Giving and receiving gifts during the holidays is great fun. What’s not always quite so much fun is choosing those gifts—especially if your list of recipients includes some people who are simply hard to buy for. Sometimes, you need a fresh burst of ideas to help you think creatively about what to buy for whom.
That’s why today we offer our ultimate guide to gift buying. It’ll still be your job to pick out the right item, to pay for it, and to wrap it appropriately. But it’s our job to give you the tools to narrow down your search the creative ideas to refresh your gift-buying strategy. So, settle in for some fun ideas.
Painting with a broad brush
We’ll start by establishing some categories to help guide your gift-giving. You can begin by evaluating this breakdown and maybe comparing it to your list of people to buy for. Try to determine if one of these categories seems appropriate for your recipient.
For instance, matching a prankster uncle with a gift in the humor category might be the way to go. On the other hand, for a straight-laced co-worker or even a boss, you may find it safer to steer away from humor. Maybe you’ll choose to guide the gift toward something consumable or something targeted to their interests.
Picking out a gift with a humorous slant can be a fun experience. Anticipating the recipient’s reaction is enjoyable in itself—which means the hilarity starts before you even buy or wrap the present. One main caveat here is that you should choose something that is clean and genuinely funny. And don’t assume that just because you find something funny, everyone else will. Plus, be sure you don’t choose a gift that allows some people to laugh at the expense of others.
Here are some ideas for gifts to get people laughing:
Buy a mug that’s built for laughs—whether you choose a humorous cup for the engineer in your life or a mug crafted for the mathematician. There are also mug options for physicists and teachers if you happen to have people with those jobs on your holiday list.
Crack up someone who spends a lot of time on the phone. If phone calls are an integral part of their life, there’s no reason why calls shouldn’t become a hilarious part of their life too. Enter the banana phone—a Bluetooth handset that looks like…you guessed it, a banana. Using this phone yourself to the confusion and amusement of onlookers might be just as good as giving it away.
Fun-loving (and maybe impractical)—buy them something they wouldn’t buy for themselves
Plenty of gifts are practical. And practical gifts can be nice. But for some people, a better gift idea is to help the recipient splurge. If they don’t typically buy treats for themselves, you can help give them a positive lift with a special something that they would never receive otherwise.
For some, this could be as simple as a gift card to a special restaurant. Maybe something a little more upscale than their typical dining out options. For others, it could include replacing some household item or accessory that’s getting a little worn down but isn’t bad enough to be out of commission. A great example might be a husband who knows his wife would love a new set of cutlery to replace the mismatched forks and knives they currently use.
Other fun-loving gifts can include a round of golf for a wannabe golfer or tickets to a major sports event for a fan. Giving a musician tickets to hear a favorite, famous soloist could be just the right gift idea. And buying a collector’s edition of a friend or relative’s favorite book is another way to go.
Even simple fun-loving gifts can be great. Does your recipient have a favorite candy for munching? Or does he have a soft spot for a certain soda? Go all out and fill up his stock. Purchase the item in bulk online or at a big box store.
Buying food can be a fun way to go—especially if you’re dealing with someone who already seems to have everything. If the person is a foodie, you may be able to tap into your other connections to learn what would intrigue the recipient. For instance, hit up another foodie friend for their best culinary gift ideas.
Edible fruit arrangements are an option, of course. As are chocolate-covered strawberries. But, there are other options, too. For instance, buy local cider when you’re on vacation in the Northeast for someone who moved away from their New England roots, but misses the unmatched apple cider. Or research and purchase some exotic coffee beans for the coffee aficionado in your life.
Here’s where it’s important to know about your recipient’s likes and dislikes. Then, you can play to them. Outline their hobbies, favorite teams, beloved locations, or top restaurants. Grabbing some themed items with the corresponding logo could be a great way to go.
It’s helpful to know what your recipient values most before you start out. Some people may have a preference for tangible items while others will be drawn to experiences (of course, people love both, too). Knowing this can help you create the perfect gift for them.
Reflect on conversations you’ve had with this person where they’ve talked about something they enjoy. Try to break down trends in your mind. Do they talk most often about the things they’ve bought—like books, games, cars, or tech items? Or do they gush about the places they’ve been and the things they did there—day trips, vacations, dinners with friends, etc.?
Buying for babies
Buying for babies can be easy because you know the actual gift recipient will never complain—let’s face it, they can’t. But the truth is, when buying for a baby, you actually have extra stakeholders to take into account. Naturally, the child’s parents will be very interested in what you give.
We’ll assume you’ve already thought about standard options like clothes and toys. So, here are some outside-the-box alternatives.
- Try a gift that keeps on giving—like a subscription service designed just for little ones.
- Go nerdy with toys meant to stimulate baby’s brain development.
- Give baby some stock for a gift that invests in his future.
For little people, gift certificates to a local kids’ science museum or bounce house could be great fun. But don’t forget that toys are also just plain fun when you’re a kid. Dolls, matchbox cars, toy soldiers (those iconic “army guys”), train tracks, and racetracks are all fun.
