Friday, December 19, 2008

Doubts About Breaking From My Fall-Back Gift Formula: Gift Cards

There was an episode in Sex and the City where Carrie and her gal pals were carpooling to a mutual friend’s baby shower. She realized that she and Miranda didn’t bring a gift. (Samantha’s gift was a bottle of Vodka.)

In a fit of panic, Carrie asks, “Do you think it would be okay if I just gave her a wad of cash?” (The girls were ultimately rescued by angel-hearted Charlotte, who arrived with a big baby gift basket.)

To be honest with you, I can’t imagine anyone complaining about getting a wad of cash, in any amount, for any occasion. I certainly wouldn’t! I also wouldn’t complain about getting a gift card either.

I know Liz Pulliam Weston’s biggest objection is that cash or gift cards are tacky and thoughtless. Ms. Pulliam says:
“A gift, ideally, says, ‘I thought about you. I considered your likes and dislikes, your needs and wants, your dreams and desires, and found you this token of my esteem that I hope will delight you.’ A gift card says, ‘There! Checked you off my list.’

For friends and family, I agree with this statement since you're likely to (read: should) know their likes and dislikes. (Although... my recent gifts to my parents have been cash or cash equivalents. That's a whole 'nother story.)

But what if the recipient is someone I don't know very well? For example, the remaining people on my “to buy” list include:

• The office administrative assistant** that will be getting laid off next June;

• The contract file clerk** who will be let go end of December;

• My mailman.

(** Note: My admin assistant and contract file clerk were instrumental in helping me pass my audit so I wanted to express my gratitude.)

I don’t know any of these people very well (or, even at all). The contract worker just started late last month so I haven’t had much opportunity to talk to him. I don’t know my mailman since I live in a mongo-apartment complex and only see him on rare occasions. I guess it’s my fault that I never bothered to take time to know my admin assistant, but I also think the blame is a 2-way street. (She doesn’t make an effort to talk to me either.)

My first inclination was to just get all of them a $20 gift card from Target. (Who wouldn't want a gift card from Target?) But I ultimately got the following:

  • Mr. Contract File Clerk and Mailman will each get a pair of AMC Movie Theater Tickets (cost $15.99/pair).

  • Admin Assistant will get a 750 mL bottle of Amaretto di Saronno (cost: $17.99). (I could be terribly wrong, but I do recall her ordering an Amaretto at a prior company function. Just in case I'm mistaken, I'll throw in a gift receipt.)

I can’t shake this nagging feeling, though, that these people would rather get plasticized moolah from Target to use as they see fit. Hmmmm....


Speaking of gifts, I previously ranted about how I was going to stiff my newspaper carrier out of a tip this year. I’m one of those people that need to be shamed into doing the right thing and I've since reconsidered.

Empress Juju reminded me, “What’s Christmas all about again?” (Although I’m generally reluctant to take advice from anyone who refers to herself an Empress….) But what really convinced me to reconsider was MoneyMateKate’s post from the paperboy’s perspective. (Just to be clear, I didn't tip as generously as MMK suggests, though. I tipped the top end of this holiday tipping guideline.)

I guess I'm doing this for myself since a grudge is eseentially a lump of coal in my heart. And who wants a lump of coal for Christmas, right?


Miss M said...

I'm guilty of gift cards, but they are really useful! I don't presume to know what my dad's boat needs this week, but with a gift card to West Marine he can get whatever he wants. I like receiving gift cards too. You are very thoughtful, I hope your colleagues enjoy the gifts.

Anonymous said...

I think gift cards can be thoughtful if you get them for a specific store that they really like. It shows that you know what they like, but you also acknowledge that you don't know sizes or what they already have.
That being said, I know some people would prefer that I get them something specific. Actually, this year, my family and I all kind of know what we're getting each other!

Debtfree2009 said...

I like to get and give gift cards. My in-laws are impossible to buy for but I know if I get them a giftcard to their favorite restaurant they will use it and appreciate it.

Sharon Rose said...

Hi there-I think gift cards and cash can be highly appropriate as gifts, you just need to assess cases individually. have a lovely weekend!

Shtinkykat said...

Miss M: Oh, that would make a lovely and thoughtful gift for dad. My admin asst. really likes to go ATV driving in the desert. I was considering a gas card too.

graduatedlearning, Debtfree2009 and $haron Rose: I guess the key is to give gift cards that you know someone would use/like. My admis asst. and I were chatting yesterday and she complained that her dad gave her gift cards to Hometown Buffet for 2 years straight. She says HE loves the place but she hates it. Finally she had to tell him, "I hate Hometown Buffet!"

Anonymous said...

New York Times Magazine had an interesting article about gift cards today:

just for some extra reading!

Shtinkykat said...

Thanks for referring the interesting article. I never thought of the gift card as free publicity for the issuer, but it actually is. This debate will go on and on, I suspect.