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    Gifting wisely and well is not always easy; if nothing else the "first do no harm" principle is something to keep in mind. There's a way to add an extra dimension to gift giving that can have effects reaching far beyond the immediate and the personal.

      Many people find this time of year a burden. With so many still out of work, looking at bad prospects, still trying to recover from disasters man made and natural, and all the other things that contribute to making this a vale of tears, the idea of holidays built around mass consumption can seem more than a little delusional. And yet, there is a basic satisfaction in finding a gift for someone that manages to say something like:

"Here. This shows I was thinking about you, care about you, and wish you well. I would like your life to be better, happier, more fulfilling - and while this gift may or may not be able to do that, the intent is there. You are not alone in the world; other people do place value on your presence here. As a token of that sentiment, please accept this with my best wishes."

      The act of giving can be its own reward - and with some thought that reward can be shared even farther. Some suggestions follow below the Orange Omnilepticon.

      What moved me to write up some ideas about giving gifts was the cover story on this week's Metroland, "the alternative newsweekly of New York's Capital Region." Like so many publications at this time of year, it's full of articles on gift ideas - but Spending for Keeps is what got my attention. That's the tag for Paying It Homeward by Stephen Leon. It's a potent antidote to the Black Friday - Cyber Monday mass-consumption frenzy which has become something of a Darwinian Economics test of fitness for the big retailers. Stock prices rise or fall for companies based on their sales figures.

     This year we're seeing push-back on behalf of the workers condemned to spend the holidays at work, increasing shareholder value for the big box corporations, but at what cost? Stephen Leon's article makes note of something making a real difference: shopping locally owned businesses.

Advocates for stronger, locally based economies have long urged consumers to consider that while big-box prices might seem cheaper, they hurt communities in the long run because they drain resources away. While estimates vary, experts use numbers in the 70-percent range to describe how much money spent on local businesses remains in the community, compared to around 40 percent for spending at chains. Among other things, that money drain helps support costs some consumers might find objectionable, such as the cost of shipping goods long distances, large-scale marketing campaigns, and high corporate salaries.

Stacy Mitchell has been studying local, sustainable economies for more than a decade, and her nonprofit organization, the Maine-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance, has been conducting surveys for several years in an attempt to collect real data measuring any shifts in consumer spending habits. According to the group’s survey of 1,768 independent, locally owned businesses across the country during an eight-day period in January 2011, a majority of business reported revenue growth in 2010, and more important, they reported stronger holiday sales than the industry average. And more than three-quarters of the respondents said that public awareness of the benefits of supporting locally owned businesses increased over the previous year.

emphasis added

   Among other things, there is an emerging realization that the low prices of the mass merchandizers come with some real costs - and people are increasingly choosing to spend more where the money will come back to their community. It supports local jobs, it supports a better quality of life, and it can make a difference. Again from the article in Metroland:

Jeff Milchen, co-founder of the Montana-based umbrella organization the American Independent Business Alliance, echoes Mitchell’s analysis and adds that the success of buy-local movements does not seem to be contingent on cultural and political factors like a community boasting a high percentage of liberal-leaning residents or “cultural creatives.”

“One of the most exciting things about the burgeoning localization movement,” Milchen says, “is that Independent Business Alliances and related organizations have thrived in communities of all sizes, economic circumstances, geographies and political leanings.”

As for the possibility that we are seeing a long-term shift in attitudes, Milchen says, “The evidence appears in many different realms, including: Tremendous growth in local food initiatives, farm-to-school programs and farmers markets; increasing growth of Independent Business Alliances/Local First groups, their long-term viability and impact; more communities passing laws geared toward leveling the playing field and passing pro-local policies, such as local purchasing/contracting preferences. Pro-local holiday initiatives like Shift Your Shopping and Small Business Saturday (AMIBA is a partner in both campaigns) took a huge bite out of the news space usually focused on chain stores/Black Friday, and early evidence suggests sales are indeed shifting.”

  Leon's article in Metroland has some anecdotal tales of local businesses going the extra mile for their customers, customers who in turn are willing to spend more for that local connection because they know it's making their community stronger. Indeed - supporting locally owned businesses over big chains may be an act of self-preservation at several levels.

