Transcript Episode 42: Giving Great Gifts

Welcome to Sing With Your Feet.

My name is Lily Fields and I am going to be your fairy godmother for what is going to end up being, yet again, an extra-long episode.

About this time of year, you are going to find everywhere you look lists of gifts to buy for every single different person in your life.

It’s fun to look at these lists, sometimes because they really do contain ideas that I would never have come up with myself. But giving you a list of possible gifts is not what your fairy godmother wants to do.

What my desire this week is, is to help you think about the people you love, or the people you need to find gifts for, and to determine how they like to receive gifts. Not, mind you, what they want to receive. But how they like to receive gifts.

I sometimes wonder if I am making this unnecessarily complicated, but when it comes down to it, I think that recognizing that people are complicated is a way to unhook ourselves from the peg of their reactions. Being a student of the people we love can help us understand them better, and understanding them better can help us love them better. 

Last week, I briefly mentioned that my husband loves to give surprises, and I loathe surprises. That is just one of what I like to call the “Gift Receiver Templates.” Each template is a spectrum of two opposites on which your loved ones might fall. 

The names are not terribly creative, and I am going to go ahead and list them for you right now: Quantity or Quality, Sentimental or Practical, and Surprise or Anticipation.

We are going to sandwich our conversation of the Templates with two other topics which might be of help to you as you navigate this holiday season: the Troublemakers, and lastly, the often uncomfortable subject of money as a gift.

Part one: The Troublemakers

Last week, I reminded you that if you are going to be buying gifts for anyone this year, it would be a good idea to start making your list, which because you are perfectionist, you probably have already done.

I’m willing to bet there are a few people on that list for whom it is easy to come up with gift ideas. Those are probably people who know how to receive a gift with grace, and for whom you usually have little-to-no-stress in the giving. Easy peasy.

Those people are adorable and we love them and we can put them on hold for a moment while we consider the other people on your list, for whom finding a gift can be a chore.

Remember last week, we talked about the Love Languages and gift giving? Well, right now, I want you to consider those difficult to buy for people, and remind yourself that even they have a love language. 

One of the Love Languages is that of Gifts. All of us, at some point in our life give gifts, even if this isn’t our primary Love Language. But listening to, and learning to speak someone else’s love language can increase everyone’s experience of this unavoidable part of the holiday season.

Remind yourself this about the people who can be difficult to buy for: It isn’t because they can be difficult that they do not give or receive love. They are troublemakers, yes, but they are troublemakers that we love. And sometimes, there is a reason why they are difficult to buy for.

Being a courteous gift-giver to the people we dread giving gifts to might mean, possibly, making a few small sacrifices and perhaps even risking our own discomfort. But the pay-off might just be fantastic.

The Disappointed/Unhappy Receiver

Do you have one of these? It’s not always an audible grousing, or, like we will see in a minute, a spouting of sarcasm. It can be just a polite smile and the folding away of a gift in its wrapping.

I want to remind you, as I have been throughout this holiday season: your self-worth must not hang on someone else’s reactions. You are not a failure if someone does not react enthusiastically. There might be all kinds of reasons behind a less-than-enthusiastic response. Do not take this personally. Do not, in the moment, suggest, “You can return it if you don’t like it.” You do not know what is going inside their head at that moment. Let the person breathe a little. Their disappointment is not about you. Remember that, please.

There is so much involved in receiving a gift–the receiver’s imagination, whether they intend it to or not, gets engaged in the process. All of their baggage and past experience influences what they are imagining, and we are not privy to all of that. We just see their face and the way they return the gift to its wrapping. 

Last week we talked about what our own Ideal Gift would be–whatever that thing is that would respond to our deepest need. Well–that desire to see something fulfill our deepest need is like an itch that we want to have scratched. And every little package under our tree is something that, as a receiver, we imbue with the potential to scratch that itch. 

That disappointment you may sense might just be the realization that nothing tangible can scratch that itch. Your gift may be thoughtful and wonderful and desirable…but it cannot fulfill a person’s deepest need. Do not attach that kind of responsibility to the gift you are giving.

Be careful, once you have given a gift, to let the receiver have a moment to wrestle with their thoughts. Don’t jump in with your own insecurities. 

