The 7 Secrets To Becoming a Great Gift Giver

If you feel you are terrible at gift giving, and want to get better, pay attention to the best advice on how to improve your gift giving skills. Mastering the art of giving is not that hard, and definitely worth it.

Being good at selecting gifts involves solving a problem, to put it in simple terms. Sure, there’s heart and passion poured in it, and empathy, for those exceptional gifts that really stand out. Those with a natural gifting apptitude will always have the advantage. If you have a hard time figuring out what gift to get, with a few tips, you can greatly up your success.

What makes a person better at gift-giving? Is it that they have a generous spirit, or that they give gifts people actually love? Let’s crack that nut open and spill out the secrets of being a better gift giver!

Man's feet stopping at an arrow branching in a different direction; picture of gift of jewelry and a gift of a small dog.
The uncomfortable feeling of indecisiveness is a reason people don’t like giving gifts.

FYI, if you’re arriving here from the attitude that you hate gift giving or experience a little gift anxiety, don’t let your dislike of it prevent you from improving your gift skills.

It all starts with putting the thought into “thoughtful gift giving”. Incorporated in this article are core ideas at the very basics of gift giving skills. Take it one step further, and you’re teetering into the psychology of gift giving. Understanding both will lead you down a better path.

Table of Contents

Secrets of Giving Good Gifts

Here it is, your blueprint how to find out what a person wants for a birthday, Christmas, workplace, or any other event. If you really want to be a hard-core, pro gift giver – you have to lock and load these gift strategies:

Grandmother giving her granddaughter a graduation gift.
Being a good gift giver takes experience.
  1. Get organized. Keep lists of birthdays and anniversaries, and the kind of things the people like. Real gift ninjas keep lists of ideas at the ready when they happen to hear good gift ideas casually mentioned by family and friends. Write down anything that is usable information for gift-giving.
  2. Be observant. Notice what they are working on when you’re at their house, or what they passionately talk about. Observe the clothes and accessories (even tech gadgets) that they engage with. Maybe pick up on a favorite sports team, or deduce their type of humor or attitude on life. How do they react when others open a gift – does it appeal to them? Being oblivious is not your friend!
  3. Listen and engage. As stated previously, listen when someone is excited talking about something. There is opportunity here – listen to the details, ask questions to draw out more ideas. Basically, be sneaky.
  4. Look for problems. The person may have something broken, but won’t replace it. Is there some tool that would make their life/health easier? Are they short of time, and the right gift would free time up?
  5. Be a super detective. Where does the person live? This can reveal what stores are nearby them, such as a plant nursery. Check out their social media accounts, maybe they have their own blogs. Call it creepy, but there are real ideas to find out more about them.
  6. Go window shopping with the person. This could be as simple as catalogue page flipping, Ebay cruising, a little Etsy binge, or a trip to the mall, whatever. Your mission is to pick up on the cues that trip their trigger (and those that don’t!).
  7. Buy a special version of an everyday thing. (courtesy Small Potatoes). This works especially well when you can’t afford the bigger, related items that go with it, or the person has a hobby or passion that triggers many gift possibilities.
In this Big Bang episode, Penny gives Sheldon and Leonard vintage, minted Star Trek gifts in original boxes – much to their delight.

Dialing into a person’s interest can backfire, though. I happened to show some natural curiosity in an automatic chicken door opener. Guess what? That turned out to be my birthday gift. I will mark that as a gift fail (may I say, the entire family learned a hard lesson).

My mother-in-law really had these gift tactics down – the whole keeping of lists and everything. When I was helping load my sister-in-law’s wedding gifts, I exclaimed how cool this giant wall clock was. It was a very genuine reaction from me. I was pleasantly suprised when I unwrapped one for myself that holiday.

If you really want to become a better gift giver, you have to put a little effort into it. Really, it’s not that much, and the results can be amazing!