    Typically, the big box store coming into a community waves the prospect of jobs at local government - in exchange for tax waivers, services, 'development' grants, etc. etc. In exchange for those jobs - usually part time minimum wage - consumers may get cheaper goods, but they also get higher taxes and lose locally owned businesses who can't compete against those subsidies. It's called the Walmart Effect. (Also a book.) And it can be deadly.

Some Additional Thoughts

        There's more than one way to go about this. At a basic level, you can start by trying to find items that are made in America. Some of the big corporations are starting to feel the pain of negative vibes over making China richer - and are taking a hard look at making things here again. (Although Andrew Leonard at Salon has some cautionary observations.) You can try ordering national brands through a local retailer so at least part of your money stays in the community. (And looking for the Union Label is more than a song.)

      Buying food locally through farmers markets, going directly to farm stores, shopping at supermarkets that buy locally - this is all good. Looking for local craftsmen and artisans for unique gifts is another way to build community. Eating at local restaurants instead of fast food chains - it turns eating into dining. The idea is to shop locally when they have what you want - and to find out if they can get it for you if they don't.

       Granted, it can be hard to gift wrap a sack of local potatoes, and locally grown grass-fed angus beef steaks won't do too well sitting under a tree till 12/25...  That's why gift certificates were invented. They work for things that don't fit in a box - like tickets for a local community theater group, local house-cleaning services, restaurants, etc. etc. They also have the advantage of letting the recipient pick the time and place of the gift they choose according to their tastes, and lets them try something novel they might not otherwise attempt.

    Think Intangibles. Gift giving doesn't always have to be about stuff. Maybe your recipients would like donations to a charitable organization they support. Are they getting on in years? Offer to take them shopping or to events and appointments if they're giving up driving. Offer to watch their pets and water their plants if they travel, or run errands for them. Think about personal things you can do for them.

    Think long term. Some gifts offer possibilities beyond the immediate. Take the traditional electric train set for example. With care, one can last for years and be expanded. High quality tools for hobbies, raw materials for favorite crafts, plants and seeds for gardeners - gifts that keep on giving in other words.

     Think sharing. Think about gifts that add the extra dimension of shared experiences, like taking a class with someone to learn new skills, explore new knowledge. Think about visiting someplace with someone who has always wanted to go there, but not alone.

     Think basics. A really good flashlight is bound to be appreciated. The new ones which can be powered by a hand crank that combine a flashlight with a radio and a USB port to charge phones could turn out to be a lifesaver. Ditto for a good first aid kit. A country with a decaying infrastructure in a time of climate change makes giving survival-oriented gifts something more than merely practical.

    Think about interaction. Games that involve multiple players. Community symphony memberships for a year of concerts. Dues for social organizations. Memberships in local museums and historic sites. Ways for people to make local connections.

    Think about sustainability. Buying used or refurbished (where appropriate) can save money, help someone else pass on goods they no longer need, saves energy, saves resources. Too much of what we buy is disposable - too much of what we have sits idle when there are those that would be happy to have it and put it to use.

    Think about receiving. If you are going to be exchanging gifts with others, make it easy for them by letting them know what you would want - or would definitely not want. Between Facebook, and wish lists, it's easier than it used to be. And - you can still be surprised by someone - but the odds will be better that it will be a pleasant surprise for both of you.

       Gifts should come from the heart - but there's no reason the head can't be involved too. May the gifts you give and the gifts you receive enrich your life and the lives of those around you this season and all the seasons to come.
     

Originally posted to xaxnar on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 08:10 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (22+ / 0-)

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 08:10:02 AM PST

  •  And Extra Tips here, please (12+ / 0-)

    Got ideas, suggestions, criticisms? Make them in comments. You never know who has a problem that you might have the answer for - or problems you have had which you can warn others about. Best gift ever? Worst? Comment away.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 08:12:59 AM PST

  •  Keeping it local and hand made (9+ / 0-)

    Local Saturday and Farmers Markets and church  bazaars .  
    Etsy and other internet  artist maker/sellers sites .   Shop hand made across the whole country and internationally.

  •  My 34-year lover and I were thrilled when (10+ / 0-)

    our two teenagers decided on their own that gifts under the tree were for little kids. After poring over a Heifer Project catalog, their plan was that our family should just do stocking-stuffers and pool the rest of our gift budget to give a family gift--a goat for an African family.