The Sarcastic Receiver

This person is one I have a ton of trouble with. It won’t matter what you get them, their reaction will be one of, “Oh great. More socks.” or “Yay. What a surprise. Cigars again.”

There are probably dozens of reasons why this person reacts the way they do, but my unscientific study of human nature says that they are uncomfortable receiving gifts. There are people like this out there. They do not believe that they are worthy of receiving something, and it will not matter what you give them. They will never respond with enthusiasm. They don’t like talking about gifts.

They will tell you, “Don’t get me anything…” and in the back of your mind, you know that if you wouldn’t feel guilty not getting them a gift, you probably wouldn’t.

Remember what we said? Guilt is not a reason to do anything this season. Love is the only reason.

If the inevitability of their sarcastic reaction is already causing you stress, then you need to sing with your feet here, friend. Either you need to have an upfront conversation about how their inability to accept a gift graciously makes you feel (right, Lily. Right. I’d like to see you do that.) Or, you need to do one of two things:

Option 1: Accept that this person truly does not want a gift from you. Instead, write them a really thoughtful note. (Yes, this may actually be harder work than buying a useless gift they won’t like. But the benefit to your relationship might be much greater.) Here is a sample to get you started:

Dear Aunt Gertrude,

I know you said you do not want a gift, and I really want to honor that desire. Honestly, it feels weird not giving you a gift. However, I still wanted you to know how very special you are to me. I always enjoy hearing your stories of shuffleboard championships and how funny the people in your Bridge Club are.

It wouldn’t be Christmas without you there to narrate the gift opening. I still remember when Uncle Horace gave Aunt Myrtle that lamp! Your reaction was priceless.

Thank you for always being good for a laugh.

Love, Lily

Does the thought of doing this scare the daylights out of you? Yeah, me too. But here again, you are managing expectations and you are making it clear that you are honoring their desire. Here, you are acting out of a place of love and not out of guilt.

Option 2: Get this person a somewhat meaningless gift like you always do, and then detach yourself emotionally from their response. Prepare a few comebacks for their inevitable sarcastic comment:

Hah! When I picked it out, I debated whether you would say, “Well now if that color isn’t fit for a pumpkin” or “Somebody get me a latte, I’ve got the pumpkin spice right here!”

By engaging with their sarcasm, you are engaging with their core fear of rejection. This, in and of itself, is an act of love. You are proving that this gift, and consequently, that they are more than an afterthought.

The essential way to deal with this person is to be ready for their response, and to detach emotionally from their approval. This will liberate you to be loving towards them, no matter what they throw at you. It doesn’t hurt to say this again, love is the only reason to do anything this season.

Consider those tough-to-buy for and what makes them a challenge at this time of year. Is there something that sticks out in your mind about this person at the holidays? (This could be a specific example or a hazy feeling or memory.) Can you gain some perspective on why they might react the way they do? I’m going to say this again: rejection, or the fear of rejection, is a reason why a lot of the people we find to be troublemakers at the holidays act the way they do.

Do not engage with this, because you will only get hurt. You cannot fulfill their need to belong. You can simply love them the best way that you know how.

This is important, so listen carefully: Many of our family relationships are fraught and heavy with history. We can’t change difficult people, but we can change how we interact with them.

Maybe you can’t fix the relationship, but you can put your love glasses on and take the situations on differently.

No Guilt. Just Love.

Part Two: Quantity Vs Quality

I want you to imagine something for a second:

You are ten years old. It’s Christmas morning. You tiptoe out of your room to check out what magic happened over night (even though you don’t really still believe in all that hocus-pocus, you are still hedging your bets.)

In scenario one, there are dozens of little gifts. Mountains of little surprises just waiting to be unwrapped, a large number of which have your name written on the package.

In scenario two, there are few gifts, but the boxes are huge. Like, possibly the size of a new ten-speed bike huge. Or a “Playmobil airplane and control tower” huge.

Which one of these scenarios gets your inner child excited? Which scenario would you have preferred to come across on Christmas morning?

You are the only one hearing your answers, and even if I could hear your answers, this is a totally no-judgment zone. Both tendencies are completely valid.

True story

One year, for my birthday, when my indulgent husband and I were scrimping and saving to pay for Law School without going into debt, he gave me, quite possibly, the best gift I have ever received from him (and he is the one who, many years later. gave me an iPad Pro for Valentine’s Day, so let’s consider exactly how great this gift was, okay?)

