Missing the Gift-Giving Gene? Here’s How to Find Meaningful Gifts that Won’t Break the Bank

Gift giving can be a wonderful activity, if you’re someone who enjoys finding just the right thing for the people on your list, and if your list doesn’t get out of hand.

But it can also add stress to an already hectic season. Sometimes you just don’t know what to get, you’re super busy, or trying to buy gifts puts a lot of stress on your wallet.

So how do you go about finding meaningful gifts that won’t break the bank?

First, admit that you’re probably not going to find deeply meaningful gift ideas for the 12 people in your office, all of your kids’ teachers, and similar people in your lives. You probably don’t know those people well enough to do so.

In fact, if getting gifts for them is stressing you or your wallet out, remember that it IS just fine to cut your list down. Maybe the best gift could be freeing them from the social obligation of reciprocating.

To give a meaningful gift, you need to do two things:

1. Know the person well.
2. Pay attention to how they live their lives.

That’s a big part of what will make the gift meaningful — they’ll know that you took the time to find something that’s just right for them, as opposed to just some random thing that’s convenient for you (although there’s no reason your gift can’t be convenient for you too).

Meaningful gifts aren’t about how much you do or don’t spend. It really is the thought that counts, which means you have to put thought into it.

So think about the people on your list and ask yourself questions like these:

    • Where do they like to shop and eat? (These places are good gift card options.)


    • What do they like to do in their spare time and how do they go about doing those things? (Maybe you could buy them something related to their hobby — IF it’s something they’d really use.)


    • What do they usually buy? (Those are usually items they like for sure.)


    • What don’t they buy, and why aren’t they buying it? (Maybe they’re not buying it because they don’t want to own it. On the other hand, maybe they’re not buying it because it’s not in their budget, but they wish they could own it.)


  • What do they complain about having to do? (Because maybe you could do those things for them. The best gifts my husband and son have gotten me involved them cleaning stuff for me. I hate cleaning!)

Go beyond the surface. Observe, ask subtle questions, and listen for hints. Don’t just glance around your aunt’s house, spy a cat, and think, “Oh, Aunt Judy likes cats, so she’ll love a little china cat figurine.” Or even “Oh, Aunt Judy has 12 cat figurines, I’ll get her another one to add to her collection.”

If you asked how she came to collect cat figurines, you might find out that she hates to dust, that the 12 figurines were given to her by well-meaning people who knew she liked cats, and that she’s only displaying the cats to be polite. Maybe what Aunt Judy would really like is a donation to a no-kill cat shelter. Or a burgundy scarf. (Liking cats doesn’t mean her life revolves around them.)

Once you know what the people on your list really like and want, even something like a gift card to their favorite restaurant can be a meaningful gift. It’s meaningful because it will be apparent that you know it’s their favorite restaurant, and that you took the time to get the gift card. (Did you know that most places will happily mail gift cards to you for giving?) Of course, you could also take them to their favorite restaurant to make the gift even more meaningful. Mix things up a little too from year to year.

Touch the heart. What about the people in your lives who are really important to you, but that live far away? You can go the wise grandma route and ask people who are in regular contact for ideas.

You can also give things like a letter or photo book detailing your favorite memories together, a visit, a jar filled with strips of papers listing things you love about them, a poem (the Where I’m From template is an easy way to create a great poem for grandparents), the gift of a letter or phone call every single month, calling cards, etc. These types of gifts work for people who do live nearby as well, because they touch the heart. Isn’t that the most meaningful gift of all?