The Perils of Present Buying

Friday, 12 November 2010

I should probably preface this whole discussion by saying that I love buying presents for people, whatever the time of year or occasion. I try to put a lot of thought into it all, and find interesting or different things that I hope people will really like. Hopefully I'm successful more often than not.

I've checked my list and this year I'm buying or making presents for 34 people at Christmas! Seems like a ridiculous amount given that I don't have a big family but about half of those are work related. We're a small but very friendly team and I don't like to leave people out, so I tend to have a few mammoth baking sessions in December and shower people with delicious festive food rather than bankrupting myself by buying presents for everyone.

It could be v. expensive if I let it. Some things I've done this year to try and get around it are to stock up on nice things in sales - post Christmas/Jan sales are excellent for this, if you're the organised type and have a handy cupboard to stash things in -, buy bits and bobs throughout the year, recycle things (more on this later), take full advantage of discounts/special offers whenever I can find them and, of course, to make things.
I also do online surveys which (eventually, in the case of Toluna) pay out in vouchers, so I'll often save these up from autumn onwards and get various things from Amazon etc with them. It's never an awful lot of money but everything helps.

I'm also a bit OCD about getting my presents bought by the start of December as I cannot bear the shops close to Christmas, so I've had presents on the brain recently. I had a really interesting conversation with a friend about it the other day which got me thinking. Do you honestly think it matters where you've bought a present from, or how much it costs?

I'm hoping to make more things this year but am slightly limited by a lack of crafty ability, as well as the fact that certain people that I know won't appreciate anything without a brand name on it. I don't have many of these people to buy for and I try not to get cross about it but it is a bit rubbish when you've put ages into making something and they open it and go "oh, that's nice" and you can tell they're thinking "cheapskate, why didn't she just buy me a proper present?" If I've had that reaction once, I'll try to pick something different for them next time.

The thing that caused most controversy in our conversation (apart from me admitting to getting some presents from charity shops) was when I said that I recycle presents. I still don't see anything wrong with this. It may be hypocritical given what I've just written in the above paragraph, although in my defence it doesn't happen often and it's only the generic gifts (or the pink ones - why do people still get me pink things?! I am notorious for loathing it) that I recycle. If people have given me something that I don't like or won't use, what's the point leaving it in a cupboard to take up space? I'd far rather pass it onto someone else who I know will like and use it, or give it to a charity shop.

This particularly applies to gifts that people have put no thought whatsoever into. For example, I think it's quite lazy to just go to Boots/M&S/wherever and get a toiletries gift set, unless you know that what you're getting is something that the person really likes. I adore Lush stuff and people that know me know this, so I'll always be chuffed to get something from there, but I will not be overly thrilled to open an old lady smelling set from Boots that someone has clearly picked up just because it's on a 3 for 2 offer. I know it's a bit rude of me to think that, but obviously I would never say it to their face that I didn't like it. My friend trotted out the old "it's the thought that counts" argument - I see that point to a certain extent but really, where's the thought in getting a generic gift for someone? I really don't care about cost. I'd be far more happy with a bag of sweets that cost about 50p than I would be with some dull smellies that cost £10. It's just nice to think that whoever gave me the present thought about it before they bought it.

Here's hoping that I haven't bought any of you a present that you've opened and thought "WTF??!!" at...

ps - despite the slight rant about old lady toiletries, I really am very easily pleased by presents. Honestly, I am.


  1. I'm generally happy with most present but I do prefer ones that someone has put a bit more thought in to. Smellies are nice, but like you, I'd rather someone bought me a secondhand book they thought I'd like for a tenth of the cost but ten times the thought

    I start my christmas shopping in June and have already finished it. If I could extend this level of organisation to my career I would go far

  2. I love this post, and I completely agree with you. There's no point spending up to £10.00 on a toiletries set if your friend really does not do that kind of thing. Luckily, like you, I've got friends that love Lush and The Body Shop etc. and they always have the most gorgeous products to buy. xxx

  3. I think that Christmas is easily over consumerized. It's sad really. I need to be better at making things so I can better presents.
    I think this is a thought provoking post. Thoughtless gifts are wasted money.

  4. How many? 34? That's madness! How many pom-pom scarves and headbands can you knock up in 42 days? I'd much rather receive a second-hand or homemade gift that's been carefully thought through than a mass-produced bix that'll be 75% cheaper on Boxing Day.
    My trouble is that as I'm quite good at finding stuff cheaply my friends think I've paid a fortune and I get showered with expensive gifts in return. Not that I'm complaining, especially as I get twice as much having a birthday 19 days away from the "C" word. xxx

  5. Dear Alex, wow! 34! That is a lot! I only have six. My friends and I stopped buying for each other as it got too expensive. I only do birthday's now. I don't think there's anything wrong with secondhand or recycled presents. I often buy The Actor's presents on Ebay and I've got some amazing stuff. I do my shopping online and then do one trip to the West End for a few bits. I hate the shops around Christmas and I can't be doing with queues and crowds so I plan it like a military operation.

