Thursday, November 10, 2011

Don't Be An Aunt Dot: Tips For Finding Your "So Right" Holiday Gifts

Now that it's November, I've shifted from ghosts and candy and pumpkins to full-on holiday preparations. I love watching for the sales ads and then planning my list for everyone in my family.

When it comes to gift-giving, I know I'm not the most original, but I also know I'm not the worst gift-giver. That title belonged to my great aunt Dot, the queen of strange and unwelcome gifts. She was so memorable she has her own category on my other blog - if there were awards for bad gifts, she'd have the Lifetime Achievement award.

Aunt Dot was the master at shopping every 90% off, final-clearance sale to stock up on gifts for everyone she knew. And then she'd present you with a large department store shopping bag for Christmas each year, forcing you to pull each small item out of it and show the whole room.

Although she passed away a few years ago her spirit lives on, and RadioShack and I would like to share a few tips on how to avoid the gifts that are so wrong, inspired by real Aunt Dot gifts from the past.

1. Consider your recipient's interests.

Nearly every Christmas Aunt Dot gave me a nutcracker in some form or another. Tall wooden nutcracker, nutcracker ornaments, dancing and singing nutcracker. But I hate nutcrackers. They creep me out almost as much as clowns. I gently told her this several times, but somehow the message didn't sink in. (And we won't even discuss the Santa figurines she gave to my Jewish husband!)

When shopping for gifts, remember to think about what that person is interested in. If you're not sure, ask your loved one directly or ask another friend or family member who might have a better idea. It doesn't take a lot of effort to know I'm a technology geek and would have loved an MP3 player or a gift card to purchase a new video game.

2. ...but remember that too much of a good thing can still be too much.

One year at Thanksgiving, my family had a bowl of mixed nuts on the table. Aunt Dot noticed that I liked to pick out the cashews. So what did I get that Christmas? A bag of cashews. And for Easter? A bag of cashews. And my birthday? You guessed it...cashews. That continued for over ten years - I'm officially sick of cashews.

Just because your best friend mentions she loves owls doesn't mean you should get her something with owls on it for every special occasion. Don't let yourself get stuck in a rut with your gift choices!

3. Practical gifts are good...just not too practical.

I love good practical gifts. The year my husband and I bought a house, my grandmother bought us a toolbox and several tools so we could handle minor projects in our new home. When my mom bought her first laptop computer, I gave her a wireless router so she could use her computer anywhere in her house.

But there's a limit to practical, and it's important not to cross that line. Like giving toilet paper as a gift. (With one roll removed from the pack, too.) Or cake mix. Or this...

Yes, that was one of my Aunt Dot Christmas 2006 gifts. I don't even know what to do with nonfat dry milk.

4. Some items should never be re-gifted.

Recycling and re-gifting are all the rage this year. In this economy, it's great to be frugal, and passing along gifts you don't want or shopping for gifts at a thrift store or used goods store can be a great way to save money.

There are some items, however, that are best given as new. Giving a couple wine glasses with the year 2001 written down the stem as a wedding gift for their 2003 wedding? So wrong. Same goes for stuffed animals from thrift stores that smell like they were pulled from the dumpster.

Aunt Dot may have had good intentions, but that stuffed bear wasn't going anywhere near my kid.

If you have a gift you don't want, consider a trade-in program like The Shack's Trade and Save program, where you can trade in your unwanted electronics for credit towards a new product purchase. Get rid of stuff you don't want, then buy the things you'll actually use - perfect!

5. Check your expiration dates.

When it comes to gifts that are so wrong, expired gifts are the worst. The majority of food gifts I received from Aunt Dot were expired or close to their expiration date. I once received chocolates that were so old they had turned white in some places, which was really disappointing after I was excited to get chocolate as a gift. (And cashews. Never forget the cashews.)

But expiration dates aren't just for food. Health and beauty products and even batteries have a set shelf life - make sure the gift recipient can use the product before it expires. And if you're buying a gift card or a gift from a daily deal site like Groupon, consider any limits placed on them and when they'll lose their value, if ever.

So So Right

Aunt Dot's heart was truly in the right place, but her execution was a little off. She thought of the bargain before considering the interests of the recipient. She got so caught up in buying several small, cheap items at the lowest possible price that she missed the opportunity to spend the same amount of money on one quality gift that we were sure to love.

It doesn't take a lot of effort to make sure you're a gift-giving hero during the holidays. Stores will offer a lot of bargains in the weeks leading up to December 25, but just because it's on sale doesn't mean it'll be the right gift.

Learn from Aunt Dot and make sure your gifts are so right this year. Because this:

Aunt Dot's Gift from Christina M on Vimeo.

is soooooo wrong. (And yes, that is the price tag you see hanging from the toy.)

Full disclosure: This article was written in coordination with RadioShack's "So Right, So Wrong" holiday campaign. I was compensated for my time and effort, and all opinions expressed here are my own. Stories shared above are 100% true - just be glad I didn't tell you about the time Aunt Dot gave my mom a mooing toy cow that poops candy.

No comments: