach to life and it is centered around Less Stuff, More Experience.

UPDATE: There has been a lot of action in the comments area for reviews for this book, and it has mostly focused on the central theme of the book: whether to give gifts or not. I just wanted to add a little to my review by saying that this book also spends some time analyzing Christmas spending as whole from the use of credit cards to finance Christmas gift buying (as compared to "out-dated" ideas such as Christmas Clubs and Layaway) to whether the thought that the United States is the most consumptive nation during Christmas is true (should I ruin it for you? You might me surprised by the answers to this question). This book is more than a one dimensional look at Christmas.

>>>>>>><<<<<<<

A Guide to my Book Rating System:

1 star = The wood pulp would have been better utilized as toilet paper.
2 stars = Don't bother, clean your bathroom instead.
3 stars = Wasn't a waste of time, but it was time wasted.
4 stars = Good book, but not life altering.
5 stars = This book changed my world in at least some small way.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 2009
I loved this book! It was a very interesting read. The things that mean the most to us in life, especially as we reach our ending years, are not the gifts we were showered with, but the people who have entered our lives and brought enrichment, from them being who they are. The thought of someone using their hard earned money to buy you a gift, sometimes out of their thought of obligation, is just off kilter to me. I say use your hard earned money and spend it on your own trinkets of happiness, and just give me your friendship, love, and kindness, so to make me a better person; no gift you give me will do that. Your thoughts of wanting to give to me is all the gift I need.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on December 1, 2009
This book is brilliant. Look around you during the holidays. Most of us are actively trying to get "stuff" out of our lives. Clear the drawers, attic, garage, basement. The issue is not needing more stuff. The issue is needing less stuff. And then people give us more stuff for gifts. Unless the gift giver has brilliant mind reading powers, the "more stuff" they get for us is unlikely to be anything we really want, let alone need. All these gift givers are spending money to buy more stuff in a world that is already overflowing with stuff. (See "The Story of Stuff" on YouTube if you have not seen it before.)

Joel Waldfogel applies economic theory to our intuition in showing that the media and corporate hype around gift giving is misplaced. His book explains on many levels that conventional gift giving creates a huge amount of wasted time and money, both in America and abroad.

Joel says that Store Gift Cards area good solution for people who can use them.

And Joel says that for others, Charity Gift Cards are a great idea. As the creator of TisBest Charity Gift Cards, I am thrilled to see a Wharton professor using economics to back the Charity Gift Card idea - an idea whose time has come.

Thank you Joel for a refreshing book in the midst of holiday consumption hype!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2010
I have one family that we have made a pact NOT to buy gifts for at Christmas, and one family I cannot get to stop buying gifts at Christmas. Every year, I have extreme anxiety over gift buying for the one family, and every year I'm sure I fall short at what I give. Why do people feel the need to buy gifts??? For the person who thinks Christmas is about gift giving and the author missed the point, I think you are missing the point. Christ wanted people to love each other, first and foremost, and Christmas is one time the entire year where I feel MORE love for my community than the rest of the year. And I'm not even Christian! It's not about money - it's about love, friendship, being together, and enjoying family. Thanks for writing this book.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 2009
Joel Waldfogel is really onto something with his book, Scroogenomics. The
chapter entitled, Have Yourself a Borrowed Little Christmas really caused
me to reflect on the days when layaway or Christmas Clubs for saving were
common. Those made so much sense, yet today people find themselves feeling
the pressure of holiday gift giving without the forethought to put money
aside ahead of time - hence the morning after regret and heaviness of
debt. When you go on to consider that the value of the gifts you gave is
substantially less, on average, than what you spent, the whole picture
looks rather grim. Where is the "holiday spirit" in that??

Fortunately, Scroogenomics offers a great gift solution: Charitable
giving. One of my family's traditions is to put together donations of
food and miscellaneous necessities for distribution at local food banks.
This is a family project that is festive and fun. I don't know anyone who
has accrued credit card debt for charitable giving - and giving represents
a feel-good opportunity to remember what the holidays are supposed to be
about: a celebration of giving and family. And that's something to feel
good about the morning after!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 2010
This book got a lot of press during the Christmas season of 2009. I thought the idea was cute - that gift giving is really not productive or efficient economic activity. It seems that current events are bearing this out with the news that Amazon is patenting a way to avoid getting all those tacky gifts you would just be returning anyway.