    Gifts for extended family and friends have usually been handmade (both girls knit or crochet and do a variety of other crafts as well; our son-in-law does gorgeous metalwork) or sometimes gift certificates from our denomination's Fair Trade stores. Our local shop carries some gorgeous stuff from the local First Nations reservation as well as international items.

    We expected that the following year there would be requests for a re-do....there weren't any. Both girls were still enthusiastic about the idea and eager to decide what animal to donate. Again, we were surprised and delighted. It worked really well for the remaining years we had together and now that our kids are on their own, I suspect the habit is entrenched.

    There is no worse enemy of God and Man than zeal armed with power and guided by a feeble intellect... --William James

    by oslyn7 on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 10:46:01 AM PST

  •  Avoid gift cards (4+ / 0-)

    Yeah, people say gift cards are a little more thoughtful than cash...

    I say BS.

    Cash with a note is going to be a better gift for someone 99 times out of 99.

    This is if you're down to getting someone a gift card or cash because you have no other good ideas, of course.

    •  there is one reason to use gift cards: (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      xaxnar

      if you absolutely positively have to send a gift to someone in the mail, it's much better to mail a gift certificate/card than cash. Much better.

      LBJ, Lady Bird, Anne Richards, Barbara Jordan, Sully Sullenberger, Ike, Drew Brees, Molly Ivins --Texas is no Bush league! -7.50,-5.59

      by BlackSheep1 on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 05:30:28 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  why? (0+ / 0-)

        Gift cards are basically the same as cash, except with restrictions. It's not like there is any recourse if a gift card is lost/stolen in the mail either. Most retailers will tell you right up front that "this gift card you're buying is just like cash". Lose it, have it stolen, you're out of luck.

        If you are mailing the gift, a check is better than either cash or a gift card.

        •  UNLIKE checks (0+ / 0-)

          which can be forged or cash which once stolen can go anywhere ... gift cards limit the thief to use at the venue in question.

          Which is how come I've got one for a grocery chain whose nearest store is in the same town as the nearest VAMC, about 90 miles away....

          LBJ, Lady Bird, Anne Richards, Barbara Jordan, Sully Sullenberger, Ike, Drew Brees, Molly Ivins --Texas is no Bush league! -7.50,-5.59

          by BlackSheep1 on Sat Dec 08, 2012 at 12:25:45 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Still (0+ / 0-)

            the same as cash. Lost in the mail, you're out of luck. Forcing the thief to buy something at your chosen store is not exactly helpful. It's not as if the thief is going to look at the card and say, "Oh no, Best Buy, I wanted iTunes. Oh well, i'll just put this back in the mail." Either way, you're still out the money. Even if the thief doesn't want to go to that specific stores, there are still online exchanges where they can essentially trade gift cards for cash.

            With a check in the mail, if it is stolen or lost, you at least have some options. Cancel, if it's taking a long time to arrive, or pursue a fraud investigation, if someone other than the recipient cashes it. Checks have a trail.

            •  sigh. My ex, who's not the sharpest spoon in (0+ / 0-)

              the drawer, recently put his great-aunt and sister-in-law through this.
              They Fedexed him cash. The Fedex driver left it at the wrong house.

              The "trail" was USELESS.

              LBJ, Lady Bird, Anne Richards, Barbara Jordan, Sully Sullenberger, Ike, Drew Brees, Molly Ivins --Texas is no Bush league! -7.50,-5.59

              by BlackSheep1 on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 10:15:16 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  Making it better again. (6+ / 0-)

    I dont have much here, certainly not to afford a present. Id feel bad if anyone got me one. I just wanted my PSP to work again.

    I would just sit here and hope more buttons dont stop working on my own. I have trouble talking in real life, and talking over the phone is far worse. (I repeat entire sentences or chunks of sentences when trying to talk.)

    So instead, my boyfriend decided he would put up with the hassle of getting Sony to fix it. I would not have done this on my own. And it means a lot to me, because it has all my fun games. The L button, the X button, and the right D-pad arrow had all failed. (Youd be astounded how many games i could still play, with some effort...)

    And now it works. and I can play my games when im feeling too unwell to do much else. it was very nice. Granted it was a bit early, but he wanted to get it done before the post-christmas customer service calls started up and it became even harder.

