Thanksgiving is now over, and Christmas season has begun — and unless you are way more proactive than most of us, that probably means you have some shopping (or making) to do. Some people are really easy to come up with gift ideas for, and some people, well, aren’t.
For the record, I do not have the gifting thing all figured out. There are a minimum of 10 people I get gifts for every year (this year will be 12 or 13), and every year someone’s gets left until the last minute. But between a big family and a lot of years of trying different things, I’ve come across a few tricks to make picking out presents easier.
For your sake, set a budget. Usually I set a rough budget for each person’s gift because otherwise I’ll struggle to cap my spending. This year, I’m trying something a bit different and setting an overall budget; this makes individual gifts more flexible, but keeps little bits of overspending from accumulating. (I usually keep it between $15 and $30 per person, but sometimes a particular gift demands more.)
Keep a list of gift ideas going. If you see something a few months early that’s perfect, get it. But if you’re in the car and they happen to mention needing or wanting something, or you just think of something great, write it down and go back to that list for later. There are a few people for whom I have a running list of ideas and when present time comes up, I just choose an item or two that feel most fitting.
Ask people what they want. For some people this effort will be fruitless (you know who you are), but a lot of people will actually give you an idea or two. And even if you can’t make the ideas they offer happen, it can spark another idea.
If people tell you specifically what they want, be sure to get that exactly. For example, my best friend is insanely helpful and because she knows I can struggle with gift ideas, will mention something she wants and where to get it, and usually sends out an organized, itemized, hyperlinked interactive PDF of her Christmas wishlist to the people who ask her for ideas. Then it’s exactly what she wants, and there’s no awkward waiting in the return line.
Go practical. Last Christmas, my mom and I were shopping for my boyfriend and we got him a couple of nice dress shirts and new ties since job interview season would be coming up fast. It’s not super exciting, but it’s useful, and something that is inconvenient to buy for oneself.
If you’re buying clothes, double check size and include a gift receipt. I know what size most of my immediate family and close friends are, but will check similar clothes in their closet (that I know they wear) for sizes if I’m in doubt.
If you don’t know them super well, food or movies. Movie theater certificates or semi-universal treat baskets (Trader Joe’s is my favorite place to put them together) are perfect and not expensive ways to get gifts for people you aren’t quite sure how to shop for but do want to gift something enjoyable to.
If they don’t need stuff, go for experiences. I’ve used this one a fair amount with people, and we’ll do dinner and a movie or a day trip to a place they really love. Then you get to spend time together and they don’t have any more stuff they don’t need.
If you’ve got a big category of people, do a category of gifts. When I was younger I would pick one craft and make a bunch for all of my grandparents every year (I grew up with at least 10 at any given time). One year it was framed prints of different photographs I had taken, one year it was super cute Christmas cookies. It doesn’t have to be crazy, but the fact that you made it helps it feel less generic even if you made a bunch.
Go splitsies. Sometimes there’s something I want to get for someone that’s out of my budget, so I’ll ask a mutual friend or family member if they want to split the gift with me. Especially since as an adult you’re responsible for more and more funding on your own, joint gifts can be super helpful.
If you suck at this, slow and steady. I am very slow to come up with gift ideas and get stressed if it’s left til the eleventh hour, so I start at least planning Christmas gifts a couple months early. This year I’m a little behind — which means one person is totally handled and three people are partly handled — but I’ll have more time than usual in December to shop, so I’m not too stressed.
I know that was a lot, but hopefully it’s helpful in the coming weeks of holiday prep. What have you found most helpful when getting presents for people? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! (I’m actually super interested, because I’m gonna need ideas.) As always, thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!