How to give the PERFECT present

If you’ve ever worked retail at Christmas you know how easy it is to become jaded about gift giving.

When I was newly married, I worked at a small, family-owned drug store and I remember being appalled at the number of men who came in on Christmas Eve and asked ME to pick out something for THEIR wives. Reaally?! Because back in 1972 drug stores weren’t exactly miniature Wal-Marts; Evening in Paris gift sets were about it for a last-minute gift option. Recently I read a statistic which said that 23 million people typically go shopping on Christmas Eve! Hey, I may be a procrastinator but even I don’t do that. 

Some of you are natural-born gift givers.  I have friends who excel at it. They’re definitely NOT last-minute procrastinators. During the course of the year, they find little things they know I would like and tuck them away until my birthday or Christmas. Then they wrap them individually, cradle them in a lovely box that I can use later to hold my devotionals, wrap it all up and present it with a flourish. 


There's nothing better than to give a gift you know they'll love


I, on the other hand, am not even organized enough to remember to send a card. Consider this a public apology for being an air-head. Here’s where I confess that gift-giving is not my gift. Part of the problem is that I tend to obsess about giving the PERFECT GIFT to everyone on my list. The pressure of perfectionism leads to procrastination, which results in the inevitable gift card. To me, gift cards are another way of saying, “I don’t have the time to think about what would really please you, so here – go crazy at Target.” 

The myth of perfect gifts


Over the years, I’ve managed to give a few PERFECT GIFTS. One time I boxed up a tea party for my girlfriends in Ohio, with the stipulation that they gather together to open my gift. Another time I gave an old-fashioned picnic basket, hand-painted to match the dishes I packed inside, and it was a big hit.

In a perfect world, all my gifts would be perfectly chosen and suited to the receiver. I love to give gifts with MEANING but have discovered it’s almost impossible to pull that off for everyone on my list. But I don’t beat myself up about it anymore.

I’ve come to realize that those perfect gifts aren’t usually ones I pick or plan – the idea just comes to me or somehow seems to show up on my ‘radar,’ AKA the Holy Spirit. And it rarely comes from a traditional store. 

The truth is, the more I love you, the harder it is to buy for you, because nothing seems perfect enough to express how I feel. Either that or you’re a teenager.


When you don’t know what to get someone


Here’s an idea I came up with to solve the, “What in the world can I get them?!” problem:

It’s based on the book The Five Love Languages, which teaches the theory that we each express love in primarily one of five different ways:

Here are The Five Love Languages and tips for how they might be incorporated into your holiday giving, depending on who you’re buying for:


  • Words of Affirmation: Give plaques, lettered signs, pictures and artwork (purchased or homemade) that are affirming. Write a song about them. Choose a gift that affirms their talents and gifts – something that says, “I recognize your worth!”


  • Quality Time: A pair of tickets for the two of you to attend a play, concert, sporting event or favorite get-away. Coupons to be redeemed for a weekly cup of coffee at your favorite spot. Mani/Pedis for you and your daughter or daughter-in-law. 


  • Receiving gifts: Determine if they like quality or quantity and give accordingly. Do they prefer one big gift or a treasure trove of small presents? Pay attention to things they look at and linger over (especially if you’re in Lowe’s, ladies). This is the person who loves the personal touch, so you might want to take a peek at their Pinterest boards or check out whether they’ve circled anything in the Cabela’s catalog.


  • Acts of Service: Have your husband’s family heirloom watch refurbished. Arrange for a guy’s night out. Make an appointment to have your teenager’s car detailed. Organize a de-cluttering session for your mom or schedule a cleaning lady for a day. Give your frazzled sister a coupon for a home-cooked gourmet meal. Offer to babysit, or do yard work.


  • Physical touch: Salon gift certificate, a massage, or pedicure. Something warm and fuzzy like a pashmina or cozy pair of pajamas, or a soft flannel shirt. A weighted blanket, perhaps or a sherpa throw.


This is also helpful when people ask you what you want for Christmas and you can’t think of a thing. What’s YOUR love language?



What do you do when your Christmas list is bigger than your budget?

You’ve made a list, checked it twice, now don’t be like me and leave it lying on the kitchen table. Got it? Ok, let’s go shopping! But first, let’s go over the rules:


  • Fuel up before you shop (food and gas)
  • Wear comfortable shoes
  • Leave the heavy coat and handbag in the car
  • Stock up on batteries – NOW
  • If you’re forgetful, bring your cell phone; if you have ADD and you’re headed to the mall, leave it at home. I leave mine at home
  • Turn off notifications on your phone if you’re prone to be overzealous about online ordering.


Wrapping it all up

One year I went all Martha Stewart with my gift-wrapping.

Everything had the personalized, crafty, “this package is too awesome to even open!” touch. The gifts were stunning, but that’s not an area where I have a lot of talent, so I only did it once.

I don’t use real grosgrain ribbon or fancy hand-tied bows, although my mom did teach me how to make ribbon curlicues – does that count?


But I can make a bow. Sorta'

If you’re good at this, GO for it! But if not, stop stressing and buy some gift bags or get creative with things around the house. The Internet is busting with inexpensive, easy gift-wrapping ideas. 

Note to self: Don’t wait until Christmas Eve to wrap the gifts.


Reality Check

Have yourself a merry little Christmasthe lyrics to that beloved Christmas song conjure up a cozy scene of an intimate gathering, don’t they?

Beloved family and friends gathered to hand out the gifts piled under the tree… sounds delightful, unless your husband got laid off at Thanksgiving, the car up and died, or the hospital bill turned out to be astronomical. How do you manage gift-giving then?

For many people, this year, Christmas Present won’t look anything like Christmas Past.

If that’s you, chances are you’re really stressing about how to pull off your normal all-out Christmas. Are you feeling guilty that the pile of gifts under the tree will be smaller or that you won’t be able to afford this or that?

Maybe you’re embarrassed about not being able to shop the way you did in previous years. Boy, do I know that feeling. 

In a culture where abundance means having to take a lunch break from opening gifts, perhaps a ‘little’ Christmas could be just what the doctor ordered.

It’s all in the way you think about it. Sometimes less really can be more. 


Treasures Old and New


Gift-giving doesn’t have to cost a fortune; I’ve given some of my best presents when we were going through some real financial difficulties:


  • Pieces of my mother’s jewelry, and special accessories from around my house that I knew my daughter loved.
  • My son is a writer, so I gave him my huge antique book of quotes, and then I wrapped it in brown paper and wrote quotes all over the package.
  • I handed down my father’s rosary and my mother’s cross to my youngest daughter, accompanied with some Godiva chocolates.
  • A vintage locket became a precious gift to a friend when I filled it with hand-written prayers and glued it shut.


Just think of what a ‘little’ Christmas could do for your family:


  • Learn to pull together in a crisis
  • Re-think expectations about gifts
  • Encourage creativity
  • Foster more relaxed, loving times together
  • Focus on others
  • Remember the real meaning of the holiday


The thing is, saying you’re going to cut back and actually sticking to it are two different things. You have to plan ahead; inform your family and friends that you’re reducing or cutting out spending this year.

Avoid spending beyond your means. Decide on a dollar amount for the gift or gathering (all those secret Santa gifts add up) and don’t let anyone pressure you into spending more.

If you think you’re going to cave in when you get to the mall (although, I suggest staying away from the mall) do some research, find out what the item will cost, and bring CASH for that amount only.  



Before you spend money you don’t have on a plethora of toys your children don’t need, ask yourself, “Why so much? What are we teaching our kids?”

I like this advice:

Buy each child something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read. 

And if you can only buy one thing – buy a book!


If you can only buy one gift, buy a book

Christmas Present

There’s an intro to that famous Christmas song about having a merry little Christmas that many recording artists leave off, although my two favorite renditions, sung by The Carpenters and James Taylor, both include it:

“Christmas future is far away; Christmas past is past. Christmas present is here to stay, bringing joy that lasts.”

Ah, that’s what I really want… joy that lasts. Don’t you?

Who knows what next Christmas will bring? I can’t replicate a past Christmas and I don’t want to miss this one by being obsessed and stressed about presents. The only thing I know to do with this whole issue of gift-giving and my problem with perfectionism (and procrastination) is to talk to Jesus about it; to set my mind on things above, not on things of this earth. 

As I seek Him about the gift-giving, He surprises me with the greatest gift of all:

His Presence


His Presence helps ME be present and that's the PERFECT present. Share on X


No matter how many presents are under your tree, no matter what they hold inside, it’s what you hold inside that’s the real gift.


Are you holding space for Jesus?  


‘Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.” James 1:17


And a little child shall lead them

* The content for this post was previously published in my Kindle book HOLIDAZED ~ How to slow down, spend less and restore sanity to the holidays,” and is available on Amazon.

Hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, Please share.

6 thoughts on “How to give the PERFECT present

  • December 2, 2018 at 10:17 am

    My love language is time and a day baking cookies with a friend can end up being the “sweetest” gift! Love this post! Hugz

    • December 2, 2018 at 12:11 pm

      Sooo looking forward to it!

  • December 4, 2018 at 12:33 am

    I love your ideas on how to give the perfect gift and how to save money during tough economic times. For me some of the most memorable gifts were inexpensive but so sweet and they are things I can use all the time. My significant other (who hails from South Africa) and his parents flew in his grandparents from home 3 Christmases ago, and his grandmother (known as Ma) not only gave me a handmade necklace from home, but she knitted me several scarves. She didn’t spend a lot but each winter I use the scarves and the necklace I can wear anytime. They’re special to me because they’re handmade and not something I get every day.

    • December 4, 2018 at 1:14 am

      Thank you so much! Your gifts sound lovely, given straight from the heart!

      • December 4, 2018 at 1:55 am

        You’re welcome, and yes they were- Ma definitely put her heart into those gifts. I loved reading your book and I told my mother-in-law about it. Christmas can be difficult for her, being so far away from her parents and extended family, so I try to give her little pick-me-ups whenever I can. We live in Raleigh (like you) and my family hails from the Midwest like your (Wisconsin, not Ohio).

        • December 4, 2018 at 2:07 am

          She’s blessed to have you!


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