The 4 golden rules of gift giving

Every year we swear we’re going to be better, and every year we still find ourselves standing in the middle of a suburban shopping centre at 3pm on Christmas Eve, jockeying for position with approximately 300,000 other frantic shoppers, trying to work out whether that Avengers-themed iPad case really is the right present for young cousin Darren. Maybe he’d prefer Transformers? Or Ninja Turtles? Cue breakdown in aisle five.

But it’s not too late to change. This could be the year where you get all your presents done on time and under budget. The year where you get to be the smug one at the end-of-year drinks who goes around saying, “Oh, I’ve already bought all my gifts.” And it’s not even that hard. Just follow these four golden rules.

1. BE LIKE SANTA AND MAKE A LIST

Think of it like heading to the grocery store – the worst possible thing you can do is wander aimlessly up and down the aisles, waiting for inspiration to strike. Do that and it’s going to take three times as long, cost three times as much and drive you insane three times as quickly. It’s also a sure-fire recipe for buying the sorts of presents that will give you a bad reputation in the secret Santa. “Decorative soaps? Everybody loves decorative soaps!” No. Nobody loves decorative soaps.  Before you even think about setting foot in your local shopping centre, sit down with a sheet of paper and write down every single person you need to buy something for and at least one idea of the sort of thing they like. That way you’ll be able to beeline right to the stores and aisles that are going to give you what you need and be back home before you know it.

happy children in santa costume

The kid on the end obviously didn't get the memo...

2. KNOW YOUR TARGET

In a very similar way to being a professional hit man, buying good presents is all about knowing your target. Who are they? What do they like? What path do they take when they walk to work in the morning? OK, maybe not that last one... The point is – the more you know about your giftee, the better the present you’re going to end up with, and the easier it’s going to be to find. Ask your unwitting co-worker a few pointed questions by the water cooler (“Describe your passions…” "What brings you joy?”) and you’ll be on your way to present buying success.

"In a very similar way to being a professional hit man, buying good presents is all about knowing your target. Who are they? What do they like? What path do they take when they walk to work in the morning? OK, maybe not that last one..." 

3. BUY SMART, NOT BIG

If you’re not confident about the gift you’re buying for someone, the temptation can be to buy them twice as much stuff in the hope that something in there sticks. This is almost invariably a terrible decision that means you’re spending twice as much to end up with one good present. Despite what you remember from your childhood, stocking stuffers were never actually any good. They just stuffed stockings. Look at what you’re buying, check it honestly against what you know about the recipient, then be decisive. Pick the best present and put the rest back on the shelf for somebody else to umm-and-ahh over.

4. SET YOURSELF A DEADLINE

And don’t make that deadline December 24. Set it two weeks before. Maybe even three. Treat it like a project at work, with achievable goals and timelines. Know who you’re buying for and how you’re going to do it. Get in and out of the shops before everybody else, then kick back and relax with a mojito while you watch the rest of the world crumble into a puddle of yuletide stress. But if you do manage to leave it all a little late, you can still rest easy knowing that we will be here, dishing out vouchers right up until the moment the turkey is cut.