Birthdays and gift-giving

My birthday is coming up and as always I’m getting asked what I want and as always, I don’t really know what to say. I have everything I need and most things that I want. Well, I never have a enough books, but since I read books via my Kindle, they aren’t an easy gift to give me.

I used to tell people that I wanted experiences. Those gift boxes for hotels or dinners or days at the spa, but then I almost always ended up using them at the last minute and only because they were about to expire.

A recent article in MoneySense magazine talks about the new middle class and how the younger generation wants gift cards so that they can buy themselves exactly what they want, when they want it. Personally, I’m against gift cards because they are impersonal and from my point of view, it means that the gift-card giver has to make very little effort to find a gift that fits with the person receiving the gift.

In fact, between receiving a gift card and not receiving a gift at all, I’d choose the latter. And don’t get me started on buying an acre of rain forest, adopting a wild animal or naming a star. If you want to make a donation to something, make the donation; don’t jazz it up saying that it’s a gift.

My mother had a good rule for birthday gifts: something the person would like but would never buy for themselves.

For example, for me that would be something like a virtual keyboard (I’m a bit of a tech geek) or a session in a tranquility tank (the movie Altered States and the show Fringe had a big impact on me). And, I’ll never say no to shoes or to fun kitchen tools (these days I’m dying for a decent marble rolling pin).

Speaking of the last category, one year a then-boyfriend bought me a rice cooker and I was thrilled! Friends were horrified and one even said that a rice cooker as a birthday present would be grounds for divorce in her house. But that’s what’s so amazing about really considering the person receiving the gift. What you might consider a relationship ender, for another person, might be the best, most awesome thing in the whole wide world!

How do you buy gifts? Are they obligations that you grab whatever comes to mind? Do you try to match the gift to the personality, maybe hoping to surprise the person? Or do you pick up something from a very specific list the person has provided you with?

12 Comments for “Birthdays and gift-giving”

  1. posted by grace on

    My last gift-giving opportunity was earlier this month. I “shopped” in my house. Through various ways and means I had acquired a non-thermos water bottle that was perfect for someone who does not like ice in their water and a set of kitty tabs (like the small post-it things to mark where to sign, something you want to go back to in a document, etc. but shapped like a cat lying down with space to write on). I packaged these with a great card and the recipient was thrilled. Good gift-giving does all come down to matching the gift to the recipient, whether it is shopping at home or shopping at a store.

  2. posted by Greg on

    I opened a bank account for my granddaughter, and on her special occasions I deposit money into it.
    On Christmas I give my son (her father) a check. It is always the right size, and hasn’t been returned yet.

  3. posted by Sally Anderson on

    My husband’s co-worker bought his wife a set of snow tires for her birthday. I guess that’s a Minnesota kind of thing.

  4. posted by erica on

    If someone cares enough to provide me with a list, I buy something on the list. Otherwise, I maintain a document on my computer, gifts4others, that has a number of generic, good-for-anyone gift ideas (cheese of the month club!) and the names of my nearest and dearest that I update whenever I see/think of something they would like.

  5. posted by Fazal Majid on

    I keep telling people to get me ultra-fancy socks (the likes of sea-island cotton from Falke, Pantherella, Doré-Doré and so on, which are usually in the $40 a pair range). You can never have too many socks, and a good pair makes a huge difference.

    They keep getting me cufflinks (I have way too many already) or ties (that I never wear in business-casual San Francisco) instead…

  6. posted by Teresa on

    I have friends that like to bike or walk to cafes for dinner – or take a very short drive if the weather is bad. I recently found a Humane Society fundraiser that provided free glasses of wines (check-offs in a passport type folder) at several cafes near my friends home. These are places they would very likely go to or visit regularly anyway. It was a perfect 15th-anniversary gift for them. They loved it. They don’t have to buy a meal to get the free adult beverage, so they can just drop in while they’re out for a bike ride on a nice day.

  7. posted by Celia on

    I respectfully disagree regarding gift cards. A gift card in any amount to a store or restaurant that I love is the PERFECT gift for me. It is like getting a gift three times: first when they thought of me and what I care about, second when I think and dream and research to decide how to actually use it, and then third when the card is actually redeemed – which often involves me beaming and telling the staff that this was a special gift from {person}. If I spend it on a physical thing, I will forever after think of that item as being from {person}.

    Realizing that others don’t feel the same way, I do try to be sensitive about giving gift cards to others. But truly – I have never known an avid reader who wasn’t thrilled to get a gift card to their favorite bookstore. 🙂

  8. posted by Pat on

    I have to agree with Celia. I love gift cards. My family has given me gift cards for the yoga studio where I take classes, the salon where I have my hair cut, the spa where I have my nails done, and my favorite shoe store. I am retired and this type of gift is really welcome.

  9. posted by Louise on

    I love finding gifts for people and I put a lot of effort into presents. I especially love putting together little hampers. For Easter this year I bought my sister some chocolate covered goji berries along with her usual favourite chocolate. She was so touched! My family always ask me for a list and only buy what’s on the list. It can be disheartening knowing you’re the “hard to buy for” person for your loved ones.

  10. posted by Carla on

    I’m surprised you don’t like donations as a gift. I would love if someone did that for me, but unfortunately my family is pretty fixed on physical gifts. We tend to buy off a list of specific items. It may not be as creative, but at least people get things they want.

  11. posted by Maria on

    I am also surprised by all the negativity around donations as gifts. I love to receive it and have only had very positive reactions when giving it (like Unicef gift cards with “worlds best teacher” and the donation goes to school material for refugee kids, or maternity packages for mothers in refugee camps when someoneI know had a baby… If they are close to me I would also give some small handknitted hat or made by me toy for the baby. At a 50th birthday celebration for a guy I know he cried with joy when receiving donations for an orphanage he supports but also for the gift card for vaccinations for kids that need it.

  12. posted by G. on

    As a gift giver, I’m all in favor of cash & gift cards – I’ve had it with my gifts (that were asked for) sitting unused, sold for a pittance, or given/thrown away because “it wasn’t the *exact* right one”.
    As a gift recipient, I’m all in favor of cash or gift cards for stores I go to. I’m over being the recipient of things people (DH) buy because *they* want it, or think I should use or wear. I’d rather have a donation gift to a charity that I support (that’s key!) than still more stuff to clutter the house.
    The older (and crabbier?) I get, the less I want to do with the whole gift giving/receiving routine, except for little kids and graduations/weddings (and those are definitely cash occasions).

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