Your Guide to Meaningful Gifts Without The Stress (+ free planners)


Did you know there is actually a lot of research around the tradition of gift giving?

The results confirm why we feel so much pressure when it comes to getting gifts “just right”.

Some studies show that giving good gifts can strengthen relationships, but giving bad ones can negatively impact them (source).

Morgan Ward, assistant professor of marketing at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, explains their significance this way:

“[Gifts] are tangible statements we make to one another about the role we play in each other’s lives.”

Morgan Ward, source: CNN, Think you’re a great gift-giver? Probably not

Simply put – gifts are a big deal, and it makes sense that we are often stressed over them.

Not only do we feel relational pressure to give meaningful gifts; we also struggle to find the time, thought, and money necessary. 

The good news is that we can plan for the time, thought, and funds needed with smart, stress-free approaches — and get back to the joy of giving.

We’ll explore these 3 areas of making gift-giving less difficult, less stressful, more efficient, and more enjoyable.

 Just like everything at Our Home on Purpose, I like to think we can put the “mental work” of gift-giving on autopilot, and I’m excited to share these tools with you!


THOUGHT

Make brainstorming easier by asking the right questions.

Of course the most important part of a meaningful gift is the thought behind it. What truly makes a gift meaningful?

This is something I’ve mulled over a lot, and I think the best place for inspiration lies in the gifts we still remember & that meant a lot to us. 

For me, those gifts typically:

  • supported a hobby, passion, or goal of mine
  • celebrated an occasion or accomplishment
  • helped with or solved a problem, issue, or frustration I was having
  • gave me something that brought joy, fun, or relaxation

The way I see it –  all these things fundamentally made me feel known (since my family or friends knew my hobbies, goals, problems, accomplishments, or favorites) and loved (because they spent their precious time, money, or effort giving it to me). 

This helps me when I’m thinking about how to give good gifts to others. The goal is to make the recipient feel known and loved, and the gift simply needs to serve the recipient in some way. 

In order to think of a gift like this, I find it much easier to have structured questions to help me brainstorm ideas. We are too hard on ourselves expecting to come up with the perfect gift if we “just think hard enough”!

For this structured approach, I created this Gift Idea Brainstorming Sheet that follows suggestions based on research and inspired by personal experience.

Consider specific questions to generate ideas.

Whether you are brainstorming for everyone on your holiday list or if you are selecting a gift for one person on a special occasion, you can get the wheels turning by evaluating some or all of these 6 angles.

1. Major life changes

Has your loved one recently undergone any major life change, such as:

  • A move, a new home
  • A new job or promotion; loss of a job; retirement
  • Completing school, program, certification, etc.
  • A change in relationship status (engaged, married, divorced)
  • A new child

What can you do to ease the transition or celebrate/commemorate the occasion?

Is there anything he/she need to succeed in this new phase?

2. Hobbies or interests

Often the most meaningful gifts are practical ones that support something your loved one is already doing.

What does your loved one do for fun? Is there a certain subject they might be interested in learning or researching right now?

Are there any supplies or resources you can give to support them?

One powerful way to approach this type of gift is to focus on shared interests.

Elizabeth Dunn, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, says:

“People are better at choosing something for themselves,” she says, “so if you have something in common with somebody, get something that shares the same affinity, because something you would like will more likely be something they like.”

Elizabeth Dunn, source: The science behind giving good gifts

Lastly, don’t forget any charitable or volunteer interests they may have. For certain people, it can be incredibly meaningful to come alongside their efforts to help others.

3. Current lessons or struggles

For giving to very close friends, gifts that are related to their personal growth or day-to-day struggles can communicate so much support, love, and understanding.

Think back to any themes in recent conversations. How can you encourage them in what they are learning or experiencing?

Is there any problem you can fix, or any way you can improve their daily lives?

4. Experiences and relationships

Studies have shown that “experiential gifts foster stronger social relationships than material gifts” (source).

In brainstorming experiences that your loved one may enjoy, consider:

  • What is relaxing or recharging to them?
  • What do they consider important enough to spend their time on?
  • What would they enjoy but would NEVER arrange or pay for themselves? (Give them a reason to do it!)
  • What could we do together?
  • What experience could I give them to do with someone else they love spending time with?

