Gift giving can be fun—when it's easy.
We all love picking out and packaging the perfect present for a friend, relative or co-worker we adore.
But selecting just the right something for everyone on our list, well, that's a different story. Who hasn't done multiple laps at the mall, or racked her brain wondering, "What am I going to get my sister's boyfriend's mom?"
And that's to say nothing of being on the receiving end: Faking a smile and feigning delight when you just opened something that, at best, makes you groan is no one's idea of a good time. Unless, maybe, you're an actress.
But here's where all that ends: This year, in honor of having truly happier holidays—where no gift goes unloved, or gets returned—we've come up with strategies to help you track down things that will make everyone you're buying for giddy. And help you get exactly what's on your list, too.
Here's to a holiday of gifts with real value—and real smiles all around:
If You're Giving ...
Be a gift anthropologist.
Think about what that person loves, what their routines are and what they talk about. If you notice that they always give beautiful cards, look for a gift at a stationery store. If they love yoga, give an eye pillow they can place over their eyes at the end of class. Above all, start at a store that specializes in their interests: You'll not only get good ideas, you'll ensure that they can always exchange your gift for something else they'd like. If this is someone you don't see regularly, their Facebook and Twitter feeds, Pinterest boards or personal blog can provide clues to the type of gifts they'll cherish.
Use a go-between.
Here's another good tactic when buying for someone you don't know well. If you want to go the personal route, and get something she specifically wants, see if a spouse/significant other/sister/brother/mother/father/best friend knows, or can surreptitiously find out and relay the information back to you.
Give a hybrid.
While gift cards may seem like a cop-out, for the last five years, they've topped the list of gift requests and now comprise a third of all holiday gift giving, according to recent surveys by the National Retail Foundation. In fact, a gift card can be great option for people you don't know intimately, but do know have a particular hobby or interest. In order to make your choice as thoughtful as possible, choose a store you know she will frequent and, to add a personal touch, pick out a small item from that store to accompany the card.
Choose a wild card.
If you're truly stumped, you could opt for a Tango Card, a flexible gift card that can be used at many retailers (such as Amazon, Target and Zappos), or be put toward several charities including Habitat for Humanity and the National Park Foundation, or even redeemed for cash. In the card, you can personalize a present like this by writing, "I know you love shoes—and this can be used at Zappos. But there are also hundreds of other places you can also spend this cash. Happy Shopping—and Happy Holidays!"
For receiving ...
Draw up an online list.
More discreet than sending an email blast, you can document your wants on Amazon, whose wish list section features a Universal Wish List button that allows you to add items from anywhere on the web. Then, if someone asks what you want for the holidays, you can politely point them here. And, if you receive a gift card, be sure to use it. Each year retailers make a fortune from the money never cashed in on gift cards.
Send a messenger.
When it comes to the repeat bad gift givers in your life, get someone else to deliver a hint. Maybe your Aunt Judy always gives you cat calendars, or great-aunt Linda never fails to offer a repugnant Christmas sweater. In that case, see if your mom can intervene and say something like, “You know, she loves business school, but she's so stressed out. What she could really use this year is a certificate for a massage.”
Ask for one big-ticket item.
If multiple people will be buying for you, and all you want for the holidays is a fancy camera that is out of budget, you could ask that they donate whatever they wish toward that cause. Or you could also suggest that the whole family forego traditional gift-giving this year and get one big gift for everyone, i.e. a family trip to Costa Rica or a household computer.
Request a donation.
If you're already dreading what a particularly distant relative or in-law will give you, suggest that instead of buying you something this year, he or she instead donate to your favorite charity.