How to Avoid Christmas Gift Mistakes

Every Christmas seems to bring the same rushed mentality of last-minute gift buying. For many, there is a high element of resentment involved in Christmas gift purchasing, pressured by the sales pitch and advertising cajoling us to believe that true devotion to others can only be properly shown through gifting expensively and extensively.

The reality is this: Most people grow tired of receiving gifts that have little to do with their needs, interests, or style. How, therefore, do you improve the chances of giving a gift that matches their mood and needs without offloading another unwanted gewgaw into their lives?


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    Avoid buying decorative items. Unless your spouse or friend has specifically directed you to purchase "that exact decorative thing" for the house, just don't go there. It's way too personal and worst of all, it's blatantly invasive. Remember the stories about people scrambling around to find Great Aunt Jemima's ugly duckling sculpture whenever she visits only to have her thump through the door before they get it on display?! Maybe those aren't stories - maybe it's precisely what you do. The reality is that people don't want to feel obliged to include your idea of style with theirs. They already have a good notion of what they perceive as their style and without specific knowledge of how to add to that, you will end up causing guilt, distress, or thoughts of disposal!
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    Avoid purchasing large appliances. You might feel you're being generous forking out $1000 on that coffee making super deluxe that requires at least half the bench space but sadly, unless it was asked for specifically, it's likely your generosity will cause intense discomfort. Assuming someone loves the appliance and its tricks as much as you do is problem number one. Problem number two is assuming they will be more than happy to make room for it in their already limited space. And problem number three is the reality that it's very hard to hide a large appliance and "forget about it". Don't be surprised if you find it on eBay come January.
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    Get over the "impersonality" of vouchers. Vouchers are great. The reason is several fold: Vouchers give freedom of shopping expression. Vouchers oblige a shopping-shy person to go somewhere they might otherwise feel is beyond their budget or style and try out new "somethings". Vouchers take away the guilt, the misjudgments, the messiness of personal style infliction. And vouchers can be for services as much as goods: Services such as massages, spa visits, hair styling at expensive salons, movie visits, a ride in a balloon, a rock climb, etc. The wonder of service vouchers is that you can give something to people that they might not otherwise allow themselves to indulge in. How wonderful is that?!
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    Ask. Surprise is for the vague and the wandering souls who hope gifts will bring them a sense of direction. There is no harm in asking someone directly what it is they'd really and truly appreciate as a gift for Christmas. If they appear uncomfortable, or worry about costs attached, make it easy by asking for a list of their wildest to their most frugal ideas. And assure them that something will be "sorted" as a result of that list! It can be very reassuring to both purchaser and recipient to know that the gift is truly wanted.
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    Reduce the amount and up the quality. When that nasty habit of making the Christmas tree appear as if it is swimming in gifts has overtaken your household each year, it's time to take stock and do a rethink. Quantity is not all that we might dream it to be; quantity often means a reduction in quality, a surfeit of dollar store fill-ins and a tendency to feel overwhelmed and worn out with the extent of gewgaws getting opened. As for watching children open too many gifts, that can be a wipeout of its very own, especially as they cease to remember who gave them what as the opening continues...
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    Target voids and worn-outs. A really fantastic gift is the one that replaces something much loved but worn out or on its last legs. It's even better where the gift replaces something that is broken but the owner never "got around to buying a new one". In the case of "voids", ask about missing items, such as the missing trousers amid the glut of t-shirts, etc. Fill the gaps and help create balance.
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    Consider homemade items as being just fine. Homemade food, homemade clothing, homemade kits, etc., make eminently suitable gifts provided you do a good job of them. The care lavished on them more than makes up for the lack of a commercial brand name and packaging. Great ideas include gift baskets of jams and jellies, homemade candies, screen-printed t-shirts, knitted scarves, eco-friendly cleaning kit (with printed instructions), homemade flavored alcohol or vinegars, etc.
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    Give of yourself. Give your time to do things such as repairs around the house, collecting the groceries, preparing the Christmas meal, babysitting, etc. For some families who travel vast distances to be with the wider family at Christmas, the mere fact of your presence is a gift, one that hides the realities of the costs of travel, accommodations, making arrangements for pets/plants at home to be cared for, etc. That in itself is a huge gift and reflects the focus on what Christmas spirit is really about–sharing time together for spiritual and emotional nourishment.


