WIT & WISDOM OF GIFTING
I’ve given and received thousands of gifts over the years. There have been hits, misses, successes and . . . lessons. Here are a few pearls of wisdom that I share in my book Fabulous Gifts that will have you well on your way towards finding the perfect present!
Bag It and Tag It. When you find something that’s either on sale or well suited for someone special in your life . . . Buy it! Wrap it! Tag it! If you think to yourself, “That would be perfect for so-and-so,” that means it is.
Everyone Loves an Upgrade. Some of the best gifts you’ll give will be ones that upgrade an everyday experience . . . like drinking coffee, walking the dog or watching television. So make a list of things the person does habitually, and then start brainstorming about ways you can provide an enhancement!
Raison d’Être. Presents should serve a purpose. You’ll notice that very few if any of the gifts I’ll suggest are mere clutter. Always ponder how the gift will impact the recipient’s life. This is also a great exercise as part of your brainstorming process. Say you’re shopping for a graduation present for your nephew. Ask yourself how he’ll use the gift at college; if he is graduating from college, what will he need for his new job? But don’t make this an overly strict standard. After all, simply providing beauty in someone’s home is certainly a noble enough purpose for a gift!
Candy’s Gift Room. Establish a “gift area” in your house. While yours may simply be a shelf in your closet, you may be interested to learn that Candy Spelling has an entire room in her Beverly Hills mansion dedicated to this purpose. Stock it with ribbon, wrapping paper, boxes, gift bags, tissue paper and note cards. Having the proper tools and building blocks is a critical foundation for success. Making one trip to a party store (or ordering in bulk from a Web site) is so much more efficient than running out at the last minute to buy these supplies on a piecemeal basis. It will also eliminate the stress, hassle and frustration of not having what you need when you need it. Food for thought: When you’re at home, and all you have in your cupboard is junk food, that’s what you eat. But if your refrigerator is filled with fresh fruits, organic produce and lean meats, the probability increases that you’ll cook a healthy and delicious meal. It’s really the same with your gift room . . . a well-stocked gift room is more likely to result in beautifully wrapped presents.
The Final Word on Regifting. Regifting is totally acceptable with the following caveats: You keep track of who gave you what so you don’t make the supreme faux pas of giving someone back something they gave you (or giving it to someone with whom they socialize). In general, regifting should take place with people outside the circle of friends of the original giver, and out-of-state regifting is always best. Also, make sure you unpack and repackage the item in case a personal note was slipped in. You can never be too careful! It’s definitely worth rewrapping a present just to be safe.
Gift with Purchase. Whenever you order something for yourself from a catalog, find one other item that will make the perfect present for someone on your gift list. It will allow you to form a good habit of systematically checking off required gift purchases early. Plus, you’ll save money on shipping charges; a second item will almost always have a much lower (if not free) shipping cost per unit.
You vs. Them. When you are shopping for someone (especially women shopping for their husbands or boyfriends), don’t necessarily buy what you like . . . buy what they’ll like. Analyze the items in the giftee’s home and wardrobe when determining their predilections. After all, people know their own preferences better than you ever will. Gifts are not the time to impose your personality on others. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of other opportunities for that! Of course, there are exceptions to every rule: If your renowned style and taste might help them overcome an unfortunate penchant for the unattractive and unflattering, by all means intervene. It’s like rehab through gifts.
Our Policy on Returns. Never buy an article of clothing that can’t be returned or exchanged. If the store has a “no returns” policy, simply walk out and find one that does. It’s always nice to include a gift receipt issued by the store with any gift of clothing. The only exception to this rule is if the perfect item is available on sale for such a steal that it’s worth the risk of a “final sale.”
Good Things Come to Those Who Wait. Almost all stores (even the fancy ones) have amazing sales at least twice a year – usually in January and July – so take advantage of that fact by shopping then. You’ll get a lot more for your money, and the recipient will think you spent more than you did.
Take Advantage of ANY Holiday Sale. Stock up on holiday-themed serving bowls and other seasonal decorative items the week after the holiday (and not just Christmas). You’ll be able to get them at least 50% off, and you’ll be prepared for the following year’s gift needs. These types of items make fantastic presents and will help keep you way ahead of schedule.
The Little Black Book of Gifting. Create a database of the personal statistics you collect over the years. If you use Outlook on your computer, simply add such information as shoe sizes, birthdays, anniversaries, allergies and children’s names to the “details” section. Otherwise, document the same information in a journal for easy reference.
Extreme Clothing Shopping. Whenever you are buying clothing as a gift for someone, stick to “extremes”: extremely basic or extremely unusual. This way, you’re more likely to hit the usability bull’s-eye. You can’t really go wrong with “basics,” and even the most “unusual” fashions will be appreciated when a specific opportunity arises.
