Giving the gift of well-being

Ah Christmas. Certainly a great time of year, where people are generous – or at least try to be – and people become upset at the gifts others thoughtfully bought them. That’s why December 26th is the day customer service departments all across the country loathe.

So how can you prevent your gifts from being returned? Well take a page from my book.

Whenever my parents or anyone else asks me what I “want” for Christmas, I turn it around and say to them what I need. Indeed for the first couple years after I moved out of the house, I always said to my parents to focus on what they think I need when thinking of gifts to buy. And if I don’t need anything, I give them a list of places I frequently shop and ask for a gift card to one of those places. I know a lot of people hate giving gift cards, because they seem so impersonal, lazy and thoughtless, but that’s actually not what you should be thinking.

Allow me to explain.

Typically when it comes to gift cards, I say one of three things: Wal-Mart,, or Visa. I’ll add a fourth to this list: HyVee. There’s a reason behind all of these: my wife and I frequently shop at Wal-Mart and HyVee, we order things through Amazon and have things on preorder as well, and a Visa gift card can be used anywhere – though I hear they can be somewhat problematic trying to swipe them at gas pumps. Does Phillips 66 have gas gift cards?

When someone gives my wife and I a gift card to Wal-Mart or HyVee, what they are actually doing is making our next grocery runs a little easier on our budget. Implicitly they’re saying, “I want to make it a little easier for you to get what you need“. As most households do not have the income mine enjoys, when you give someone a gift card, you’re making their life easier, especially if you’re giving a gift card to a place where they buy their groceries.

It’s one of the reasons people love to receive cash as gifts, whether that cash is set aside or spent within the next couple days, or put in the bank to be applied to later bills. You are saying to that person that you want to make their life just a little easier, even if for a short while. Money is the one thing we all need, because it is the only way we can conveniently participate in the economy, so cash and gift cards will typically always be welcome gifts.

Gift cards are also, more often than not, better than cash, because if it’s lost or stolen, it can be reported and replaced, although with some loss of convenience.

Now if the person on your giving list is someone on SNAP, or otherwise not really well off or is financially struggling, food, especially non-perishables, will always be welcome ideas. I can speak from experience on this one, as that is what my parents gave my wife and I back in 2008 while I was still sitting on unemployment. I think my mom also handed me an uncooked meatloaf that Christmas, or it might have been on a different night.

If you’re financially well-off, but have a friend or family member in the area that might not be, or who came on hard times, take them to the grocery store and stock their pantry and fridge on your dime. I call this the “Bob Cratchit” treatment, because in many movies adapted from A Christmas Carol, they typically show Scrooge being a lot more immediately generous to his clerk than he actually is in the book, though they all still accurately portray Scrooge scaring him shitless on Christmas morning. Or rather, it was the day after Christmas when Bob shows up for work.

Don’t get me wrong, Scrooge is still generous, but it’s in the way he is generous that really counts. On the day following Christmas while at Scrooge’s business, shortly after Bob walks in later than he was told to report, Scrooge declares:

I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit!

When you give cash or a gift card to a place where someone buys their groceries, you are helping someone with their livelihood. When you focus on what someone needs as opposed to trying to come up with a thoughtful gift to give, you are again helping with their livelihood.

And given how many people are still struggling as we approach Christmas Day this year, making someone’s life a little easier, even if just for a short while, is always going to be the most welcome gift of all.