Practical Gift Giving Advice

Here where I live, the first snow has fallen, Thanksgiving is a week from today, and I have started planning what to give my loved ones for Christmas this year. When I first started giving out gifts back in my early 20s, my go-to gift was a gift card. Over the years though, my gift giving style has evolved into trying to give gifts of time, gifts of donations, and gifts that get used up. These types of gifts are generally well appreciated because they show thoughtfulness and they don’t have to be stored. If you are used to picking out Amazon, Starbucks, and iTunes gift cards as your standard gifts, then consider giving a little more of your time and giving a more personalized gift. Sometimes, the more personalized gifts can be just as easy as a gift card and they’ll make you look like the awesome, gift-giving, thoughtful person you are. 

Way Elf

Way Elf here to help you pick out your Christmas gifts

Types of gifts

In gift giving, you have to actually give a gift. In general, there are 2 types of gifts – wrapped gifts and can’t-wrap gifts. Wrapped gifts are gifts that can be wrapped. These are gifts that the receiver can hold and may have to store, like electronics, gift cards, and food. Can’t-wrap gifts are gifts that you can’t store, like time together, a donation, or a membership. See below for a handy little flowchart of gift types:

Gift Giving Examples

Personal Guidelines

When I give gifts, there are a few gift-picking guidelines that I follow. It would be so easy to go to the store, get a bunch of gift cards, and make it rain. However, that isn’t very personal and makes your recipient do the hard work of picking out a gift. Your people are probably busy and might not like getting a gift card. It also feels a bit like exchanging money because it takes very little thought to get a gift card. There are some exceptions to this, but gift cards should be the exception to your gift-giving rule.

So, when you give out gifts consider the following:

  • No gift cards, unless your person particularly likes gift cards or the gift card is for a restaurant that your people really like.
  • A quiet gift, particularly for kids. Noisy toys are a bane of parents’ lives, so I don’t like to give gifts that are loud. Who wants to listen to some song all the time when a kid would be just as happy with a box? Or stacking rings?
  • Time, when possible. These days, I much prefer to take my mom and sister out for dinner and a movie. Or maybe spend a day with my dad. My time is more valuable sometimes that money and we all appreciate the extra time together.
  • Purposeful gifts, such as environmentally friendly or from an organization that does good. For special gifts for women, I like to buy a beautiful piece of jewelry from businesses like Purpose Jewelry, The Starfish Project, or the Noonday Collection, to name a few. There are so many businesses out there that give back that I prefer to spend my money with them.
  • Local gifts make great gifts too. There are a lot of small businesses around where I can find some great stuff. For example, there is a fantastic baking store near my work where I can get some great baking gifts for my baking friends and help out a local business.

Giving Gifts

Now that you have some guidelines, you need to make a list (and you’ll want to check it twice…to make sure you got everyone). This list is for everyone you plan to give a gift to this year, whether it’s food, a donation, an experience, or a toy. You’ll need to know:

  • Who will receive a gift
  • Your (approximate) budget
  • How to keep track of who gets a gift, what gift they get, how much you spent, when you ordered/made it, and whether it has been shipped/given

Luckily for you, I made a super simple Google spreadsheet to help you, which you can get right here for free, no strings attached.

Know Your People

Now that you have the easy breakdown of types of gifts, you need to pick a gift for your people. In doing so, you need to consider a few things. These include basic things like their age and gender. Kids, teens, and adults all prefer different types of gifts. Men and women might not like the same things. You should also consider where they live. Your cousin in Florida might not appreciate a scarf and hat set like your cousin in Minnesota would.

Finally, listen to your recipients. Ideally, you talk to these people all the time (or somewhat frequently). In a conversation with my cousin in Florida, he mentioned offhand that he loves Whole Foods and wishes he could eat there all the time. While I don’t like giving gift cards, my mom does and so I passed the information on to her. He also mentioned that he likes simple, practical gifts, so I am thinking of something simple and practical to give him this year.

Go-To Gifts

I have a few standard go-to gifts for people I love but am not particularly close to. For example, the women in my office are great, but I am not going to give them each individual gifts because my budget and time don’t particularly allow it. So instead, I gift them all beautiful hand lotion. Specifically, I give them Posh hand lotion. Full disclosure: my sister sells it, so it helps her out, plus its AMAZING hand lotion! I’m still working on a good go-to gift for the men in my life, but right now, I usually either give them a nice handkerchief (which is incredibly easy to make) or baked goods like cranberry almond biscotti and apple cider mini-muffins. And yes, sometimes I do give gift cards because that’s how it happens. They aren’t my first choice, but I prefer my sanity.