    The only Bug-type Pokemon that can learn the move Fly - Volcarona and Genesect - Are not Flying types.

    by kamrom on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 12:31:48 PM PST

  •  I will give a plug to my wife's Green Gift busines (8+ / 0-)

    Great organic and fair trade chocolate.  All natural (and we mean it, Kate grills the manufacturers on ingredients) Body Care and spa gift sets, and other eco-friendly and worker friendly goodies.

    Check us out (and use coupon code KOS for 15% discount

  •  Gifts for small children are the worst. (5+ / 0-)

    Five of my 7 grandchildren are under 10 years old. Yes, grandparents do give presents. Yes, we do add money monthly to college accounts for them all. Yes we do know that books are great presents, and fortunately, all like that. Yes they do all have MANY other people who give them MANY MANY other presents. It is difficult to give anything that would be memorable, something about which a kid would say, "I remember when Grandpa and Grandma R gave me this for Christmas!" Nope. There is nothing, nothing like that. Their homes overflow with too much stuff already, so much that little they already have will be remembered, either.

    I don't worry about gifts for adults. Sometimes they will be hits, sometimes misses. For the kids, though, it is always a matter of striking out. There is no way to win that game.

    •  I feel for you, Melanie (4+ / 0-)

      I have a teenaged niece and nephew, and twin babies to buy for.  I also like to send a little something to my cousin's school-aged boys just to honor my friendship with her.

      What the hell can I get them that (1) they don't already have, (2) they might truly value for the long-term, (3) they might find useful AND enjoyable now and (4) won't contribute to the general over-acquisition of STUFF?  

      I can't give them my time because I live far away from all of them.  Yikes!

      I don't want to be the aunt who always sends inappropriate politically-correct roll-your-eyes old-person stuff, but I just object to all this STUFF in general.  My cousin's house is small and looks borderline hoarder's already.  

      Adults might appreciate charity-based gifts, but kids usually don't.  What to do?  What to do?

      ‘‘For Barack, success isn’t about how much money you make, it’s about the differences you make in people’s lives.’’ ~ Michelle Obama, DNC, 4 Sep 2012

      by harchickgirl1 on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 03:07:22 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Melanie: there may be a very unusual way (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      xaxnar, ladybug53, Melanie in IA

      in a Christmas card, a note promising going somewhere special with grandparents.

      Not Disneyland. Somewhere special -- a museum, a planetarium, a wonderful park ... the sort of thing that you can take pictures of with them, and they will say, when they look through the albums years from now, "I remember when Grandpa and Grandma R gave me that trip for Christmas...."

      LBJ, Lady Bird, Anne Richards, Barbara Jordan, Sully Sullenberger, Ike, Drew Brees, Molly Ivins --Texas is no Bush league! -7.50,-5.59

      by BlackSheep1 on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 05:34:29 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Excellent ideas (4+ / 0-)

    A few other points--most of your small businesses dont ask for the incentives the big box stores do to open in a community, which suck tax revenue out of the state on both a front and back end.  If they ever get big enough to ask for incentives-well-good for them.  

    Also in shopping for gifts, think about uniqueness and creativity.  Supporting artisans in your area or in craft fairs or even ETSY gives you a bargain in terms of unique and irreplacable items that are more likely to be valued because they are unique.  Plus a lot of times one can get to know the artisans and commission or co-design things, which can be even more fun.  

    Democrats give you the Bill of Rights; Republicans sell you a bill of goods!

    by barbwires on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 12:58:13 PM PST

  •  Gift certificates to local bakeries & restaurants (6+ / 0-)

    have been my contribution to local economies for the past two years.  We travel extensively during the holidays and our gifts to aunts, uncles, and cousins always end up being gift certificates to locally-owned eateries in their towns.  To avoid having to give an amount large enough to cover a whole dinner/meal, we frequently opt for bakeries, chocolate shops, and ice cream parlors, where a $15 gift goes a long way.
    A little investigative googling helps to find the good ones.  All the eateries I have contacted over the years will do business over the phone with a credit card, and will mail you or the recipient the GC.