I remember seeing the pile of gifts on the kitchen table, beautifully wrapped and ribboned. Some were flat, some looked like cylinders. There were probably six of them, but we had a tiny little table for two, and they took over the whole table. The illusion of quantity got my little child’s heart all a-pitter pattering.

When I got to work that day, and the requisite “Happy Birthdays” were all said around a pretty cake I had baked, one of my colleagues asked me, “So? What did you get for your birthday?”

And, with genuine pleasure and authentic enthusiasm, I replied: “Better Homes and Gardens, Martha Stewart Living and Real Simple.”

The looks on the faces of my colleagues took me off-guard.

“You got magazine subscriptions for your birthday?” one curious colleague asked.

“No, silly! He gave me two of each!” I replied.

You see, my indulgent husband knew that I loved to get lost on Martha Stewart’s farm and study her calendar. I loved the closet organization strategies–closet porn, I call them–in Real Simple. And Better Homes and Gardens? Well, that’s just for fun. Hours of sitting on the couch and dreaming fun.

I am a quantity person. You may have noticed: my husband once gave me an iPad Pro as a gift, but that was not the most memorable gift I have ever received from him. The most memorable gift was a stack of my favorite magazines from a period in our life when we had very little disposable income.

Quantity Template People

Quantity people love the potential contained in the wrapping of all those little packages. What is in the package is secondary to the quantity of packages.

To bring more joy to a quantity person, something as simple as a four-pack of socks can be made more exciting to them by you, the gift-giver, wrapping each pair separately. Extra points for using non-Earth suffocating ways to wrap gifts, like furoshiki or recycled wrapping.

The fact of opening a solid quantity of gifts is part of the fun for this person. While, as a gift-giver, you may be thinking, “Why bother wrapping nicely if all they are going to do is immediately rip off the paper?” Let me counter this argument: Unwrapping is part of the thrill.

Some years ago, my husband accompanied a class to the zoo, where they spent some time with the Macaques and their caretakers. Apparently, in order to keep the Macaques interested, they hide their food in different containers, so the animals have to figure out how to open them to get their food out. Does that sound cruel? Well, it keeps the animals engaged. The animals enjoy this.

That’s what you need to consider when wrapping for a Quantity Person. A Quantity Person takes pleasure in the engagement of opening the gift, and the moment of uncertainty and guessing what it contains.

If you want to increase the joy for a Quantity Person, find ways to make the experience last longer. Wrap related items individually. Include ribbons to slow them down. Put the gift inside another (recycled) box that they have to open once the paper/wrapping is off. The process is as important to them as the gift itself.

When budgeting resources for a Quantity Person, consider the time and thought it will take to make the opening of the gift as exciting, if not more, than the gift itself.

The downside to this template is that the receiver might have a feeling of letdown once all the gifts are open. This is not disappointment in the gifts, it’s just a feeling of letdown. In order to assuage this letdown, let me recommend, as part of the gift, providing a container to put all their gifts in (a basket or a nice sized box), so that they can see all the gifts, unwrapped, in a nice little mountain, throughout the day.

For the Quantity Person consider themed gifts, like a “coffee lovers theme”, with a mug, cute sugar cubes, a specialty creamers, a sweet coffee spoon, specialty coffees, or a “beauty product theme” with an array of products you know they like, and maybe one of those hair drying towels or handcrafted make-up remover wipes (I made my own and I swear by them).

Commercial gift baskets are great, however, keep in mind: this person likes to open their gifts. They like the uncertainty of knowing, and then discovering. So if you go with a gift basket, consider wrapping each element separately.

Quality Template People

This person is the one who, in our opening exercise, had their heart pitterpatter at the thought of the big gift.

Because “bigger gift” or “nicer gift” often rhymes with “bigger price tag”, it is essential to consider, in advance, how much money you have to spend on this person.

Knowing that this person will never be happy with a mountain of individually wrapped nail polishes like his Quantity Template Person will be, you must absolutely take stock of your bandwidth.

To give a “bigger gift” or a “nicer gift” should not bankrupt you. Remember, I HATE IT that at this time of year, we are obligated to put a dollar value on our affection for someone. But this is the reality we live in.

