A Gift Giving Guide (For Those Hard to Buy For)

a nicely wrapped box on a table being passed to someone else
Gift giving is hard! If you're struggling for inspiration this year, I've got all my best gift-giving tips - plus some of the hottest choices this year. It doesn't have to be hard!

It’s that time of year again, folks. Despite the fact that this year has felt like it extended many years, but also went by so quickly, the holidays are upon us – and it’s time to start thinking about giving gifts.

I love buying gifts for others, but it’s only been in recent years that I’ve gotten good at it. No matter what you celebrate, I think there’s something very special about being able to give something to someone else, especially if it’s something they want, need, or you just know they’ll love.

I’m going to share with you some of my favorite tips and tricks for gift giving that has helped me not suck at it, and then talk about gift ideas for those special people in your life.

Pay Attention!

When someone says they like a certain scent, pay attention. If someone important in your life mentions casually wanting something, write it down!

I have a Note in my phone that has gift ideas for my family, my fiance, and more. When my future mother-in-law told me her favorite scent was cucumber melon from Bath and Body Works, but it was discontinued in stores, I wrote it down – and every Christmas, I make sure she has some new lotion in that scent.

I also know she prefers wood wick candles, the kind that crackle when you burn them? That’s in her notes section, too, and I snag a bunch when I see them on sale throughout the year.

My sister-in-law’s favorite candy is Smarties, which is also listed next to her name – in addition to a household small appliance she mentioned in passing in the middle of summer.

When you start paying attention to what people want, love, and need outside of gift-giving season, you find yourself much better equipped when it comes to actually shopping for them.

It’s Okay to Ask

We have a weird stigma against asking people what they want for the holidays, but honestly, we need to get rid of that – because how else are you going to know if you don’t ask?!

My MIL always asks us what we want, and she was the first person that made me realize it was totally okay to do so. I had only been dating my now-fiance a few months when they invited me to spend Christmas with them, and her question surprised me. What do I want?

It helps you give them a gift they really want or need, instead of junk that is just going to pile up and eventually get thrown away. Drop hints, or ask directly, your call – but it’s the best way to know for sure.

Buy Early, Buy Often

There’s nothing wrong with getting your holiday shopping done on Black Friday, don’t get me wrong. But at the start of November, a small corner of our guest room had already been dedicated to Christmas purchases. Candles, lotions, stocking stuffers, even a Rocketbook for my SIL.

This is because I buy things as I see them, and as they go on sale. While this doesn’t mean I’m spending less overall on Christmas gifts, it does mean that I’m spreading my spending out a lot more – which hurts a lot less at the end of the year, financially.

If you’re the type of person that likes to buy one big item instead of several smaller items, consider putting aside money every month specifically for Christmas instead. A jar on your dresser or on top of your fridge, that you toss $20 a week, or a paycheck, into will really help ease that financial burden.

Not to mention, planning your shopping ahead is going to save you time and stress. If it were up to my fiancé, he would wait until the week before Christmas to buy everyone something, because he can’t be bothered before then. That causes stress, panic buying, potentially delayed gifts due to shipping issues… it’s just not worth it, for me.

I would rather leisurely pick up things as I see them and only have to wrap the week before Christmas.

We’re Well Beyond That

Let’s be honest – we’re well beyond the time of planning out your Christmas shopping months in advance. While these tips will help you next year to avoid that tight, panicked feeling when you can’t find the perfect gift by December 20th, it doesn’t do a lot of good for you right now.

So, let’s talk a little about what you can do right now, what some great gift ideas are, and how to nail Christmas… on any budget.

For the Kids in Your Life

Do you have nieces or nephews you don’t know how to shop for? Maybe cousins, coworker’s kids, your best friend’s child that you really want to bond with but honestly… what is a Roblox?

I get it! Let’s discuss some children’s gifts that could be perfect.

For the young doll lovers or collectors in your life, LOL Surprise Dolls and Hatchimals are still super popular. The ‘hottest’ choice right now for kids is the Hatchimals Pixies, which is sort of like those fairy spinners from the 90s, if you remember those. You can launch them from the base and they spin, which is fun… and maybe a touch dangerous.