Fake It till You Make It. If you can’t afford to make that splurge purchase, find ways to either simulate the experience or extract elements that will at least provide a taste of the real deal. Substitute sports cars with model cars, expensive purses with key chains or wallets by the same designer, an exotic destination with a souvenir from that country.
Stockpiling. Always have standard gifts like candles, wine and champagne in reserve. You’ll save money buying in bulk and also save yourself the trouble of running last-minute errands.
The Bottom Line. Set reasonable budgets and don’t overextend yourself or create a situation where you will later feel resentful that you spent too much on someone’s present. The price tag is less important than whether or not you chose something thoughtful, interesting and special. There are so many small gifts that can be beautifully presented and accompanied by a lovely card that will serve your purposes perfectly. Of course, there are occasions and situations when it’s definitely strategic to bite the bullet and splurge on the gift . . . for clients, for a best friend or for a special anniversary.
The Card Stash. Stock up on cards. Don’t just buy the ones you know you’ll need; get a number of generic birthday cards and blank cards that are perfect for any number of occasions. Remembering someone with a lovely card can often be gift enough (or at least buy you time to follow up with a proper present at a slightly later date).
Pay Attention. If you pay attention to your day-to-day conversations with friends and family, they will divulge a great deal of useful information about what they like and need. When someone talks about how much they loved a movie they just saw at the theater, make a note to buy them the DVD when it is released. If they compliment a piece of jewelry you’ve worn, get them something like it. If they repeatedly ask to borrow something of yours, buy them one of their own.
Attendance Policy. I have no idea what Emily Post has to say about it, but I’m creating a new rule in baby gifting: If you give a baby gift at a baby shower, you do not need to give another present when the baby is born (unless you are a godparent, doting aunt or just want to). It’s one gift per occasion/event. Similarly, if you don’t attend a wedding shower, you aren’t required to send a gift in your absence; that’s only true of the wedding itself. A graduation or bar mitzvah invitation also necessitates a gift regardless of actual attendance. But remember, you should never give a gift unless you want to. More important, if you’ve been invited to an event and you experience resistance to the notion of buying the person a present, the person doing the inviting should probably reevaluate their guest list . . . and you might need to take a hard look at your “friendship.”
The Convenience Factor. Keep in mind the circumstances under which someone will be receiving your present. If they have to take a plane to return home after the Holidays, give them gifts that will be easily packed but not easily broken.
Write It Down. If you use a pocket PC or other handheld electronic device, take advantage of the event notification feature by programming in your friends’ and family members’ birthdays and anniversaries. If you don’t have a PDA (personal digital assistant), make sure the right person knows about this technology deficit so they can buy you one for the next appropriate occasion. An hour of your time on a rainy Saturday will save you a lifetime of embarrassment for forgetting someone’s special day. If you’re not that technologically inclined, make it a New Year’s Day ritual to take out your desk calendar and write in all the important birthdays and other noteworthy occasions for the year. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll magically remember these things . . . it’s simply not possible. Take my advice and write it down!
Gift Registry. A gift registry is not just for brides and grooms. Take advantage of creating your own wish list for major personal occasions. Every Christmas my friend Jackie and I swap our wish lists so that we can guide mutual friends who ask about gift suggestions for the other party. It’s a great way to get what you want! I also recommend keeping a gift registry at one or two of your favorite stores and simply telling anyone who asks “What do you want for your birthday?” where you’re registered. One of my favorite episodes of Sex and the City is the one where Carrie registers at Manolo Blahnik. She sends out an announcement that she’s neither getting married nor having a baby but that she is celebrating being single and fabulous.
Investing in a Relationship (literally). The longevity of your relationship is an important factor when shopping for your significant other. In newer relationships, you want to do something impressive, but because the odds are against you, it’s probably not prudent to invest too much too soon (sorry for the jaded approach). You might want to save particularly extravagant gifts for milestone anniversaries (marriage or otherwise). In the beginning, impress with your thoughtful romanticism rather than the price tag. A little research will go a long way in finding that perfect gift . . . one that adequately reflects the time and energy you put into the selection process. If necessary, ask their best friend some pointed questions about their favorite places and things.
Just Say No to Tacky Bows. Never use those awful little premade self-adhesive bows. No matter how many you put on the package, they are unacceptably tacky.
Romantic Appliances? Never give your wife or girlfriend an appliance as a gift. To clarify, if cooking is her personal hobby, a deluxe mixer is no longer classified as an appliance. Vacuum cleaners, washing machines and any other devices used to clean up after you are always considered appliances.
A Donation Has Been Made in Your Name. Although I’m an advocate of philanthropy, never give someone a “charitable donation made in their name” as a present . . . unless they’ve specifically asked for it, or it’s a personal passion of theirs, whereby the gesture will be meaningful to them.