Five Gifts To Be Careful About When Giving

The following was originally posted to my LJ (which explains the opening bit). With minor edits, it has been copied over. I still mean just about every word.

After trying, unsuccessfully, to balance a really hectic budget this morning, I became aware of a couple of facts: a) gaps in paychecks suck and b) sometimes gifts, even great ones, backfire a little. Some gifts have ramifications. I am not complaining about any gift that anyone has given me, mind you, I am just offering advice based on my own experiences, on listening to what others say and on noticing how others take gifts that I give them.

Here is my list of five gifts that you should be careful in giving, though they might still turn out to be wonderful gifts.

1. Mixed-Tapes

The first is the most innocuous and is now, I suppose, a dead word since most "mixed tapes" are collections of mp3s, oggs, flacs, etc or are on CD. Anyhow, that is neither here nor there. It seems to me that every mixed tape that I have heard complained about has failed in one of three ways. 1) They are simply too much music to absorb. 2) They rarely take into consideration the flow of sound across the album. 3) Then tend to be fan favorites more than more accessible tracks that helped to loop the fans in to begin with.

I am generally most guilty of overload if anything. I have been known to hand off a dozen CDs at a time. That is simply too much. Aim for about 8-10 tracks over about 35-55 minutes. Think about how most professional albums are done. Keep it under an hour and, to start with, make it all fit on one CD with room to spare. When I do this, I usually get my point across. In fact, some of my most successful "You should listen to this!" sort of gifts have been under 8 songs and a distinct sampler.

Also, keep in mind that you want songs that draw a person in. The first half should have catchier numbers. Some of the more "fan favorite" tracks can be put towards the end.

Finally, label these things. List what the band is, the song, the version of the song and what CD they come from initially or set it up so your friend can find out. Maybe even take the time to list why you chose the songs and how they fit into the whole.

2. Pets

I am of the school where you never, ever give a pet as a gift. You might get a gift card to some pet store. You might go with them to pick out a pet. You might give them a pet that they have seen, and like, and would love to have. But you should never buy a pet sight unseen to the giftee and give it over. Unless maybe it is your own child and even then you have to be careful (I'll let you parse that sentence as you want...whether the pet in question is the person's child, or the person getting the pet is the child).

You should be sure the person wants a pet, and also know what kind of pet the person wants, what sort of pet the person can take care of, how much time and money a person can spend with a pet and what sort of personality does the person have around animals. Then you should research the pet. Then it might not still work out.

A good number of pets-as-surprise-gifts simply just fail. They cost a lot of money. The require a lot of care. Sometimes animals just do not like a person for reasons that make no sense. Sometimes a person's lifestyle (smoking, type of food cooked, sleep schedule) can really interfere with a pet's health.

Admittedly, I know some success stories. But, for every success story I have heard, there have been more "we had it put down" or "my sister took it" or "we took it to the pound" stories. A fair number more.

3. Books

This is hard one for me to admit since I love books, but books can be really tricky to buy for a friend. If the friend is a book lover, you have to be careful not to get a repeat. If the friend is a book hater, then they don't want the book unless something really special is entailed. Most casual readers have a few favorite authors and aren't likely to have everything they have ever written, but then again most of them would rather have something else besides a book. A lot of book gifts tend to be cutesy, humorous, novelty items more than true books. Which works, too, but somewhat defeats the purpose of giving a book.

Seems to me that most books-as-gifts I have seen have either been 1) returned for credit or 2) sort of deposited in an overlooked stack. In my personal experience, I have had to return about half the books given to me, though most of my friends are good at getting me things that do not go into a "do not read" stack. I usually get good books. I just sometimes already have them.

My general advice for this sort of gift is that you can a) buy a book that you really love but are pretty sure the friend hasn't tried and make it as much about sharing something of yourself as the book, b) get a special edition of one of their favorite books or get a copy of one of their favorite books signed, c) get something related to one of their favorite books, like a customized leather bookmark or item that is heavily mentioned in the book, d) have your friend write out a general list of books they want and then pick one from it ( has a great system for this), or e) (my favorite) take them book shopping with you. You can give them a choice of what they want. Its better than a giftcard. And you get to spend time with them.

The same basic rules apply to CDs, videogames, and movies, by the way. Like with pets, I have seen some great gifts, but for every one that works, I have seen a dozen that does not.

4. Clothes

Others might have had better luck than myself, but this is a sore spot from me. Half the clothes I get tend to be designed for a large, constipated elephant and I know that my family went in and described me as a "big guy, a REALLY big guy". The other half tends to be three sizes too small and I have a feeling "he can exchange it for something that he likes" is involved as a thought process. That, or "really big guys need to lose weight" is their mantra.

Besides size, you have to worry with shape, color, texture, material, care, and a huge number of minor things that you somewhat handle automatically when you are buying your own clothes. I have seen people do a good job of picking out clothes after shopping with a person for awhile, but you need to make sure you have measurements and such down, as well as styles and shapes that people like, before you commit to a $200 outfit. And the logic of "they can just exchange it" can easily be answered with "I should have gotten a gift card".

5. Cars

The reason this whole list even started. Cars, and other big gifts like houses and land, can be a hell of a lot of trouble for the giftee. While a multi-thousand dollar gift makes a very nice heaven-sent piece of luck, the real world considerations have numerous drawbacks to keep in mind.

Cars, even new ones, might need repairs. They will need gas and for their fluids to be kept up. Newer cars tend to more expensive about this than older cars.

Cars are going to need a tag, insurance, and a handful of fees to be paid. This can easily be 200+ dollars and, depending on your area, can be nearly a 1000 dollars or more.

Taxes sometimes have to be paid on the gift.

All in all, a car can make an excellent, once in a life-time gift, but they can also put triple or quadruple digits of monetary burden on someone. I am currently looking at 200 dollars to pay for the gift that my wife and I were given. A gift we needed, mind you, and love, but still it is hard for us to budget it in.


As I said, I am not trying to complain about any gift that I got, I just wanted to point out that many gifts have some sort of downside as well as the up, and it is usually good to make fully sure that the person can handle the issues before the gift is given.

Written by W Doug Bolden

For those wishing to get in touch, you can contact me in a number of ways

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

The longer, fuller version of this text can be found on my FAQ: "Can I Use Something I Found on the Site?".

"The hidden is greater than the seen."