A Final Thought: A guide to gift-giving


By Mitch Allen

Twenty-five years ago, I surprised my family with a special holiday present: a gift certificate for a hot air balloon ride for the four of us—me, my wife and our two daughters. I still remember my wife’s reaction when I presented her with the elaborate gift package detailing the calm sunrise lift-off, the gentle floating through the clouds and the champagne celebration at touchdown in a kind farmer’s field.

“Have you gone stark-raving mad?” she asked. “I don’t like heights and I’m certainly not going to let you take our children up in a hot air balloon.”

It went over like a lead balloon.

On another Christmas morning, I gave my wife a pair of beautiful white gold, yellow gold and diamond earrings. I was proud of myself for having found them. They were exactly her style, yet when she opened the small gift box, I detected on her face a hint of disappointment.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. “Don’t you like them?”

“I love them,” she said, pulling her hair back and revealing two nearly identical earrings in her own earlobes. “You gave me a pair just like them three years ago.”

I mention these two epic fails as disclaimers because no one has any business taking gift-giving advice from me.

Still, here I go:

A good gift is both relevant and expensive—and by expensive, I mean it requires an investment in money, time and/or thoughtfulness. In other words, you can spend $1,200 a month for the next 72 months putting a matching pair of Lexuses in the driveway, or you can spend three weeks hand-crocheting a beautiful afghan in colors that complement the recipient’s sofa pillows. One is a large investment in money; the other a large investment in time and thoughtfulness.

Giving a good gift starts with paying attention. Does the recipient have a favorite sports team? (Don’t give a blue and maize scarf to an Ohio State fan.) Do they enjoy food, wine, knitting, bird watching? What are the colors of their sofa pillows? Heck, I don’t even know the colors of my own sofa pillows. How can I be expected to know the colors of yours?

Okay, money it is.

If you’re going to give money; give cash. Don’t give a Visa gift card or an Amazon gift card. That’s like saying, “You’re a name on a list I had to strike off. Who are you again?”

And if you give cash, give a dead president that the recipient likely doesn’t see every day. That means no Washingtons, Lincolns, Hamiltons or Jacksons. Give at least a Grant or a Franklin and make sure you secure a crisp bill or you’ll need to spend a few minutes ironing one. By the way, Hamilton and Franklin never served as president.

If $50 or $100 is over the budget for a particular recipient then simply don’t give cash. Choose a gift certificate to a local business specializing in what they like. A $10 gift certificate to a local bird store, for example, is perfect for a bird watcher. Yes, they sell bird seed at Lowe’s and Home Depot, but that’s only slightly better than a Visa gift card. A Home Depot gift card says, “You really need to paint your kitchen.”

If your recipient is into wine, refrain from giving them the latest wine-themed gadget. Instead, give them what they like—actual wine. A case of a low-cost wine in a style they love can cost around $100 if you’ll discuss it with your local wine shop owner. They like hooking people up with $8.99 wines that drink like $28.99 wines. Plus, a case makes a dramatic presentation and any wineaux trying to fill a basement cellar will appreciate a full case.

Obviously, you can give a single bottle, but it should meet the money/time/thoughtfulness criteria. A high-quality wine in a style they love is ideal, but so is an inexpensive bottle with meaning behind it, such as one that features an animal on the label that has significance to the recipient. You can also ask your local wine shop owner to help you find a vintage that matches a special year, like the year they were married or the year they ran their first marathon. Knowing the year someone ran their first marathon is what thoughtfulness is all about.

Finally, give gifts that inspire. One of the best presents I ever received came from my daughter’s in-laws. They know I’m a big ol’ foodie so they gave me a professional white chef jacket. I’ve actually never worn it, but every morning I see it hanging in my closet and it reminds me that there are people in world who see more in me than I see in myself. The jacket also inspires me to keep practicing the craft, to keep making sauces and striving to achieve the perfect seared scallop. Moreover, my daughter’s father-in-law has since passed, making the gift even more precious to me.

One day, I will don the jacket and I will think of John Lasher—the man who thought so highly of me.

One day...when I am worthy.


Categories: Smart Living