5. Personality and preferences

To really make someone feel known, you don’t have to look anywhere but their personality!

A couple of my favorite ways to evaluate a good gift is through the 5 Love Languages or the Enneagram.

5 Love Languages

Does your loved one prefer:

  • words of affirmation?
  • acts of service?
  • receiving gifts?
  • quality time?
  • physical touch?

Learn more about the love languages here. Knowing how your loved one receives love can really help guide your gift decisions.

Enneagram or other personality typing systems

Considering a loved one’s personality can be a huge insight into what type of gift would make them feel known and loved.

The Enneagram is my personal favorite system, but any personality typing that you know about your loved ones can help (Myers-Briggs, DISC, 5 Factors, Strength Finder, etc.)

If you know the type, you can do a quick Google search “gift ideas + Enneagram [type #]” or “gift ideas for [myers briggs type]” and there are specific gift guides out there as inspiration!

6. Wish list

Lastly, commonly overlooked, but certainly not least –

What do they say they want? Do they have a wish list?

Jeff Galak, an associate professor of marketing at the Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business, studies consumer behavior and shares this practical wisdom:

“The single best thing that gift givers can do is to ask recipients what it is they want… The problem is that in our culture, it is taboo to do so. Somehow it seems like by asking what someone wants, it makes you, the giver, seem less thoughtful. This just isn’t true. Gift recipients are more happy with requested gifts because they are the things that they actually want.”

Jeff Galak source: CNN, Think you’re a great gift-giver? Probably not

There you have it: permission to ask!

Even after asking for ideas, you can use the other approaches to add a unique or meaningful touch. I know personally how much it means for someone simply to get something I ask for 🙂

Consider other forms of gifts.

Although we have referenced gifts that aren’t physical or material products throughout the brainstorming questions, I want to give more examples for you to keep in mind.

As you address each area, certainly think of products that could fit those needs but broaden your horizon to include:

  1. Memberships (ongoing)
  2. Tickets or certificates (one-time)
  3. Travel voucher or AirBNB gift card
  4. Savings or investment accounts & contributions
  5. A course or class (online or in-person)
  6. Audiobooks
  7. Homemade or handmade gifts
  8. Book swap
  9. Coupons for your time or service
  10. Donations to a cause they care about

Hopefully with all the brainstorming angles and different gift types, you will have several ideas to choose from. Now you have options based on your budget and what is available to purchase.

Keep track of ideas in real-time.

Since the thought behind meaningful gifts is often the most difficult and time-consuming part, an amazing way to make this easier is to be aware of and capture ideas as they come to you at any moment.

From casual conversations to shared experiences, make mental notes of what your loved ones are enjoying, interested in, learning, going through, or wanting these days. And when you get an idea for a specific gift, or they mention something they want, don’t try to remember it – write it down!!

You can keep this list wherever it’s easiest for you.

It can be anywhere that you can access regularly – a spot in your planner, just a notepad on your phone, or a spreadsheet in Google Drive to access on the go! 

You will absolutely thank yourself when it comes time to buy 🙂

For recommendations and ideas, check out these gift guides:

TIME

Give yourself enough notice to give meaningfully.

The brainstorming techniques are great, and they certainly will give you direction and save you time.

However, if you don’t plan ahead for the time you’ll need to brainstorm, order or purchase the gift, wrap it, mail it and/or deliver it – you’ll still be feeling a lot of stress.

To avoid this and keep the gifting process enjoyable, I recommend setting up a quick system to get all the holidays, birthdays, and details out of your head and into a more automated approach.

Make a master gift list.

Having everything in one place will help you avoid any surprises or last-minute stresses!

First, write down all the people on your “list”. This includes ALL the occasions you typically buy for:

  • Birthdays
  • Anniversaries
  • Special occasions like Mother’s or Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, etc.
  • Holidays such as Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter, etc.
  • Any other celebration!

For birthdays or anniversaries, include the dates (including the year, so you’ll know age/milestone you are celebrating each year).

And for your own convenience, if you don’t already have a dedicated organizer for contact information, store addresses and email address with this list.

Similar to your gift idea list, make this list wherever is easiest for you – just make it accessible regularly and on-the-go.

Download a simple template here – no email required!

This master gift list is perfect for using year-after-year, and you can make changes or additions as needed. This gives you the big picture of everything you need to plan for.

