Ah, the holidays -- A time of boundless cheer, goodwill toward men and bountiful generosity. Poppycock.

Whether or not you realize it, the gift-giving season is a cutthroat battle of attrition, plagued with lose-lose transactions in which loved ones rack up debt to swap things they don’t want or need. Resentment abounds. Hopes are crushed. Lies are swapped like fake "I’m-happy-to-see-you smiles" at an office party.

But fret not, gift givers. The holidays can indeed be a time of glee and cheer. You just need to follow my five simple rules of competitive gift-giving. Follow this advice and you’ll get better than you give. Your bank account will remain intact. Others may catch on to your shenanigans and think less of you, but at least they’ll respect your devious skills.

  • 5

    Donate To Charity In Someone's Name

    When you hand your victim, er, loved one, an envelope that says a generous donation has been made in their name to charity x, you seem generous and kind-hearted. In actuality, you’ve given them nothing. It’s you who gets to write off the donation as a tax deduction.

  • 4

    Go Shopping In Your Closet

    Your closet is likely full of head-scratching trinkets you’ll never use. Don’t see it as a cavern of broken dreams — see it as a cornucopia of future gifts. If you’ve got an empty closet, keep the junk you get this year unopened and you’re all set for next year’s holiday season.

  • 3

    Offer a Dinner Date

    Present it with the line, “We don’t get to spend much time together. Instead of getting you some trinket, I thought we’d share a conversation.” Then take your mark out and live it up. Boom! You’ve enjoyed the gift every bit as much as the gift-ee. Weeks later, call up your pal and ask to meet for another meal at a nicer place. As you eat, casually mention how great your last dinner was, and that you were so glad you paid. When you sense the waiter creeping in with the check, bail out to the bathroom. You’ll return to the happy news that your dinner partner has generously taken care of it. Act shocked; it’s polite.

  • 2

    Make a Coupon Book

    Cut up a few sheets of paper and staple them into one of those adorable coupon books crammed with redeemable promises that you’ll do this or that. This is a popular gift for a romantic interest -- Think back rubs, chore takeovers and outlandish favors, such as promises to do nice stuff you haven’t attempted since college. Don’t worry about over-promising because the unspoken secret of the coupon book is that never in history has anyone successfully redeemed one. Your loved one will smile at your thoughtfulness, then stash the little booklet it in a drawer, never to be heard from again. Should you ever be presented with a coupon, just chuckle, compliment the redeemer’s sense of humor and change the subject.

  • 1

    Make a %22No Present%22 Pact -- Then Break It

    Ask a longtime friend to reduce holiday stress by agreeing not to exchange gifts. Then buy a gift for that person anyway. When you present it, say, “Oh, I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself. I saw this and just thought of you.” Now you’ve gifted your competitor into a corner, wrapping the gift in an emotional bow of inadequacy and indebtedness. Your friend will scramble out to get you something that’s almost surely better than what you gave, in order to shift the feelings of inadeuqacy back to you. You could very well get a restaurant gift card in return for your investment of a popcorn tin.


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