According to Scroogenomics, it seems that all the gift giving around the Christmas season is lots of wasted time and wasted effort and wasted money. It would be better to just give the recipient cash or, better yet, give it to charity.

I like the premise (I am so over the gift giving thing) but the writing is really pretty dry. No doubt the economist in your family will love this book. If you have the stamina, it's really not that long and it's small (thus, making it a great stocking stuffer). Go ahead and get it.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 11, 2011
The author's ideas and studies are good but he keeps telling them over and over again.
I like the charity and gift certificate ideas, I prefer that too.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 2009
I don't often see the words, "courageous" and "economist" in the same sentence, but I think it's appropriate with respect to Joel Waldfogel and his Scroogenomics book. Waldfogel's dry sense of humor softens some of the body blows he delivers when he discusses the foibles of holiday gift-giving. It's a highly researched, well-written book that reads quickly. Based on the reviews I see nearby, you'll either like a lot (I do)or you'll hate it. I don't see many in-betweeners here. The fact that so much of the review content is self-reflective may also indicate how Waldfogel's book hits home. He manages to write dispassionately about a topic that brings out the passions in many readers.

I was rather stunned to learn how long the pattern of massive holiday buying has been going on, and I was equally surprised to learn that it's a nearly global problem. I had no idea. I thought it was limited to my family.

I especially appreciate Waldfogel's suggestions for alternate gift-giving. The charity gift card suggestion is especially appealing to me. Thanks, professor, for taking on this task. You'll likely be vilified a bit. Courage.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2009
The diminutive size of this book (6"x4"x0.5") is your first hint, that this quiet, thoughtful, analysis of the economics of Christmas Giving, will be different from most economic texts. Written by a professor of the Wharton School, it is remarkably readable, despite the scholarly material upon it is based upon.

This is one of those books which is likely to become dog-eared -- from being passed around among friends and family. Anyone who remembers the basics of Econ 101 can read it, and the intriguing idea of the economic inefficency of gift giving is certainly topical this Christmas. This is a book to buy and pass-around in September and October, and to enjoy through animated discussions, over hot turkey sandwiches, during the Thanksgiving holiday week-end.

*Spoiler alert* -- The author's primary recommendation, in the last chapter, is that gifters consider giving "charity card" gift cards -- cards by which a giver creates value for a gift recipient by giving charitable gift on behalf of the recipient. (With the recipient having the option of cashing the gift-card in, to spend it on himself, based upon his hierarchy of needs.)

The premise is intriguing, but like a cliff-hanger in a good piece of fiction, when the book was over, I hungered for more ideas to address the problems posed. I found myself inventing other possible mechanisms, such as online market places to provide the fungability needed for efficiency, or charity fund-raiser ideas which redistribute wealth optimally between the charity and the gift recipient.

This is why I believe copies of this book are destined to be dog-eared -- because you will want to pass it around, in order to have someone to talk with your own creations.

The version I read was hard-back -- I recommend a paperback version, if you can find it -- the binding of the hard-back was simply too stiff, making it somewhat of an effort to hold the book open for the 4-5 hours needed to read it.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
People are conditioned to think that holiday spending is good for the economy. Even fiscal analysts read seasonal retail spending as an indicator of good or bad times. However, University of Pennsylvania professor Joel Waldfogel takes an economist's look at gift giving and pronounces it wasteful. Every time you receive a gift that's not what you want, the item loses value. For example, you wouldn't pay more than $10 for the ugly orange teapot Aunt Bea bought you for $50. What's the solution? Cash, of course, but giving cash is often seen as being in bad taste. How about gift cards? A little bit better, theorizes Waldfogel, but people don't always redeem gift cards, which generates waste as well. getAbstract recommends this grumpy professor's analysis of Christmas spending, which manages to be simultaneously fun and serious. Those with an interest in economics or a passion for looking at revered institutions from a fresh perspective will enjoy this little text. And, it makes a great stocking stuffer.
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