3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying a Gift for Someone

Updated on January 7, 2018
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Holidays, birthdays, graduations, special occasions: all of these induce gift-giving panic for many of us. At a fundamental level, though, gift-giving is simply intended to show appreciation for another person, to provide them with something useful or to save them money or time. Asking yourself the following three questions before choosing a gift to give will help ground you with a sense of purpose and narrow down your search efforts, hopefully reducing your stress in the process.

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1. What might this person actually want?

Too often we turn to generic, cookie-cutter gifts because we don’t know what else to do. This is how we all end up with knick knacks gathering dust on our shelves, jewelry we never wear, or gag gifts that were funny for a minute but were quickly forgotten.

The best gifts are useful and specific. You may not know someone extremely well, but your gift should still reflect something you do know about them, even if it’s as simple as their favorite color.

A friend of mine once gave me a little book of yoga poses and the history of yoga for my birthday. We had only recently become friends, but she knew from the conversations we’d had that I was particularly interested in yoga at the time. The gift reflected the fact that she had really listened to me during our conversations, and I particularly appreciated it for that reason.

The perceptive gift-giver is always on the hunt for comments made in passing about what a person wants or needs—something they’ve been meaning to do or purchase, or something they admired in a storefront or an advertisement. Of course, some people actually make wish lists telling loved ones exactly what they want, which makes the process easier. But if you don’t take part in this tradition, you’ll find that people drop a lot of hints. Even just by revealing their likes or current interests, people indicate what sorts of gifts they might appreciate receiving.

My mom often tells me how much seeing flowers brightens her day. She likes to display them all around the house, especially in winter. So while giving someone else a bouquet of flowers might be generic and cliché, flowers are always a great gift choice for my mom, since they never fail to bring her joy. The best gifts aren’t the most expensive or flashy, but reflect the specific knowledge you have of a person’s tastes.

Gifts don’t have to be material goods. If you know of social justice organizations or charities about which your gift recipient is particularly passionate, consider making a donation to one of these organizations in their name. If you know someone likes to go shopping or pick out a place to eat themselves, invite them to go out to dinner or to the mall with you, and you’ll pick up the tab. Even if it feels awkward, be upfront about the amount you’re willing to spend. This way, you don’t need to worry about being blindsided by an amount you can’t afford, and your recipient doesn’t need to worry about whether they are spending the appropriate amount. When I give these types of gifts, I present the recipient with a coupon that clearly lays out all the information. This also gives them a keepsake to hold onto, if they wish.

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2. What is my budget?

Before heading to the mall or logging onto your computer to purchase a gift, make sure you’ve decided on a budget. Not only will this deter you from spending more than you can afford, but setting limits for yourself will also help you narrow down your options and make final decisions. Sticking to a budget means greater efficiency and fewer regrets.

There is no need to go broke over the holidays when some of the most meaningful gifts are completely free. Handwritten cards, creative or funny lists, letters, and coupons for time to spend together are all meaningful and don’t have to cost you a cent.

If you’re stressing about being able to afford gifts for your loved ones, seriously consider one of these options. Remember: one of the fundamental purposes of gift-giving is to show appreciation for someone, and these types of gifts are likely to be the most personal and memorable.

Just make sure your cat doesn't get his hands on the wrapping paper until after you've given the gift.
Just make sure your cat doesn't get his hands on the wrapping paper until after you've given the gift. | Source

3. What are my strengths as a gift-giver?

This is one aspect of gift-giving I find people often overlook. Though a gift should first and foremost represent the interests and tastes of the recipient, it’s also a reflection of you, the gift-giver.

I like picking out clothes for a few people I’m close to who hate shopping. It’s an area where my strengths overlap: I’m perceptive when it comes to other people’s preferences, and I have a good fashion sense. I am able to give them something they’ll appreciate and wear while saving them the drudgery of an activity they would rather avoid. Meanwhile, I enjoy both the shopping itself and their appreciation of the gifts I give them.

After considering which types of gifts your recipient might like to receive, engage in some self-reflection. What you are best at picking out? What do you enjoy? If you focus on an area where you have some expertise or interest, not only are you likely to be more discerning with your choice, but the recipient will pick up on how much you genuinely care. Your efforts will imbue the gift with greater meaning and personality.

If you have particular skills like knitting, crafting, cooking, fixing things, etc., using your talents or offering your services to another person is a wonderfully personalized gift. If you are able to give a gift that reflects something you are uniquely good at or uniquely positioned to do, this is often the best choice.

Consider your own personal answers to these questions when you’re stumped about what gift to give a friend, family member, or coworker. Think about the gifts you’ve appreciated the most, and interrogate what it was about those gifts that made them so memorable or useful. There is no “perfect gift,” and if you take the pressure off of yourself to find it, you’ll be more likely to give something your recipient will truly appreciate.

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