Do you suck at giving gifts like I do?

Hey guys!

So I’ve been emailing back and forth with an amazing reader here, and it reminded me just how terrible I am at giving gifts and how I want to be better :)

She includes a few good ideas here that I can start working in, but if anyone else would like to chime in and share their tips I’m all ears!!!

And I should clarify – I’m good at *physically* giving the gifts, just not so much coming up with the super thoughtful “I can’t believe you did this – how did you know this is my dream thing I’ve always wanted all my life??” type of gifts ;) Though admittedly I also never really try too hard either, haha.. Problem #1!

Here’s the note that got me going, in response to our post Monday on spending money to improve your quality of life:

For me, it’s not so much things I buy (I’m not good at judging if something I buy will genuinely improve my life), but instead it’s usually trips I go on that change my life.

Beyond that, I’d say it’s gifts I buy for others. It’s funny; for some reason it bothers me when I hear of others giving people really expensive gifts – it seems irresponsible somehow – but it’s my giving Love Language, so I of all people should understand the compulsion. There’s nothing I love more than to find out what someone really wants and to make it happen for them. Particularly if it’s something they would never be able to afford on their own or would feel right about spending that kind of money on themselves.

I never go into debt for gifts, but as long as I have the money, I have no problem putting down a few hundred dollars on just one gift for someone if I know it’s something they truly want (and will appreciate it). If someone isn’t grateful or simply just doesn’t care about gifts, I won’t waste my money. But for a giver, it’s the best thing ever to find people who love getting gifts, because then we are both happy!

I keep a running list on my phone, so if someone makes an off-hand comment about something they would like to have ‘someday’, I try to make a note of it to get for them later if they don’t get it for themselves. My current gift in the works is a sky-diving experience for my dad. :) – Leah

“There’s nothing I love more than to find out what someone really wants and to make it happen for them.” – so powerful!! And exactly the type of person I want to become!! Already started a page in my notes app to start tracking these overheard things, but I think it’ll take more than that for me to really get good at this…

“If someone isn’t grateful or simply just doesn’t care about gifts, I won’t waste my money.” – I think that’s problem #2 for me :) Not that I’m not grateful or appreciate any gifts I receive – it really is a kind gesture! – but it’s just that I don’t *enjoy* getting the gifts and then most times having to feign excitement, typically at Xmas or birthdays :(

It also doesn’t jive too well with the minimalist side of things, and I never want people to feel like they *have to* give gifts just out of tradition either. I’d much rather just spend *time* with you, especially if you don’t even have the means to exchange gifts, or worse – are in debt! (Oooooh maybe that’s a great gift idea for people?? Sending in debt payments on their behalf?! ;))

Although I will say, gifts that come *out of the blue* I do tend to enjoy as they’re usually things people overhear just like Leah was saying which is always magical to receive. Like books or music, or even a framed $10 bill when your blog hits its 10 year Blogaversary!!!

10 years blogging

(How thoughtful was that?? Thanks again Thrivent!)

Here’s a follow up message Leah sent after I expressed just how much I admired her and wished I could be at least 1/10th as good, haha…

Just so you know, I’m not always coming up with lavish gifts for people… It really just depends on the person. I’m giving a retired teacher friend of mine some old-time radio shows that we’d talked briefly about and are in the public domain. That costs me nothing.

One day when my mom had a rough day at work I made her a ‘card’ (just a single sheet of paper, really), and bought four little gift cards to go with it.

But yeah, gift-giving is in my blood; it’s who I am. And as a result, I’ve even extended this same ‘match-making’ between gift and giftee to strangers! I did a gift exchange through the mail once for Nanowrimo, and since I had the real name of my exchange partner, it wasn’t at all difficult to find her social media profiles and see what she liked. Then I went to Amazon and customized her gift package to represent who she was.

I know that level of detail may seem a bit stalkerish, but it’s just my attempt to let no gift go to waste. I think no one should ever have to say about a gift, ‘Well, it’s the thought that counts.’ That’s just sad. A gift is special; sacred, almost. A chance to show how much you really know about that person; to represent the true level of a relationship in your life. It doesn’t have to be expensive at all – it can be free, or even an experience or some of your time or a favorite food – but it should be (I feel, anyway) personalized to that person.