    I have a parcel for you which I shall send this week. I held off sending it as I've been adding to it. Have a great weekend whatever you do xx

  6. Recycling presents is a really American thing to do, they call it 'regifting'. As America is going to take over the world someday, you're on the winning team already

    I really agree with everything that you said. I always try to make my boyfriend something, but I'm going to extend that to my friends this year too. I'm so skint, we usually spend £20 on each other but there's no way I can manage that this year. Luckily my friends are all in the same boat, so I'm not left looking like I'm being stingy when actually I just don't want to go into debt for Christmas. All of my friends are appreciative of handmade and crafty stuff so I feel confident that my efforts will be appreciated, but it still feels a bit tight to be cutting back on the money spent on each gift, even though the time spent on each will go way way up.

  7. This year we're being very frugal. We've only been in our house 5 months and we really can't afford to buy presents for everyone so this year they're having handmade hampers with a £5 gift in them - easy peasy! Everyone knows we're skint so they'll (have to) understand. x

  8. Alex, you are simply genius at presents; god knows you've sent me enough of them! I have much the same attitude as you, to be honest. It's about the only way I can manage such an expensive time of year.


    P.S. did you get my e-mail, not sure if it sent or not x

  9. Totally agree, re-gifting is fine - I have done this for years; as long as you don't send it to the person that sent it to you! I would much rather people didn't bother than buy some generic rubbish no one wants or needs.
    Kandi x

  10. I spend ages trying to get the perfect gift for people too. I agree that those toiletry sets are a cop out and even if someone likes the particular brand half the items in them never get used. Thank god I've only got 7 people to buy for. x

  11. I'm so with you.We don't do presents anymore when it comes to xmas.Just vouchers for the neice & nephews.WE were sick of getting crap.And I ask not to get them on my b'day,except from G,and my close friends who never fail me.As long as I have a fuss made of me I'm perfectly happy!
    Actually,G and I don't do xmas at ALL!We try and get out of town and avoid it all.It's just traumatising!
    love! xxx

  12. Completely agree, within our family we have strict rules that presents must be edible, and a budget, and with friends, we tend to treat ourselves to meal out somewhere we might not usually go and split the bill, saves awkwardness, cost and most of all wasted/unwanted gifts. Go you for voicing this!

  13. Great post! Buying gifts for loved ones is the best part of Christmas for me. I spend AGES deliberating over things and if I manage to score the perfect present (Take That tickets for my Mum this year) it makes me feel so good.

    This year I'm only buying for my immediate family and the Mr's parents and sister. Instead of presents, my friends and I are going to London for the weekend. And the Mr and I are moving into a new house on 1st Dec, so that's our Christmas sorted! :) x

  14. I'm with you on that- my boyfriend's sister gave me a box of smellies from Next last year, and bearing in mind we've been going out for 5 years and I always get her something nice (often a dress from Primark but I spend a while making sure it's something she'd like and not too cheap looking) I was a bit pissed off! But I guess if often depends on people being a bit creative or thinking outside the box, and bath stuff etc is just easy and convenient for some.
    I've been picking up little bits and pieces for a month or so now too, I hate Oxford Street in december!

  15. Wonderfully written, because I know exactly how you feel about receiving a present with no or little thought. The Boots stuff is so blatantly on the 3 for 2 offer, you are always going to be wondering if yours was the free one!

    Charity Shop presents are my favourite, I really do prefer a second hand present or even a second hand book would make my Christmas day.
    It sounds like you have a well thought out system for present buying, and I am sure most of the people will appreciate their gifts! x

  16. Gah! Damn you blogger - I wrote a lovely long comment all about this this morning and then blogger deleted it. I have sulked until this afternoon before attempting to write it again.

    Basically I couldn't agree with you more. Those rubbish 3 for 2 gifts annoy the hell out of me and you're completely right - there's no thought gone into that at all, if you really want to buy me something but really can't think of anything better than a rubbish toiletry set then just give me the cash please!

    Also VERY annoyed as lots of the people I'm buying for just really wouldn't appreciate any of the things that I could vaguely attempt to make them!

    I already feel like I'm incredibly late getting Christmas presents but the state of my bank account tells me I need to hold off for another week until pay day - damn all the people who have birthdays in November!

  17. When I lived in London and was on rubbish wages and skint all the time, one of my really good friends was doing voluntary work so also had pretty much no money. We made a Christmas pact that lasted for years - buy each other something that couldn't be new and couldn't cost more than a fiver. It was the best fun shopping I've ever had. Now we exchange Christmas tree ornaments every year so we still don't spend much but it's good fun - the more outlandish/camp the ornament the better! xx

  18. I completey agree with you. It is absolutely the thought that counts but I very much enjoy from both giving and receiving if there has been some consideration and personalisation put in to a gift. x

  19. I think it is perfectly fine to recycle pressies, as long as it is going to the right person. I hate pink too, though I'd probably use smellies because at least they are practical! I've smetimes gone a whole year without having to buy soap. Christmas is much cheaper for me these days, having my family overseas and only a few friends I do gifts with, it is mainly Mr Dreadful I have to worry about.

  20. Haha, I def see what you mean - my aunt and uncle always give me money (awesome) but its always accompanied by some tacky pink trinket, like this years birthday was a silver compact mirror and a pink heart keyring, blugh! Sorry but I'd much rather have those toiletries, such a practical gift, love getting smellies! :)


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