    A funny story:  this year I was buying one over the phone from a bakery I found online for my cousin 7 states away.  I began to spell his name, but the owner interrupted me saying "he'll love it!"  she already knew who he was!  holiday kismet!

    “No, Governor Romney, corporations are not people.” ~ my new Senator Elizabeth Warren

    by Domestic Elf on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 01:12:35 PM PST

  •  Another way to buy local is to buy from (9+ / 0-)

    someone here on DKos. Check out the Kos Katalogue.

    http://www.dailykos.com/...

    Winglion has some great quilted very affordable stuff here.
    http://www.dailykos.com/...

    Tracy B Ann - technically that is my signature.

    by ZenTrainer on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 01:20:44 PM PST

  •  Big box stores just seems cheaper (8+ / 0-)

    I compete against Home Depot and I can tell you that just because their price seems cheaper does not mean that it's actually cheaper. Granted I do not sell Christmas gifts, I sell counter tops, but every small contractor out there knows...the quote you get from a big box store is not the price you will end up paying.  Oh and the quality is also not comparable nor is the level of service.

    In general give big box stores as little money as possible.

  •  I second Zen Trainer's plug for Kos Katalogue (8+ / 0-)

    So I'll link it here again:

    http://www.dailykos.com/...

    Or, you could just go to my store, linked in my sig line, and get some of my affordable, colorful, creative, often upcycled, handmade stuff!

    And since I always ship via USPS - a purchase from me also supports our Postal Service! (I'm sure many if not most Kos Katalogue'rs have that feature :)

    Handmade holiday gifts from Jan4insight on Zibbet. Get 10%off everytime with coupon code KOSSACK.

    by jan4insight on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 02:00:53 PM PST

  •  Another plug for our talented Kossacks (5+ / 0-)

    Kos Katalogue has many diverse items for sale. Handcrafted items, literature, art, sporting goods, electronics and services.  

    It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision. ~ Helen Keller

    by Pam from Calif on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 03:18:04 PM PST

  •  I love giving gifts (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar, ladybug53, se portland

    I love giving gifts and typically buy gifts throughout the year. I am really looking forward to a couple of gifts for my brothers and the new games I got both my nephews.  

    I am mostly done shopping, but I got a card in the mail last week, for a t-shirt business that does beautiful, natural dye t-shirts.  I have boughts shirts from them in the past and the people I gave them to loved them.  I have no affiliation with the company, but I do like the thought of helping out
    Buffalo, NY when I can and they are a nice present for someone who is tricky to buy for.  

    http://store.planetlovedesigns.com/...

    "Poverty wants much; but avarice, all" Publilius Syrus

    by Hotspur18 on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 06:36:43 PM PST

    •  I love giving gifts for no reason- (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      xaxnar

      just happening upon something and buying it for someone who would love it.

      I hate giving gifts for occasions, birthday, Christmas, you name it.  It feels forced and contrived and more often than not, you have no idea if the person wants or needs it.  And more often than not, the person does not want or need it.  We all have too much stuff.

      That's part of the reason that the adults in our family no longer exchange gifts for birthdays or Christmas. We're all happier to do the donation thing- this year we're kind of sponsoring a mom and 3 kids who lost everything in Hurricane Sandy.  The personal connection makes it feel just like a "regular" Christmas, except that we know the gifts are needed and welcome.

  •  4th'd! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BlackSheep1, xaxnar, ladybug53

    We got silver Christmas tree pins made by Wings - they arrived yesterday and are absolutely beautiful.  

       

  •  Raspberry Pi (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar

    There is a charity organization based in England that is making a super cheap single board computer for just $25 or $35 if you want networking abilities.

    It is designed for educational purposes. It is the perfect platform to teach the Python programming langue. And with its GPIO (general purpose input output) plugs, it is a great way to teach electronics.  With adult supervision, all sorts of future projects are possible. Weather stations, robotics or simply an HTC are common projects. Check out this University of Cambridge tutorial on Raspberry Pi Temperature Sensor. I will remind you, it is KIDS that are building this one. But now that I think of it, it could work the other way, under a child's supervision, an adult might be able to learn how computers work. :)

    Anyway it is a worthy cause, and a gift that would keep giving for years.

    It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America. - Molly Ivins

    by se portland on Sat Dec 08, 2012 at 08:42:06 AM PST

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