Thoughtful Gift Giving Throughout the Holidays

Whatever your gift giving budget is, make sure you find the most thoughtful and memorable gifts possible.

Remember The Reason You Are Gifting

It’s not an obligation, it’s a choice.  Giving a gift shows you are thankful for the other person and think of them fondly.  If you are only giving a gift out of perceived obligation (or simply because they gave you one), it’s worth having a discussion with the other person about whether or not to continue exchanging gifts.  Otherwise, consider simple gift cards, doing a bulk gift, or taking them out for dinner (especially if what you value is time with them).

Remember: Gift giving is not meant to be an expensive show.  Those who consider an expensive show necessary deserve from you a careful reevaluation of the friendship as a whole.  There is far more to life than stuff and money, and you are molded by the people you spend time with.

Holiday Cards

I love sending and receiving cards in the mail.  I buy boxes of holiday cards on sale during the last week of December, and I save them to send during the next year.  I look for generic “happy holiday” cards so that I can send them to anyone, regardless of the holiday they celebrate. Often, the cards are on clearance for a dollar a box.  I hand write messages into the cards and send them out the last week of November.  Some people like photo cards or photo postcards, or they print 4x6s to include in the cards.  Many websites offer cheap custom photo cards.

I’ve also bought many wonderful cards at the dollar store.  They have packs of thank you cards and blank note cards.  They also have birthday, anniversary, wedding, Mother’s and Father’s Day, and many other holiday cards for only $.50/card.  I regularly stock up and send them throughout the year.

I won’t send gifts in the mail.  I only send gift cards for Amazon or a local restaurant, which I include in the card I’m already sending.  It’s not worth the shipping cost to me, and it allows my recipient to pick something out themselves.  I often send the children in my life checks for their college funds since I value education so highly and want to help them build their own financially independent futures.

The Golden Rules of Gift Giving

The most appreciated gifts are the gifts people chose for themselves.  If they have a wish list, use it.  Pick out items that are within your budget or ask for more suggestions if there aren’t any.  People have so much stuff in their lives now.  Why weigh down a loved one with something they don’t want?  It’s much kinder to give them something they will enjoy and use.  This is especially true for weddings and other large events.

Try to find things people actually need.  They will appreciate the gift far more.  Consider groceries (toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent) for a family on a tight budget or clothing for growing children.  Even if it isn’t the most exciting, it may be a huge weight off the family’s shoulders.  The only opinion that matters is that of the receiver.

If you buy a gift, include the gift receipt.  Even if they asked for the gift, they may have gotten two or may have changed their mind.  It’s definitely “the thought that counts” when it comes to giving and receiving gifts, but how is “forcing” someone to hang onto something they don’t want just because you gave it to them thoughtful?  It will eventually end up at the Salvation Army or the landfill.  Instead, just include the gift receipt so that they can return the gift and buy something else that they genuinely want.

Set a budget, and then stick to it.  The holiday season can be rough on your wallet.  Planning out the gifts you want to get BEFORE you go shopping makes it a lot easier.  I suggest (at a minimum) writing out a list of everyone who you intend to find a gift for.  Consider noting some gift ideas.  You can do a “per person” budget or a total budget, whatever is easier for you.  Don’t blow your budget or put yourself on shaky financial ground for the sake of buying other people gifts.  In this instance, you need to put yourself first and get creative in your gifting and in stretching your budget.

Limiting the Amount of Gifts

I only buy physical gifts for immediate family.  I keep the list small.  I think people have enough obligations in their lives without worrying about getting me a gift during any of the holidays throughout the year.  My shopping list includes my partner (and eventually our offspring), my parents, my siblings and a couple very close friends.  Feel free to limit your list to whatever size makes you comfortable, and don’t feel obligated to get anyone anything.  Your partner may not want to exchange gifts and might consider it a burden, or you may have nine siblings and a huge extended family.

For anyone else who purchases something for me, I usually send them a gift card to Amazon or to a local restaurant in return.  It is easy and allows them to purchase whatever they’d like.  This list of people is also small.  Generally I give an amount close to what they got me but $25 max, and I usually wait until after they give me something first.  If they are local, I will often make them something instead.  We also keep extra bottles of wine and wine bags just in case.

