We like giving the “perfect” gift as much as the next person, but the “perfect” gift often is likely to be:
b) dependent on the recipient’s taste, which may be finicky.
c) all of the above.
The bottom line is that it’s so easy to get it wrong.
Therefore, we often opt for the practical over the sexy when it comes to giving. Plus, the “perfect” gift that’s actually unwanted or unused is a waste of money. Sometimes the practical gift actually comes in handy, making it the item that’s remembered the longest.
We’ll never forget the story of the practical gift that saved a family — literally. A young man’s gift to his parents — a smoke detector — sat under the tree when a fire broke out in the house in the middle of the night. Fortunately, the giver had put batteries into his gift. Even though it was wrapped and under the tree, the smoke alarm did its job, and the family escaped unharmed.
We doubt our practical gifts will have so dramatic an outcome but you never know. If you or your loved ones are on a budget or a fixed income, ignore the inclination to exchange sweaters and ties this year, and makeover your holiday gift giving with practical presents. Each of the following are wonderful for giving (or hint-hinting that you might want to be on the receiving end). The idea is to choose something that either represents a special treat that people on a budget wouldn’t spend on themselves, or a way to help offset the cost of something they enjoy or need.
Here are some practical gifts to ponder…
A contribution to a child’s 529 plan. Saving for college sometimes falls to the back burner for those paying off debt or saving for retirement. That’s why this is a good gift if you have grandchildren, or nieces and nephews, and contributions can be as little or as much as you’d like.Variation: For those students already in college, create a care package for them to take back to the dorms. Choose a theme and have fun with it, like a “cram session kit” stocked with snacks, a coffee mug, index cards, and a pack of highlighters.
Carbon monoxide detector – These can be purchased as a combination carbon monoxide and smoke detector, or separately. These start as low as $14, so you can get one for everyone on your list, or add one to a gift with other safety items.
Movie theater and/or restaurant gift cards. When people cut back on spending, often it’s recreation like dining out or going to the movies that’s the first to go. A night out without having to hit the ATM would be a welcome gift for a special couple in your life. This doesn’t have to be a fancy restaurant – pick up a gift card at their favorite coffee shop, ice cream shop or bakery. While a restaurant gift card may be generic, if they dine out a lot (or would like to but don’t want to spend the money), the free meal will be a hit. Plus it’s a great time to buy these, as there are tons of gift card bonus offers – so you’ll both get something.
Fire extinguisher for the kitchen – Fire Gone has received some rave reviews because it is so easy to use. Fire extinguishers are even more practical this holiday season due to the huge fire extinguisher recall last year. Many need to replace their Kidde fire extinguishers with plastic handles, and probably don’t realize it. Here is one that is rechargeable.
Fireproof document box – Hopefully they’ll never have a chance to test if these work, but they’re a great place to store most valuable documents and items so that they are easy to find – or grab during an emergency. Include a money gift inside to add to the surprise.
Electric toothbrush – A thrilling gift? No. Something they’ll use at least twice a day? Probably (at least, their dentist hopes so). My dental hygienist says that electric toothbrushes keep your teeth cleaner and are less likely to damage gums and enamel. Whether you get a basic no-frills $5 model, or a fancy option with a water flosser, it’s a gift that will keep them buzzing.
Coupons or gift for a service. For example, the parents of young children would be thrilled to receive certificates from you that entitles them to a few hours of baby-sitting. You could also offer pet-sitting or walking services, or coupons for poo patrol. Be sure to include an expiration date so they’ll redeem the coupons promptly. Other options are for yard work, meal delivery, car detailing, or oil changes – whether you can perform the service or purchase a gift card for them.
Rechargeable batteries – Rather than throw disposable batteries away constantly, they can recharge them. It’s a gift that saves them money month after month. I can’t begin to count how many dollars I have saved over the years because I use rechargeable batteries. They are an expense to begin with, but they save money as time goes on. And they are better for the planet. Find out which sizes the person uses most often (think remote controls, computer mouse, smoke detectors, etc) and combine with a battery charger.
Electric blanket – Know someone who is always cold? They’ll be thrilled to curl up under this each chilly evening. You can even get an electric blanket for the car so they don’t have to wait for it to warm up. Or how about a heated shawl that plugs into the USB port of your computer?
First aid kit – Grab one for their car and/or for their home. This is one of those items you wish you had, but your rarely think about buying for yourself. So get two – one for you.
Photo calendar. Select photos for each month taken during that particular month so the recipient can reminisce about what they were doing during the same month last year. Or pick a calendar that relates to your loved one’s personality.
Emergency road kit – While this isn’t a kit that will get much use (hopefully, anyway), it will save the day if the time ever comes.
Rolls of quarters (this gift is a winner with college students and apartment dwellers who need to feed the washer and dryer and urban dwellers who need to feed the parking meter).
New pillow. If you’ve read anything about pillows, they are gross…filled with skin cells and dust mites. Basically, these need to be washed and replaced way more than most of us do it. Yes, pillow comfort is a personal thing, but over 10,000 people gave this a 5 star review on Amazon, so we think it’s a safe bet. And it has a 100-day guarantee.
Book of stamps. Yes, there are still folks who use stamps. Think of your Aunt Tillie and other relatives who don’t pay their bills via the Internet and who still like to send old-fashioned greeting cards by snail mail. But instead of buying that big roll of flag stamps, get creative. The USPS has holiday stamps available in the forever stamp. Is your grandmother a history buff? Buy a sheet of these commemorative stamps. Check out Scooby-Doo, Star Trek or other special stamps for enthusiasts.
A Costco or Amazon Prime membership. Belonging to a warehouse club or enjoying free shipping and other benefits to the online retailer can add up to tons of savings for savvy shoppers — whether it’s via shopping in bulk or getting free shipping — especially if the membership fee is taken care of by a thoughtful gift giver.
Membership to a local zoo, museum, or botanical garden. Membership to a local museum or zoo can drastically reduce admission pricing for families who love to go on educational outings. You can often purchase gift memberships at galleries and other places of interest. If you know the recipient will be vacationing somewhere, look for passes to spots in that city, such as the Museum of Modern Art, to make their visit memorable.
Gas card. Gasoline is definitely expensive, which is why someone with a minimal income might appreciate filling up the tank for free.
A magazine subscription. This gift can be enjoyed all year, and will save the recipient from making impulsive newsstand purchases. Variation: TV and movie lovers might enjoy a subscription to a couple of months of Netflix or Hulu Plus.
The Entertainment Book. For those who hate paying full price for their entertainment, this giant coupon book includes deals for thousands of area businesses, restaurants, and attractions. Or for a modern spin on local discounts, a Groupon gift card lets the recipient keep watch for local deals that are too good to pass up.
For more great holiday tips, read these articles: