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Gift Giving 101: How to Avoid Returns and Re-gifts

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Wedding invitations, birthday parties, and baby showers = all opportunities to shower friends and loved ones with gifts! And finding the perfect gift is sometimes as easy as turning the corner and seeing something you know is exactly what your friend would love. But what about those people you don’t know? Like your husband’s friend from college or the new girl at work? How can you find the right item for someone who you’ve maybe not even met?

Considering we’re right at the beginning of wedding season, a gift-giving refresher is just what we need! So whether you’re shopping for a lifelong long friend, your teenage neice, or a complete stranger, we can find the perfect gift for any occasion! I’ve got five tips to help your gifts stay out of the “RETURN” pile!gift giving tips

1. Don’t buy for yourself

The absolute, most-important tip I can give you is to not buy someone a gift based on your own personal taste. If you are personally drawn to more traditional style, that newly wed couple will have zero use for the Thomas Kincaid-style art print you bought for their super modern, minimalist style home. That picture is going straight in the back of a closet or will be making a showing at their yearly garage sale. Do not assume everyone likes what you like. 

You may have amazing taste (or at least think you do), but please consider that you’re not really “helping” someone by trying to get them into a decorating style that is clearly not them. You don’t want people giving you gifts that don’t fit your home, right? So don’t do it to someone else!

2. Don’t guess

No, not just anything will do. Headed to a birthday party for your husband’s co-worker? If all you know about the guy is that he’s in his 30’s and has brown hair, that does not equate with “he probably loves golf!” That’s a risky game to play! Yes, there’s a chance he’ll love that gift card to the golf store, but maybe he’s never even picked up a club!? What’s he going to do with that card? Save it for his brother’s birthday? If you have zero clue as to style, taste, needs or wants, play it safe with something like an Amazon or iTunes gift card.

Similarly, don’t assume that “everyone needs” something. Maybe they already have it! (Or don’t want it!)

3. Use the registry

Wedding registries get a bad rap. I know several folks who despise “being told” what to get for a couple. And if you’re someone who also refuses to buy off a registry, that’s fine, but please at least look at the registry to see what kind of things the couple actually likes. Yes, likely they need towels but don’t buy beige because it goes with everything. (Hint, it doesn’t.)

I once overheard a woman say that she never looks at registries, she just buys something she likes in a neutral color, usually beige “because you can’t go wrong there!” Uh, yes you can. As someone who hates the color beige (and all shades of taupe and khaki), those beige towels are not exactly a thoughtful gift! In the same way, me buying someone some bright turquoise towels (because I like them) isn’t helpful if their bathroom is decorated in brown and cream.

4. Do some research

When a friend was turning 30 recently, I was in charge of purchasing a gift from a group of friends. I was totally at a loss. While I knew this friend’s interests, it was still tough trying to purchase the right gift to celebrate this special birthday. What did I do? Pinterest-stalked her. I got on her boards and saw that she had recently pinned lots of cake stands she liked (she was also in the process of opening a bakery at the time!). I found one she loved (and was in our price range) and ordered it! And no surprise, she was really excited about the gift!

As someone who classifies gifts as one of her love languages, it makes you feel really good when someone actually takes the time to do a little research on finding the right gift! And even if gifts aren’t that important to you, that’s one less thing you’ll have to return/re-gift!

5. When in doubt, play it safe

Maybe you don’t have access to registries, Pinterest boards, or even Facebook profiles. If you’re totally blind-buying, play it safe. A few ideas:

  • Gift cards: A gift card definitely helps to take off some pressure of finding that perfect gift, but you’re not totally off the hook! A gift card need to be both something that 1) is available in their area, and 2) has a variety of items where they’re likely to be able to find something they like. Gift cards for restaurants and services can be helpful too, but again, don’t make assumptions. A free carpet cleaning might sound thoughtful, but not if you have all wooden floors. The same goes for restaurants, a meal at your favorite seafood restaurant won’t be used by the friend who is allergic (or just hates it!) Gift cards to places like iTunes, Amazon and Target are generally safe bets as they provide a lot of options. Don’t forget that not everyone drinks coffee, so that Starbucks gift card might not be the best go-to gift!
  • If you’re determined to give your cousin’s girlfriend (who you’ve only met once) something she can wear, steer clear of clothing and move more to the accessories department. Not only is size an issue, so is knowing her style! Unless you know for a fact she’d actually like an item (and it would fit), go more the accessory route. You’ve still got to make sure you are picking something “neutral” in this area too. Those lace shawls you love may look laughable with her own clothing. Stick with a simple pashmina or cotton scarf if you choose to go this route. The same goes for jewelry, you’re better off sticking with simple studs (gold, silver or “diamond” are pretty safe) than in purchasing a pair of bright blue chandelier earrings. They may be pretty, but they also may not ever be worn!
  • Gift baskets can be great for showers and hostess presents. A basket full of cleaning supplies might be great for your newly engaged nephew and his bride-to-be, and a basket of cold-weather items (a soft blanket, mittens, mugs, etc.) might be the perfect idea for your boss on her birthday. Again, be aware of personal preferences and style – a basket of wine and wine glasses might sound easy and like what you’d be happy to receive, but not everyone drinks wine!

There will always be challenges when gift-giving, but hopefully with just a little bit more effort and thought, you can quickly move yourself off the list of people not to invite to parties and showers! Another helpful hint? Always include a gift receipt when possible!

Originally published May 12, 2015

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