Before You Buy: Things that Seem Like Good Presents but Might Not Be

It’s November 1 and that means I can talk about Christmas and shopping and decorations! In another “Unprecedented Event” checkbox we are hitting, this year’s shopping season is poised to be challenging with shipping days and low-stock items throughout many stores.

We know the special gifts our loved ones want, and for people who are close to us, we know their favorites. They are easy to shop for year-round.

Then comes some of the peripheral people in your life that you gift shop for, meaning the teachers, postal carriers, the boss, hairstylist, nail tech, etc. How much thought do you really put into these gifts?

You want any gift you give to be received with joy. While “the thought does count”, that suggests there is some kind of thought that needs to go behind it. This isn’t to negate any efforts you make to give a gift. It’s to help you buy better presents that don’t cost more.

Here are some of the gifts to really think through before you wrap them up.


I’m a lover of candles. Yankee Candles and Bath & Body Works are my salvation for sweet scents throughout the year. However, there are only certain scents I buy and I’m very loyal.

Having a scent in your home is a personal choice, and everyone has their own preference.

When you are choosing a candle to buy someone, or if you’ve stocked up at the Candle Day sale, make sure you know if the candle is something the recipient will like. For example, I don’t like Vanilla scents or anything musky. I’m quite particular. So are many of you!

In my opinion, this is the Best. Candle. Ever. I’ve gotten friends hooked on it. It smells like a summer carnival or state fair food section. Great to get through those winter months.

You need to know if the person likes florals, food, beachy, musky, fireside, essential oil – the list goes on – scents. I’ve been given so many candles because people know I like candles, but they give me a scent I’ll never burn. I would never say that to them, I simply say “Thank you for thinking of me!” and move on. However, you do want to give a gift they’ll use, right?

On this topic, don’t buy cheap candles at the dollar store. I haven’t found a candle that is cheap yet useable. Those generally go in the trash.


I am one of the few non-coffee drinkers in this world, and no argument or gift card is going to change that. Yet year after year, I get gift cards to coffee places. I’ll see employees who make very little money give me a Starbucks gift card for $10 (that I’ll never use).

While you’ve got a 90% chance of this gift card going over well, you are also risking something someone doesn’t want. What do I do? I save up the coffee gift cards to order drinks for others throughout the year because I don’t want them to go to waste. It’s not really “re-gifting”, I’m still using it, so I like to think it’s “paying it forward”.

If you want to go the gift card route, go broad – like Amazon, Target, Walmart. Something you know the person is going to use no matter who they are. There are few exceptions like the person who owns a local business and doesn’t want to feed into the big box business, so again – be cognizant of whom you are shopping for and shop accordingly.

I would also be aware of the restaurant gift cards you give out. I’ve been given a $15 gift card to a steak house. That means I’m going to come a lot out of pocket to be able to use that. I once got a gift card to a salon. It seemed like a great idea – but it was a person who made a lot of money who gave it to me and the $75 gift card was so generous. However, when I used it, not realizing just how fancy the salon was, I paid an additional $115 – plus tip – to use it. I had to push my cable payment back two weeks to accommodate.


I think it’s a pretty safe bet to go with a scarf for anyone. You know that’s going to fit. When it comes to socks and gloves, be aware of the size of the person you’ll be giving it to – and don’t go too cheap on them. “If it doesn’t fit, you must not gift.”

First, cheap gloves can rip easily, leading to your gift possibly being thrown out soon. Second, I’m a tall woman with big hands, and the average gloves don’t fit me. Sock – same thing.

Also, giving Christmas socks at the holidays seems like a great idea, but if you’re giving that gift on December 23 they won’t be able to use them for long. Try some winter-themed socks that get more life span. Again, know the person’s size. Socks now come in different sizes and the “average” sock won’t fit me. It might not fit a very petite person either.


Between all the diets, gluten concerns, allergies, and personal preferences, giving food is another risky venture. I get cookies every year from a hard-working employee and I have to evaluate them (behind closed doors, of course) for things like coconut (blech), nuts (hate them, and anything with fruit filling (gross). Let’s not forget how Clark Griswold received the “Jelly of the Month” gift.