Set up alerts or reminders.

Based on your master gift list, you can decide how you want to prepare for these gifts. I recommend using some type of regular review and/or alerts as reminders.

  • Will you add them with reminders to your calendar?
  • Can you incorporate them into your planner? Perhaps you could write all the dates in, plus add a sticker 1-2 weeks back.
  • Do you use to-do list app? Consider adding separate to-do’s for deciding on the gift, ordering the gift, wrapping/delivering the gift, and maybe even remembering to contact them the day-of.

This may seem like a lot of details – and you can certainly choose which ones to include in your approach! The main point is relieving your brain from trying to keep up with everything. You can rely on your system to remind you, then you can set aside whatever time you need to make it happen.

Personally, I review upcoming special occasions and needed gifts at the beginning of every month (usually for the next 1-2 months). At the time, I’ll brainstorm ideas or reach out to my friend/family member, and usually purchase the gift soon.

If I need to mail a card closer to the date, I will add a to-do to my calendar at that time.

Plus, I have all important birthdays or occasions in my calendar so I get a day-of reminder to reach out 🙂

Optional – save time by keeping supplies on hand.

One way you can cut back on the time needed on gifts is by keeping gift supplies on hand. It can eliminate that extra trip to the store and/or post office and make it much easier to get a gift to someone you love!

Consider compiling a small amount of:

  • Stamps
  • Cards with envelopes (a variety of types or blank ones to customize)
  • Gift bags and tissue paper
  • Gift boxes, wrapping paper, and ribbon/bows
  • Shipping supplies

A few quick tips:

MONEY

Plan ahead with a gift budget.

Of course, one of the most stressful areas of gift-giving can be the strain on personal finances. Fortunately, with careful planning, you can ensure you have the funds needed when it’s time to buy – whatever your budget.

(Also good news: studies have found that more expensive gifts don’t always result in a higher level of appreciation from the recipient, so there’s no need to be extravagant to show love! 🙂 )

Set a budget for each gift.

Using your master gift list, assign a budget for every single gift. You can roughly base this on what you have spent in the past or what you think is appropriate.

Additionally, I recommend organizing your budget by month so you can see when you’ll be spending the money.

To make this exercise easier, I’ve created a budget spreadsheet with built-in calculations for you 🙂

Include extra funds for unknown celebrations.

If you are using the Gift Budget Tracker above, you’ll see a section dedicated to “Gifts to Be Determined”.

This is meant to capture all the gifts you may need to buy throughout the year that you don’t know about yet 🙂

  • Weddings and associated showers
  • Baby gifts and showers
  • Graduations
  • Etc.

This can be a difficult amount to determine, but you could start with a calculation like this:

  • Count up how many of those types of events you had last year
  • Assign what you would normally spend on a gift for each
  • Total them up, and add a little “buffer”

Add these amounts to your budget so you know to plan ahead for these expenses. If you end up not using some of this money, you can either use it for holiday gifts or treat yourself at the end of the year 🙂

Calculate a monthly savings goal.

If you are using the Gift Budget Tracker, the Budget Overview will show you your total gift budget as well as a monthly savings goal.

You can calculate your own monthly savings goal simply by totalling all your gift budgets, then dividing the total by 12. This will show you what you need to save every month in order to have enough for every gift planned.

Alternatively, if you are paid bi-weekly, you can divide it by 26 – which will show you how much you need to save out of every paycheck instead.

One last note – the monthly savings goal is an AVERAGE of money you’ll spend on gifts. Your spending will be much more random based on when the holidays or special occasions fall. Fortunately, most gift purchases occur in November and December, so this savings plan usually works fine for most people.


What’s next?

I hope you feel confident and excited about having the time, thought, and money necessary to give meaningful gifts to those you love! Giving is such an important part of our lives and it is a relief to eliminate the stress that often gets in the way.

Gift Templates

Don’t forget to download the free templates (no email required) to make your planning easier.

Gift Guides & Ideas

You can find all my gift recommendations in the guides below, and you can follow me on Pinterest for gifts ideas.

Other “Autopilot” Solutions

For more ways to put smart, stress-free solutions to work in your home and life, check out a full overview of the resources & solutions at Our Home on Purpose.

why gift giving is so hard and how to make it easier to give meaningful gifts without the stress

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