How to buy gifts that people actually need

When it’s gift-giving season, the shops are filled with generic gifts that people buy each other simply for the convenience. Christmas sweaters that get worn once a year, socks that get thrown in with the other pairs people receive, a mug with someone’s name on it that’s going to get taken to work and unwittingly appropriated by someone else with the same name. Board games that kids are never going to play because they’re obsessed with computer games. Books about train journeys in Bulgaria because you heard that someone spent their honeymoon in Bulgaria… or Bolivia, or somewhere.

99% of this stuff is just a waste of money and these gifts won’t be appreciated by whoever you buy them for. It becomes a case of saying “thanks, you remembered it was Christmas. So did I.” What you should do is find something that people will really appreciate, get a lot of use out of and remember you throughout the year and even after. So how do you do that?

Next time you’re at a friend or family member’s house, have a look around and see what you think they could use. Perhaps you see that they clean their teeth with an old plastic brush. Get your smartphone out right there and then and check out which product you’re going to buy them from Toothbrush Best. A fancy, long-lasting electric toothbrush might not seem the most obvious present to give someone, but the different is that you know this one fulfils a need and will be appreciated for a long time.

Listen out for hints as to what your friends might be interested in. If you’re driving along and your buddy starts singing along to whatever is playing on the radio at that time, make a note of who the artist is and check later to see when and where they are playing live. If there’s a date somewhere not too far away coming up, you could buy your friend a couple of tickets to go and see them. At least you know they’ll enjoy the music!

If you have some scatterbrains in your life, how about surprising them with a diary or a personal organiser? An alarm clock even? There may be people you know who are struggling at work or with their studies. You could buy them a number of hours with a personal mentor or a personal tutor to try to resolve their difficulties. You could even go so far as to enrol them in a full-time course of study. It sounds a little bit arrogant and kind of like saying “well, we all know that your photography career isn’t going anywhere but now you’ve got the chance to go off and do an associate’s degree in plumbing.” They might not thank you straight away, but one day, when they’re making a five-figure salary and not searching for pennies under the couch to buy ramen, they’ll remember you for it.

Sometimes you can buy someone a gift for your own sake as much as theirs. For example, if you notice that your partner has begun to let themselves get a bit smelly of late, the obvious gift to get them is some deodorant and perhaps some perfume or aftershave, depending on the case. As soon as they open it, they’ll probably come out with the standard exclamation “Perfume! Are you trying to say I stink?”, in a jokey way, to which you reply “No, of course not honey!”, which is not true at all, but it doesn’t matter as at least from now you won’t have to put up with their foul odor any more.

There may be someone you know who is going through a rough time at the moment and has started drinking too much or even doing drugs. Perhaps the best gift you could surprise them with might be an intervention by all the people who care about them, followed up with rehabilitation therapy, all as part of one gift. Instead of sharing a glass together in the festive season with this friend, make them face up to their situation and send them off to try and deal with it. It may be the greatest gift you ever give anyone.

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