I like to make Gooey Butter Cake for my “peripheral friends”, but if they are diabetic and I don’t know about it – then the GBC goes in the trash or is re-gifted.

Just be sure the food you are giving is something the person can enjoy.


You have to read the room on this one.

In 5th grade, I was friends with a boy. His mom and my mom were close. I gave him a He-Man character and he gave me…. bubble bath. I was teased endlessly by the class. I still cannot think of that brand of bubble bath without thinking of that well-meaning boy and his mom. They are not people I want to think about in a bath.

Fast forward about 35 years, and a fellow manager gave me a gift basket with all kinds of bath salts, essential oils, and face masks “because you work out a lot and need to relax a bit” he said. Very fine intention. Very true. Yet, when I used the bath salts I thought of this man. That’s not a place I want to think of him.

You also need to go by the “Candle Rules” on this one. If you give body wash or lotion, they might not like the scent and it might never get used.

Make sure your gift isn’t too personal and in what part of their life they’ll be using it.


It’s a sure-fire way to get to a pet lover’s heart by giving a toy or treat to their pet. However, you need to know a little about the pet first.

For example, my oldest Golden Retriever loves tennis balls and he always loses them. I have one friend who sends me hoards of tennis balls year-round to keep the flow going. Giving me a simple tennis ball kit is going to go a lot farther than a holiday-themed stocking you got at the dollar store. The gift might not even be played with by my picky canine.

Listen to the stories people tell about their pets (and there are plenty). Do they like stuffed toys? Balls? Rubber toys? Frisbees? Gift accordingly. We aren’t going to feed our dog the cheap bone wrapped in a bow if we don’t know what’s in it.


I’ve always gotten gifts from my boss when I was a manager, no matter where or when I worked. It was so special to think that a boss (or his wife in certain instances) thought of me enough to put me on their Christmas list.

One year, I didn’t get a gift. It was my first year working with this person and I had only been there a few months. I didn’t expect a gift, but of course, it’s always a welcome surprise. Several months later this person said to me, “That why we gave the managers gifts of XXXX this year.” I was puzzled because I hadn’t gotten that gift. I was torn about if I should say something or if this person was just saving face. I searched back through my email and spam to make sure I didn’t miss it. Nope, no gift. Maybe I was just accidentally forgotten, or maybe someone stole it. However, it felt like a lie. If you aren’t sure if someone got a gift from you or not because of the large number of gifts you are buying, then just don’t say anything.


You’ve still got time. The next time you are getting nails done, ask the tech about him/herself a little bit more. Stop the mail carrier and ask about his/her life. Learn what they like and don’t like. You can find out a lot in a short conversation with someone.

I listen a lot in between the lines of what people say, as I want to give the best gift possible. I genuinely enjoy giving gifts more than getting them (and I REALLY like getting gifts).

I used to populate the bathrooms at work with Bath & Body Works products because I hated the generic soap. I would get feedback from employees they didn’t even know they were giving. “I love the Winter scent! It’s my favorite!.” Boom. Gift idea. If I have another department manager who is always cold, I’ll get them a blanket. You can’t have enough blankets in a cold workspace and those things become dirty quickly.

Most of all, just don’t give a gift of “whatever” to say you gave a gift. We all need to feel a little heard and seen right now, so make sure your gift reflects that.

When in doubt, go for the broad-spectrum gift card. Everyone needs groceries. Most everyone shops on Amazon. Print out a photo of you with the person using Walgreens or Shutterfly. We have so many pics living on our phones and not on our walls. Everyone can use a cordless charger for phones. Everyone could use a voucher for a house cleaning.

Think broad and affordable while taking a little time to know the recipient better and you’ll be giving a gift that actually gets used and appreciated well into 2022. That said, any gift you get should be received with a “Thank you so much for thinking of me” and a smile.

You Might Also Like

One Comment

  1. What Is Green Monday and Why Does it Matter to You? – Jennifer R. Hardy

    […] forget my list of things that seem like good presents but might not […]

Leave a Reply