So now it's official: As wives and partners throughout the country will confirm Tuesday morning, if you want a really nice Christmas present, make it clear you expect something extravagant or buy it yourself.
The first scientific study of consumer spending on luxury gifts confirms that the more thrifty a women claims to be, the less her partner is likely to spend on her. In the study, researchers tapped into an industry database of 2,000 luxury purchases over a 12-month period. The data, gleaned from questionnaire replies, provided information ranging from cost and who bought which item to the attitudes of the buyers. In about 1,600 cases, the item – predominantly jewellery – was bought by the husband, and in 400 by the wife.
The study will be particularly interesting to retailers struggling desperately to boost sales, as it confirms men will spend more on wives and partners who make it clear that they think they are worth it or believe that expensive gifts are romantic. The researchers suggest that encouraging women to express romantic views about luxury goods could boost sales. "Identifying and reinforcing romantic attitudes will significantly increase the spending by both husbands and wives," said the study. "As such, every effort should be made to increase the romanticism to consumers in luxury goods."
The researchers, who report their findings in the latest Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, examined the relationship between women's attitudes toward personal luxury goods and the amount spent on them by their partners or, alternatively, themselves.
Scientists based at the universities of Virginia and Loyola in the US used the questionnaire data to identify a number of attitudes towards spending among women. What they described as Budgetary Wives were concerned about the cost of expensive gifts such as jewellery, relative to household income. So-called Romantic Wives, however, were much less concerned about domestic budgets and believed that expensive gifts such as jewellery made them feel special and showed that their husbands or partners still wanted to be romantic.
Men considering such purchases are affected directly by their partners' attitudes, the study concludes. The more budget-conscious the wife, the less her husband spent. But while men were careful to avoid accusations of extravagance when choosing presents for their partners, the women in the study had no such qualms when it comes to buying for themselves.
"Despite that fact that a wife may have strong attitudes about restrained spending, when faced with the temptation of buying that luxury for herself, internal conflict can occur and the impulsive self may dominate," say the researchers.
"In other words, the wife thinks to herself: 'I really shouldn't buy this piece of luxurious jewellery given my concerns about being able to afford it, but I really want it so I will just buy it for myself'."
Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Lancaster University, said yesterday: "It's all about reciprocity: if the husband perceives the wife to be frugal – if she counts the pennies, and so on – he will reflect that in what he spends on her. Husbands are not very good at buying presents anyway, so this is a good excuse. The message for women is to be frugal for 11 months of the year, but come 1 December, in the run-up to Christmas, don't be thrifty."
Top five gift ideas
1. Jewellery No one is disappointed to see a diamond. Oh, and ask if it's ethical.
2. Fashion Buying the wrong garment guarantees misery for giver and receiver. Buy gift cards instead.
3. Chocolate If she missed out on a diamond, chocolate will sort it.
4. Cosmetics There is a lotion or potion for just about everywhere.
5. Gadgets Every woman wants the latest tablet or smart phone, allegedly.
1. Tetris Light A favourite of men since its creation in the 1980s.
2. Monster Cable Beats Tour by Dr Dre In-Ear Headphones These claim they don't distort even at high volumes.
3. Leather iPad case Leather outside, overpriced electronics in.
4. Victorinox Swiss Army Knife Loads of blades and gadgets.
5. The Dark Knight Trilogy Bluray Hours of bangs and booms with Christian Bale.