The One Rule You Should Break If You Can’t Find the “Perfect” Holiday Gift

updated Dec 14, 2020
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When it comes to gift-giving, people tend to fall into one of two camps: Either you manage to very thoughtfully source all of your gifts weeks before their intended giving date, or you wait until the last possible minute and scramble for something that is still guaranteed to arrive in time. If you’re in the latter category, there’s no judgment and you’re not alone—I’m one of you, too.

Sometimes, the act of racing the clock to find the ideal present is part of the thrill itself. If I can’t make gift-giving a high-stakes chase, did I put in enough work to find the best possible present? (The answer: Usually, yes, of course I did.) But the moments when time runs out and I’m left empty-handed have taught me that often, the best way to find a present is by simply asking the recipient what they want, and then getting them that exact thing, if it is reasonably within your budget.

The science behind asking what gift someone wants

I know what you’re thinking—doesn’t asking ruin the element of surprise? Not exactly. Research has found that most gift recipients care more about a gift’s utility than they do anything else. As Psychology Today reported, when respondents to one survey “thought of the best gift they received, 42 precent said that the best gift was requested. In contrast, only 32 percent of those who gave gifts, gave a requested gift.”

Being upfront and asking someone what they’d like for the holidays, their birthday, or any other celebration comes also helps if that person is notoriously difficult to shop for. (This includes any and all dads, whom I consider the inexplicable final boss of present-buying.) If the person tells you they don’t want anything, asking might serve as something of a dead-end, but hey, at least you tried.

But what if they want something expensive?

It’s entirely possible that your intended recipient has their eyes on something that doesn’t align with your gift-giving budget. This is nobody’s fault—you should never feel badly for not being able to afford something name-brand or highly specific in any other way if you can’t afford it.

To that end, it can be helpful to weigh your options. If someone asked you for a cozy pair of slippers, for example, you don’t need to shell out $100+ for a name-brad, shearling-lined pair when a more economical design will do just fine. But if someone asked for a Le Creuset Dutch oven for a particular reason—whether it’s a specific color scheme, the test-proof enamel coating, or the brand’s lifetime guarantee— chances are good they have their hearts set on the iconic French brand, and little else will do.

If that’s the case, you can create a hunt by searching for a product on Etsy, Ebay, or another resale site, or… purchase a gift card from a retailer that carries the product, in the amount you’re most comfortable spending. That way, your recipient can put the card toward their beloved gift and front the rest, without it hurting either of your wallets too much. If 2020 has showed us anything, it’s that sometimes a little help from a friend goes a long way. That counts for investment kitchen pieces, too.