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Holiday Gift Ideas - Best Holiday Gift Ideas for Stress Relief

Holiday Gift Ideas: What People Really Want — And Don’t

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Updated November 28, 2011

Holiday Gift Ideas - Best Holiday Gift Ideas for Stress Relief

Researching holiday gift ideas can pay off--get them what they really want!

Photo from iStockPhoto.com
Holiday shopping and gift-giving can be one of the most fun and special parts of the season, but also one of the most stressful. Between crowds at the mall, financial stress that many of us are experiencing and not knowing what to get those hard-to-shop-for people, holiday shopping can be more stress than fun, which is really a shame.

One of the best ways to reduce holiday stress is to be organized: make a list of people you need to buy gifts for, decide on gift ideas for each (figuring your budget in to the equation) and get those gifts! (See this article on holiday shopping stress relief for more.)

While you’re figuring out who should get what, I’ve done some research that can help by looking in to Consumer Reports surveys that can tell you more about people’s buying and receiving habits: what people are planning to get, what people are hoping for and what happened with last year’s gifts. The following information can help you to relieve much of the stress of shopping by helping you to make an informed decision on gift ideas. Listed in order of popularity (for those doing the giving, that is), here are some of the top gifts people give, with information you can use to decide if these are the right gift ideas for your recipients.

Holiday Gift Idea #1: Clothes

Giving clothing as a gift seems like a really good idea: Clothing is functional as well as decorative; it’s fun to shop for; everyone wears clothes, so it’s a relevant gift; and your recipient will think of you when (if) they wear your gift. Perhaps this is why it’s the most-given gift: according to a Consumer Reports poll, more than two-thirds of consumers are planning to give clothing this holiday season. Clothing, however, is also the gift that people most often find disappointing, 39% of those who received clothes were disappointed. When you pair that with the time it takes to buy the clothes — they often require a trip to the mall, plenty of time spent browsing and energy spent thinking about whether your recipient would really like this shirt or not — buying clothes may not be the best idea. If you are very sure, though, that someone wants clothes and you’re very sure what type they want, it may still be a good idea. Other options may be a better bet for you and your recipient if you aren't sure.

Bottom Line: Unless you know someone really wants clothes and you know what clothes they really want, spend your time and money elsewhere — or at least be sure the clothes can be returned. Be sure you have the right size, or your gift can become an insult!

Holiday Gift Idea #2: Gift Cards

It’s not surprising that gift cards rank No. 2 in gifts people are planning to give for the holidays. I understand the appeal of gift cards, and I have been one to give them as well. They’re a step up from giving cash, which strikes many people as an impersonal, last-minute gift. In some ways, though, they’re a step below cash, because while cash runs the risk of being used as bills (rather than something more enjoyable), it can be spent on anything the recipient desires. By contrast, one in four gift card recipients has at least one unused gift card one year later, more than a third can’t find anything they’d like to redeem the card for and more than a third forget about the card entirely. Also, when people do redeem the cards, more than half end up spending more than the amount of the card, which turns your gift into an expense of sorts.

Gift cards are wonderful to have on hand to reciprocate surprise gift-givers and make great last-minute gifts, gifts for out-of-towners (they’re so easy to mail!) or gifts for those whose tastes you don’t know that well.

If you’re looking for an especially thoughtful gift, if you’d like to leave a little mystery as to how much you spend on someone (isn’t it awkward if you give a $25 gift card to someone, and they give you a card for a different amount?) or if you’d like to give a gift that derives some of its charm from the thought put in to it (so you can get away with spending less!), then there are better options.

Bottom Line: Gift cards are great for mailing, convenient to have on hand and make nice less-personal gifts, but because they may go unused or could end up costing your recipient, there are other options that may come off as more thoughtful.

Holiday Gift Idea #3: Toys

Most people get toys for their kids, making toys the third most popular gift idea. Buying toys for kids can be fun, but it’s easy to go overboard, for several reasons. First, we all want to make our kids happy, and sometimes — especially when holidays are involved — it’s hard to draw the line. Many of us also have an instinctive desire to give our kids what we couldn’t have when we were young. And, let’s face it, there are some really cool toys out there that make them fun to purchase! (The siren song of the Nintendo Wii beckons loudly even to adults.) With 3 out of 4 Americans planning to reduce holiday spending this year, however, buying too many toys can be a source of financial stress.

Here it’s a good idea to make a list and stick to it, or you may spend more than you’d intended. It’s also smart to buy toys that can be shared and that can be played with repeatedly (e.g., avoid those toys that they play with for one hour and then set aside to gather dust). That means that you don’t necessarily have to steer clear of those big-ticket items, such as the Wii-Fi — your kids will all share one and use it often for family fun. It also means that, buying a bunch of small toys (so they’ll have a lot to open) may not be the best strategy if they won’t really play with them. You can always supplement candy, as a really inexpensive extra.

Bottom Line: Try to buy quality toys that will last and get a lot of use. Come up with a spending plan and stick with it.

See Page 2 for the Most Asked-For Gift Idea for Both Men and Women

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