O’Connor: The basic no-no’s of gift-giving

Brian J. O'Connor
Detroit News Finance Editor

We are hurtling into the teeth of the oh-so very, very merry holiday season now, Funny Money fans, with a mere six shopping days left until Christmas. Unless you’re the kind of person who hits the gas station convenience mart Christmas morning for a carton of Lucky Strikes, a couple of Lotto tickets and a fistful of Slim Jims.

In that case, you have seven shopping days. And probably a restraining order from at least one former spouse.

For the rest of us, the pressure to choose the right gift can cause some dangerous missteps at the mall (the maul?) as we slide into the Holiday Danger Zone. This is where last-minute panic-shopping can prompt a gift that provoke years of resentment and provoke what I call “hate-gifting.”

Hate-gifting is the result of you thoughtlessly grabbing the 2-for-1 Whitman’s samplers at the drug store on Christmas Eve, forgetting that your sister-in-law just had bariatric surgery. I mean, please, it was right there on the third page of her family Christmas letter. (The one printed in black ink on evergreen paper that caused you a dual headache — eye strain AND terminal banality.)

She’s gonna retaliate, which means you’re getting hate-gifted — hit with a travel-sized bottle of Listerine, a windshield scraper from the dollar store and, oh boy, a Trump Chia Pet.

‘And it’s so life-like!’

Actually, there is something far worse in the arsenal of bad-gift retaliation: the guaranteed return. That’s an expensive, totally inappropriate present that must be taken back to the store. You think you hate the gift? Ha! Wait until you start the return segment of your holiday shopping trip and have to lug that 7-gallon diesel-powered turkey fryer through the swelling crowd at Home Depot on Dec. 26.

To avoid all this, let’s review a few basic no-no’s of gift-giving, shall we?

Gift cards: These are what I call a “gifting drive-by.” It is, after all, the thought that counts and the thought here obviously is, “Here’s 20 bucks, OK?” That’s about as much thought as you put into tipping the valet. It’s fine for babysitters and barbers, but if you actually know anything about the person, try to buy something that shows it.

The one exception on gift cards is ... teenagers. Because NOTHING you buy them ever will be right. And relatives older than 70, because nothing you buy them ever will be right. And Aunt Barb, because NOTHING you buy Aunt Barb.... you know, I am seriously beginning to rearrange my position on gift-cards here.

Passive-aggressive gifting: Often, a lousy gift isn’t the result of total block-headed thoughtlessness but a thinly disguised message of opprobrium, where someone makes a blatantly obvious point about your (completely imagined, I’m sure) shortcomings.

You’ll recognize this when someone gives you a Thighmaster, a copy of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” or gift-wraps a 64-ounce bottle of Urine B Gone and addresses the gift tag to, “Mr. Whiskers.”

Non-gift gifting: Truly the worst, although it is a huge part of the Christmas-industrial complex because, otherwise, why would anyone ever purchase a pair of Isotoner slippers? Non-gift gifting is found in the bin of pre-wrapped $15 or $20 items at the department store, such as barbecue tool sets, desktop accessory sets and tuna fish-pumpkin spice bath sets.

This kind of gift combines all the thoughtlessness of a gift card with the inconvenience of burdening the recipients with something no sane person ever will use. If that’s how you really feel get it over with and just punch me in the face now, OK?

There is only one scenario in which a non-gift gift is allowable, and that is when you present it to a close personal friend — with the gift tag intentionally left blank — so that it can be stowed in the linen closet to be hauled out in a gift-emergency.

Or just give it to Aunt Barb.


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Twitter: @BrianOCTweet

Brian O’Connor is author of “The $1,000 Challenge: How One Family Slashed Its Budget Without Moving Under a Bridge or Living on Government Cheese.”