Want not? Waste not

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Meredith Red is a screenwriter who knows nothing about making noodles. And she likes it that way.

So the pasta maker she received as a wedding present became the gift that kept on giving. Sometime around her first anniversary she passed it on, never used and freshly wrapped, to a friend who was getting married.

"She was thrilled," said Red, a Los Angeles resident. "She had me over for pasta."

Regifting -- a word whose derivation has been traced to a 1995 "Seinfeld" episode -- is emerging from the closet. "It's a dirty little secret and everybody does it," Red said. "And if they don't admit to it, they're totally lying."


FOR THE RECORD:
Regifting: An article in Business on Thursday about the practice of regifting misidentified a website. It is Regiftable.com, not Regiftables.com.


Although experts don't know when the practice started, it's probably as old as gift-giving itself. These days it's more popular than ever.

Economic stressors are nudging people to regift, as is the desire to recycle, said Kim McGrigg, a spokeswoman for Money Management International, which operates a website, regiftable.com, where people can pick up tips and share stories. (Among the more tragic tales: A couple received a hideously ugly serving platter and gave it to a friend who took it to an antiques expert and learned it was made by a famous Italian designer and worth about $2,000.)

Money Management conducts occasional opinion surveys on the matter, and 59% of the people it polled last month admitted they had regifted, up from 57% in 2005. And 42% said they would regift to save money, compared with 33% in 2005. "Things are more challenging for consumers than they have been in past years," McGrigg said. "Consumers are telling us they're looking for ways to curb their holiday spending."

There are rules that practitioners swear by, including: Never regift something that has obviously been used; remove all traces of the original wrapping before rewrapping; and -- this is key -- avoid returning a gift to the person who gave it to you.

Cathy Tran of San Francisco was on the receiving end of a faux pas two years ago. She listened to an acquaintance grumble about the crummy Christmas gifts she had received -- socks and a calendar -- and a moment later was presented with the calendar, along with a cheery "Merry Christmas!"

"She was like, 'I got you this gift; it's really great, isn't it?' " said Tran, an e-mail marketer. "She didn't turn out to be a very good friend either."

Bloopers like that aside, regifting can be appropriate, said Bruce Weinstein, who writes a bi-weekly ethics column for businessweek.com and is known as the Ethics Guy.

"Not only do we have a right to do it, we ought to do it in most cases," he said. "We have an ethical obligation not to be wasteful."

Maybe so, but many adherents don't want their names linked to the practice. One local resident who would speak only if cloaked in anonymity said she had been regifting for a decade and added that so far she hadn't been caught.

"It's a social taboo. I feel horrible when I do it but I know this person is going to love this," said the woman, who fast-forwards gifts that she thinks someone else would like but are "so not me" -- scarves, angel decorations and Christopher Radko ornaments.

But not to people on her A-list.

"To my really, really good friends, I would never regift," she said, "To the B-list, it's more acceptable."

You would think the trend would be viewed as bad news by retailers scrambling to reel shoppers into stores. But they aren't losing any sleep, said Daniel Butler of the National Retail Federation, the industry's largest trade group.

"It started with a purchase in a store, so retailers don't think of it as lost business," he said, adopting a glass-half-full attitude. And regifters, he added, still have to buy wrapping paper, bows and tape.

Still, it can be a brutal business. Just ask Marie Lecrivain, who many years ago at the tender age of 6 bought a blue-and-white rhinestone key chain at Pick 'n Save for her great-grandmother.

"She gave it back to me on my next birthday," said Lecrivain, a grant writer in Los Angeles with a long memory.

"I hate regifting."

leslie.earnest@latimes.com

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