man-outside-holding-a-wrapped-gift

Every holiday season means that you get – and often give — lots of pointless stuff.

You treat your aunt to yet another sweater while adding to the mountain of Legos and action figures in your family room. Your spouse buys more jewelry or tech gadgets to add to the collection you hardly ever wear or use.

This year, vow to break the cycle of gift clutter by giving (and asking for) something more practical.

Don’t worry, this isn’t where we start explaining that everyone needs socks and underwear.

The trick to choosing a winning practical gift that doesn’t come across as cold or even insulting (seriously, no one wants a bathroom scale with a bow on it), is to really think about the person’s interests or what might make their life a little easier or more enjoyable.

On the flipside, if you want to be on the receiving end of gifts you can actually use, start dropping hints or create wish lists that provide your loved ones with some ideas.

Yes, it’s the thought that counts and all that, but if you can shape those thoughts just a little, it’s a better gift for you, and an easier shopping experience for your gift giver — win-win!

Here are some practical ideas to help with your holiday shopping.

Go with experiences over things.

Kids love toys, but especially in big families, chances are they have more than enough playthings collecting dust or causing living room stumbles.

Parents will be delighted to see their little ones open up a membership to the local zoo, Ticketmaster gift cards to put toward concerts or sporting events, or movie theater and amusement park bucks.

If you want to go old school, consider a subscription to a print magazine – yes, there are still some of those around. Tween and teen girls especially love their pop culture mags.

A good deal.

Everyone loves a good bargain, but some people truly take pride in bragging about the big discounts they are able to score.

If you have a recipient like that on your list, he or she will appreciate a Groupon gift card to shop for local deals and not have to pay for it.

Or, how about gifting an Amazon Prime or Costco membership to someone who would enjoy the member benefits, but doesn’t necessarily want to pony up the cash to pay for it?

You might even go the route of purchasing an Entertainment Book, which is essentially a bunch of coupons, but to the penny pincher in your life, it’s worth more than gold.

An introduction to the digital age.

We all know someone who is a late adopter of technology, and your gift could literally open them up to a whole new world.
Try a streaming subscription to Netflix or Hulu, or a few months of commercial-free Spotify.

Or, maybe someone would appreciate his or her very first e-reader. Yes, it’s technically an item, but if you load it up with a few books, they can enjoy weeks of reading without a paperback pile up.

A monthly surprise.

There are so many subscription gift clubs now that finding the right one for a hard-to-shop-for person in your life should be a cinch.

From wine to chocolate to bacon to beauty product samples (Birchbox) to comic book geek gear (Lootcrate), these gifts keep giving with each delivery.

Free travel.

The daily grind of commuting can get expensive, which is why there’s surely someone who would appreciate a gas station or car wash gift card or a loaded public transportation card. Package it up inside a travel mug for a fun and functional presentation.

Pampering.

We all have special people in our lives – parents, caregivers, kind neighbors – who are always doing things for others and won’t “waste” money on themselves.

This is the perfect person to enjoy a salon gift certificate, a housecleaning service, a gourmet meal delivery, or a golf lesson.

Functional (but still awesome) gifts.

These are things, but they are things that people don’t tend to splurge on, such as:

  • A funky umbrella and rain boots for kids.
  • Hobby supplies such as a basket of knitting tools or cooking utensils.
  • High-end luggage or specialty bag for a frequent traveler.
  • Bags of high quality beans and a grinder for a devoted coffee lover.

When in doubt, cash it out.

While you might think money is a lazy or last resort gifting tactic, it doesn’t have to have an impersonal feel.

Finding a creative way to present a monetary gift to someone who can really use some cash can turn out to be a lot of fun.

For instance, you can create a scavenger hunt by wrapping up boxes with clues, or you can get crafty (Pinterest has tons of ideas).

Practical gifts have gotten a bum rap, but as you can see, they don’t have to be lame or resemble a grocery shopping list.

The best part is that by devoting a little time to coming up with thoughtful ideas, it will simplify everyone’s shopping, and ensure that holiday budgets don’t go to waste on gifts that won’t be used.