Many gifts fall flat. After tearing off the wrapping paper, the recipient, while cringing inside, struggles to feign delight. In fact, an estimated $46.3 billion of holiday goodies will be returned this year, up 10% from two years ago, according to the National Retail Federation.
Even recipients of bigger ticket items wrestle with the eternal post-holiday question: Keep it or return it? In this installment, SmartMoney.com asked the experts which of the popular big-ticket items of 2011 are worth keeping.
Those lucky enough to receive a Lexus as a gift would do well to hold onto it, says Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst at Automotive Insights. "Lexus models are smooth, quiet, luxurious and, especially in the case of the CT 200h -- which costs $30,000 or less -- fuel-efficient," he says. Lexus was awarded "Best Luxury Brand" at Kelley Blue Book's 2012 Best Resale Value Awards, for being the make that would retain the most significant percentage of its original value after five years. In these recession-scarred times, it's not ostentatious like a Rolls Royce or Bentley, and more elegant and durable than other cars in its class, says Seth Rabinowitz, partner at management consulting firm Silicon Associates. Plus, it depreciates 10% to 15% as soon as it's driven off the lot, according to Rob Enderle, the principal analyst at the Enderle Group.
In this shaky jobs market, a Lexus from a husband or wife may be too luxurious of a gift to accept, according to Brian D. Emery, financial adviser with Ameriprise Financial Services in Westbury, If the car was financed, Emery suggests returning it, given that the interest rate over 60 months could average 4.5%. There is a so-called buyer's remorse clause in most U.S. states, but the length of time allowed to return a vehicle varies. If the recipient has not received the car yet -- in lieu of them picking out a color, for example -- all the better. Alternatively, Enderle says buying a cheaper car could save thousands of dollars. "You could then take a trip to Hawaii," he says. Plus, returning it will save making the neighbors jealous. "It also costs more to insure than a more modest Ford or Chevy Sedan," says Charles Sizemore, a financial adviser in Dallas, Tx.
Even if the ring doesn't suit the personal style or preference of the recipient, the gold alone is becoming more valuable by the day, says Gutierrez. "Gold is currently trading at close to $1600 an ounce, although it has been dropping in value over the past 30 days," he says, "so it's likely to remain very high moving forward as investors continue to hedge against the dollar and other major currencies." Rabinowitz says it's worth looking beyond 2012 to see its true value. "Gold will not pierce the $2,000 threshold in 2012," he says, "but it will still reach new highs -- 2013 will be the year of $2,000 gold and you'll be sitting pretty when it happens." Plus, he adds, the wearer gets to look stylish for the next 12 months. Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org, sees a more human problem with choosing to return it. Whether or not it has been engraved or specially sized, it's likely to have been given by someone who is close to the recipient. "Therefore, if you are not wearing it, he/she will notice."
Others are more bearish and say the prices of precious metals are starting to fall. "It's very likely that you could buy the same gold ring a year from now and probably pay less for it," says Sizemore. "The crisis in Europe looks like it's limping towards a solution. If there's no sentimental value and it's purely a matter of getting a good price, return or sell it and buy it back a year from now." With gold prices hovering around record highs, "the rational thing to do would be to return the ring," says Kit Yarrow, professor of psychology and marketing at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. But she says that this may also come at a personal price. "When it comes to gold rings," she says, "only the coldest of hearts would be thinking about resale value."
A Rolex holds its value, and deserves its reputation for quality, says Gutierrez. Owning a Rolex can be a powerful sign of success in business situations, too. "It's a sign of status, maturity, and a representation that someone cares enough to give you a Rolex," Enderle says. Yarrow says it's worth wearing even the flashiest of Rolexes as long as the buyer snagged a good price. "Hopefully that Rolex watch was purchased with a nice discount. If so -- and you love it -- keep it."
Nobody is going to pay for a used watch, Sizemore says, so if the recipient is not sure whether or not he/she will get good use out of it "returning it may be the smartest thing to do." It may be a beautifully constructed piece of engineering, but so is the iPhone -- and that tells the time just as well and automatically adjusts to different time zones. Dworsky says consumers should return the watch -- unless they're willing to pay the insurance. "If it's real and not counterfeit, it's too tempting a target for thieves."
Plasma Flat Screen TV
Plasma TVs use tiny fluorescent lamp-like gases to light the screen, and can produce a deeper black color than most high-definition televisions, experts say. They also have less visual motion blur due to the high refresh rates of the screen and, a wider number of viewing angles than the traditional LCD or liquid-crystal display TV. "It's still the undefeated champion of good high-definition viewing at all angles," Rabinowitz says. "Who can really turn down a plasma flat screen TV as a gift?" Gutierrez says. "If you have high definition available through a cable or satellite provider, own a Blu-ray player, have an Xbox 360 or Playstation 3, there is nothing quite like having a plasma flat screen TV to enhance your viewing experience."
"Plasma is so yesterday," Dworsky says. He recommends buying an LCD TV or one backlit by LED technology instead. "It will be cooler to run and uses less electricity," he says. (LED or light-emitting diodes were traditionally used in outdoor lighting and billboards, but the technology has since been incorporated into TVs.) "Although demand is high and the price may be a little more, plasma can't match the color, contrast, brightness and slim profile of LED backlit displays," says Jason South, HDTV expert FatWallet.com. He says return the plasma for an LED HDTV. And there is one other big advantage, says Taube. "There's not too much sentiment with a flat screen TV, so I think one could return that without risking any damage to the relationship."