Is An IOU An Acceptable Alternative To An Actual Gift?

With just four days left until Christmas, it may be time to admit you’re going to end up stiffing someone. You could just do what I do: just purr and let them give you gifts. If that’s not an option for you, there are other choices. According to a new poll from our calculating cousins at Consumer Reports, about half of the people who don’t finish their gift shopping in time give IOUs instead.

Giving an IOU is actually pretty generous, compared with some of the other things tardy consumers do. According to Consumer Reports:

Slackers who fail to finish their shopping in time have some explaining to do. According to the Consumer Reports poll, the most common way Americans try to smooth things over with those they’ve slighted are to promise a future gift or give an IOU (46%); shrug off the oversight as if it didn’t happen (36%), concoct an excuse (31%), or re-gift a present the offender received from someone else (15%). Eight percent took the easy way out; they just avoided the other person and 6 % of scramblers, admit to buying a last minute gift they knew the receiver will want to return.

We don’t buy any of this. And we don’t buy gifts either. If you’re getting down to the wire, just give cash — and throw in a Consumerist Anti-Gift Card while you’re at it.

Consumer Reports poll: 20 percent still haven’t started shopping [Consumer Reports]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Nisun says:

    “6% of scramblers, admit to buying a last minute gift they knew the receiver will want to return”

    Standing in the return line for hours… That’ is the worst gift of all!

    • Red Cat Linux says:

      Really. Why not do the gift card thing instead of the passive-aggressive gift so horrible the recipient will want to return it?

      I have an aunt that does that. Really makes me nuts. I’d rather no gift at all – a nice Christmas card would suffice compared to that.

  2. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    How hard is it to find a gift card for a place they like to shop? As the Holiday Cat “Sez” you can also do an Anti-Gift Card. Clearly, these people aren’t trying.

    • Nisun says:

      Your exactly right! If you don’t know where they shop, give them some cash… It would be hard to complain getting a Holiday card and some $$. You then could finally buy that cat shirt from the lolmart… WIN!

      • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

        There are people, myself included, that think giving cash is icky. It’s the act of finding a gift for the person, picking out what you know they’ll like, and giving it that has meaning for me, and for my family. If you give me money and I give you money, what’s the point? We may as well have kept our money.

        I have a friend whose family gives each other gift cards. He rakes in about $500 in cards every year, and he spends bout $500. Again, what’s the point? It’s slightly better than cash, because at least each of them took the time to figure out where to get the cards from, but it’s still too commercial and crass for my taste. It smacks of gifts given in obligation rather than love or friendship.

        • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

          Also, giving each other lists is tacky, in my opinion. The same friend as I spoke about above does get actual gifts from his mother. For these, he gives her a list and she buys them all. And she gives him a list, and he buys what she wants. Again, what’s the point? They could have each bought for themselves. If it’s just to have something to unwrap on the day, I don’t get it.

          • pecan 3.14159265 says:

            We make lists because our parents asked us. We balked when they first started asking, but they insisted on a list. The secret is that they only get a few things that are on the list, but they use it as a springboard, and surprise us with all sorts of things. They’re not around us for most of the year, so a list gives them with an accurate portrait of what we’re into right now.

            • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

              And that makes sense, since it’s more in the vein of “here’s some things I’d like”, and they pick some or something similar. There’s still some thought on their part. My friend, and he’s not the only person I know, just gives a list and his mom goes down it and buys it all. He does the same with her list. I think it may have started out like you said, but it sort of morphed into “buy me this”. And it’s just lost all the magic, if you ask me.

              • Toffeemama is looking for a few good Otters says:

                Oh no, you want to hear worse? My husband’s family not only does the list thing, and buys each other everything on the list, they started listing where to get each item, and how much it costs. They also go completely overboard, with each person ending up with dozens of presents.

                • JulesNoctambule says:

                  Woah — is your husband related to my husband?? His does the same thing, with items noted right down to the catalog number and alternate shade choices, and god forbid you don’t buy off that list! He and his parents don’t get in on it, but the rest of his family makes lists that put some kids’ Santa letters to shame.

