When it comes to giving and receiving gifts, they say it’s the thought that counts. Unfortunately, good intentions can’t drown out the silence that fills a room after someone opens a gift that’s not quite right.
We’ve all been on the giving and receiving end of an awkward, out-of-date, or just-plain-strange gift experience. That scarf you were sure your mother-in-law would love. The baby doll your niece chucked across the room the moment she saw it. Or, the ugly or wrong-sized sweater you were shocked to receive and not exactly graceful about. (When this happened to me, I was not so amused to find my “ugly sweater” wouldn’t even fit over my head.)
Eight Gifts That Are Never Thrown Away
Yes, gifts come in all shapes and sizes, flavors, and denominations. And for every gift that “wows” someone, there are five duds waiting to be opened. Fortunately, there are some gifts that never get thrown away, are never left to decay in a hall closet, and are never re-gifted to someone on the other side of the family.
If you’re hoping to get through the holidays without giving someone their worst gift ever, consider these ideas:
No. 1: Photos and Photo Memories
If you’re dreaming of a gift that won’t make its way into the trash can, break out the family photos and buy some snazzy frames. “There’s nothing more special than receiving a memory in tangible form,” says frugality blogger Michelle Diamond of EveryLittleCent.com. And with digital options easier to come by than ever, some may see the fact that you had pictures printed and think you went the extra mile.
If you want to get fancy, you can even have digital photos made into keepsake photo book. Nowvel.com does this particularly well and even lets you upload photos from your iPhone, Instagram, and Facebook. Prices start at $20.
Other companies, from Shutterfly to SocialPrintStudio to Zazzle, offer a similar range of photo gift ideas. You can even find tutorials online to help you make some gifts yourself, like these Instagram refrigerator magnets.
According to Howard Schaffer, VP of Merchandising and Partner Management for Offers.com, photo books will be kept forever because of the memories they hold and represent.
“Photos can capture countless moments that seem to slip past our memory until reminded again,” he says. “People cherish these gifts because people cherish the ones in the photos.”
No. 2: Experience Gifts
If you buy someone a gift, you have no say in where it ends up. But if you take them somewhere or gift an experience, they might just remember the occasion forever.
“We love to give experiences, family passes to local attractions, and things people wouldn't buy for themselves,” says professional speaker and blogger Kylie Travers.
Experience gifts can be anything, and you can even tailor them to the recipient. Giving opera or theatre tickets to someone who loves performing arts is a good option, for example. For a family, you could also give zoo passes, entry tickets to a theme park, or tickets to a sporting event.
Movie tickets are another good option, says frugality and budgeting expert Jacob Wade of IHeartBudgets.net. “They don't expire, and it's a free date night activity.”
No. 3: Personalized Gifts
Unless they are especially cruel and callous, most people won’t throw away a gift that has been personalized.
New York-based relationship expert and author April Masini says personalized stationary is the perfect gift. “You can use beautiful personalized stationery in lieu of birthday cards, wedding cards and even anniversary cards,” she says.
Other gifts that are easy to personalize include jewelry, blankets, and home décor. Sites like Shutterfly even let you take photos and create an array of personalized gifts from calendars to pillows. With the entire Internet at your disposal, almost anything can be personalized these days.
No. 4: High-Quality Foods
Sometimes the best gifts are ones people wouldn’t buy for themselves. And since everybody loves delicious and decadent consumables, food makes the perfect gift that almost no one throws away.
“My family is big on food gifts,” says finance blogger Kate Horrell. In her inner circle, popular gifts have included treats like really nice steaks, specialty nuts, and other goodies in the past. “I once gave my uncle a case of individually packaged ahi tuna steaks for his birthday, and the evidence suggests that it was appreciated.”
Since everyone needs to eat something and most people have a favorite food, this gift idea can work for anyone. And if you’re out of ideas, stick to the easy stuff: coffee, chocolate, and desserts.
No. 5: Beer or Wine
Beer is the perfect present, says frugality blogger Steven D. of EvenStevenMoney.com. “I have only given the gift of beer once or twice on special occasions,” he says. “I have yet to hear back that they threw away such a present, unless of course you include the empties.”
An assortment of craft or specialty seasonal beers or a nice bottle of wine are almost always good gift ideas to consider. And that’s true whether your friends or family are frequent drinkers or not; most people could use an extra bottle of wine for a special occasion. (Unless they abstain from alcohol completely, in which case you should opt for some delectible edibles instead.)
Financial planner Katie Brewer of YourRichestLifePlanning.com says wine should be the go-to gift for anyone on your list – that is, as long as they’re 21. “Even if you don't like the type of wine that you receive, you can always open it up later when friends are over.”
No. 6: Gift Cards or Cash
Still can’t find a gift for that special someone? Consider giving cold, hard cash instead. And if you don’t want to go that route, you can give a cash alternative like gift cards instead. That way, the recipient will have something to “open” and you can tailor the gift by buying the gift card to their favorite store.
“Probably the single most useful gift these days is a gift card, especially to some retailer with wide appeal like Amazon or the iTunes store, or just a general Visa pre-paid gift card,” says Heather Lovett of DealNews.com. While this isn’t a very personalized gift, it's unlikely to go to waste. “Almost anyone could use these good-as-cash gifts, and if they can't, gift cards can easily be sold or re-gifted.”
- Related: Guide to the Gift Card Economy
No. 7: Holiday Décor or Ornaments
Buying a holiday gift for someone is especially simple if they decorate their home or put up a tree. Most people break out the seasonal décor when the holidays roll around anyway, and buying them something they can use year after year is one way to give a gift that will live on.
Sustainable living blogger Eliza Cross of Happy Simple Living believes Christmas ornaments are perfect for those who celebrate the holiday.
When she and her family decorated their tree recently, they were reminded of the ornaments they received and the people who gave them. “I think a Christmas ornament is a perfect, simple gift that most will keep and appreciate for many years,” she says.
No. 8: Books or Knowledge
Author Neil Gaiman once said that books "make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them. And it's much cheaper to buy somebody a book than it is to buy them the whole world.”
Whether you want to introduce a friend to a topic or author you love, gift someone your favorite novel or memoir, or simply give the gift of knowledge, a good book is never a bad option.
Of course there are other ways to give knowledge as well. If your loved one isn’t into books, consider giving a course or some kind of tutorial instead. Debt blogger Grayson Bell of Debt Roundup believes in this concept wholeheartedly.
“You can't throw away something you learn and absorb,” he says. “This is why I give out gifts of online courses for topics that interest my friends and family.”
Grayson says some of his friends have learned to code through courses he has given them, and they have used that skill to earn money in their spare time.
Holiday Gift Giving: Don’t Be That Person
Coming up with creative gift ideas is somewhat of an art form. And just like any other type of art, some of us just aren't that good at it.
But if you want to avoid the dreaded silence that comes after someone opens the worst gift ever – your gift -- put in a little extra effort this year, or at least go for something you're sure they'll use. Come up with something new and fun, give a friend their favorite wine or a big, juicy, steak, or gift the world's most unoriginal yet always welcome standby: cash.
And if you mess up, you’ve always got next year to get it right.
What is the world gift you have ever received? What gifts are you giving this year?