Taking into consideration your bandwidth, (not your Uncle Scroogeness, remember!), this might be an occasion to humbly bring in other people who love the Quality Person to help make their holiday memorable, too. Group gifts can be very meaningful to a Quality Person, but they can be a headache to orchestrate. So here are a few thoughts on this delicate subject:

  • Do you want this person to have the object on Christmas Day?
  • Can you front the entirety of the cost, or do you need help now?

If you want the object under the tree on Christmas Day, then you need to work double time to make sure you answer the second question. If you need help now, then you need to start communicating now with the people you think might be able to participate with you.

Aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings, godparents…these are the people who will be most likely to catch the vision. Honest, humble, authentic communication on the subject will be the most efficient way to advance.

Make it easy for those who want to participate financially in the gift. This means: you know how much it costs and you know where you want to get it from. Although I hate it, Amazon makes it really easy to send gift cards to help defray the total cost. But if, for example, you know you will get the gift from a local mom and pop shop who doesn’t do gift cards, then it is your job to find out how your family can participate financially. Cash? A check? The Cash App? Venmo?

To make this work, you need to “cast a vision” for the Quality Person’s gift, then you need to do the hard, hard work of communicating the vision, collecting the money and procuring the gift.

You might be surprised. Someone might have a leftover gift card or a store credit to the store where you want to buy the item. Someone might offer to go pick it up from the store for you and hide it in their garage until Christmas Eve (a necessity for keeping secrets, do we agree?)

A group gift, while a ton of work, provides opportunities beyond just “handing over an envelope of cash” to make a holiday dream come true for a Quality Template Person.

There is one last, VERY important element to providing a gift to a Quality Template Person in the context of a group gift: Communicating the delivery of the gift to the participants.

Make sure sure sure that you document the joy that the person exhibits in seeing what they had been hoping for. Take photos of them riding their new bike around the living room because they couldn’t wait to get it outside. Communicate these immediately to the gift participants so they know the joy they provided. It takes two minutes, but it closes the loop for the participants, especially those who might have been reticent about being “left out” of the celebration because they did not buy or wrap a gift themselves.

In the case where the answer to question 1 was “No, the gift need not be under the tree on Christmas Day”, then you can still do the communication work with your family: express, clearly, what big-ticket item your Quality Template Person desires, how much it will cost, and ask for a participation in the purchase of the item.

Yes, this is less fun for the receiver and less immediate for the giver, but it is less work for you. However, you still must see it through.

I’m going to say something that you are free to challenge, but I’m not a fan of the “This gift is for Christmas and birthday…” school of thought (unless a person’s birthday is within a week of Christmas.) You see, while a big-ticket item might be better spread over multiple occasions, everyone will inevitably forget that this was the purpose, and everyone will be disappointed when the birthday rolls around.

This is where it becomes critical to manage expectations. This is where knowing how much money you can spend on any one gift becomes critical. Unless you are taking your baths in gold coins (not unlike Uncle Scrooge), there is a dollar value, whether you are willing to say that amount aloud or not.

Communicating this, however, to the Quality Template Person on your list becomes necessary. Telling them that you are only able to put $20 into their gift this year may feel humiliating, but it is the truth. Setting and managing expectations will open conversations about how to bring satisfaction to that person within your giving capacity.

Part Three: Sentimental and Practical

While these may seem like obvious distinctions, I still want us to do the exercise of thinking about the experience the sentimental and practical people on our lists most enjoy. Remember, we are wanting to become students of the people we love, so we can better speak their love languages.

By identifying their specific way–or palette of ways–of experiencing love through the receiving of gifts, we are deepening their satisfaction and, and this is critical, our own satisfaction. The satisfaction of giving a thoughtful, meaningful, and ultimately appreciated gift is, let’s admit, its own reward!

The Sentimental Gift-Receiver

This person might be heard oohing and aahing about a pasta noodle necklace made by the hands of their grandchild, as much as about a bouquet of their favorite stargazer lilies (a fact you happened to remember) or a coffee table book about the artist whose work you saw on your third date together.

What this person desires is a personal connection to the gift and the gift-giver. The gift becomes a stand-in for a memory or a person.

A pair of socks, for example, becomes more than just a pair of socks if that pair of socks has a spaceship on them if you and the gift-receiver watched a rocket launch together this year. The socks become a way for the fun memory to live on every time they put their shoes on.