In fact, I feel so strongly about the importance of giving, and knowing that people don’t always have the time to put into planning these things, I had considered making it a Fivver gig once. You know, pay $5 and some information about your person and the budget you have to spend, and I will send you some suggestions? That sort of thing. I don’t think I did it right though; either that or I had no takers. :P But it would have be fun. :)

Good luck on your next gift giving experience! Hopefully you can start to enjoy it a little more seeing it through their eyes.

“I know that level of detail may seem a bit stalkerish,” haha… the one time where it’s totally appropriate ;) And admirable!

So yeah – how do you go about being more like Leah here, or is it one of those things where it’s *in your blood and who you are* or not?! I have to think it’s a habit just like anything else and simply requires some good ol’ fashion practicing, but curious to hear what you all do to be better at this and/or even appreciating the *receiving* end of giving too.

For extra credit – how do you cope with sending thank you notes as well??? Haha… Now those I REALLY hate doing! Again not because I’m not thankful at all, but it always just feels forced like you HAVE to do it simply out of etiquette. Instead I’ve been calling and texting my friends thanks and trying to be more genuine about it, but the wife still gives me side eye around it and considers it half-assing ;) Just like when I give people cash but who hates getting that??!

So please – help me reform and pass along all your amazing tips so we can make this world a better place! And if you hate/suck at gift giving too, share that as well so I know I’m not alone ;)

I literally have to pick up two birthday gifts this week for people, so I can start implementing your tricks here right away, haha… Or everyone’s getting cash!!

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  1. Victoria B. August 29, 2019 at 6:44 AM

    This is going to sound so jerky, but I’ll say it anyway. I hate receiving gifts from people that LOVE to give gifts because then I feel obligated to return the favor. I am not a gift giver and I actually get annoyed when mildly acquainted people pop over with something around the holidays – I’m talking about neighbors, my cat sitter, etc. I don’t need a $20 item and I don’t really want to give you a $20 item so let’s just wish each other a happy holiday and both save the $20. It’s really awkward when people I’m friends with want to exchange gifts. Ugh!! I’ve finally gotten my family and my in-laws in board with no gifts at the holidays and it’s so much less stressful. I thought this was a blog about saving money?!??

    1. J. Money August 30, 2019 at 12:00 PM

      Haha… I’m just diving into all these comments right now, but I have a feeling you’re not alone in that “reciprocal” feeling as has been many a research projects done on it and it’s psychologically fascinating!

  2. Jacq August 29, 2019 at 7:36 AM

    I think a big factor is how well you know the person, and as Leah mentioned listening for their interests, and wants.
    I have walked into a store and said ‘that is so my sister!’, but then I weighed the practicality of getting her another x, when she has perfectly usable ones. My brother’s girlfriend was much harder to get holiday gifts for, because I saw her in person maybe 3 times a year, one of those being holiday gift giving.
    For Christmas we are trying to buy fewer gifts, because none of us need more stuff. Instead the idea is to go on an outing to make memories and we each chip in towards different parts of the day. It just seemed silly the year I got my brother a $25 gift card, and he got one for me. Why not just keep my $25 in cash vs locked in a gift card you either under or over spend to use most of the time?
    I totally give money for my siblings birthday because then they can use it towards something more expensive than I’d get them (ex: time in the recording studio for my brother), when combined with money from others or their savings. Sometimes what would help most was paying part of a bill that the cash money (vs gift card money) is ideal for.
    Good luck J $!

    1. J. Money August 30, 2019 at 12:08 PM

      I like that idea of chipping in for something bigger – more exciting – for people :)

      And yes to experiences/hang outs! My aunt used to organize one every Christmas year instead of gift-gifts and we all have so many good memories around it.. The only reason it stopped is she passed away and now we have to find someone to take over her legacy :(

  3. Clyn6 August 29, 2019 at 8:00 AM

    I give Amazon gift cards for many of my gifts now since they sell almost everything. I always like receiving money as a teen because if I got it from several people I could put it all together and buy a bigger more expensive gift! My family did a neat thing a few years for Christmas where we picked a weekend (that was not a buy one) and we all went to a hotel for 2 nights. We picked one with a nice indoor pool area and spent the time visiting with each other, playing cards, swimming, and relaxing. We bought no presents for each other those years, and I felt it was money well spent! I have a friend who started giving her grand children savings bonds for every birthday and Christmas. She said they already got way more toys and things than they needed, and she hoped they would use this money towards college or maybe a down payment on a first home. You might not think that is the best investment, but it was simple and easy for her. I see that the interest rate on US Bonds now are just 0.1%, so a savings account might be a better idea now…

    1. J. Money August 30, 2019 at 12:12 PM

      FUN!!! Never heard of that hotel idea but that’s pretty good :) Almost as so as those savings bonds, haha… I finally cashed out of all mine about a decade ago and they amounted to a solid $750!!!

