In addition to being a time for funky sweaters and awkward family gatherings with that weird uncle, the holiday season is also a time for gift-giving.
Whether you’re giving a gift to your brother, your mother, your significant other, or your best bud, it’s important to make sure that your gift is worth both the trouble of getting and the time you’ll spend giving it. There’s no doubt that gifts are as much about the giving as the getting—if you’ve ever given a great one, you know what I’m talking about. And as good as it may feel getting new AirPods, a PS5, or a pair of Hey Dude kicks, you’re gonna feel a little empty if you completely drop the ball on the giving side.
Here’s an example from personal experience.
My dad loved his cup of coffee in the morning (and mid-afternoon), so every Christmas, my brothers and I would try to outdo each other in an attempt to get him a new favorite coffee mug. Hence, my dad received at least three new coffee mugs each year.
That system worked until I was able to drive and get a job and have money of my own. I remember one year vividly. I asked for a Patagonia fleece with the windbreaker technology built in. I knew the dollars and cents of that purchase would be a stretch for my parents, so it was the only thing I asked for that year.
So Christmas comes around, and sure enough, I received the Patagonia fleece that cost roughly 10 percent of my dad’s monthly pay. And what had I gotten him? A less-than-$10 coffee mug that he didn’t need. I felt terrible for about that for awhile. But since then, I’ve made it a point to not feel terrible about the gifts I give. Here are a few principles I’ve found helpful when coming up with great gift ideas. And by the way, these tips apply to gifts for any occasion.
Principles of Gift Giving
- Cost isn’t everything. Sure, you want this gift to be nice, but think about it: Most “things” wear out, go out of style, or break—which is why giving thoughtfully will make you a superstar.
- Make it personal. There are a couple things here. First, don’t force your ideas on someone else. “Sam, since my favorite color is yellow, I’m giving you this yellow scarf so you’ll think of me.” Do keep your eyes and ears open all year. If your significant other expresses interest in an item featured in a commercial or mentions something in pop culture—jot it down and keep listening. If it comes up again, it might be worth the buy. If you spot something that is wearing out — like a pair of slippers or a sports team sweatshirt — get ahead of it and show them you’re paying attention by giving them a new one.
- Always include a card. I prefer the ones that are blank inside — so you can make it personal!
- If they have a wish list, USE IT! Save your creativity for the card.
- Don’t underestimate a gift card. Just don’t skip the real card. Gift cards are especially good for last minute gifts, but you’ve got to write something real and personalize it to make it a real gift. For example: ”Mom, you’ve mentioned several things you’d like to have for the kitchen. I was deciding between a couple of these when I walked past some handcrafted chocolates. I would buy you two of everything in the store if I could, but since I can only afford one thing for you this year, I thought it would be best to let you pick it out yourself. Enjoy! Love, Johnnie.”
- Take the lead and join forces. Things got a lot easier for my brothers and me when we worked together to find a great gift for Dad, rather than trying to get the best coffee mug. You won’t always agree, but even family members are more prone to compromise around the holidays—especially if you are taking the lead. It also gives you the opportunity to establish parameters around the gifts you’ll get for each other, which is a pro move.
- Give an experience. The potentials here are limitless. There are as many things to do as there are people to do them. On the effortless side, you could take the recipient to dinner at a special restaurant (not Olive Garden, although those breadsticks have been known to make a grown man cry tears of joy). Better yet, cook them a special dinner. You could even treat them to take-out and enjoy it together around a favorite movie in the living room. Farther afield, you might plan a hiking trip with a picnic lunch at a scenic overlook (maybe throw a trail map in their card). For a trivia or Scrabble lover, plan a game night where you provide the food and prizes. You might even make the card a riddle! Don’t overlook the simple just because it’s simple. Sometimes, simple is divine.
- A picture is worth a thousand words. If you’re still stumped, find a nice frame and insert a picture of you and the recipient. Sappy, soggy, or sentimental are all good. Use the card to say something about the photo: “Sam, the day this photo was taken was one of the best of my year. Your face when that bear stole our hamburgers was priceless. Looking forward to many more days like this with you… minus the bear, of course.”
This holiday season, plenty of people will be giving coffee mugs as gifts. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that… as long as you’re not one of those people! So get out there and make someone’s holiday.