Tips to Avoid Bad Gift Giving

Just as important as honoring the secrets to good gift giving, one should pay heed these words of wisdom, and avoid a major gift snafu:

Woman looking at garden ornaments in a store.
Avoid gifts in poor taste, require maintenance, or reflect your style and not the recipient.
  • Avoid buying what YOU want, this isn’t about you!
  • Avoid gifts in poor taste, especially if you don’t know the person at all (anything with obscenity, vulgar words, etc.).
  • Similarly, don’t give a gift that you will assume they will like, because you like it.
  • Don’t buy a token gift to fulfill a gift obligation that you spent a fast 2 minutes picking out – the carelessness of it will show. This is also known “as the convenience store run”. Even worse, buying lots of it to stuff into a bag so it “looks like enough.”
  • Have someone else buy the gift and write on the card (an assistant) – don’t do it!
  • Don’t grab a generic gift based on gender.
  • Don’t give a thank you gift that does not equate to the favor (a gift card for someone who went the extra mile to get you an important job interview – giving a gift too large can be a mistep, too).
  • Don’t give gifts that are burdens or require maintenance – like a puppy (it happens way more than you would think!). A trip where the person has to pay for a hotel room may inflict a monetary burden (and chips into their alloted vacation time).
  • Don’t give gift certificates to a store with limited choices.
  • Don’t give gifts that expire – it can become a burden to use a gift certificate up.

That last tip is compliments of my dad – he loathed gift certificates restaurants, or any other place that had an expiration. One year my folks, gave me a gift certicate to a furniture store (practical, thank you very much!), but then I realized nothing in the store appealed to me, and I would have to pay an additional amount to get anything.

My son reminds me of the time my mother gave him a personalized gift. All the grandkids had a little box with their name printed by hand. His name was spelled wrong (ouch!). He decided to say nothing, but still laughs about it to this day.

Husband greeting his wife upon returning from a business trip, embracing his wife and holding a gift of flowers.
Husbands are often accused of being thoughtless givers. With a little effort, that stigma can get turned around!

Gifting Examples in Action

I think all of us holds some type of gift giving story gone bad. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here, would you?

I often think about the scene in the holiday classic, The Christmas Story. The main character, Ralphie, goes through absolute hell (in his young mind) to communicate to his family what he wants for Christmas.

Here are some examples of putting thought into giving a gift:

  • If a friend loves to cook, put together a personalized cooking gift basket with unique ingredients, cookbooks, and kitchen gadgets.
  • If a friend is a dedicated basketball fan who admires a particular player, you might give them a personalized jersey or a rare piece of memorabilia related to that player.
  • Outdoor enthusiasts might enjoy a customized outdoor adventure kit with high-quality gear such as a durable backpack, a portable water filter, a multi-tool, and a compact camping stove.
  • Consider the unique demands of any profession. For an accountant, give a thoughtful gift such as a high-quality calculator, a stylish and professional briefcase, or a subscription to a financial magazine or software that can aid in their work.
A paper torn out of a notebook, titled with large handwriting "Gift list" - holiday decorations in the background.
Keeping a list makes it easier to remember good gift ideas.

In addition, don’t hesitate exploring “experience gifts”. Give a gift where someone could enjoy a hands-on cooking class or enjoy a membership to a botantical garden or zoo for repeat visits. Some people think of experience gifts as epic, like skydiving. Many local gifts can put a big smile on someone’s face.

Looking Through the Eyes of the Receiver

In my opinion, there are a few key aspects that make a gift giver great: the level of thought that one puts into a gift, changing your concept of what makes a great gift, and the lack of desire for reciprocation. If you’re going for “oh, you shouldn’t have!” when they open the gift — you’re going to have to understand some ninja-level gift giving skills.

Paul Bloom, over at his blog Small Potatoes relates some charming personal stories of receiving gifts. View your gift through the lens of the receiver, and you have a great start in understanding them better.

Man with birthday hat on, peering into a box with a present in, with a big smile on his face.
Looking at the gift from the eyes of the recipient.

Paul leads with this thought on gift giving:

Probably the best gift is something that transforms a person’s life for the better. Paying off their student loans, buying them their dream house, getting the district attorney to drop all charges, or finding the organ donor who saves their child’s life. Great gifts all.

Paul Bloom Small Potatoes

Focus on the Gift Recipient for the Win

For a gift to be great, it has to be something you know your recipient will love.