          • katarzyna says:

            The point of the gift card, from my point of view, is that it “forces” the recipient to actually buy something for themselves. When people give me cash, I put it in the bank. (Which isn’t bad at all–after ten years of banking gifts, I bought myself a finished basement.)

            My mom, for example, loves Target gift cards. That way, she can buy herself little luxuries without feeling guilty. Yes, cash is more flexible, but some people won’t spend it the way they’d spend a gift card.

    • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

      It’s not hard…and it’s even easier to just get a MC/Visa/AmEx card if you’re not sure, and it’s good anywhere. (Yeah, it’s a little impersonal, but that’s what I’m using for tips, since I don’t necessarily know where my service professionals prefer to shop. Besides, they have holiday-themed ones that look nicer than cash. :) )

  3. humphrmi says:

    There are parts of our family (aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces etc) who don’t get together during the holidays. We distribute those presents when (A) they come into town, or (B) someone from our town goes to visit them. Which is usually once or twice a year, so we have time to buy gifts later.

    That’s my wife’s side of the family. My side, locally, are all Jehova’s Witnesses, so no holiday gifts.

  4. RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

    Holiday Cat ftw!

    I know myself, and if I give an IOU, I will never follow up. I somehow seem to have a talent for pulling out miracles at the last minute on Christmas. It’s a joke in my family that they all prepare for months, and I go out on Christmas Eve with no plan at all and get the perfect gifts in record time and on sale.

    I’d rather have a talent for making money, though.

    • Brie says:

      >I know myself, and if I give an IOU, I will never follow up.

      My father was like this (he still is, but now I’m an adult and don’t care anymore.) He’d cut out a picture of something he thought I wanted and put the picture in a box and gift-wrap the box. And since I was a kid, I’d forget about it by January. So yay, he’d save some money by not actually gifting. :/

  5. SG-Cleve says:

    When you’re getting desperate just give a gift card.

    Here Giant Eagle sells gift cards for tons of stores, and when you buy the gift card you get discounts on gasoline at the Giant Eagle gas station.

    Not much of a celebration if I give you cash… and you give me cash – especially if we give different amounts.

    Gift cards are not much better, but seem less crass. At least you bought something.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I don’t find giving cash crass. I find it practical because I can spend it in any way I choose. If you don’t know my personality very well (and even relatives whom I see every month don’t know me all too well considering our age gap), the best way of giving a good gift is to give a gift that person can use. Who can’t use cash?

      • RandomHookup says:

        Cash is fine in an unequal relationship (uncle to nephew; parents to child), but it really doesn’t make sense for peers (“Hey, neighbor, thanks for the cookies. I didn’t have time to shop for you…here’s $10”). Or even worse, giving to a “superior” (Mom, here’s $50…Merry Christmas!).

    • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

      I heard an ad on the radio for that, although it was Price Chopper, urging you to buy gift cards there and get gas discounts. They must get a heck of a cut on those gift cards from the way they were pushing them.

      They were advocating going to their store, buying gift cards for all the things you were going to buy for other people, and then getting the gas bonus. So if you’re buying Dad a TV, go to the supermarket, get a Best Buy gift card for the value of the TV, go buy the TV with the gift card, and get gas points.

      I can’t help but feel there’s something not right there. Maybe it’s the hefty hidden fees a lot of people are going to wind up paying. Or maybe the cards only come in even amounts (e.g. Dad’s TV is $287.98, but the nearest incremental card is $300.00. So you probably never spend the difference and the stores make out.) I just don’t like the way they’re pushing it.

      • SG-Cleve says:

        I bought Best Buy gift cards and then used them to buy a TV at Best Buy.

        On $700 worth of gift cards I’m going to save about $40 on gasoline, so it’s a no-brainer.

        When we’re going out to a restaurant we’ll often stop and get a restaurant gift card from Giant Eagle.