I’ve already told about my boys who, for my birthday, gave me a set of enamel pins of the characters in Le Petit Prince. This little gift was laden with meaning for me: it represented our favorite summer activity (going to the theme park), the nicknames we call each other around the house (my Little Prince, my Little Fox, and me, their Rose…) and my romantic obsession with the prose of Saint Exupéry. I’m getting all gooey and teary just thinking about it.

One time, at the height of my summer rainbow chasing on Instagram, one of my followers (a local friend) snuck a pretty square little rainbow scarf into my mailbox. At the time it was done anonymously (I have since figured out who the “culprit” is!) It was a small thing, but so, so meaningful.

Okay, so yes, I am a sentimental type. There are lots of us out there. What about the people on your list?

A dear friend of mine and I were talking about this very subject just the other night. She argued that she actually preferred small “token” sentimental gifts to larger gestures because they were easier to carry around with her and always made her smile when she needed a pick-me-up throughout the day. I adore this logic.

Another friend uses real handkerchiefs (I wish I were a real handkerchief kinda gal.) She has a story behind every single handkerchief…who gave it to her, or where she picked it up. Listening to her tell the story is like she is pouring through an old photo album. This brings her so much joy, and really, who doesn’t use a Kleenex? Here, she is crossing the line between practical and sentimental.

This actually reminds me of my father, although it is non-gift related: during his career, one of the coolest things he did was be part of a major renovation project of an old downtown shopping center. The old storefronts, made of intricately crafted brass, were restored and put back into use. He kept one of the brass rosette caches, which was about the size of a quarter, in his pocket. For years. He kept it until the rosette had worn off and it was just a blank piece of brass. It was a token of a fantastic period of career contentment. It wasn’t useful or practical, but it was highly sentimental.

Sentimentals like Susanne and Julie and my father appreciate tokens. Sentimentals like there to be a story behind the gift that connects them to something or someone they love.

Remember: it does not have to be a huge gesture. Sometimes small is better. The essential is that the gift be a proxy for pleasant memories and emotions.

The Practical Gift-Receiver

I nearly included this person on my list of “Troublemakers”, because these people, by nature, are more no-nonsense than we sentimentals. They can seem like aliens to us and can be incredibly frustrating to buy for.

A Practical Gift-Receiver is often uncomfortable with sentimental gestures, or “a gift for gift’s sake.” This person, therefore can have reactions that leave a gift-giver feeling like they’ve done something wrong.

“What am I going to do with this?” they might say.

This feeling of helplessness when it comes to buying for a Practical Gift-Receiver can be compounded when the receiver is someone who already has everything they need.

Many, many years ago, when I was being trained as a Guest Relations Host at Walt Disney World, I worked with an ancient man named Howard. Howard was showing me the ropes, and at the end of my week of on-the-job training with him, he presented me with a gift, one he bought with his own money and wrapped with his own hands: a basic black, theme-park gift shop Mickey Mouse umbrella.

What Howard knew about our job in Guest Relations (but I did not) was that the umbrella was a workplace necessity. In Central Florida, afternoon rainstorms are de rigueur, and being caught without an umbrella is very, very uncool. His gift was the ultimate in practical gifts.

Another friend told me about her Aunt, who every single year gave everyone a pair of nice scissors. Every single year. Meaning, you could count on the fact that at Christmas, you would be getting a new pair of scissors and not feel guilty throwing out the old pair that had gotten some sort of gooey mess on them and was unusable.

There are items in daily life that are inherently practical, and by nature are things that get worn out. Umbrellas, scissors and knives are just a few examples, not to mention the bigger ticket practical items (a vacuum cleaner, or a refrigerator to replace one that’s not working.)

Years ago, the company my father worked for gave its employees “Fruit of the Month” subscriptions…that is, we would receive a box of a different kind of fruit every month. I don’t really remember the fruit, but I do remember the boxes (I used them to store my doll clothes in!) As an adult, with my own family, I tend to think this is a pretty kickass gift. It is practical, it lasts all year, and the ultimate benefit: you don’t have to go to the fruit stand for a week.

I once worked at a hotel where the tradition was to give every employee a frozen turkey for Christmas. This, also, is an amazingly practical kickass tradition. It was practical, it was timely, and everyone could count on it.

