Updated: 11/10/2010 9:00 AM ET|
15 worst holiday gift ideas
You're sweating, panicked. You're about to recycle an old gift, buy a weight-loss book for Aunt Josephine or grab the Victoria's Secret catalog. Stop! Break the cycle of Holiday Gift-Shopping Syndrome!
Pressure, stress and confusion, inexplicable choices, a complete lapse of taste.
Alzheimer's? No, it's Holiday Gift-Shopping Syndrome! If you suffer panic attacks at the mall or you have recurring nightmares about the colossal gift gaffes you've made over the years -- you may be an HGSS sufferer.
Take two Advil and keep reading, because the only cure is to spot the pitfalls early. The following primer will help you save yourself some angst -- and quite a bit of money -- by avoiding these classic gift-giving faux pas. (And your nearest and dearest will be ever so grateful when you give them stuff they like this year.)
The not-so-subtle suggestion: There's nothing quite like watching the expression on people's faces when they open one of these: a set of meditation tapes for Mr. Type A, a low-carb cookbook for your sister or an Elizabeth Arden makeup and spackling extravaganza for Grandma. Just don't be surprised if they all go in on a gift for you next year: a one-way ticket.
The useless gadget: Everyone has someone on his or her list who is seemingly impervious to gift-giving. It might be your boss, your dad or some other (inevitably) male relative. They appear to have no interests, no style, no obvious needs. So you race to one of those stores that specialize in "stuff guys like" and spend more than you should on a PGA-approved golf ball cleaner. In case he ever starts golfing. Why? Why, why, why?
The lingerie trap: My husband passes along this lesson learned from hard experience: Never buy lingerie for a woman unless she has ripped out the page from the Victoria's Secret catalog and circled the exact item herself. If she opens a box and sees something that looks like a black satin hanky, it just opens up a can of worms: "Why does he want me to wear that? Does he need me to look trashy? Doesn't he like me the way I am? Next thing you know he'll want me to wear a blond wig and fishnet stockings like a streetwalker!" You can go from surprise to Splitsville in five or six mental leaps. Way too expensive on sooooo many levels.
The deadly weapon: A former editor admitted that he briefly considered buying his 12-year-old son a water-balloon slingshot (because he wanted one himself, of course). But after reflecting a bit on the damage that a water balloon can do to unsuspecting passers-by after traveling 500 feet from his backyard to a nearby road, he decided against it. Unless you're just dying to test the limits of your liability insurance, stick to Dora the Explorer and video games.
One for the price of two: You really want that MAC lipstick for yourself, but you're in denial. So you get it for a friend and talk yourself into believing she will like this gift, when what you're unconsciously hoping is that she will give it back to you -- which she doesn't. So after Christmas you end up buying the thing for yourself anyway, thus spending twice as much money and making only one of you happy.
The maroon mistake: It's almost always a bad idea to give clothing to someone you don't actually live with. And even then you have to be careful (see "the lingerie trap," above). You'll invariably buy either the wrong size or the wrong color or both, like the time I randomly bought my aunt a quilted maroon vest. Why did I think she would like a quilted maroon vest when she wears neither vests nor the color maroon?
The guilt-edged party gift: Ack! You're invited to a holiday party at the last minute and you don't have time to even pick up a bottle of wine. But you do have time to throw some ribbon around those earrings your dad gave you last year and give them to the hostess. Is this worth the thousands it will cost you in therapy bills to overcome your guilt? Consider the cost -- especially when your dad meets said hostess at your own holiday party a year later, and she's wearing your earrings. Just buy the wine, will ya?
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