  • When you're dithering about what to get someone, that's a sure sign that asking for guidance from the recipient is the smart way to proceed.
  • Ask parents for ideas about what their children really need if you're giving gifts to kids you don't know so well. The toy store will have many glittering suggestions but they won't necessarily fit the lifestyle or beliefs of each family. Even where you do know the kids well, it is respectful to ask parents about their thoughts on the appropriateness of gift ideas.
  • Be unpredictable. It's not much fun giving a person the same gift every year even if you think you've cottoned onto the "ideal gift" for them. That's a surefire way to disappoint them after the initial years.
  • Pay attention to personality. Don't get frilly girly presents for the diehard tomboy whether that's a child or something cheerfully mainstream for a goth. Look at their subcultures. Someone in a historical society will generally be thrilled with gifts of fabric or inexpensive antiques. Flawed, small or cheap is okay but if it relates to their passion it'll be a hit. Nothing like a box of authentic Civil War buttons or a bullet from a battlefield to please the Civil War enthusiast. Good replicas are equally welcome.
  • Pay attention to their hobbies and interests. Read their Facebook page and look at what they like doing for fun. Someone with a hobby, either giving them a voucher to a specialty store or getting them to chat about the hobby and discuss the materials (and their preferences and future projects) can give very clear ideas and even set up for a surprise without the hobbyist realizing they've been questioned. Samplers and variety packs of materials are often especially appreciated, the hobbyist gets to try new things and may find new favorites in your gift.
  • If you know a family member or a close friend who is transgender, give them a gendered present aimed at their new or future gender. This will break their heart with joy. Even a small present like aftershave or an eyeshadow compact will become a lifelong memory.
  • Think practical: If you have a recipient who sells things on eBay for example, why not give them a bundle of envelopes, bubble wrap, sticky labels and tape in a gift basket?! They'll be thrilled at having a cost removed from their lucrative pastime!


  • Keep an eye on your budget. Christmas gift giving is not about breaking your bank account and causing you to go backward in the savings department. That simply doesn't make good sense and isn't what Christmas spirit is about.
  • Avoid food gifts for people who complain about allergies, sensitivities, health-limited diets or digestive problems regularly. It can be frustrating to be presented with a formerly favorite food that's no longer allowed to a diabetic.
  • Avoid presents that require the recipient to spend a lot of their own money to use them, like new hobbies that require expensive materials unless you're grouping with other family members to set them up with everything that's needed. They shouldn't have to kill their January budgets just to enjoy your present, like buying new clothes to go out to the dinner or event you bought for them.
  • Don't just choose gift ideas based on marketing demographics like age, gender and occupation. Some doctors don't play golf. Some 24 year old males don't like computer games and would prefer a bookstore gift certificate. If you don't know them well, ask other relatives what their passions are and what they usually like. If you can narrow it to a specialty store they enjoy shopping at, gift certificates are a good choice.
  • Avoid presents that show a negative opinion of them as they are, like sports equipment or a gym membership for someone who's sedentary or weight loss program for someone you think is overweight. If they want support they'll talk about it. Of course if they enjoy trying new diets and always wanted to go to the gym, this is appropriate.
  • Avoid making assumptions that just because someone likes a certain color, that you can buy them clothing in that color every time. The style, precise shade, ability to match existing clothing etc., are all factors a person would take into account when buying clothes for themselves, and all of these factors are very hard to account for when buying clothes for another, unless you have been given specific pointers.

Things You'll Need

  • Time; don't leave the decision making till the last minute
  • Recycled wrapping paper (it saves money and trees)

Article Info

Categories: Christmas Gifts