A last thought about the Practical Gift-Receiver: perhaps shifting the focus to a service rather than a tangible gift might be helpful. Offering the gift of a monthly maid service, or a carwash subscription. This would be you giving something that the practical person might never pay for themselves, but that they could totally appreciate.

For the Practical Gift-Receiver on your list, maybe it’s time to start a tradition. Practical people prize reliability. How could you could become a reliable force in their lives, through the gift you give? Aunt Sheila and her scissors certainly became that for my friend. The frozen turkey and fruit-of-the-month club did that.

Part Four: Surprise or Anticipation

This template is less about the gift itself as it is about how the receiver perceives the importance of knowing.

Some people love to percolate in the mystery and magic of wondering what is going to be under the tree. These people are the ones who will not try, even once they have a gift in their hands, to feel around the contours of it and guess what is in a wrapped package. (Where do they find the self-discipline for this?) They appreciate every last moment until the wrapping is off and the gift is fully revealed. For them, it is the joy of discovery. I call this the Surprise Receiver Template.

Others relish in knowing in advance and being able to project themselves into ownership of the gift in advance. It is wired in them to dream, look forward to, anticipate. This I call, quite creatively, the Anticipation Receiver Template.

The Surprise Receiver Template

This person hates spoilers, never skips to the last page of a book to know what happens. They let the mystery unfold. This person can be a delight to buy a gift for, especially if they are a Sentimental Receiver. In fact, I would argue that the Sentimental Surprise person is the easiest person on our list for whom to buy a gift.

Knowing whether the receiver is a Sentimental or a Practical Gift Receiver will help direct you as you consider what kind of surprise you want to provide.

This person doesn’t want to know anything about their gift until Christmas Day. Because the Surprise Receiver draws out the end reveal until the last second, how you wrap a gift for a Surprise person can add to the fun. Dissimulating a recognizable shape –for example, a pair of socks–by putting it in a small (recycled!) box and then wrapping the box with a ribbon means that the unwrapping will take longer.

I’m not necessarily prescribing this kind of practical joke, but one year when we were growing up, one of my sister’s friends wrapped a gift inside a box, inside a bag, inside another box, with tape and ribbons and…I feel like I remember an Exacto knife had been needed to finally get to the gift. I don’t remember what the gift was, but I remember the wrapping. I remember that it was an experience that everyone at the birthday party was involved in.

Consider that for this person, once the gift is revealed, the surprise is over. So make the revelation an experience! Here’s an idea: hide the gift and give a series of clues to get to it. A little scavenger hunt, just for fun, will add to the drama and the pleasure your Surprise Receiver will enjoy in their gift.

The Anticipation Receiver Template

This person just has to know. This is the person who goes searching through closets and looks for where the gifts are hidden because they just have to know. This, unsurprisingly, is also the person who reads the last page of a book first and needs to know that a movie ends well, asking questions all along the way.

They are fun people to buy for, because they are always asking for hints. Depending on how sadistic you are as a gift giver, this can be fun for you too, up until a point, and as long as you know that you’ve hit the nail on the head in terms of their Sentimental, Practical, Quantity or Quality Templates.

If you are a gentle sadist, and are willing to engage their questions and their demands for hints, then playing the game in an organized way might be fun for both of you. Laying hints, pretending to scuttle about boxes… The Anticipation becomes a game that you play over the course of days or weeks, and not just on Christmas morning, like with the Surprise person.

My sister, the amazing Poppy Fields, is a black belt at giving Anticipation gifts. I wrote about how she handled long-distance gift giving to her two scalawag nephews: it was a Masterclass on dealing with my children.

As an Anticipation person myself, let me suggest that the most satisfying way to receive a gift for us is to know what it is and to be able to enjoy the prospect of ownership before it actually becomes mine. This doesn’t make us Surprise Haters, it just means that we get a ton of pleasure in the knowing.

If you have an Anticipation person on your list, the way to deal with them is much like the Surprise Hater Template: 

Opening up a line of communication about this can be as simple as: I want to get you a gift you will enjoy, and I was thinking of xyz… Would that be something you might like? Yes? Cool. Consider it done!”

You could even follow up with a link/screenshot with the text “Do you like this? Or do you know of something else?”, so that the person knows you are serious and has that little image to hold onto. The added benefit of this is, if what you are thinking of isn’t what they want, they can respond with a different suggestion. Create a back-and-forth to help choose the gift, and then, once the item is chosen, confirm with the person (in a playful way is always more fun) that the deed is done.