Put a Bow On It

Gift wrapping is a skill that not all of us have (like this: Japanese Gift Wrapping – note: it’s 15 minutes and sucks you in quickly). If you have not already worked on this skill, you likely don’t want to spend the time learning. If you do, then awesome! You already know how you like to wrap your gifts and can move on. If you don’t have the gift-wrapping skill, then awesome! This section is for you.

The fastest and easiest way to wrap a gift is to get a bag, put the gift in it, then cover it with a lot of tissue paper. If you want to add a nice touch, the easiest way is to put a bow on it – one of those shiny stick-on bows that you can slap on the side of the bag. (Or, if you are my dad, the easiest way to wrap a gift is to leave the gift in the Walmart bag.)

For the next level up, you can wrap the gift. This is best when the gift is either rectangular or square, or if you can put the gift in a rectangular or square-shaped box.

If you want to get advanced, then you’re advancing beyond the scope of this post. Go to youtube and look up how to wrap anything.

Giving the Gift

The advice I give you above is all fine and dandy, but you are probably wondering how to apply it in real terms. So, I am sharing an abbreviated version of how I think about giving gifts to some special people in my life. Please know that this is the first time that I have committed this information to writing. Prior to writing this post, all the below information has lived solely in my head. Please please please do not feel bad if you don’t have this kind of information written down anywhere. I didn’t prior to 11/12/2018 (the day I started writing this section).

  • Little Dad – dislikes gifts that don’t get used up and gift cards; likes food (especially popcorn) and good books on business/investing/better life
  • Little Mom – dislikes generic, glittery gifts; likes donations to do-good organizations, quality elephants, quality time
  • Little Sister – also dislikes generic, glittery gifts; like quality goods, quality time
  • Way Husband – dislikes gifts that don’t get used up and gift cards; likes whiskey and almost anything about Viking football, wants blue dress socks,
  • Way Dad – not sure what he dislikes; likes Amazon gift cards, hats; donations to do-good organization, anything environmentally friendly, anything related to his heritage
  • Way Mom – likes donations to do-good organizations, anything environmentally friendly, anything related to her heritage
  • Way Sister – just ask her what she wants because she always knows exactly what she wants
  • Way Brother-in-Law – ask Way Sister what Way Brother-in-Law wants because she has ideas
  • Niece 1 – Ask Way Sister because she knows exactly what she wants you to get her eldest daughter
  • Nieces 2 and 3 – Again, ask Way Sister
  • Way Brother – likes hot sauce
  • Way Brother’s Girlfriend – likes puzzles and going shopping,
  • Little Cousin 1 – Little Cousin 1 happens to get a gift this year because I happen to have a gift to give her; she loves to cook and I have a fantastic apron that I am gifting her (I received the same apron last year and thought she would like one too)
  • Little Friend 1 – likes books and anything environmentally friendly; I tried an experiment to make solid conditioner bars earlier this year and ended up with 5 bars when I only needed 2 for myself, so I am giving away the 3 extras and this is right up Little Friend 1’s alley
  • Way Friend 1 – Way Husband gives Way Friend 1 a bottle of whiskey every year
  • Little Work Friend – she happens to love baking and I happen to have a gift from a previous year that would fit her perfectly
  • Way Secretary – This wonderful woman helps keep my husband on track at work, and while I don’t know her very well, she certainly deserves some appreciation, so I’m planning to give her some lovely hand lotion and some baked goodies.
  • Little Secret Santa – my family Secret Santa this year is a tough one. He has enough money that he can get himself any gift that he wants and he loves beautiful items. I heard though through the grapevine that he particularly likes beautiful coffee table books, so I will be looking for a beautiful coffee table book about something local to me

*So you know, the Littles refers to my family and the Ways refers to my husband’s family

Go forth and gift!

Giving gifts can be a wonderful experience if you put a little bit of time and effort into it. You can use the holiday season to support some great organizations with donations, give thoughtful gifts that help other people, or bake to your heart’s content. You’ll enjoy giving beautiful, thoughtful gifts, and your people will love receiving those same beautiful, thoughtful gifts. If this isn’t in your wheelhouse though, don’t stress about it. If you can’t think of a good go-to gift, don’t stress yourself out! It’s completely okay to pick up an Amazon or Starbucks gift card. If you are busy and don’t have the mental space to think about gifts, then be kind to yourself. Get a gift card in your price range, put it in a pretty box or envelope, and give it away. The bottom line is to enjoy the season and share the love.

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