      So while you might not appreciate them as a kid, you sure will when you get older :)

  4. Financially Fit Mom August 29, 2019 at 8:35 AM

    I can’t help, but can totally relate. I am horrible at RECEIVING gifts and I don’t want to put that uncomfortable awkwardness on other people so unless I am giving something I am 100% sure I know they want or it fits that “this is so perfect I can’t stand it” rare feeling, I feel just as awkward giving a gift.

    I’ve learned that it’s just about knowing the person. I am also one that cues in when I hear a person comment on liking/wanting something and it often turns out well when it comes time to give a gift and while it may not have any emotion tied to it, it’s practical and will get used – which makes me happy. However, my husband has helped me develop this skill a bit further. He’s an in-the-moment dreamer kind of person. So when we’re walking through a store and he stops and drools over a shirt or gadget or something, I think he’d really like it. Then I’d go back and get it to surprise him and when I gave it to him it was more of “oh cool, thanks” and sometimes didn’t even remember talking about how much he’d like it. I guess he’s the type that would probably do well with not buying anything for 72 hours :) I’ve noticed the same thing with my kids, though that’s probably more common. They MUST HAVE something but a week later, it’s sitting in a corner in their room if they get it. I’ve learned to identify people like this who are just admiring something in the moment but don’t truly have a desire to own it.

    We gave our kids cash for Christmas this year (we do Christmas in the summer which stemmed from my detestation of expectation of gifts) and then I just flat asked them if they prefer us trying to pick something out for them or the cash. Surprisingly, 3 of 4 said the cash is a fun random surprise, but they’d prefer if we picked something out – even if it means they don’t like it as much as something they would buy.

    Last thing – my favorite way to give a gift is unexpected. Not at birthday or holiday and not even in person where both people have the potential of awkwardness. Perhaps dropping off a bottle of wine (practical) with a note of gratitude for ongoing friendship (touchy feely crap people love but not wasting money) on a doorstep. Sometimes when I find that “this is oh so perfect” I will even wrap it up like a birthday/Christmas gift, especially if I know the person enjoys receiving gifts, no matter what time of the year it is to make it feel a little more special.

    1. J. Money August 30, 2019 at 12:14 PM

      You need to put all this on your blog!!!! It’s so good!!!! Love that you polled your kids AND that you celebrate in the Summer, haha.. you are too much!!!

        1. J. Money August 31, 2019 at 10:51 PM

          Haha…. well played.

  5. BuddMann August 29, 2019 at 8:49 AM


    Man, did you hit a nerve here judging by the length of the four comments!

    Hate, hate, hate giving gifts–not my love language (The 5 Love Languages-Dr. Gary Chapman).

    Probably relates to my upbringing, wasn’t really modeled in my childhood, and how I am wired. All this is compounded by the fact that I want nothing and do not receive gifts well either.

    I absolutely suck at it, hate the obligation facet, cannot EVER figure out a “good” gift, and end up feeling like a dolt when I fail at it and surely disappoint the recipient.

    It sucks and I am the worst!

    Great content–keep it rolling, boss!

    1. J. Money August 30, 2019 at 12:15 PM

      Thank you sir!!

      And for making me feel 1,000 better now too, lol…

  6. Jody August 29, 2019 at 9:12 AM

    My parents are notorious for quantity over quality when it comes to gifts, which means most years at Christmas I make a trip to the local thrift shop with a bunch of donations. It drives me crazy and I have taken a lesson from their bad habit. I try very hard to get things for people that are appreciated, needed, and/or thoughtful.

