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ANN CONWAY

Suffering From 'Affluenza'? She's Got the Cure

November 26, 1990|ANN CONWAY

Let the rest of the world fret about influenza. It's "affluenza" that gets the smart set down during the holidays.

The symptoms: tightness of the (money) chest, nervous clearing of the throat, feverish window shopping. In other words, the sick feeling that comes from wondering what to buy for someone who has everything. Someone who zips to the supermarket in a vintage Corniche. Someone who sports drop-dead diamonds at 10 a.m. Someone whose biggest worry is whether the helicopter will start. Or if the yacht is out of gas.

Not to worry, says financial psychologist Victoria Felton-Collins. "Wealthy individuals want the same thing from gift-giving that everyone else wants." Specifically, they long to be understood, to receive something that says the giver knows them.

"When you give something to someone and it's not closely tied to them, it leaves a person feeling empty," says Felton-Collins, a resident of Emerald Bay and author of Bantam's "Couples & Money."

For example, one of Felton-Collins' clients bought his wife an exquisite jade pendant for Christmas. "The wife was very sad," she says. "While she recognized the value, she realized he didn't really know her. She didn't wear that kind of thing. She liked modern pieces--a simple, silver, tailored look."

When it comes to gift-giving, it's important to remember why we are spending the money in the first place, Felton-Collins says. Gifts can say a lot about a giver. "What we do with money," she says, "revolves around four main themes: power, security, relationship and freedom.

"The man who gave the jade pendant was looking for power," she says. "He thought he was doing something nice." But he was really more interested in making a statement--making his wife feel obligated in some way. The tip-off? "He told her what it cost."

Another client--a man who really knows his wife--gave her something she loved, a special bottle of wine and a class in wine appreciation. Another client hung a ring on a plant and bestowed it upon his wife with this message: "Your gift (of love) keeps on growing."

Someone motivated by freedom is apt to give--or want to receive--a gift related to getting away from it all, Felton-Collins says. A spa getaway is nice. A person whose spending style centers on relationships will often give--or enjoy receiving--something family-related, a reunion party or a scrapbook filled with mementoes of family gatherings. People motivated by a need for security enjoy giving and receiving gifts of money or investments they can tuck away for the future.

In general, the wealthy--as they have climbed the success ladder--have gone from wanting to acquire things to wanting to inquire about things, she says. "I see people, after they've had their basic needs satisfied, wanting to experience things. Often, wealthy individuals have worked so hard achieving their success they haven't had a lot of time to explore experiences with their families."

Of course, the gift everyone really needs is the gift of time, Felton-Collins says. Give somebody who has almost everything a secretarial service for a few days, she suggests. Or, a day away from work to enjoy a health spa. For that special spouse, how about coupons you've made up that promise a breakfast in bed, a candlelight dinner?

One wealthy couple--wanting to share the gift of time and experience with their children--spread travel notebooks around the tree on Christmas morning. Each child draws a number that gives him his turn to choose which trip he would like to take with his parents during the coming year. "A gift like that enriches relationships and provides memories," Felton-Collins says. Those are the best kind of gifts, she says.

Clients who are environment-conscious love a gift such as having a tree planted in their name, she says. And clients wanting to make a difference in the world appreciate the gift of a donation to their special cause.

"Don't be stopped by the idea that some people seem to have everything," Felton-Collins says. Take the time to look closely at their lives and you'll come up with a gift idea that means more than money. "Talk to their friends and relatives. Find out what they really care about. It's the thoughtfulness of the gift that counts. And the imagination around it--the wrapping, the packaging and the presentation."

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