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Eight Ways to Give Great Gifts

There are some basic concepts I use any time I need a gift.  These are in no particular order, and can definitely be combined. I really wanted to come up with a top ten, but most of my ideas fall within these eight categories.

I absolutely adore a good theme. I tend to go completely overboard when it comes to the brainstorming and idea part of planning, and a theme really helps me focus. The best way to pick a theme is to find inspiration. Whether it’s finding that one item that would be perfect for someone (see the pirate themed gift below), or being inspired by a  broader concept that isn’t as obvious (see Family Feud-style gift below).

I once created a pirate-themed gift for my hubby. It all started with an eye patch. The kind you get in the drug store when you have a real medical reason to have one.  I made a polymer clay skeleton jointed with paper clips holding a stuffed heart, a homemade banner that spelled out “AARGH!,” stuck in some gummy skulls and used pirate stickers from the dollar store to decorate a plain bag. It was a hit!

I think it would be fun to do a Family Feud style themed gift. Perhaps for a foodie you could do, “Name something you would put on a pizza” and include a nice pepperoni, pizza crust mix, a pizza spice blend, tomato sauce and some beer to have with your pizza.  You could really get creative with these, just spend some time looking online for questions and find one that inspires you!

Often theme gifts are also container gifts, but container gifts aren’t always theme gifts. In this category I put gift baskets, stockings, gift bags, really any container filled with smaller gifts.  I am a fan of this type of present, and I tend to do some variation every Christmas for several folks. The container can be anything you can imagine. Think beyond the traditional basket and consider, for example, covering shoe boxes with fabric or decorative paper and embellishments, or using vintage trays picked up at a a thrift store to gather your items. 

One of my nieces loved was a pretty little purse filled with lip gloss, a change purse (with change), a key ring, a necklace, and a tiny stuffed toy.

The year that I gave everyone a stocking for Christmas was one of my favorite version of the container gift. I filled felt stockings with toys and games and candy. We spent the morning playing with paddle balls, punching balloons, trick puzzles, and noisemakers, all while hopped up on sugar. Good times.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing! I can google a “child of the 80s” list and spend an hour reminiscing (if anyone will listen). The key to using memories in your gifts is to know the recipient pretty well. It’s not enough to know their age and assume everyone who was alive in the 70s will go bonkers over something from “The Love Boat.” If you don’t know them very well, skip over this one. But if you know someone fairly well, and pay attention when people tell their stories, you can come up with gifts that are both ridiculously inexpensive and truly tear-worthy. 

For a class once I wrote a paper about my mother and the things she had taught me. It was basically a string of stories from my childhood. For Mother’s Day I printed up that paper book-style, and made a cover out of fabric glued onto cardboard. My mom absolutely loved it, and it cost me only time and a little effort. I didn’t buy a single thing for it.

I’m a big fan of handmade gifts. My mom is just about the most creative person I’ve ever known, and growing up we were pretty broke. We made A LOT of gifts. This is an area where some skill and knowledge can come in handy, but don’t be fooled into thinking you can’t make a nice handmade gift. I truly believe anyone can, if they are willing to put in the time and a tiny bit of effort. If you can follow basic instructions you can make a nice gift! 

My grandmother had a little decorative wall hanging by her front door for longer than I was alive. It was something I think my dad made for her. It was a trio of canning lids (the flat, lid part, not the ring) painted black, with flowers cut out and pasted into the center of each, glued onto a ribbon in a row. I think there was a bow at the top. It wasn’t a work of art,  but it was displayed proudly where everyone would see it every single day.

Regifting. There, I said it.  If you can get over the guilt you know you do it. I think there are some basic rules you can use to minimize regifting guilt. Don’t regift something that’s obviously used. Don’t regift something within the same group (don’t give your brother what your mom gave you last year, especially if she’s right there!). Don’t regift something that was given or received with sentimentality.  If it is meaningful to you, or to the person who gave it to you, don’t regift! At one point I used a system where I stored gifts I had received, new in the box, with a post-it on the outside saying who had given it to me, and the date. Then before I went shopping for a gift I would check out my regifting closet shelf.

Secondhand gifts can also be from thrift stores or yard sales. Really! That piggy bank on yesterday’s post – thrift store purchase, $5.00. It’s a cute vintage piece that cleaned up well. All it needs is a rubber stopper and it would be perfect for a gift for the right person. We once found a really cool bird feeder at a garage sale, cleaned it up, and gave it to a family member who loves to feed the birds. He was thrilled! I think the key here is to find things that are in good condition, and are good gifts for the intended recipient. Also, there are some people (you know who you are) that are never going to be happy with a secondhand gift. Just don’t even bother. Luckily you can pick something from another category!

Everyone likes food. Everyone. Handmade or store bought, sweet or salty, old favorite or new discovery. There is something out there to tickle the fancy of any person on your gift list. In most cases I like to make my own food gifts. Even if you’re not experienced I guarantee there are yummy treats you can make all on your own and even become famous for among your friends and family.  One of my favorite techniques for finding a new recipe for gifts is to head over to allrecipes.com and start poking around. Look for the recipes with a lot of stars and a lot of ratings. Then read the comments. The cooks who post there are usually quite adept at recipe adaptations, and with just a little research you can have a signature gift. I’m just going to throw this out there – Mom’s Zucchini Bread. Unbelievable!

A surprise party fits the bill here, so does a big trip or a ticket to a sporting event. But so does a movie marathon at home, help running errands, or game night. The key here is to make it truly an event, and make it something the recipient will appreciate. This year for my husband’s birthday I got everyone to meet up at the bowling alley. There was a vague “Big Lebowski” theme (Ok, mostly just the white Russians), cupcakes, little plastic trophies, and party favor buttons with bowling balls or my husband’s face on them. I didn’t spend too much money, and didn’t go all out and extravagant, but we had a blast.

I’ll admit it, I’ve maligned the gift certificate as a gift option. In the past I thought it was pretty much a cop-out. More recently I’ve found myself appreciating the well-thought out gift certificate. I pretty much only get a pedicure these days when I get a gift certificate for it. The important thing about giving gift certificates is choosing something the recipient will enjoy, and choosing something they may not splurge on themselves.

Coupons fall in this category too. You’ve seen the coupon books with cute little illustrations and promises to do one favor or another for the recipient. I’ve made them, given them, and received them. My experience has been that the thought is appreciated, but most of the time you would do those same favors regardless, and the recipient is probably not going to tear out a coupon and demand a favor. These really can be great on a budget though, and perhaps the coupons could be more of an announcement of something you are definitley going to do, maybe even with a specific date.

So tell me, do you have any other types of gifts you like to give? Any tips or tricks for giving on a budget or stories of your favorite gifts (given or received?).


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