Even the standard LOL dolls are great for kids, and the ‘gambling’ aspect – you never know what doll you’ll unbox! – is a lot of fun for some people… but a real bummer for others, who are trying to collect them all.

Kid’s spa kits, like non-toxic nail polish, face masks, body scrubs, and more are always a popular choice. Try to avoid the cheesy, super-poor quality brands made for kids and stick with real alternatives, especially if you’re shopping for a nearly-teen. They’re going to remember you as the cool Aunt or Uncle who got them real products and treated them like an adult.

Minecraft and Roblox are both still wildly popular for kids, and you can buy cards and accessories if you know your niblet is into these. Gift cards like these allow the little one to purchase things like in-game accessories, outfits, and more. It might seem dumb to you, to spend real money on in-game things, but to kids – especially those stuck indoors a lot lately – it makes a huge difference.

Board games are also a great gift that really does keep on giving! Gnomes at Night is supposed to be the ‘best’ game for younger kids (aged 6+) this year according to several sites. Some kids have never played the classics, either, so Uno, Shoots and Ladders, or Sorry are fun ways to re experience your own childhood through their eyes.

For the Teenager in Your Life

Ugh, teens, am I right?

Alright, this is actually a hard one, because at this age group, there are some big branching interests that happen.

If the teen on your list loves video games, there are the obvious choices – a new, expensive system, like a Nintendo Switch or a Playstation 5 – or a new game, like Madden 21, Call of Duty: Cold War, and Super Mario Bros All Stars.

However, make sure you check with the parent before you get a game for them! Worst case, they already have it – or their parent purchased the game or system, too, and it’s currently wrapped under the tree waiting patiently.

Just like with the younger ones, online gift cards are very popular. VBucks in Fortnite allows them to get outfits, guns, and accessories for the game, as well as access to the Battle Pass, unlocking more cool gear.

Apple, Google Play, or iTunes gift cards let them download music or games to their devices, and gives them some freedom to feel a little more adult… while still not actually having their own cash.

A waterproof or water resistant Bluetooth speaker is a great gift for most teens. Over the ear headphones of decent sound quality – they don’t have to be Beats! – are almost always welcome.

If you’re looking for ‘filler’ gifts or stocking stuffers, PopSockets are a fun gift that kids love. A few new, cheap, decorative phone cases also always go over well – a case for every outfit! Korean sheet masks are a great low-cost addition to a beauty gift set, or a waterproof suction Bluetooth speaker for the shower. (Warning: the parents may hate this!)

Most teens, especially as they get older, seem to not appreciate or understand the difference between themselves and adults. It’s funny, because even in your early twenties, you look back and realize how wrong you are – but there’s no getting through to them with that.

Make sure when you’re buying gifts you’re giving age appropriate things. Real, quality makeup to young fashionistas (Nordstrom Rack has great makeup brands at great prices!). Books that are on their reading level, or at an adult’s reading level. Games that are appropriate for their age, not something like Monopoly or Guess Who.

Honestly, the worst misstep you can do is to get them something outside of their interests or age group. I know it’s hard to buy for teenagers, and they can be frustrating even without gifts involved, but it will really hurt delicate teenage feelings if you get something that they are blatantly not interested in.

Nothing says I don’t care about your interest or budding adulthood like a gift that would have been more appropriate 5 years ago for them, or outside of anything they have ever liked.

For The Women In Your Life

Best friend? Mother? Sister? Coworker? These people can be tricky to buy for, because you run the risk of going too generic and looking like a jerk… or going to specific, and getting something they will never use.

Consumable gifts are my favorite for this category, because it’s a gift that keeps giving, in my opinion! This year my mother-in-law told us not to get her anything, they have enough stuff. And it’s true, their 10,000 square foot home is bursting with things. They don’t need more things!

So instead, I bought her a few of her favorite candles – she will get use out of them, and they will remind her of us when she burns them. When she’s done, she can toss or reuse the jars and they won’t clutter her life. She is getting a variety of lotions and bath soaps, all in her favorite scent, because she isn’t great at buying nice things for herself like this. I also included some bath bombs because her back has been bothering her, some nice-smelling hand sanitizer (because 2020), and a gift card to their favorite restaurant.

Boom, done. Nothing on that list is going to cause her a headache by cluttering up her life, she won’t feel guilty about not having something ‘out’ that we bought her, and I’m gifting her something ultimately she just needs to get rid of.

My sister-in-law was a little harder, but luckily, my mother-in-law helped. She gifted them a weekend getaway a few hours away – we just supplied a gift card for a restaurant at the resort. Brother-in-law is going to also get a silicone tray to hold his tools while he works on his truck, a major hobby, while sister-in-law gets a Rocketbook for school (she is an elementary school teacher) as well as some consumable gifts, so no clutter.

The moral to this? Quality is more important, as well as buying them stuff they will actually use. Maybe there are only two gifts from you to open up, but if they are perfect for that person, that is what matters. You should avoid giving your loved ones more stress by ‘junking’ up their house with lots of stuff they may not need.

Avoid those generic gift baskets sold at Bath and Body Works or Kohls. Every woman always gets those, and no, we never use it all. Instead, take the extra time to put together your own, in a scent they will enjoy.

Scarves, hats, and gloves are a great gift that you can never have too many of. Go with a higher quality, like cashmere blend, for the best reception.

Be careful with kitchen and cooking appliances. My fiance got me a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer for our first Christmas together (and told me it would look great in our kitchen someday!), but my sister-in-law got a similar mixer last Christmas and seemed wildly disappointed. Know your audience. I would love nothing but kitchen gadgets for Christmas, but not everyone would!

For the Man in Your Life

Spouse? Brother? Father-in-law, father, uncle, boss? I find this category to be the hardest to shop for because honestly? If they want something, they just go get it – there is no waiting for someone else to buy it for them.

While a good alcohol sounds generic, it can be very personal. My first Christmas with my inlaws, I made a custom label/bag on Crown Royal’s website, and it went over so well with my father-in-law. Find out what type of alcohol they like, and get a good, solid mid-tier choice. You don’t have to buy them Johnny Walker Black Label, just something respectable.

I find most guys appreciate useful, practical gifts. My fiance has gotten gifts he regularly uses for almost every holiday since we’ve been together – new speakers, a second monitor, a Bluetooth adapter for his car that lets him listen to music without his aux port. I like to buy quality-of-life purchases for my men that they wouldn’t buy themselves, because they’re a ‘luxury’.

Tech stuff often goes over well, depending on your age demographic. Think power brick for a phone, wireless charging base, functional smartmatch, etc.

Again, much like the ladies, avoid those ‘gift sets’ that are so cheesy, cheap, and impersonal. The ‘drink lovers’ set with cheap, sugary drink mixes, plastic shot glasses, and poor quality ice cube trays are never going to be used. The men’s body set with the lotion and the aftershave and the hair pomade…. c’mon, they’re not going to use that.

Finally… Gift Cards Are Not a Cop-Out!

I cannot say this enough: gift cards are not a cop-out option. Buying for someone who is difficult? Someone you don’t know well? Trying to ‘pad out’ a card? A gift card is an amazing option! Let them pick what they want!

A gift card is perhaps the most thoughtful gift you can give. You’re saying, I love you enough to get you something, but I don’t want to get you something wrong. I love going into Ulta or opening up Amazon knowing I can get whatever I want (within gift card limitations) for free. It’s almost like getting the gift twice – once when I open the gift card, and once when I pick out what I want!

Gift cards that give experiences are also a great choice. A $50 gift card to a restaurant or steakhouse is a great gift because you’re giving them a meal, a dining experience. A voucher to an event, the movies, or even an Escape Room is such a thoughtful and great gift. A $100 gift card to a hotel chain or an airline is part of a vacation covered. (Someday travel will be a thing…)

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