The Serious & Official Rules of Gifting

by Rachel on December 2, 2010

Now that it’s officially the Christmas season, people have been asking for my gifting advice. I love gifting, so I’m happy to help — but I realized that before I give any specific ideas, I must first share my gifting rules!

Rule #23: Thou shalt spoil on birthdays and Valentine’s Day. Since birthdays are all about having a great day, I recommend experience gifts. I think the best birthday gifts are tickets to concerts or shows, or going to do some fun activity that your giftee will love. I always keep on eye on Groupon for experience gift ideas — even if the birthday is too far away to buy the Groupon now, I often get ideas that I can bookmark for later. I also think mini-trips (or major trips, if you’re rolling in cash) are great for birthdays. I think a weekend getaway is the perfect birthday gift.

If you can’t do an experience gift, I think birthday gifts should be luxurious or even frivolous — something the person wouldn’t buy him or herself. Expensive make-up or perfume/cologne, cool vintage jewelry or nice sunglasses — the kind of thing that is so that person but also has an element of fun or “I’ve wanted this but couldn’t justify buying it for myself!” Bottom line: it should feel special.

Also, Caitlin from The Twenty-Fifth Year does birthdays really well. Check out her post on it — I love how she does gifts!

Rule #24: Thou shalt use gold and silver to mark major milestones. While I love gifting and receiving things like classic jewelry, decadent home goods (like amazing but pricey candlesticks), and — for guys — watches and cuff links, I think these are greats gift for big events: graduation, passing the bar exam, getting engaged, etc. For these events, like birthdays, you want it to feel special and kind of over-the-top, and it also doesn’t need to be something practical that the person will use every day. And since usually milestones come with moving on to a new stage of life, I like a gift that can reflect that transition.

Rule #25: When it comes to Christmas, this is your equation: (Seriously Useful x Technologically Advanced x So Them) + A Little Surprising = Magical. Much to my disappointment, most of the people in my life are hard to shop for. It’s not that they don’t like getting gifts…they just simply aren’t as materialistic as I am. For these people — and all people, really — I start with useful. Everyone has needs, right? And the hard-to-shop-for are usually happiest with something they’ll actually use. But I can’t be happy just giving a totally practical gift, so I put my efforts into finding something just a little bit sexier. That’s why I like kitchen gadgets as gifts — they really can make someone’s life easier, and I know she might just not know about that herb mincer or milk vibrator that could totally change her life. And if they aren’t a cook, this equation still applies. Last year I gave my mom — who is so hard to shop for — a new cell phone and it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever given and that she has ever received. And this year, my perfect gift is a Kindle or a sweet grill. Seriously useful, so me, and a little sexy.

This equation works great for male gifting. Things like ipods, nice kitchen knives, tools, or a remote car starter are things that they will love and use and often fall under the category of “everything you never knew you always wanted” — which is my main goal with gifting.

Another really good useful but surprising gift? Amazing sheets and pillows. I mean, how much thought do we really put into our pillows? People don’t usually splurge on this for themselves, but really, it’s a pretty important item in our lives.

I think Christmas gifts should be something that can be used throughout the year, so I also recommend keeping this equation in mind and looking for subscription gifts. Subscriptions to Netflix or Sirus radio can make a perfect gift!

Rule #26: Feed those don’t know well but still love. I love food gifts, and I think they are perfect for people like in-laws, relatives you don’t see very often, or even your boss. They are also great for knocking out a whole family — instead of getting your aunt, uncle, and cousins separate gifts, just get them all one big food gift! As long as you know the basics of their diet, you’re all set.

Rule #27: Stuff stockings with the most practical things. I love how my mom does our family’s stockings — they are packed with things like razor blades, tampons, big containers of nuts, socks, batteries, and gift cards to Subway or Starbucks. These are things you will always use but never feel like buying. I’m not opposed to very practical gifts, but put those things that aren’t Technologically Advanced + A Little Surprising in the stocking. They should never be the gift.

With those rules in mind, I’ll share some gift ideas next week! Any other gifting rules you have to add to these?

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Colleen December 2, 2010 at 11:24 am

This is an AWESOME list. I’m all about practical-but-cool gifts for the holidays. I know that, personally, I hate receiving stuff I’ll never use, no matter how cool looking it is, so I love it when a person takes my needs into account.