        Usually for each $50 in gift cards you get 10 cents off per gallon on your next fill up. I can put 28 gallons if I let the tank get really low. And last week when I bought the TV they were giving 20 cents per gallon discount per $50 in gift cards.

    • evnmorlo says:

      Gift card bad.

  6. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    It’s just better to own up to it and give cash than to give a gift that the person doesn’t want – it’s an insult to receive a gift you know the person picked up at the very last minute. I put in a lot of effort into my gift-giving and it’s really terrible when others don’t reciprocate and basically lie to your face, insisting that they spent more than a minute of effort on it.

    • JennQPublic says:

      Exactly. It truly is the thought that counts. A well-chosen present that means something is better than something twice as expensive that you grabbed because you ‘needed something’ for that person.

      Also, I’m getting you a toaster for Christmas. Everyone loves toast, right?

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        Hahaha. I was telling my parents the other day that they could get me a toaster for Christmas. They chose a sweater instead. I like the sweater…but I also like toast.

  7. George4478 says:

    My wife and I IOU each other all the time. This year, it’ll be double-IOUs. She’s getting a new gun for me and I couldn’t find the model I wanted. Likewise, I’m getting her a new treadmill and she hasn’t decided on the features she wants.

    So, the actual gift purchases will take place sometime in January.

    Outside of immediate family, I wouldn’t do an IOU unless I was trying to fulfill a specific request that I just couldn’t.

  8. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    depends on what it is. an IOU from one of my friends to help me reorganize and clean my closets at some future date would be fantastic. my sister often ASKS for IOUs for pet sitting for her future travels. or an IOU for a game or book that hasn’t come out yet that someone really wants would be acceptable for a lot of people i know

    • Julia789 says:

      I would LOVE babysitting IOUs so my husband and I can finally have dinner at a restaurant that doesn’t serve chicken fingers or pizza.

  9. RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

    When I was growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money. When my sister and I were old enough to understand (say pre-teen age), my mom would give us a choice: have a lean Christmas, or have Christmas 3 days late and have more presents.

    We’d usually pick the second option. Mom would hit the after-Christmas sales, make out like a bandit, and we’d be happy. We’d get stocking-stuffers on the day, and then we’d have a regular Christmas celebration a few days after, down to the dinner and the Carols.

    Even as adults, we’ve done this in leaner years. It seems we all get so wrapped up in “the day”, but it’s truly an artificial construct. It can be any day. Some of our best Christmases have been after-Christmas-Christmases. That being said, now that I’m a little better off, I want Christmas on Christmas!

    • cash_da_pibble says:

      We did this when I was younger too-
      my mother worked in Retail, so come Christmas day she was a zombie…
      all she could do was sit on the couch in her robe and drink coffee all Christmas day.
      Once we started noting Mommy was broken, we started shifting our Holiday celebrations…
      My last Christmas at home, we did it the first Saturday in January.

    • JennQPublic says:

      We make sure we do the stockings Christmas morning, but it’s happened a time or two that Santa was a little late with the rest of the presents. But he’s getting up there in years, so we can’t really blame him.

    • RandomHookup says:

      It actually makes more sense to do a 12th Day of Christmas than Xmas Day anyway. That’s the Epiphany, when JC got his gifts from the 3 kings. And the deals you can get in 11 days of after-Xmas shopping…Think of all the open box returns!

  10. imasqre says:

    “offenders” lol

    I’m going to my parents house for xmas and know I will receive gifts. They all know I have no job and can’t afford anything at all. It’s making me quite uncomfortable actually….
    But I will be cooking a lot of the Christmas dinner as my contribution?
    How horrible is that?? More effort than going to though, no? :-D

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I also like cooking Christmas dinner, and just did so myself. We have multiple Christmas celebrations because some friends go out of town early, we get relatives who fly in, etc. I’m sure your family will appreciate it!