    I also like the idea of getting people something consumable, so they don’t have another knickknack lying around they will need to dust for the rest of their lives. Fun spice kits, condiments, and seasonal ingredients are good for foodies. Tea. Tickets to a concert or show. My coworker had a hard time finding her lip-balm-of-choice in local stores, so I got her a 24-pack from Amazon for Christmas last year. She was thrilled.

    My aging parents are getting increasingly difficult to buy for as they don’t do as much as they used to. I took mom to see Rear Window at the local theater last week for her birthday (they do classic movies on the big screen through the summer). I made my dad banana pudding based on his mother’s recipe for his birthday. For Christmas, I got them a custom bamboo cutting board with one of their mom’s recipes engraved (original handwriting) on each side. They loved all of it.

    1. J. Money August 30, 2019 at 12:16 PM

      You are good at this game!! :)

      I would die to get a 24-pack of lip balm too haha… the worst when you’re in dire need!!

  7. Hailey Westbrook August 29, 2019 at 9:19 AM

    Giving and receiving gifts is my love language too, so I really enjoy the process. But it is definitely NOT my husband’s love language, therefore I have quickly learned to not expect creative or heartfelt gifts from him on birthdays or special occasions. Not because he doesn’t care but simply because it’s not his thing. We do share a mutual love language of food/eating though, so I can usually expect a lavish meal cooked by him which is fine by me :)

    When it coming to thank you notes, I normally try to always send handwritten thank you notes because I feel like receiving snail mail (that isn’t a bill or junk) is a little bit rare and exciting these days. I also like to send the giver a picture of me using/enjoying their gift, so that could be a good alternative to writing cards!

    1. J. Money August 30, 2019 at 12:17 PM

      OOH that’s a good idea with the picture!!! Never thought of that and will totally spice up my text thank yous!! ;)

  8. Kate August 29, 2019 at 10:16 AM

    I’m not a huge fan of receiving gifts… I live in a big, crowded city and we all have small apartments and mine contains everything I need/want with not a lot of space for much more. And as for buying gifts, I usually assume the other person things the same as me which is, “I don’t want any more crap in my house!” If I *need* to give a gift I make sure it’s something that they can chuck out after a few weeks so that’s flowers, candles (if they are a smelly candle in the bathroom type), chocolates, or wine. Depending on the person.

    1. J. Money August 30, 2019 at 12:19 PM

      Wine for me, please :)

  9. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life August 29, 2019 at 10:27 AM

    One of my besties and his family make gift giving a competitive sport. They’re so flip flapping good at it and it doesn’t even cost much but ANYTHING they pick for JB is something that stays in the rotation for ten times longer than any gift someone else gives. And you know four year old attention spans!!

    Downright intimidating. But I do my best. I don’t recklessly spend or give lavishly, almost ever, but I do get a rush from giving a much appreciated or surprising and useful gift so I try to keep notes all year so that when it fits the budget, I can spring it. I only do the most obligatory Christmas gifts (the required family gifts but we don’t even exchange gifts between me and PiC because we think it’s unnecessary) and then a couple gifts for super long time friends. The rest are surprises because half the fun is surprising them with mail.

    And that’s why I love sending thank you notes, people love getting mail that isn’t a bill so I think of the thank you note as a wee little gift for them too. Plus it’s my chance to tell them they are loved and appreciated and who doesn’t need more of that in their lives?

    1. J. Money August 30, 2019 at 4:11 PM

      That is true :)

      Maybe we can just mail people little notes instead of gifts so it’s a Win-Win all around??? Haha….

  10. Clyn6 August 29, 2019 at 10:38 AM

    I am having fun reading the comments almost as much as your article! I love the idea of unexpected -off schedule gifts from Financially fit Mom. And I love the idea of using the thank you note to write something personal about how you appreciate the person from Revance!

    Another thought; I like to give a gift to people that have gone out of their way to help me at work. But then sometimes they think they need to give me a gift back, and that is not what I wanted. It is hard to try to explain that sometimes without being insulting. I can’t exactly say; no we’re not personal friends, so don’t give me a gift back. I try to just say something like please don’t do that, I am just trying to express my gratitude for all you do for me!

