Finding the Perfect Gift Without Spending Too Much

As I write this, I’ve spent about five hours online hunting down “perfect” gifts for various people on our Christmas shopping list.

In almost every case, I wound up spending less than our target dollar amount on our list. In almost every case, as well, I found a gift that I think is utterly perfect for the recipient.

Just a few years ago, I would have spent a crazy afternoon at a shopping mall taking care of my list in roughly the same time period. Two problems with that: I would have spent a lot more and the gifts would have been a lot worse.

What exactly did I do this year that was so different? This year, I tried an approach that I’ve been slowly building over the last few Christmases.

Instead of just coming up with gift ideas for each person right off the bat, I spent some time just thinking about each person on my list. What do they care about? What interests do they have? I used the internet to help me in this regard to research a few people and see what they were talking about.

If I didn’t know much of anything about them, I realized that (a) maybe I shouldn’t be buying them gifts in future years or (b) I should spend some time getting to know them better. After all, if you can’t come up with at least some framework of what the person is passionate about or interested in, what basis is there for the relationship? Why give a gift at all?

So, one result out of this is that I know a few gift exchanges I’m going to drop out of next year and I know a few relationships I need to work on in 2010.

Back to the main point.

For each person on my list, I tried to write down five to ten words that describe them in some fashion. I’ll list the eight words I came up with for someone on my list: funny, board games, video games, quiet, smart, chemistry, outdoors, bicycle, camping.

I dropped that list of words into Google and read the first few pages of links.

Virtually every time, one of those pages pointed me straight to an idea I hadn’t even considered before as a gift – something that just worked perfectly for that person. It worked on the order of 90% of the time. The best part was that, once I had that gift idea in mind, I was often able to find that gift for an amount less than I expected to spend on them.

On the occasions when it didn’t work, I just went back to the list of words again, eliminated half of them that didn’t seem to fit as well, and then worked on other ones. I would try different smaller sets of the words. Each time, within two or three tries, I found myself on some path towards a really great, surprisingly inexpensive gift.

Here’s the real truth: great gifts come from caring about people as individuals and thinking deeply about that person, not from just trying to find something so you can knock another person off of your Christmas list. Lead with the person, not with the gift, and let the tools we have at our fingertips lead you towards the right gift. Time and time again, you’ll find something perfect – and you’ll save money.

And no, I won’t mention the gift idea I found. That person is a Simple Dollar reader, after all.