      One note though: I did about 98% of my Christmas shopping on Amazon, and am all the happier for it since I didn’t have to stand in line or deal with traffic. I would have purchased the exact same things even if I had gone to a store, so I don’t think shopping at Amazon is a sign of “lack of effort” – it’s just expediting the process of Christmas shopping.

      • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

        Oh my god, yes. Internet shopping for the win. I did almost all of mine that way this year. Last year, I was laid up from a spinal cord injury, and I did it all that way. So much better.

        Although I did have to make my usual “last Saturday before Christmas” foray to the stores. It wouldn’t be Christmas without diving into the crowds and using my Shopping Zen to score the perfect last-minute deals I love.

    • qwickone says:

      I think you cooking is an excellent gift, but only if you’re a good cook :)

      If you don’t have money, the gift of effort is always appreciated. My broke brother detailed my car as a Christmas gift. That’s fine with me since a good detail is $150+.

    • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

      I think something like cooking Christmas dinner is the nicest present you can give. Time and effort are a huge thing, and giving yours so someone else has theirs free is lovely.

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      I tried to stay away because it’s been tight lately, but that wasn’t possible. I didn’t want to go empty handed so I went to the mall. Now everyone has a present but I have no money. Oh well; I didn’t have any to begin with. Next year I’m either going to put some back like a little private Christmas club, or start making presents in January! Embroidered tea towels! Everybody’s getting one!

      I think making the dinner is a great thing. If anyone has a problem with it, tell them to come see me. :)

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      even better would be doing all the dishes for them

    • Noadi says:

      What’s wrong with that? Money is tight for me too. I bought small presents for my immediate family and boyfriend, everyone else is getting homemade cookies (from scratch, they deserve the effort).

  11. Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

    I wish we could all give up the gifts for just one stinkin year.

    “And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow,
    stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so?
    It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags.

    And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore.

    Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.
    What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.
    What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

    Again, I ask: What would Jesus buy?

  12. qwickone says:

    For IOU’s, I actually wrap up a box with the IOU in it, so they have something to open. And I try to semi-pick something out. Last year, for my bro, the IOU said it was good for 1 pair of dress shoes for work (he’s just entering the job market) with a max value of $100. When he found a pair a few months later that he liked, he just called me to cash it in (he bought it, I paid him back). That method has always worked out for me.

    • JennQPublic says:

      I bought my mom a copy of The Colorado Kid for Christmas, but it won’t get here in time. So I’m going to print the cover art out, and tape it to a brick. That’ll keep her guessing as to what’s in the box.

      • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

        I’ve done that with presents that have gone MIA or are too big to wrap. It’s fun to choose a totally wrong-sized box and put a picture inside it. I’ve framed the picture before, too, so the recipient can hang their “present” on the wall and lovingly pine for it until it comes.

  13. RandomHookup says:

    When my friend and I get together, we just give each other $20. It works out easier that way.

    • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

      So why not just each keep the $20 and give each other a card?

      • RandomHookup says:

        And spend actual money?

      • Garbanzo says:

        If someone gives me $20 for a gift, I try to think of something that I might not have bought otherwise but would still enjoy, go get that, and tell the person what I got. If it’s a joint gift to both me and my husband, we try to find something we can enjoy together, such as a board game we can play when friends come over or a co-op video game.

        When I have $20 of my own money to spend I buy something boring like canned beans or electricity.

  14. suez says:

    Honestly, I’ve been around long enough to not expect anything at that point. If the giftgiver has procrastinated THIS long (it’s not like Christmas can sneak up on you!), odds are they won’t get it done afterward when there are no deadlines. At best, it’s usually a half-assed after-thought gift from the remainder table.

  15. richcreamerybutter says:

    There’s nothing wrong with giving a few presents in January. Receiving an unexpected surprise out of the blue in the middle of a horribly depressing month can make someone’s day.

    Personally I with more people would have their “holiday” parties in January as well. This is when we NEED more activities, as opposed to trying to juggle 1-2 hours for 3 events on the same night.

    • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

      Me too! It’s that whole “Christmas letdown” thing. Everything builds up to a huge frenzy right to the day, then after, nothing but months of bleak, wintry short days ahead. For those of us who have to go right back to work after, it’s even worse. I wish people would spread it out a little more, too.

      This year, I have friends coming from out of state the week after Christmas, so we’ll be having a second Christmas to look forward to.

      • RandomHookup says:

        Gee, sorta like the 12 Days of Christmas (which most people don’t realize ends 11 days *after* Xmas). Most people are in such a hurry to get their trees up after Thanksgiving that they rip them down the evening of the 25th.

    • selianth says:

      My company regularly does their holiday party in January. Saves the company a ton of money cause the venues don’t charge as much as they do in December. Everyone is done with the stress of the holidays and people end up having a better time than the typical 2nd-Saturday-in-December date. Works out well.

      • RandomHookup says:

        I have always advocated this approach. Everyone hates cramming so much stuff into the month of December. If it’s really a “holiday party” and not a “Christmas party”, then waiting until the new year isn’t a big deal (especially if you end your sales year in December).

    • haggis for the soul says:

      I usually tell my kids that when they’re determined to buy me a Christmas present, that they do it after the holidays when the price is likely to go down. I can wait, and they usually get a better deal.

  16. MrBeetle says:

    46% IOU
    36% Didn’t happen
    31% Excuse
    15% Regift
    8% Avoid
    6% Crappy Gift.
    142%. What did the other -42% of people do?

    • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

      I think people were allowed multiple answers so they could choose any and all that they had ever done, for example Joe Smith once gave an IOU and another year pretended it didn’t happen.

  17. Murph1908 says:

    When I was making little money and living credit card free, I had to give an IOU to my friends for their wedding gift. I was a groomsman, and the tux rental, hotel, and other expenses made it impossible to get a decent gift too.

    A year later, on their anniversary, I got them something nice. I think it worked out for the best. I was able to be in the wedding and stand up for my friend, and they got a gift at a time when they didn’t have 100 others at the time.

    My friends and I are all practical enough to not get worked up over the situation.

  18. Scuba Steve says:

    I’m putting a shipping receipt in some wrapping, then in a bag, then a box, and then a bigger box.

    They’ll get their present by the time they figure out how to open all of the boxes.

  19. ycnhgm says:

    We pretty much ran out of funds and still have a laundry list of people that are accustomed to receive something for the holidays: school teachers, school bus drivers, building staff, etc. Our strategy is to just postpone it until next paycheck, i.e. in January. In the meanwhile we just go on with our live and surprise them with a belated “Happy Holidays” card and monetary gift.

  20. framitz says:

    The only acceptable IOU would be one for ‘favors’ other than that it’s just tacky.

    I have made simple gifts when I had no money and those were appreciated a lot more than an insulting IOU.

  21. segfault, registered cat offender says:

    Please tell me Holiday Cat is a seasonal employee and will be sacked after Christmas.

  22. Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

    ‘tardy consumers

    hey, I resemble that remark.

  23. JennyCupcakes misses her grandson says:

    I know you guys hate gift cards, but my parents always ask for gift cards to restaurants or entertainment. My brother and I get them gift certificates to a hotel for a “special destination” every year. This year was Mackinac Island, last year was Las Vegas. They are more than willing to pony up the difference if it means that their lodging is paid for either part or all of it.

  24. erinpac says:

    How about an Amazon/ is slow here is your tracking number IOU wrapped?

  25. kennedar says:

    We ordered a kindle for my mother in law back in November. Because we are in Canada, it will not be delivered until mid-January. She is getting a note in her Christmas card saying that it is on its way and will be there soon!

  26. AnxiousDemographic says:

    Ironic that the Holiday Cat image doesn’t contain a single Christian symbol.

  27. Noadi says:

    These situations are why gift cards were invented, you can buy them right up to Christmas day. This isn’t exactly brain surgery.

    BTW I do believe an IOU is acceptable when that IOU is for a gift that has been ordered but hasn’t arrived on time. That’s about the only time.