Listen to what people are interested in. Not their hobbies that they do all the time, or the collections they already have tons of stuff for, but what sparks their interest.
- Do you remember hearing they saw some cool piece of art at the mall? Give a membership to the local gallery.
- Does your friend volunteer or express an interest in giving back to the community? Offer to spend one afternoon volunteering together, your friend picks the place.
- An avid reader? Gift certificates to your favorite bookstore are perfect. Want to really personalize it? Throw in a bookmark you pick out just for them.
- A couple who seems to have everything? A certificate to your favorite restaurant. They may find they love it too. We also love to take friends that are new to the neighborhood to a nearby restaurant.
- Into being the welcome wagon for strangers in the neighborhood? Compile copies of your favorite take out menus and make a little map (hand drawn is fine - or Google Earth if you're fancy) of the nearest grocery store, gas station, etc.
- Notice something your friends have is getting old or worn? Replace it for them. They'll appreciate the sentiment and that you took the time to notice.
People are put off by gift certificates. They feel there has to be an amount worthy of giving. The gift is the thought! Just the thought. Don't feel burdened by keeping up with the proverbial Joneses.
How much would you spend at that store? Buy the certificate in that amount. A book is less than $10 with tax. A dinner is about $50 (depending on the restaurant). A sweater is maybe $20-30. Of course they can spend more, but let them cover the rest if they want more.
I got a certificate from a coworker to Macy's once. I never shopped at Macy's, thinking it over my price range. The certificate was for $25 and I got a great pair of XOXO sunglasses that I had for a few years. I thoroughly enjoyed those shades and never would have had them at all if not for taking me out of my comfort zone to a store they liked.
One of my favorite gifts of all time is tickets to events. I love plays and performing arts. I've gotten tickets to Blue Man Group and all sorts of fun things that I might not have experienced otherwise. My parents are usually good for that kind of thing. They know I have what I need and don't collect clutter.
Smile and say thank you. No matter what. You're thanking them for the thought. They took the time to shop for you and spent their money on you. Smile and say thank you. If its awful, regift it. If its not truly awful, repurpose it. Maybe that scarf would be cute as a curtain tie back or a belt.
Gift certificates, revisited:
You've received a gift certificate. Now what? Follow up!
- If you got a certificate to a restaurant, call them, or drop a quick email, the day after you visited there and say what your favorite thing was. Maybe they have a killer shrimp appetizer that you tried but they've never ordered. Even if everything else about the place is awful and you'll never go back, find one nice thing to say.
- If you got a certificate for anything else, take a picture of you enjoying whatever you bought with it. Sign the back "Thanks for your thoughtful gift certificate!" You reading a book you bought with the certificate, you in a sweater you bought with the certificate, you in the sunglasses you bought with the certificate, etc.
- Similarly, if you get a bottle of wine as host for a party or a dinner, write the name of the giver on it and when you open it, drop them a quick message (text is fine) saying "We're enjoying that wine you gave us. Thanks again!"
I'm a great gift giver. I developed my skill in high school and been continuing to hone it ever since. No really, ask my friends! Usually there's one gift a year that stands out as "the one", the most fitting gift of the year. Here are my best given gifts:
- Light up bocce ball set. Friends of mine invited us over to play drunken bocce ball one night and they didn't have a light outdoors so they kept angling this flood light to see the balls. It was tedious work, I'm sure, and still hard to find your ball in the grass. I came across the light up set in some random catalog and said "they have to have it!" I think it cost me less than $30 and they were delighted by it. We did use it and it was much easier. You know a gift like that comes with comments from other friends "wow, where'd you get this?" and you get the kudos even while you're not there.
- Time Turner from Harry Potter. My husband's aunt is an ER nurse and often in several directions at once. She's also a big Harry Potter fan. I found one of those catalogs that sells movie replica things and thought she'd get a kick out of it. She loved it.
- Fish tank with coupon for a fish. My former boss was the high-stress, type A kind. I brought in, and set up, a fish tank on her desk where she could relax looking at it, but still work. I included a gift certificate for $5 to cover the cost of fish. Two years later, I hear she still has the fish.
- Calendar, pre-filled. My friend is recently divorced and he complained that he'll have to start remembering birthdays and such now that his wife isn't around do it for him. I got him a calendar and wrote in all the birthdays and anniversaries that I could gather from our mutual friends.
The best gift I ever received deserves a little spot here, too.
After 5 years of dating, my now husband and I were talking about getting engaged for about a year. He just wasn't ready yet. On Christmas Eve, after the kid had gone to bed and we had a quiet house to ourselves, he sat me down on the couch by the tree and gave me an early present. In the tiny box was a pair of diamond earrings in the past-present-future setting. He said they were a placeholder for the engagement ring that he wasn't ready to give me yet. It was sweet and they were beautiful. They still are, I still have them, of course. The next Valentine's Day, he gave me the matching necklace. As a side note, it was another 3 years before he proposed.
Its my favorite Christmas memory next to my 5 year old son sprinkling "reindeer food" on the lawn (it was birdseed).