Where Logic Meets Love

Last-Minute Gift Ideas for Hard-to-Shop-For Folks

Friday, December 21, 2012

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Last-Minute Gift Ideas for Hard-to-Shop-For Folks | Faith Permeating Life

We are traveling for the holidays, so I'm taking a break from blogging until next Friday. In the meantime, enjoy this updated repost of my gift suggestion guide from last year!

I've seen a lot of bloggers posting gift guides -- suggestions for what holiday gifts to buy for various people. So you can get advice for everyone in your life from the Jane Austen fan to the ballet dancer. (And Mórrígan's tongue-in-cheek Catholic Christmas gift guide is pretty hilarious.)

I like the idea of giving other people experiences. I've always heard that money is better spent on experiences than things in terms of boosting your happiness. For myself, I'm very particular about what I put on my Christmas list and for several years have requested that people give to specific charities rather than buy me something not on my list, simply because I don't like having too many "things" in our little apartment. And many of the people I know don't really need or want a lot of things either; my dad always struggles to put enough things on his list that everyone in the family can buy him something.

So here's my (updated) gift guide for giving experiences, not things.

I am not the kind of person who typically spends money on things like manicures and massages, but I do enjoy them enough that I'd get them on someone else's dime. I think there are a lot of people who are in this same boat: They enjoy getting pampered, but don't feel justified spending their hard-earned money this way. If you go this route, I suggest a gift card to a spa or similar place where there are a variety of options (massage, facial, manicure/pedicure), as what's relaxing for one person is uncomfortable for another.

This could be any number of things, depending on what the person enjoys. A round of golf (or mini-golf). A day at an amusement park. A zoo or museum membership. A gift card to get movie tickets or concert tickets of their choice. Something that gets them out of the house and doing something they find fun. On last year's post, Sarah Hayes talked about arranging a photo shoot with a photographer friend as a gift for someone.

You can go either way with this one, either actually giving someone food (cookies, jam, their favorite snack) or giving a gift card to their favorite restaurant. Either way, they have the enjoyable experience of eating delicious food and then don't have anything taking up space afterwards. (Unless you give them food they don't like, in which case it will go in their pantry out of obligation and then stay there until the end of time. At least in my experience.)

Not magazine subscriptions. Unless you know it's something they've really wanted but haven't subscribed to for some reason, a magazine subscription can easily just become another piece of mail to deal with. I'm talking about virtual subscriptions. This could be anything from Netflix (movies) to Pandora One (music) to Hulu Plus (TV shows). If you know someone's using a trial version or free, ad-supported version of some service, paying for a subscription to the premium service could be a great gift.

Charity donations aren't really one of my go-to gifts for other people because it's kind of weird, like, "Here, I'm giving you nothing! Instead, I gave money to some other people you may or may not care about!" But I think it's a great option for putting on your own wishlist if you don't know what to ask for. Need some ideas? Check out this year's Project for Awesome website, where you'll find videos about charities focused on just about anything you could think of. Then use Charity Navigator to make sure the charity is on the up-and-up. If you do want to give a charity gift to someone else, consider a site like Global Giving or DonorsChoose where your recipient can still pick where the money's going.

Microlending: Not Quite Money, Not Quite Charity
As an alternative to a charity gift or just straight-up giving someone cash (which some people will appreciate and some will find impersonal), check out Kiva.org, where you can lend money to entrepreneurs in developing countries. You can buy gift cards to the site, which means the person who receives the gift card gets to go through and decide who they want to lend the money to, then eventually the money will be paid back and they can reinvest it or cash it out to PayPal. It's doing good, giving an experience, and giving money all in one! If you have a concern about the high interest rates overseas, check out this post from John Green explaining why this is the case. Microplace is a similar site that includes U.S. businesses.

Your Words
In December 2010 I was scouring the Internet for gift ideas for my grandmother. She was spending Christmas with us so I had to get her something, but she's at the age where she doesn't need anything, doesn't want anything, and is actively trying to give her things away. I finally hit on this suggestion: Send a postcard a week for all of the next year. I didn't talk with her very often and writing a letter seemed too time-consuming when I never felt I had much to say, but writing a few sentences on a postcard every week, I could do. I ended up ordering some custom ones with our picture from Vistaprint so she'd have something special to open, but just a cheap pack of postcards will do -- it's your time that you're giving (plus the cost of postage!). The entire year she never failed to mention to my dad every time she talked to him how much she loved getting my weekly notes, and every holiday when she sent a card she would write a little P.S. about how much she was enjoying the postcards. Here's another gift in which words -- specifically, memories -- are the most important part.

I purposely avoided labeling this last section "Your Time," even though that's basically what you're giving, because I often see suggestions to give people homemade coupons for your time, whether you can cook for them or mow the lawn or whatever. I've given and gotten these types of coupons before and, at least in my experience, they don't work because no one actually cashes them in. No one feels comfortable going back to someone a month or two later and saying, "Here, I want you to cook me a meal tonight." The only way this kind of thing might work is with a partner or best friend where you're close enough, and have access to their calendar, to say, "I've scheduled you a massage for this day and then I'm going to cook you dinner" or "I'm taking your kids this night so you and your husband can go on a date." Otherwise I've never seen this kind of gift work except in a kind of "it's the thought that counts" way (i.e., you are giving the offer of cooking, but not the actual cooking).

I'd love to hear your suggestions for what other ways you can give the gift of experiences rather than physical things. What's the best experiential gift you've received or given?


  1. Love the postcard idea. It is so hard to get gifts for the elderly and that would be really special.

    I agree on the coupons. Nobody ever cashes them in. Well, hardly ever. My parents did give us coupons for overnight babysitting this year, and we did use them. It actually helped a lot because it let us know how much they were willing to do, so we didn't feel bad about asking. I notice there's a large package for us this year, and I'm kind of hoping they still tucked those overnight babysitting cards in somewhere--otherwise I don't know if I will be willing to ask or not.

    1. I can see how that would work with the coupons, less like "I am exchanging this in a formal business transaction" and more of just letting you know they were willing to help out. Very cool!

  2. A lot of good ideas here! I'm done with my shopping for this year, but these are good to keep in mind.

    Charity donations in someone's name always makes me think of Seinfeld, where George was giving people donations in their name to "the Human Fund," which he had made up.

    1. Hahaha, I've never seen that episode, but I can totally see that. When people give me cards that say "a donation to such-and-such thing you've never heard of has been made in your name" I'm like, cool... but I would have no idea if that thing didn't even exist :)

  3. For the birthday of a good friend of mine, I wrapped up two copies of a book, one for her and one for me. I knew neither of us had read it, even though it had won many awards and had great reviews. We read it at the same time and met at a coffee shop to have a "book group" of two (my treat, of course, since that was also part of the gift). It was a gift that was fun to give and receive!

    Giving to charities in someone's name can be good if you tailor it carefully to the person. For instance, I sometimes donate to the humane society for my partner's family, since they are BIG animal lovers. I love when people give me charitable donations as gifts, too, but that's just me.

    1. That's a really great idea about the book! Thanks for sharing that!

      I almost added something like what you said about giving to charities in someone's name; I do think you have to have a certain kind of relationship with someone and really know what would be meaningful to them for the gift to have the same kind of impact as directly giving something to them. What you described sounds like a great example of where giving to charity on someone's behalf makes sense.


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