When a group (even immediate family) insists on exchanging gifts, you can encourage the following:

  • White Elephant/Yankee Swap Gift Exchange. Each participant brings one wrapped gift.  Set a dollar limit for everyone to adhere to.  The goal is usually to be entertaining, so feel free to include random unexpected gifts.  Everyone places the gifts together in a pile and then draws a number.  The first person picks a gift to unwrap.  Then each person who follows can steal a gift or choose another to unwrap.  If a gift is stolen, the person who it was stolen from is allowed to unwrap another.  There are so many creative gifts at any dollar limit.
  • Secret Santa/Kris Kringle. Members of a group are randomly assigned one person to get a gift for.  That means each person buys and receives one gift.  Set a dollar limit, and encourage family members to stick to it.
  • Only buy gifts for the children. It may not be as fun for some of the adults.  However, I’ve always found watching children getting excited about opening the gifts to be far more entertaining.  You could do this in combination with White Elephant or Secret Santa for the adults.  Be mindful of any childless adults.

I’d much rather spend quality time with my loved ones than have everyone be stressed about shopping or finances, and I know they all feel the same.

If I Have Children…

We will follow the 4 gift rule: Something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.  I hope to be like the awesome parents who find used/discounted toys throughout the year and save them for the holidays.

Gifts on a Budget

  • Nothing beats quality time. For Mother’s Day the last two years, I have flown back to Michigan to visit my mom and spend time with her.  She has enjoyed that far more than anything else I could have given her, and I was able to find cheap flights using credit card points.
  • Consider a coupon book with “coupons” you make that can be redeemed for quality time, help with house renovations, errands or chores, a car wash, cooking, free hugs, or anything else you want to include.
  • Try to buy local items from local shops or fairs (crafts or consumables). You can often negotiate the price down, especially if you buy multiple items.
  • Find items at thrift shops or from your Buy Nothing group. Used items are generally fine depending on what it is and what condition it is in.  (Know if the person you are giving it to would be okay with it.  Some people wouldn’t be.)
  • Collect items throughout the year and tuck them in a closet until the holidays. For example, you can buy summer toys on clearance for kids.
  • Consider picking up small souvenirs on your travels. They are extra special since it means you thought of the person while you were away, and the items are often unique.
  • Make a donation in someone’s name to a charity that’s important to them. You don’t have to disclose the amount and can tuck the donation receipt on a bottle of wine or box of chocolates if you like.
  • Write a letter letting someone know how important they are to you. Consider finding/decorating a frame.

Get the Family Involved in Making Something

It saves a lot of money when you can make or buy things in bulk.  Often, you can acquire supplies at the dollar store.

  • Home-made cookies, bread or other baked goods (you can put them in a reusable Tupperware container or holiday tin) or dry mixes in a mason jar with the recipe card tied onto it
  • Chocolate-dipped fruit (You can even use an old vase, Styrofoam, and skewers to make your own edible arrangement)
  • Ornaments, frames or other crafts decorated together (everyone gets the same and it can even be a flat ornament that fits inside their holiday card)
  • Sewing or knitting (scarves, hats or socks are usually easier)
  • A calendar with photos from the last year or other photo gifts
  • Wooden cutting boards, spoons or platters (consider customizing with a woodburning point)

Easier Generic and Often Inexpensive Gifts

  • Wine, beer from a local brewery, coffee/beans, hot chocolate kits with marshmallows, eggnog, or other beverages (you can include glasses/mugs, and you can put the beverage in a mason jar with a ribbon if it’s homemade)
  • Fruits, jams, jelly, sauce, syrup, or other preserved items
  • Chocolates, candies, or other sweets or foods
  • Soaps, lotions, bath bombs, bath salt, or other bath items (either purchased or homemade)
  • Candles (any size, scented or not)
  • Plants or flowers for the desk, house, or garden

Experiences Trump Gifts…

The recipient will experience joy when they “open the gift,” joy while they are patiently anticipating the experience, and joy when they participate in the activity.  That is over three times the joy, and often for the same price as (or cheaper than) a physical gift.

You can do an activity as a group or give the experience individually.

  • A wine tasting at a vineyard, a tea party at a tea house, etc.
  • A themed house party or a tasting party at home
  • A day trip out (mini golf, go karting, boat rides, etc.)
  • Family trips, vacations, or hotel stays
  • Concert, theater, or movie tickets
  • Tickets to a theme park or a water park
  • Annual memberships to zoos, aquariums, parks or museums (which provide an entire year of fun and education)
  • Classes or lessons in a topic that interests them
  • Groupon experiences (massages, skydiving, zip-lining, etc.)
  • Puzzles or board games that you can play together

…Except When They Don’t

If someone bought me a skydiving trip, I would NOT appreciate it in the least.  I would not participate, and I would feel disappointed that they clearly didn’t know me or understand my phobia of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.  Use discretion when purchasing an experience instead of a gift, especially if it is more difficult to “return.”

If the gift has a “time limit” or is only available at certain times during the week, be mindful of what’s going on in the other person’s life.  They won’t get to use the gift if it’s only valid during a trip they’ve had planned for months.

What is the best gift you have ever received?