2 Alli December 2, 2010 at 11:29 am

My mom has always done “practical” presents for stocking gifts as well! Socks/tights, toothbrushes, gum, etc…I always thought it was so weird growing up, but totally appreciate it now.

An all-purpose holiday gift that’s always served me well is a cute mug and a small package of fancy coffee/tea/hot chocolate/whatever the person drinks….sometimes I’ll throw in a mini bottle of Bailey’s or Kahlua as well, haha.

I’m having the worst time finding a gift for my two brothers (17 and 23) — what do guys that age want, anyway (dirty jokes aside….)?


3 Stina December 2, 2010 at 11:48 am

So… you totally just justified my idea to buy the boyfriend a set of good kitchen knives for Christmas.

(Though admittedly my plan is compeltely selfish since I do most of the cooking at his house anyway!)

I agree with your rule on food gifts. I always bring a platter of homemade cookies/ treats in to work as my gift to coworkers.


4 Alina @ Duty Free Foodie December 2, 2010 at 11:53 am

There are some seriously good ideas in here. I am not great with the gifting, so I need all the help I can get.


5 angela December 2, 2010 at 11:53 am

Awesome ideas. I’ve always been a fan of buying people all the little things they’ve mentioned they really wanted or needed but then failed to pick up for themselves throughout the year. It’s a meaningful way of showing those people that you do listen and care and remember when they tell you things. If I caught that you really needed new socks that fit just right but were too broke/lazy/keep forgetting to get them yourself, you know I also listened when you told me things that mattered.

I’m also all about buying stuff they wouldn’t normally buy themselves, or just have been wanting really badly and haven’t had the money for.


6 B. December 2, 2010 at 12:16 pm

I bought my man a nice, tricked-out pepper grinder for one of his smaller b-day gifts. The man rarely cooks for himself and always eats out and -gasp- doesn’t have a salt/pepper set at his place. He dislikes putting salt on his food, however, but loooves pepper, so I got him a super nice, tricked-out pepper grinder from Target and I’d never seen the man more overwhelmed with joy in his life. ; )

Also, one of the best gifts I’ve ever received (from him, last Christmas): Hastens pillows. Hand crafted luxury pillows containing satchets of lavendar? Alleluia. Christ is born. Seriously, check out the Hastens website – you won’t be sorry.


7 Matt December 2, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Great ideas! What are your rules on shopping for parental units? LOL.


8 Aj December 2, 2010 at 12:37 pm

I have scored major parent points with photo books each year. My parents are well off enough that anything they seriously need, they buy for themselves and anything they seriously want, I can’t afford (yet!). However, we live thousands of miles and 3 time zones apart and are unfortunately not a part of my daily life, which is what they want more than anything. R and I each year put together photo books for each set of parents using Snapfish or Shutterfly. They are affordable and perfect! Plus knowing we have these to put together makes us take far more photos during the year AND putting them together is a great way to review the year and remember the fun times. My parents bring the book to each and every holiday party the attend that year. Seriously, major major points.


9 Danielle December 2, 2010 at 12:44 pm

I love rule #23! That is what I live by. Why would you want to give someone something they were about to buy themselves anyway, it just isn’t as special.


10 Rachael December 2, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Ah the remote start for his truck. Best birthday gift I ever gave because I’m pretty sure he still gets a boner when he starts that rumbly truck up 100 yards away and everyone in the parking lot just STARES.


11 Summer December 2, 2010 at 2:53 pm

I just love the idea of a festive stocking filled to the brim with razor blades and tampons.

Kidding :) Stockings are the best place for useful things; that’s what my roommate and decided to do for each other this year. I’ve also given co-workers unique coffee mugs with hot tea or instant coffee packets. Cheap and slightly personal!


12 Jasmine @ Eat Move Write December 2, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Your mom puts TAMPONS in your stocking? That’s hilarious. lol. I love it.

I actually wrote the “broke ass ho” equivalent to this very post on my blog today. Great mind think alike, apparantly. :)


13 Jenn December 2, 2010 at 7:58 pm

Great post! I’m glad to know practical stuff isn’t completely lost on material-lovers (my boyfriend aside).


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