How Not to Suck at Giving Gifts

Sadly, this guide is a little late for Christmas, but there are plenty of birthdays, Valentine’s Days, and anniversaries where it can come in handy. I won’t claim to be a master of all things giftwrapped. However, I do love giving presents, and this year in particular I was on the prowl for gifts my friends would really enjoy. It made me think about the things I liked getting myself and the things that have worked best when buying for someone else.

Maybe reading on won’t make you the most beloved St. Nick in the room, but it should help you avoid that ugly Christmas sweater cringe your grandma gets every year.

UGH. Thanks a LOT, gramma!picture from here

Don’t Buy A Generic Gift

If your Auntie Barbara from Nowheresville, Unknown drops in one Christmas, sure, feel free to give her that ready-made lotion kit. A third cousin you haven’t seen in a decade? Hand over those lottery tickets! Your boyfriend of nearly four years? Honey, put the mini toolkit down. You and I both know he is never, ever going to use that screwdriver to fix the doorknob, no matter how many you buy him.

Don’t get me wrong here; I like getting ten Bath and Bodyworks sets as much as the next girl, but there is one thing it always says to me: “Hi, unspecified person I felt the need to get a present for! I don’t know anything about you, but everyone likes Sweetpea! Enjoy!”.

If you care about a person and want to get them a gift they won’t easily forget, you have to dig a little deeper than the Holiday Giftset stands in WalMart.

If You Do Buy a Generic Gift, Personalize It

picture from here

So maybe this person’s birthday is tomorrow, you don’t have any time to come up with the perfect present, and an ‘IOU’ seems insufficient. It’s okay. It happens. But when you pick up that giftcard, make sure it’s for a place they actually like. If you’re shuffling though the $7 DVDs, how about searching for a movie that has some significance? Maybe you all went to see Mamma Mia! in the theater a while back, and so-and-so really loved it. And hey, if you’re going to buy that movie, don’t just throw it in a giftbag and write your name on it. Add a bottle of Coke and a bag of popcorn and make it into a movie watching kit. If the movie’s for your sweetie, you could double that order and add a pseudo ticket that reads, “One free night out at the movies with me!”.

The point is, even if you do have to resort to typical gifts, you can always make it a little more personal. Wrap it up so that it’s super-pretty, add a homemade card that will make the person laugh…just find something that assures them you were thinking about them.

Pay Attention

Okay, this is kind of a no-brainer, but the ultimate rule of giving a great gift is knowing the person you’re giving it to. If you’re close to them, you probably already know a lot, and all it takes to figure out the perfect gift is some time to think on it. If someone’s birthday is coming up, start paying attention to the sort of things they talk about. Women, at least, often give hints to things they might like if they know you’ll be buying them presents.

Also, thanks to the magic of networking sites, we now have these nifty little tools called profiles to use to our benefit. Check out your recipient’s list of interests to see if that can help you pick a gift. Maybe you know a book that’s in a similar style to a series they love, or perhaps you’re fantastic with music and can whip up a great mix CD. Do be careful not to be a creeper, though; knowing the things a person likes shouldn’t translate to buying him a DVD of every single movie he’s listed as a favorite.

More Expensive is Not Always Better

picture from here

Here’s the best thing about being good at picking out presents: you don’t have to have a lot of money. I’ve gotten some big presents over the years, from a Wacom tablet to bedroom furniture, but when I think back over the things I’ve loved most, two that come to mind are a homemade journal and a painted jar. The journal contained a quote from a poet my friend remembered me liking. The jar was adorable and made to look like my favorite animal, a penguin.

So before you buy that super-expensive CD collection of a band your friend only vaguely knows about, think about making a homemade present instead, or giving them a coupon book of favors, or even just taking them out for a night. Personally, I’d prefer a picnic lunch over an $80 perfume any day.

That said, do pay attention to the person for whom you’re buying. While I know one of my friends loves homemade soap and would be happy to get a wrapped package of it, I also know my mother would much prefer jewelry, even if it’s not expensive.

The final thing to remember is that, corny though it may sound, it really is the thought that counts. Putting time and effort into your gifts will make them great, and even if they are recieved with a less enthusiastic response than you’d hoped, rest assured that for every gift that flops, you’ll give five that make someone’s special day ten times brighter.


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