  • Give a gift the recipient truly wants (that’s as basic as it gets). It has nothing to do with how expensive the gift is.
  • Select a gift that reminds you of them – it’s the meaning behind it.
  • Use the gift to express your emotions about the person, that you might not otherwise verbalize.

When you focus on the satisfaction of pleasing the other person, seeing the joy on their face when they open the gift, it becomes much easier to get into the gift zone. Let this spirit of gift giving guide you. By the way, this is called “reciprocal joy” – it’s probably the reason why certain people love to give gifts and receive them. They’re on a “high” and want to feel those brain-happy waves time and time again.

An older gentelman receives an unexpected gift.
The secret of gift giving is focusing on who you are buying the present for.

I can’t stress enough that mutual happiness in a gift exchange is the epitomy of a merry Christmas.

Sheldon Cooper, the “logical thinker” from the Big Bang Theory, displays anti-thoughful gift giving in action. Logical thinkers often struggle at gift giving. In this example, Sheldon’s attempts at being hurtful turn out to be exactly what Amy, his girlfriend, most desires for a Christmas present.

The essence of gift-giving is not in the price tag but in the emotional bond it reinforces. In addition, the concept of “reciprocal joy” – the act of heartfelt giving – can be as rewarding as receiving, if not more.

-GGS website
In this hilarious episode of the Big Bang Theory, Sheldon gives Amy the perfect Christmas gift, being keenly aware of her interests.

What if I Hardly Know the Person?

I can’t argue with this. How many times have we been stumped for a gift idea because we don’t know the person? Does this gift strategy sound familar?

You give:

  • gifts you would want yourself
  • generic “gender” gifts
  • gifts of food
  • gifts of cash
  • the lastest trendy gift

It’s not a crime to give less than thoughtful gifts in certain situations. Even the recipient knows it. Differentiating between a gift of obiligation and a meaningful gift and when to bestow it, is imperative. Believe me, if you don’t learn the difference, you will when you see the look of disappointment on the recipient’s face.

Man dressed as Superman, flying through air; presents surround him.
You can turn into a gift superhero! Learn how to become a thoughtful gift giver.

Why People are Better Gift Givers Than You

It is not the physical gift that is the success, but the intentions behind it.

If I had to state a purpose of this website, it would be to help people think about the thought behind giving gifts, and that there are other ways to give besides physical gifts.

Some people are better at gift-giving than others because they seem to have these qualities:

  • They’re more observant and notice what other people like and are drawn to.
  • A part of their nature is they’re “people pleasers” and take much pleasure in pleasing others, which includes buying gifts for them they will enjoy.
  • Some people are just more thoughtful, and emphatic (see personality types).
  • The giver is creative and imaginative, they are an “idea person”.
  • Some people seem to have a more generous spirit and genuinely take pleasure in giving to others and buying gifts – and not just from a sense of obligation (as it is for some people).
  • They have a bigger budget to work with.
  • They have had a lifetime of practice. They feel more at ease knowing how much to spend on a person, and experience less inner conflict in making the right choice.
  • They plan well in advance, no last minute shopping for them! In addition, these smart shoppers are always on the lookout for a great gift, scooping it into their cart even in the off-season.
  • They make the time to roam shops, research gifts, everything that increases the chance of finding a great gift.
  • They are natural gift givers, or their childhood modeled gift giving.
  • They don’t overthink it – they understand that sometimes it’s the little gifts that mean the most in life! Put another way, the have grasped the concept that more isn’t better.

Cultural and social factors can also play a role in shaping individuals’ attitudes and skills in gift-giving. The good news is, you can get better at gift giving, we all have to start somewhere!

The Gift Wrap Up

If you mentally beat yourself up over giving bad gifts, fear no more. There is great opportunity to become a better gift giver, and end your reign at sucking at giving gifts.

Go forth, and buy that present with confidence! -Renee

Renee Cavvy
Renee Cavvy

Renee brings over 30 years of gift giving experience to holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, workplace and faith events. Every life moment is cause for celebration or those times in life when we need the "the gift of support". Her mission: Let's all be better in appreciating one another, put an end to meaningless gifts that clutter our lives, and give from a place of love and kindness. This midwest mom (and grandma) offers novel and creative ideas to do gift giving better!