The confirmation is important, because then the person can really let themselves go and enjoy the anticipation, increasing the satisfaction even more! 

Being able to return to an image of the gift is fun and exciting for the receiver who enjoys anticipation. Either a print copy or a digital photo could be a special little reminder to dole out over the course of the days or weeks prior to Christmas.

What you are doing here is setting expectations for someone who needs to have expectations set, as well as managing those expectations: If they were hoping for a Play Station 5, they will know that the best your bandwidth can do is a pack of Pokemon cards. This way they can get over their disappointment now, instead of on Christmas morning.

Part Five: Money as a gift

Money, as we know, makes the world go round, and it is, in many situations and for many people, the ideal gift to give at the holidays.

If I can give just one word of advice for the people like me out there who get flustered when talking about money: Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Ok, that’s three words. But whatever. Money as a gift can be thoughtful, it can be done well so that both giver and receiver feel satisfied. Read on.

Many people don’t like to give money as a gift because it feels “impersonal”. To be fair, because in our world we have fallen out of the habit of writing thank you notes (I am the first to be guilty of this sin), it has kinda become impersonal. But there are ways to make it less impersonal, and we are going to explore these together.

There are fantastic benefits for both giver and receiver to giving money as a gift: 1. It is an easy gift to give. 2. The receiver can use the money to purchase something that they really want or really need. For the person who doesn’t have the bandwidth for psychoanalyzing their loved one’s Gift Receiver Template, money is a great gift. 

Types of Money Gifts

Money gifts can come in various iterations:

  1. Cash
  2. Check
  3. Credit card-type Gifts Cards (Visa Gift Cards, for example)
  4. Specific vendor/store Gift Cards
  5. Service/Activity-type certificate (nail salon, concert/theme park tickets, landscaping service)

Each has its own benefits and considerations, which we are going to take a few minutes to dissect.


Cash is an amazing gift. Useful. Easy to obtain and easy to spend. Can be used for almost anything.

Cash, as a gift, is the king of money gifts. Nonetheless, there are still considerations.

When we send cash, is our intention for the cash to be the gift that is opened on Christmas Day, or are we sending it so that a gift can be purchased and be wrapped and left under the tree? If the latter, then we need to be sure to communicate this to the receiver (or the receiver’s parents or special someone) to make sure it happens. We also then need to send it early enough for the gift to be purchased.

If I am giving cash as a gift, I want to consider the person I am offering it to: young people are just happy to have cash, but the denomination should be not too large for them to easily spend–a $20 is more useful than a $50, for example.

Little kids tend to be Quantity Receivers, and think “more is better”. So several $5 bills is going to be more fun than one $20.

For adults, to make cash a memorable and less likely to be frittered away, a bigger denomination is a great option (incidentally, also more onerous.) For example: a $100 bill is going to require slightly more thought as to how it is going to be used, and certainly can’t be spent as easily at the bagel shop as a $20 bill.

I don’t know about you, but I have a tend to fritter away cash here and there–a coffee here, a baguette there. I love it when a money gift comes in a nice envelope so that I can keep that cash separate and put the receipts back in. I do this so I remember what I did with the money. It also keeps me from frittering. Thus, when I give cash as a gift, I always put it in a pretty envelope and write the person’s name on it in my best penmanship.


The check sometimes feels like the “afterthought” of the money gifting world–at least when I end up giving a check, that is. I am casting zero stones. None.

A check is less work for the giver, but creates work for the receiver. Just sayin’.

In most instances where I have ended up writing a check, it is because I was too late to run to the ATM and withdraw cash, or there was a history of mail disappearing from mailboxes.

The great thing about a check is that we can write our intention for the gift on the check, if we have one, for example, “For a new bike.” What actually happens to the check is not ultimately in our hands, but we do get to have our say.

Checks are a step removed from usefulness. There is no widely accepted way to take a check to a store and buy a bike with it.

They are, therefore, in my humble opinion, not the ideal money gift solution.

Pre-loaded Credit Cards

These are amazing. They feel immediate, like cash. As long as a vendor accepts a credit card, these are as useful as cash.

