My 50/50 Rule for Making Small Gifts Feel Twice as Personal

published Dec 7, 2020
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Girl holding a Christmas present in mittens

It can be easy to feel like you need to spend big to show someone you care. Whether you’re buying a one-off gift to celebrate someone’s birthday or promotion, or you’re making your list, checking it twice, and crossing off every single person you know for the holidays, we’ve been trained to believe that the more expensive your gift is, the more you care.

We know that’s not true. Even so, it can be easy to doubt the small, heartfelt gifts you put plenty of care into, simply because it feels like everyone else isn’t operating at your wavelength.

For years, I struggled with feeling like my budget gifts weren’t good enough or nice enough, but as a young person starting my career in New York City, I often felt like I simply couldn’t afford to show I cared any more than I already did. My outlook changed, however, one December morning, shortly before Christmas break: Upon getting to work, I noticed a small votive candle and a pretty set of matches on my desk. The token was from my boss’s boss, and while I didn’t know her personally, the thoughtful pairing added up to make certainly the most memorable gift I received that year.

Now, whenever I’m tasked with finding a present for someone, whether on a budget or because I don’t know them that well, I think of that candle and matchbook, and apply the same principle. I call it the 50/50 rule: Aim to spend half of my gifting budget on two small, complementary things.

Why 50/50? Because more often than not, you’ll spend 50 percent of your money on each item. The math won’t always add up: Sometimes you’ll spend more than half of your budget on one element of your gift, or you’ll be able to source one half for less and free up the rest of your funds for the other piece.

In practice, this rule is pretty simple, and works for just about any budget. It might look like:

As long as you pair the presents so that they theoretically work together, you’re golden—and your gift recipient will likely remember the thought you put into the pairing for years to come.