Is there a “one size pleases all” gift?

By Mir
November 7, 2006

Dearest ones, I need your help today.

Bre writes:

Dear Oh-Wise-And-Beautiful One,

Help! My very large family did away with gift giving among adults about 10 years ago. We played around with Pollyannas, but ultimately settled on a gift auction. Everyone has to produce a $50 gift and then we go around and draw from the pile, occasionally “stealing” from one another. The challenge is, all of my bright ideas (DVD players, George Forman Grills, gift baskets, etc.) have been done over and over again ad nauseum… it’s getting hard to find something great! So I need your brilliant help to locate “the perfect gift” – one that will appeal to men and women, young and old, and come in under $50. I’m a desperate woman!

I’m not sure what the boundaries of “young and old” are, so this one has me rather stumped. I discussed some ideas here which are perhaps not as broadly appealing (for example, you don’t need to be bringing a wine basket to an event where the little cousins will be participating). It’s not glamorous or particularly exciting, but the best “suitable for everyone” gift I can think of is an Amazon gift certificate.

Readers, hit me (and Bre) with your ideas, please.


  1. I know, I know!! Start gathering digital photos of the entire family – trips, birthdays, gatherings,etc…

    Include at least a few pictures from each of the family members that will be part of this gift exchange. Then, go to and build a really, really nice leather-bound book with all the photos. You can include little stories, even poems, that go with the pictures. This will be a piece of family history that everyone, of all ages, male and female, will want to receive.

    We build these books or the calendars for various members of our family every year. It has become part of our Christmas tradition, and everyone LOVES them.

  2. Oh, and I forgot, you can search the internet coupon places for all kinds of deals on these books or at least free shipping. Last month I got the books 25% off plus free shipping. I know that one expired on 10/31/06, but here are some I found for now:

    15% off Photo Gifts – exp 11/21 – code: 11AF-SAVE
    20% off Photobooks – exp 11/7/06 – from their site, no code

  3. I love Jen’s picture idea — personalized gifts are the best.

    My idea is a gift basket (sorry — but maybe this one hasn’t been done before?). What kind of gift basket, you ask? A night at the movies — at home. There are some movies with just about universal appeal and would be age-appropriate for even the little ones (anything by Pixar comes to mind, Finding Neverland, etc.). Put the movie(s) together with popcorn and other typical movie snacks and a soda/juice.

    If I think of anything else later today, I’ll post it!

  4. I’m currently working on what I think is a great Christmas gift, and that is a photo DVD for my dad and stepmom. At you can make one, complete with captions and music (!). It’s less than $50, but priceless! They also do photo books there.

    You can’t go wrong with a $50 Target gift card…with the added fun of seeing relatives fight over it too! 🙂

  5. I have to agree with the gift card idea. Or maybe it’s just my stage of life (young married, one toddler) that means Target ALWAYS has something I need.

  6. With all the cheap MP3 players out this season, I would get one of them for this exchange!!

  7. We have a similar system, and I’ve struggled with what to buy. The last few years, I’ve stuck with the tried and true gifts (gift basket, gift certificate, etc.) BUT attached something inexpensive but unusual or funny to the gift. Usually it’s a little toy or a funny book — I contemplated the Flying Monkey this year. It has worked well.

  8. Wow, I’d never actually considered picture books/DVDs, that’d certainly be something new (we see a lot of the same things over and over with this process!) Does anyone know how long it takes for the picture books or DVDs to be created and shipped? I ask knowing my own inner procrastinator all too well.

  9. No ideas yet, but what are Pollyannas??? This is the first year our family has decided to draw names for adult gifts, so it’ll be a little easier knowing who we’re buying for.

  10. There is also a web service that will turn your photo into a jigsaw puzzle, shoot these sites will put a photo on anything you can think of. My vote for receiving would be some type of food item or tickets to an event or a membership to a museum. We have too much stuff at our house, I want disposable.

  11. Restaurant gift certificates would be popular if you could find a chain that was available in several of the family members’ hometowns– or offer a night of kid-sitting with a gift certificate while the family is in town for the holidays.

    Mir’s link to the refurbished ipods might come in handy here too. I mean really– who couldn’t use an ipod? My parents would never buy one for themselves, but given the chance to have one, they’d probably love to try it.

    Canvas On Demand has an 8×10 for about $50- maybe you could have a wedding photo from the family’s ancestors made into a canvas (or just a nicely framed enlarged photo– probably cheaper)? That would be popular in our family. Plus, it’s a lot less work than putting together a whole book.

    If they live in the same town, a gift certificate for a free professional housecleaning might be popular.

    Finally– this is a little weird, but Heifer International sells “gifts” that are actually donations to help needy families around the world. You could “buy” these things for $50 or less:
    Share of a Goat
    Share of a Sheep
    Share of a Pig
    Share of Rabbits
    Share of a Llama
    Flock of Chicks
    Flock of Ducks
    Flock of Geese
    Share of a Water Buffalo
    Share of a Heifer
    Share of Knitting Basket

    …I’m thinking that either someone in your family would think that they got to help someone in need by receiving the gift, or the family would laugh (You got a water buffalo for Christmas!) and frantically try to get rid of it when they received it. Either way, the money goes to a really neat cause.

    Just a thought.

  12. What about tickets to a concert, or a play, or the zoo, or a sporting event, or an amusement park, or a museum? Even a round or two of golf, or movie theatre gift certificates would work. I’d wrap them in a box though to disguise them a little bit.

  13. We do this , too, with ages ranging from 14 on up. I’ve done a Barnes and Noble certificate with a down throw blanket and some nice hot chocolate, a bottle of wine and pretty glasses, vodka and Bloody Mary fixings (some gifts are marked as not for the under 21 crowd), and the night at the movies idea with blockbuster GC and candy in a popcorn box. We also always have at least one gag gift, like a lump of coal or a rubber chicken, and the person stuck with it at the end of the exchange gets cash or a nice restaurant certificate.

  14. Another idea, which is always popular at the auction at our family reunions, is to collect some old family photographs (like of the great grandparents and such) that maybe only 1 family member has a copy of, then copy (and possibly blow up) on a color copier, and then frame them nicely. Really appeals to those who love family history.

  15. ooh! another idea – do a “Game Night” package. Include several fun group games like Taboo, Catchphrase, or similar, and then throw in some cheapo extras like dominos or little peg puzzles (i’ve seen stuff like that in the 1$ bin at Target).

  16. We ordered photo calendars from, and they came very quickly.
    And to follow up on Fuzzy’s idea — one of my favorite “teacher gifts” ever was the year a student’s family made a donation in my name to a small, rural school in India.

  17. How about a subscription to National Geographic? Fun for young and old, educational, money goes to good research and, hey, the pictures rock.

    You can pick up a newstand copy now, then put a note in it saying their subscription will start in 30 days.

  18. Bre – to answer you about how long the picture books take… takes about 2 days for them to print and about 2-3 days to arrive at your door. One time, I got it in the mail only 3 days after I placed the oder, but in general, it is about a 5 day process total. I guess if you live in the boonies somewhere, it may take an extra day or two in shipping.

    Just to let you know, I have NEVER been disappointed with the Shutterfly products or process. I get alot of frequent customer discount emails, so if I get one, I will try to remember to send it to you via this site.

  19. Gift certificates or donations are great in this instance, since you won’t have to hide how much you spent, but if you want to disguise it at the swap-type party you’re describing, wrap it with a couple bricks/rocks or a crappy mug nobody wants (for the laugh) or something along thse lines. After all, you won’t want it to be OBVIOUS what it is before it’s opened, will you?

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