    1. J. Money August 30, 2019 at 4:15 PM

      I think that’s a perfect way to phrase it :) Because it gives them the WHY which helps a lot. I’ve told people I’ll just get mad at them if they ever reciprocate on the few times I’ve ever given unexpectedly, but usually that still doesn’t work so I’m going to steal your idea for the next ;)

      (and actually – all this is reminiscent of trying to pay the bill for people at dinner or coffee or whatever! It’s nice to be able to do them a favor, but almost always they will try paying the next time which then cancels it out :( )

  11. Moneybee August 29, 2019 at 10:50 AM

    Thank yous: I do think a call/text is an acceptable thank you. But if you want to make it special and send a thank you card (always fun to get mail!) then… write it like you talk. I’m good at that, probably from years of journaling, but I know a lot of people aren’t, so if you’re struggling try talking out loud as if you were saying it to the person, and writing down what you say. “Hey, Friend! I am so thankful that you got me the Thing! I didn’t even know I needed the Thing but it is making my life so much easier. I can’t imagine doing Activity without it ever again. You are awesome. Love, Me.” Basically reframe from “OBLIGATION BECAUSE OF ETIQUETTE” to “Hey, I appreciated this gift, I want them to know that.”

    I am definitely a gifts love language person. Which doesn’t mean I *always* like giving gifts. At defined gift-giving occasions I really stress out if I can’t come up with good gifts. (Especially for the relative who won’t give me ideas but will totally judge me if I choose ‘wrong’.) For my best friend’s graduation with her education degree, I got her a mug that says “Don’t make me use my teacher mode.” I was really proud of that.

    I got lucky with the doctor: he really likes when I draw things for him, so half the time I don’t buy him presents, I draw him presents. His graduation gift was a picture of joined hands with the opening stanza of Ode by Arthur O’Shaughnessy. His Valentine’s gift this year was a half gallon of ice cream, a cup of coffee, and a handmade card comparing him to coffee.

    1. J. Money August 30, 2019 at 4:25 PM

      “Don’t make me use my teacher mode.”

      I want that mug and I’m not even a teacher!!! :)

  12. Mike S August 29, 2019 at 10:59 AM

    I agree, I’m not any good at giving gifts. We are at a stage of life where we can buy anything we want. My wife likes getting gifts, but she is very difficult to buy for. The kids just want gift cards. I’m very happy when someone buys me a bag of Rasinetts (my favorite).

    The wife used gift cards for various things and I would purchase her ones, but she recharges them herself, so I can’t even do that. LOL

    1. J. Money August 30, 2019 at 4:26 PM

      Too funny, haha…

      And I agree – Raisinets are the bomb. (Though I never really see them anywhere?!)

  13. Taylor August 29, 2019 at 1:20 PM

    I LOVE getting gifts (and giving them too, I’m not just greedy haha). I’ll often plan a gift out months ahead — admittedly the gift-giving process brings me more joy than probably most of the recipients, but I’m ok with that. It’s almost like a mini-hobby. It’s one of the things I’ve been most happy about as my income has gone up. I no longer agonize about making a little basket for a friend and spending $40. It makes me happy to put it all together nice and pretty, and it reminds my friends that I love them — money well spent.

    To me, the biggest gift-giving challenge was helping my husband understand this part about me. It took him a long time to understand that I seriously need gifts to feel loved. It’s the best when he brings me a random candy bar or something and makes a big deal about having a special treat :) As others have said, it’s that unexpected part that reminds you that that person is out in the world thinking about you, and it feels really nice.

    1. J. Money August 30, 2019 at 4:27 PM

      I’m so giving gifts to people unexpectedly now :) and glad your husband has caught on!! (it takes us a while sometimes, haha…)

  14. Slacker Jo August 30, 2019 at 11:00 AM

    My family, not blessed with much common sense, are terrible gift givers to the point where I honestly thought that their gifts were really just passive-aggressive jabs at me. It got to the point that after everything had been unwrapped and fussed over on Christmas day, I would just drive by the thrift store on the way home and donate 95% of the junk I received and did not ask for in the first place.

    With a limited budget and space to store stuff I put my foot down and told my family just give to charity and I will do the same. My family is quite wealthy and I am not, so there was just this awkwardness with their $400 gift to my $20 gift.

    1. J. Money August 30, 2019 at 4:29 PM

      Woah!!! Yeah – a whole other set of problems with that one! So interesting how many nuances there are with this stuff… Nothing’s so cut and dry these days, haha…