We’re in the thick of the holiday shopping season, and you know what that means — it’s time to stress over the gifts you’re getting for the people closest to you. Ideally, you’d know exactly what to get, and in the case of adult gift recipients, you’re opting for something they can really use. But if you’re still gathering ideas, here are a few to miss — or at least consider very, very carefully before you plunk down your credit card.
1. A pet
Ah, the gift of unconditional love — and a ton of physical and financial responsibility. For this reason, you should think very carefully before adopting or buying a pet for another person. If the gift recipient is your child, you should be prepared to shoulder a lot of the care for that pet — if you’re not prepared for it to be a family pet, opt for a low-maintenance stuffed animal instead.
I don’t know that there are really any circumstances under which you should choose an animal to give to a fellow adult. For one thing, the gift recipient likely would prefer to choose their own pet — the one you choose may not be a personality or breed fit. And for another, keeping pets healthy and happy requires a not-insignificant amount of money — you’ve got to cover food and supplies, as well as vet care, and some pet owners opt to pay for a pet insurance policy to help defray their veterinary costs. Finally, bringing an animal home over the holidays isn’t ideal — it’s a stressful and busy time for many people.
2. A spa package
OK, I admit it — a day of beauty and relaxation at a local spa would be a wonderful gift for the right person and in the right circumstances. But it’s those circumstances that you should weigh carefully ahead of time. If you’re getting a gift certificate for a special person, will they be able to use your gift to the fullest, or will they be worried about missing time at work? Do they have child care (if they need it)? Bringing a small child to a spa might not be allowed, and even if it technically is, doing so will surely dampen the enjoyment of the parent, and likely also that of the other paying spa guests.
Finally, is your gift certificate enough to cover the cost of a tip along with the treatment? Real Simple notes that a standard expected tip for say, a massage, is 20%. If money is tight for your gift recipient, the addition of a tip might serve to make your gift a financial burden, and you don’t want that.
3. A plane ticket
Buying someone a plane ticket is a generous way to show your love, but yes, this is another gift that has the potential to end up being extremely expensive for the recipient. If you’re prepared to pony up the rest of the costs for a vacation (or perhaps the plane ticket is a gift for an adult child that you’re hoping will visit, and can stay with you), this could be a good present.
It might also be a good idea if the recipient has been saving for a trip and just needs a little help to put them over the top. But if the recipient is living paycheck to paycheck and will not be able to swing the price of hotel rooms, renting a car, or potentially expensive vacation meals, don’t buy them a plane ticket.
4. A new phone
We all want the latest and greatest tech available, and it’s easy to gloss over the expenses that come with a shiny new smartphone. If the phone you’re buying is a big upgrade for the gift recipient, can they swing the monthly cost of a more expensive data plan? How about accessories, like chargers and a protective case? After all, if you’re spending $500 to $1,000 on a new phone, you want to keep it safe. It’s worth making an honest assessment of your gift recipient’s personal finances before springing for a new phone — it’ll spoil the surprise, but consider asking them first.
5. A car
Picture it: A spouse leads their spouse out to the driveway with a blindfold on, only to reveal that their holiday gift is a brand-new car, complete with a giant bow! But this is the magic of television advertising, and new cars come with the potential for a nearly endless string of additional expenses beyond just the price of the car itself. You’ve got to pay for a car insurance policy and maintenance (such as oil changes and new tires), of course.
But don’t forget about gas/EV charging and unplanned repairs (such as a four-digit mechanic bill for new coil springs). If you truly want to take advantage of a holiday sale at your local car dealership, discuss this idea thoroughly with the people in your life (such as your spouse, who will surely want some input before you commit to a major ongoing expense).
Personally, I love giving gifts, but would never want to give anyone a present that ends up costing them a lot more money, time, or stress after the fact. Think long and hard before opting for any of the above gifts.
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