Tis the season to stress out over thank-you gifts

By Mir
December 18, 2007

This is the time of year when most of us like to express appreciation to those folks in our lives who’ve made our lives a little easier. It’s a kind and altruistic motivation that quickly turns into a big ball of stress because it can be really difficult to pick out things that say “thank you” and will be truly appreciated by the recipient and don’t cost too much. This is made all the more complicated by the fact that often we’re giving to people we don’t know that well outside of school/work/daycare.

Do not panic! I promise we can get you through it. In fact, I’ll just be lazy and refer you back to the post I wrote last year on this very topic.

But I also got an email on this topic, so let’s talk about it some more; I know Danielle can’t be the only one who’s struggling with this or a similar issue.

Here’s what Danielle had to say:

O Wise Guru of Gifts: I implore thee!

She’s off to a good start, because—as we all know—flattery will get you everywhere, with me.

I know it’s short notice, but I am desperate and at such a loss. Here’s my woeful predicament: I need a gift for my son’s daycare provider. She’s a lovely woman, but VERY particular. She’s in her early 60’s and has EVERYTHING. In fact, she has so much STUFF that it’s piled all over the house (think PATHS carved into the mountains of crap just so they can get to the bathroom- that’s a lot of stuff!). I already have a present for her husband, and I am giving them a gift certificate to a local restaurant I know they enjoy, but I’d really like to get a present for just her. Only, I really don’t want to add to the stuff. Oh— I also can’t really afford much more than $30! How’s that for helpful?!

Now, I’m sure you are just BRIMMING with ideas, but I beg you- just send a couple my way?

I can tell from this mail that Danielle is a wonderfully generous spirit; she’s giving this family a gift certificate and individual gifts. I think it’s safe to assume that whatever she gives will be appreciated and her meaning will be clear. (And if not, those people do not deserve her kindness. No soup for them!)

If Danielle reads my post about teacher gifts from last year, she’s so smart and pretty that she’ll conclude that what she’s seeking is something either intangible or disposable. Clearly her intended recipient doesn’t need “stuff,” so Danielle wants to look for something that can be appreciated, done or consumed. At $30—depending on where you live—you’re probably looking at something edible rather than a service. (It’s possible that you could find a spa where $30 would buy you a massage, but probably not. Also, you really need to know a person to know if they would like that. I’d stick to food.)

I think that having your son help you bake some cookies or make some candy (peppermint bark, anyone?) would be an ideal solution—as well as being cheap—but if you really want to spend the money, there’s no shortage of gourmet edibles you could check out. If you make up your own basket you could easily come with a beautiful little spread of goodies. If she’s a coffee or a tea drinker, gourmet beans or tea is always a nice gift. (These Numi tea sets that were so cheap last year were a huge hit with everyone I gave them to; they feel luxurious but in the end, they’re really just tea.)

Don’t want to go the edible route? How about a subscription to a magazine? (That accumulates, though, so maybe not.) What about a donation to a charity in her name?

The most important thing here is to relax. You’re doing something nice, and you’re very sweet to be so concerned about getting it right. But by being concerned, you’re already getting it right.

(Do people get more annoying or difficult than me? I think not.)

Oh, yes. Trust me. You’re not annoying. And as soon as I post this, people will be “me too”ing all over the place. This is a common dilemma.

Have anything to add for pretty Danielle, readers?


  1. Let me say this about a $30 massage that you may find helpful. Our local hospital does massage therapy for $60/hour and does offer gift certificates in half hour increments. I have done it and it was very spa-like – private room, low lights, yadda yadda. Our particular hospital does not do it on the main campus but a satellite location.I have given them as gifts and being that it was a hospital, it made me feel better that I wasn’t inadvertantly buying a different kind of massage. What I am saying is, don’t necessarily discount that idea (because it is a great one).

    How about something to help her organize (without being too pointed) – a pretty box to keep something in (Jewelry for one, I also received a lovely engraved box for keeping cards I have received), an organizer/calender?

    Lastly, how about a photogift that includes her and your son? If you have enough pictures of them together, a photobook? A framed picture of one nice picture of them together (or she and her husband for that matter).

  2. It might be a little late to do this now but what we did one year for our kid’s teachers was this: I had my daughter draw a picture – have it be on a 81/2×11 size sheet b/c the image will be shrunk. I then took it to our local print shop and had them made into note pads. The image was down in the corner and we had From the Desk of….” at the top – these were VERY inexpensive – the print shop will need a day or two turnaround plan accordingly.
    The other thing I did for my daughter’s Kindergarten teacher was put a bunch of random items in a basket w/ notes attached explaining each one:
    Highlighters – “thanks for being such a highiight in my child’s day”
    crayons/markers – “thanks for filling my child’s day with color”
    glue – For being able to hold it together day after day
    clay/play doh – for creating such a great base for XHSL’s education
    etc. etc. Again, not much money and a little different.

