Five alternative gifts where the thought really does count

Still to buy some Christmas presents? Don’t waste your money on duds. These gifts won’t end up in the bin or regifted.

I’m no Scrooge. I love Christmas; from the turkey dinner to festive jumpers it all makes for a fantastic month.

But I do hate the amount of money that is wasted on presents. Now, a good present is a brilliant thing; a spot-on surprise even better.

However, as I wrote a few weeks ago, every year I’ll get something I don’t really need or want. Or even worse I’ll be given something I don’t like. I really can’t stand pointless spending, especially when so many people stretch their budgets to afford the gifts.

And the closer we get to Christmas, the more likely people are going to buy any gift just so there’s something to give. Often these are the ones that aren’t great, and tend to be subconsciously labelled under “it’s the thought that counts”.

I’m not ungrateful, and I appreciate the sentiment – but I’m not a believer that it’s the act of giving which is important if it’s money down the drain.

So if you’re struggling to think what to buy, here are five alternatives where you can show you’ve genuinely thought about why you’re giving it.

1. Donate to charity instead

If you’re going to spend money because you feel you have to, then I think this is the way to do it.

You can simply donate money, but many charities have donation gift packs so you have something to hand over, which makes it feel more like a gift.

So you can buy water for a family of four at Oxfam, or adopt an animal at a local sanctuary.

I think this is particularly good for Secret Santa, which in my experience is one of the worst for bad gifts (though there are good ones too). If I’m ever involved I ask people to donate to charity or a food bank if they pick my name out of the hat.

2. Pay for or contribute to a special experience

If you don’t know what to buy it’s best to ask what someone wants. But if that still doesn’t help there’s a very simple solution – cash.

Now, I know lots of you won’t want to do this. It can feel impersonal. Yet, surely that’s better than guessing and getting something that is completely wrong.

And it is possible to show you have put thought into cash as a gift. There’s no reason why you can’t give a nudge as to how the money could be spent.

That can be anything, but if you’re struggling, saying it’s towards a special night out could be the answer. We did this for our honeymoon, and it meant we could stay at places normally outside our budget, and eat at a couple of fancy restaurants.

If you’ve been given money it’s nice to let the gift giver know how you’ve spent the cash.

3. Put money into savings (especially great for kids)

Money again, but more strategic. This is a great one for your kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews and other little ‘uns you know.

They’ll get so many toys that one less probably won’t be noticed. You could instead start helping them think about the value of money – an essential building block for their future financial capability.

If you want to teach them about money, then a normal bank account is best as they can access it and use it as they save up. These often have the best interest rates.

But if you’re thinking longer term, you could open a Junior ISA which is locked until the child is 18. Only a parent can open a Junior ISA, but other relatives and friends can contribute via the parent.

4. Give your time

If you’ve a skill you think would be appreciated, you could offer that as your gift.

So if you’re a top baker, promise to make their kid’s birthday cake; if you enjoy gardening and they don’t, offer to spend a few Sundays tackling overgrown bushes.

5. Buy a multi-shop gift card

For years gift cards have been the fall back present when nothing else can be found, but you’ve got to be careful.

If you choose a card specific to a retailer, restaurant or venue, you’re limiting what can be bought. Often the cards end up being spent on something just to use it up, or left in a drawer forgotten until it expires.

But if you really must buy one, then I think you should go for a multi-shop gift card. These give whoever receives it a few more choices of where to spend.

Your other main options are:

Each of these latter cards have restrictions, including how you have to know the exact balance on the card when you spend it. So check the conditions before you buy.

And of course, the same problems with normal gift cards count here. If the card provider goes bust then shops don’t have to accept the card.

One thought on “Five alternative gifts where the thought really does count

  1. Great tips Andy! I love gift cards, they are always so handy. I don’t generally buy myself things so I ask for things that I would buy if I had the money. I hate thinking of money wasted on unwanted presents!


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