So are gifts that make noise—much to the chagrin of parents. Toy firetrucks with real siren sounds, toy police cars with lights that actually flash. Fake food is another winner. Kids can have fun crafting dinners to serve to their parents and friends.
For college students, gift cards to places where they can purchase home furnishings or school supplies are an option. Or put together a survival kit containing fun items like travel mugs, microwave popcorn, a throw blanket, and an emergency sewing kit.
Obviously, new parents have a lot on their plates. In all their newfound busyness, they may really appreciate a gift that helps them take a breather. Give them the gift of a date night in—beginning with a gift card to a restaurant delivery service like GrubHub, Uber Eats, or Waitr. Add some special touches like after-dinner mints or candies and a special drink. You might even throw in a relaxing game if the couple enjoys playing games.
New parents might also enjoy gift cards to favorite stores (with the specific caveat that it’s meant for them to buy something special for them—let’s face it, the baby probably already has tons of cute clothes and toys). For those who find themselves busy bouncing a little one and with less time to read, try a subscription to an audiobook service.
Recognize that empty nesters may have a little extra time these days. So, you can shape your gift to that end. Gift cards for time-consuming items like books are one option—if you know them well enough you may even be able to purchase books you think they’d like. However, before doing this, you probably want to know if they’re readers and what kind of books they like. Not all books are going to be equally welcome to all people.
Magazine subscriptions tailored to their interests are another option. Know a guy who’s fascinated by cars or tractors? Then, a magazine about one of those is a great idea. For a lady who loves to cook, a cooking magazine subscription might be welcome—especially if she isn’t subscribed to any currently.
And, of course, you can purchase experiences for empty nesters, also. Tickets for a relaxing stay at a Bed and Breakfast perhaps. Or maybe a gift card to a restaurant that provides a unique experience—like a Brazilian steakhouse. Tickets to a local orchestra’s performance or to an evening dinner on a riverboat could also be fun.
While retirees may have plenty of money and belongings after years of saving, don’t for a minute think that you shouldn’t give them gifts anyway. Gift-giving is not simply for those who need certain items. Instead, gifts are often a tangible way to show your love and appreciation for the recipient. So, you can (and sometimes should) still give gifts even if someone’s perfectly well-supplied financially.
However, if you know that someone already has everything they need, that knowledge can guide your decision-making. For instance, if a retired couple’s home is already full, you may opt to find alternatives to buying decor or trinkets—too many “useful” items are just that, too many.
Now’s a great time to put all your accumulated knowledge of the retirees to good use. Get to work thinking about their current interests and also potential interests they’ve mentioned in passing. Have they talked for years about traveling abroad yet never taken the plunge and gone? Then, maybe it’s the perfect time to invest in some solid travel suitcases to give them a gentle nudge.
Let’s say you’re convinced that they do truly want to go, but just need a little helpful push. Then, you could reach out to a local travel agent and ask about giving a travel consultation as a gift.
Retirees who are grandparents
Your relationship to the retirees may also make a difference in what you give them. If they’re your own parents (and your kids’ grandparents), shape the gift accordingly. Consider working with your little ones to craft one-of-a-kind grandparent gifts—like decor that features imprints of the grandkids’ hands. As an alternative, they might appreciate jewelry with the grandkids’ names or personalized tee shirts for some extra fun.
For young adults who are stumped about what to get their grandparents, try these options:
- Create a memory book with photos of you and your grandparents through the years. Add handwritten notes about events you remember or reasons you love them.
- Don’t underestimate the beauty of purchasing a flower arrangement and having it delivered in time for the holidays.
- Choose end table books on subjects you know they’re interested in.
- Restock their iconic candy bowl (doesn’t every grandparent have one of these?) by packaging up all their favorite treats.
People you’re not very close to
Sometimes, you need to pick out presents for people you don’t know extremely well. Whether it’s friends or co-workers, you won’t always know much about what your recipients do and don’t like.
Remember that in many cases, it’s the thought that counts. So, if you select a gift card to a coffee shop, then discover later that the recipient isn’t a big coffee drinker, that’s okay. They still know you thought about them and cared enough to give them a gift.
One fun, generic gift option is a mug filled with treats and packaged in cellophane. Find a great mug and throw in some hot chocolate mix and candies alongside a small gift card or a fun-loving trinket.
Use what you know
You may know more about your recipient than you think you do. And drawing on what little you do know can give your gift an extra kind touch. If you notice a co-worker is always reading a physical book instead of browsing on their phone during downtime, find a way to shape your gift to that fact. For example, buy a special mug to celebrate their love of reading.
Keep tabs on the state of the desks, cars, and other personal areas of your acquaintances. They can provide clues to their interests. Some people display a lot of their likes and dislikes via their bumper stickers or their laptop stickers. This can help you pick out items, customizing notebooks, totes, socks, or travel mugs according to their tastes. However, use caution while doing this—delving into the perceived interests of someone you don’t know well could backfire, especially if it seems creepy.
Get started with your shopping early
Give yourself enough time to plan and make sound decisions in your gift-buying adventures. And don’t forget to set aside enough money to cover your expenditures, too. To help, check out Your Guide To Christmas Budgeting With Tips On Buying Gifts & Decor.