    Usually I give the teacher’s a gift certificate to a bookstore at the end of the year.

    This year I have purchased a couple educational games (dirt cheap off Amazon – thanks Mir!) for my daughter’s 4th grade teacher.
    I purchased a battery charger and rechargeable batteries for my daughter’s 2nd grade teacher (the teacher had mentioned batteries in her list – I figured i’d up the ante and do a little conservation by giving her the rechargeable ones (again, scored some ones at a great price on Amazon – thanks Mir!)
    I also made them all a plate of cookies

  3. Do you by any chance have any last minute Amazon.com toy deals? I’m desperate and missed the boat on the last lot!

  4. I probably posted this on last year’s comments, but I don’t have time to go look….

    Lottery tickets! The scratch-off kind are fun – look for the bingo-type because they take even longer to complete. Just don’t give them the opportunity to win so much $ that they stop providing daycare.

  5. I’m going to go read that post. This is so timely because I am in a BLIND PANIC over teacher gifts. I keep reading awful things about teachers “getting so many crap gift sets” or whatever, and it’s made me highly self-conscious.

  6. As a teacher, thanks for the gift ideas!

    The best gifts I’ve received:

    a plain totebag from Michael’s that the mom helped her child sponge paint. The design is off-center and so adorable…I still use that bag daily and I’ve had it for years.

    a group picture of my class, taken on the playground. The mom blew up the pic to an 8×10 and had the kids all write their names on the matboard. Truly, this is one of my most treasured gifts.

    a class gift of a giftcard to my favorite pet supply store…I have seven tanks of tropical fish at home and dogs and lizards and snakes…I really used the heck out of that card.

    a giftcard to the local grocery store. Sounds impersonal, but it’s rechargeable and has come in so handy!

    And, anything made by the kids themselves goes over very big…especially if it’s not perfect!

  7. my stressor is always *who* do you give presents to? Which people (besides daycare & teachers, which we don’t have), who else do you thank tangibly?

    I usually give homemade candy to the mail carrier (especially after all the Amazon boxes!), but I’m sure I’m forgetting other people. I feel like I’m always the one without the present. Ugh.

    I’m far too stressed this year!

  8. My roommate is a teacher and every year around Christmas she brings home piles of edible goodies…while it’s thoughtful, she/we rarely get the chance to eat them, or enjoy them. I think one of the best gifts for the teacher/educator in your child’s life is to get something for their classroom. Often the budget that the teachers receive does not allow them to buy “extras” or things that would help them so much more in the classroom. Buy gift certificates to the local bookstore, or teacher supply store if you’re unsure what exactly the teacher would like for the classroom. Trust me, they will appreciate that more than homemade cookies!

  9. It really is the thought that counts. One of my students just gave me a pretty owl bookmark. His logic was that because I like Harry Potter, I should have an owl bookmark to remind me of Hedwig, Harry’s owl. It’s a beautiful bookmark, but the sentiment is even beautifuller. Really.

  10. I don’t give gifts to teachers exactly.. I give them one letter for their file at the end of the year – providing I like the teacher…
    They always appreciate the letter – it sure does help at promotion time and raise time…

  11. I’ve been refreshing all day to see the awesome suggestions. Thank you, lovely Mir and readers of Mir, for all of your ideas. It was exciting to see my little letter up there in lights (and to be called pretty! HEE!), but even better were all of the kick-ass brainstorms. Wonderful, really.

    Happy Holidays (and shopping!)!

  12. oooh, LBC that is such a great idea. It doesn’t have clutter, and it will equal money later in life. (promotion time) I am totally going to do that this year. Also lurve the kids signing the pix mat idea too. Last yr at DD1 preschool one of the mom’s took pix all year & made them a scrapbook from all of us via sutterfly. Super nice gift.

  13. I am a BIG fan of gift cards. I know that I don’t need anymore clutter in my house and so I hate to add to the clutter in other peoples’ lives. For teachers, I often get Walmart cards. I know it’s not glamorous BUT they are always excited to get them.

    As for who to give gifts to, I give to people who serve us continuously and stand out in a positive way.

    Currently my list includes:
    Teachers – I got Panera gift cards this year (since I homeschool, this only includes the lead and assistant teacher for my youngest’s preschool class. Wait! Maybe I should get one for myself also?!)

    Babysitter – Starbucks gc and Community discount card (because I know she uses it.)

    Mailman – Starbucks gc – I don’t always buy for the mailman but Al has been with us for over 2 years now and provides excellent/personal service – above and beyond anyone in the past.

    2 couriors who bring parts for my husband’s work – Starbucks gc

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