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How to Buy the Perfect Gift For Anyone, According to Science

Alevin Chan

Alevin Chan

Last updated 28 November, 2016

Follow these science-backed tips to stop stressing out over the perfect gift for your family and friends in Singapore.

Gift-giving is a social ritual that’s fraught with pitfalls. We Singaporeans go out of our way to find a perfect gift that shows our appreciation and affection, only to receive a less-than-enthusiastic response, or worse, a screaming match just as the dinner guests are arriving. No wonder we all feel a little stressed out this time of the year.

But fret not. We surveyed top studies from psychologists and sociologists to help you find the perfect gift for your loved ones.


Functional for Men, Feelings for Women

It is both a blessing and a bane that the genders see things differently. And when it comes to gift giving, not understanding how each gender thinks can result in some awkward moments.

Researchers found that while women attach more meaning and sentimentality to their gifts, men are more pragmatic and tend to choose functional gifts.

This, guys, is the reason why your wife got angry at you for gifting her a vacuum cleaner last Christmas, even though she tells you every Sunday afternoon how much she hates sweeping.

Yes, there was nothing wrong with your choice of gift. But maybe this time, choose something that shows you value more than just her housekeeping skills.

Give a Little Bit of Yourself

We all think that the more effort we put into finding a gift, the more our recipient will appreciate it. But because we’re all so lousy at discerning what our loved ones actually want, there’s no way of guaranteeing satisfaction.

Sure, they may appreciate your effort spent in obtaining their gift, but don’t expect anything more than a lukewarm reception for your handmade Donald Trump soap bar. (Unless they’re into that sort of thing; we don't judge.)

Science has found an easier and more foolproof way to give gifts everyone will love: choose a gift that would best reflect your personality.

This conclusion was drawn from a study where participants were gifted a list of iTunes songs, chosen for them by their friend. When told their song list reflected the giver’s musical taste, the receivers liked their gift more.

This works best with hobby items. Let’s say you and your friend share a love of fountain pens, and you want to introduce him to your favourite brand. If you let him know that the pen you picked for him is also one that you like, he’ll likely appreciate your gift more.


Give Them What They Want

The verdict is in: It’s impossible to delight someone with an item they did not ask for, so we can all stop killing ourselves trying to find the ultimate thoughtful gift.

The Stanford Graduate School of Business found a divide in perception between gift givers and receivers that may explain why even long-married couples can quarrel about the “wrong gift”.

Basically, we think that giving someone a gift they did not ask for is more thoughtful. However, recipients were shown to value presents matching what they specifically asked for. They felt these gifts were more thoughtful and considerate.

So we can all stop worrying now. Far from being a lazy cop out, getting that special someone what they said they wanted is the best strategy for showing how much you care.

We can make things easy for the people buying us gifts too - we just have to be explicit in our request.

When In Doubt, Go for the Practical Choice

If you’re deciding between a desirable gift and one that is practical, go for the practical option.

A study published by Yale showed that gift givers tend to choose more desirable gifts, believing that was the best way to show they care and to make the receiver happy.  But the experiment found that receivers would rather get a more practical gift.

Let’s say you’re planning a gift for your colleague who loves macarons. You could get a voucher from that new macaron specialist in town that’s an hour away from her home. Or you could get her a voucher from the macaron shop at the street that she goes to at lunch.

Yale’s study says that she’ll appreciate the voucher from the nearby shop more.


Always Shop with the Right Credit Card

While you're at it, you might as well earn reward points for your Christmas shopping. If the stores at Bugis Junction, Junction 8, or Raffles City are in your itinerary, pay for your purchases using the American Express Capita Card.

american express capitacardANZ Optimum World Mastercard

This credit card gives up to 50,000 STAR$ (or a S$50 Capita voucher) if you spend S$888 during the first 6 months, plus 3X STAR$ when you spend at CapitaLand Malls. And if you are among the first 1,000 applicants over the Black Friday weekend, you get a S$100 Starbucks Card!

If you'd rather skip the Christmas rush and buy all your gifts online, we've found the best credit cards to use for online shopping.

Read This Next:

What the Price of Your Christmas Gift Says About Your Relationship

How Much Should Singaporeans Spend on Gifts in a Year?

Alevin ChanBy Alevin Chan

A Certified Financial Planner with a curiosity about what makes people tick, Alevin's mission is to help readers understand the psychology of money. He's also on an ongoing quest to optimize happiness and enjoyment in his life.


An ex-Financial Planner with a curiosity about what makes people tick, Alevin’s mission is to help readers understand the psychology of money. He’s also on an ongoing quest to optimise happiness and enjoyment in his life.


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