How to Buy Christmas Presents That Don’t Suck

Over the years, I’ve received good Christmas presents and bad presents over the years. Some of the bad ones were just weird, and there’s no avoiding that. However, some of them well-intentioned but totally missed the mark. Choosing the right Christmas presents can be hard, so here are my tips for finding the best ones, whether you go with homemade gifts or store-bought.

A High Price Does Not Equal a Good Christmas Present

You can spend a fortune on the latest gizmo or the current hot gift, but it won’t mean anything if the recipient isn’t interested in it. Rather than showing your love by spending a lot of money, show your love by giving a gift that says you thought about the person when buying it.

A Good Deal Does Not Equal a Good Gift

Many people rush out to morning-after-Thanksgiving sales to snatch up gifts that are on supersale. I saw a woman on the news announce that everyone in her family was getting a $14 DVD player. But how many of those people actually needed or wanted a new DVD player? Instead of searching for the good deal and then figuring who to give it to, decide what to get people, and then look for good deals on those presents.

Think about the Recipient’s True Interests

If someone you love is interested in sports, than a jersey featuring their favorite player might be a great gift. If the person has a marginal interest in a team, then a jersey won’t be the right gift even if you got a great deal on it. I like to build theme gifts that take into account the recipient’s hobbies and passions. A budding chef might enjoy a good cookbook and a set of wooden spoons. A sushi lover might enjoy a nice lacquered sushi tray and gorgeous chopsticks.

Think about the Recipient’s Taste

I’m lucky in that my mom knows my taste and buys me clothes I actually want to wear, and in colors that look good on me. I have many friends whose mothers buy them clothes their mothers want them to wear, or that their mothers like. These clothes either get returned or stuffed in the back of the closet. If you don’t know someone’s taste, don’t buy them a gift that incorporates personal style.

Think about the Recipient’s Time

I’ve seen people recommend “experience gifts,” in the sense that you take someone on a trip or to an event. I received one of these once, and although the gift was well-intentioned, it was given during my last semester of grad school. I had no time, but felt obligated to go. It also cost me money because I felt obligated to pay for my own meals. I truly valued the time we spent together and enjoyed the experience, I just wish it had been a joint decision rather than a “gift.”

Think about the Recipient’s Needs

Some people have everything or simply don’t have many needs. My dad has everything he wants and most of the stuff he needs, so we buy him wine or chocolate as Christmas presents. He enjoys both and make him happy without bogging him down with stuff he doesn’t need. My best friend has tried several times to get me a coffeemaker. I don’t drink coffee. I never received one, though, because her machine always broke just before she tried to give me one. Finally she realized that the universe didn’t want me to have one (and neither did I).

Ask for a Gift List – Especially for Kids

When it comes to kids, it can be very hard to buy them the right thing. I also ask my cousins for wish lists from their children and then choose something off the list. I know that I would either duplicate a toy they already have or give them something they don’t want if I tried to guess.

Listen for Hints Throughout the Year

Throughout the year, I listen to the desires stated by my friends and family, and then buy them things to fulfill those desires at Christmas. One summer, my mom mentioned she wanted to learn how to make fancy breads. I researched gourmet bread cookbooks and bought her one along with a pizza stone (also good for bread.) She was stunned and loved it. On the receiving end, I’ve mentioned desires to my best friend in passing and received them at Christmas. When you fill desires like this, you get to hear, “Oh my God, I can’t believe you remembered!” or “How did you know?” Those are the best.

Before you start shopping for Christmas presents this season, remember this one key thing: the gift is about the recipient, not you. Don’t give something you want the person to have, give something they want to have. That’s the best way to show them that you truly put thought into their gift. It’s also the best way to ensure they’ll like what they got.

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