Keeping in mind that these often have expiration dates, etc, these would be my second choice after cash for a gift. I would also want to give this in a cute little box or a special envelope, so that when it is used, there is a sense, for the receiver, that this is something special, for a special purpose.

As a matter of fact, I might have just convinced myself to do this for my teenage nieces for Christmas this year instead of cash. (Yay! Two down!)

Vendor/Store-Specific Gift Cards

I read somewhere that there are billions of dollars in unused gift card value out in the economy. This saddens me no end. I mean, for crying out loud, there are people who could actually use that money to pay for groceries, and here it is, sitting on a Victoria’s Secret Gift Card in someone’s sock drawer.

Ugh, this irritates me.

The intention of store/vendor specific gift cards is honorable. It says, “Hey, I know you like this store, here, go buy yourself something nice on me.”

What I don’t like is when this kind of gift is given without concertation with the gift receiver, to make sure that this is a place where the person actually does shop.

Let me tell you, I would 100% take a grocery store gift card over a Victoria’s Secret card. It would be more practical, I would be happier, it would actually make my life better. Although, here I am showing my staunchly practical side. I have zero fanciful side anymore. My children have broken me.

The point is this: know your audience. Launch a fishing expedition to find out where they actually shop, and what might actually make them happy/make their life better. Communicate. Make sure that they actually will use their gift card, instead of it being out there with the billions of dollars worth of plastic living in a sock drawer.

Service Certificate

These are fantastically fun if they are something that 1. the receiver would never do for themselves, but you know they would like to do, and 2. are easy to use.

Easy rule of thumb here: if the credit is difficult to obtain, it will be difficult to use. A nail salon that has never given a gift certificate is likely to not know how to book an appointment using it. If you have to switch languages in order to use the website, you might be getting in over your head.

Last year, my BIL and SIL gave us tickets for 4 to EuropaPark, a huge theme park in Germany. We would never in a million years have gone there had we paid for it ourselves, but this gift created a very fun summer outing for us this last year. That said, the cashing in of that credit was incredibly complicated, and required smartphone apps (we didn’t have smartphones at the time) and QR codes and wifi access and registrations and ugh, it was so, so complicated. Add to that the fact that no one in my family speaks German to call someone with our questions and we felt a little trapped.

So, if you are offering a cool vendor-specific credit, make sure that you follow up and see if they have been able to use it, and offer help when necessary!

Giving money isn’t a cop-out, and it can even be done thoughtfully. Consider the money-type gifts you have received over your lifetime. Were there some that stick out as either very complicated or very well executed?

Look over your list: which people will end up with a money-type gift? Considering their Gift-Receiver Template, is there a way you could incorporate elements of anticipation or surprise or quantity? Do everything in your power this year to make sure this is something that will get used!

If you are going to go this route, consider how you can best serve your loved one. Try to put love at the heart of everything, even something as basic as running to the ATM instead of writing a check. Try singing with your feet: do something just a little bit different than you usually do, that will make the receiver feel loved!


I know that I tend to intellectualize things that should be incredibly simple. I mean, how hard is it to give a gift, right? Well, for some of us, it is really hard. Some of us hang our whole self-worth on the reactions of others, and if we have learned one thing through our time together, it’s that we cannot control other people. But we can control ourselves and our thoughts.

That’s where the intellectualizing comes into play. Intellectualizing…studying the people we love under a microscope can help us relativize and give us perspective about why they react the way they do. And it helps create some distance for us emotionally. This can be very healthy.

Loving others is hard. Sometimes, people are really hard to love. Sometimes, it’s our own baggage that makes it hard for us to feel love for others.

Besides. Love isn’t always a feeling. Loving as a verb is an investment of our time, our thoughts, our person. We can love others by studying them, and this year, we can try to interpret our findings through the gifts we give.

Please give this a try and let me know how it works out for you.

Thank you for listening to the podcast!

I want to thank Seven Productions for the use of the song La Joie as the Intro and Outtro of the show, and to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.

This is your fairy godmother signing off. 

Just remember, it is never to late to start singing with your feet.

Episode 63: Foresight Sing With Your Feet

This week, we look at how we can love ourselves better by planning ahead.
  1. Episode 63: Foresight
  2. Episode 62: Memory
  3. Episode 61: Novelty
  4. Episode 60: How to Have Great Sex
  5. Episode 59: I Have A Theory

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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