I love buying gifts for our family. I love harassing folks to get me their wish lists, to see what they've been hoping for, or something they'd like but just haven't gotten out to get it or have put it on the back burner to take care of other things before indulging themselves. I like suddenly realizing a great gift idea that maybe they didn't even have on their list, but I know they will just LOVE (ex. my husband's ripstik last year, the American Girl dolls for my niece... etc.). I love the hustle and bustle of shopping, or the sense of victory when finding the best price for something online WITH free shipping! Woot! I also love sitting at the table, wrapping each gift in matching paper, and arranging the gifts just so under the tree. Yeah, maybe it's a little OCD, but I like it! It makes you feel good to get something for someone else, and the paper is cheerful during the dark days of winter. It's something I look forward to.
Now, that being said, I put a lot of thought, time, and energy into our gift exchanges. This has turned me into somewhat of a gift snob. I'm not talking about the price tag that came on the gift, or how flashy it is, but the thought and effort that went into it. We all know the chronic-gift-card-givers (or CGCGs). They always give you some gift card from some random place, and often it's the same random place each and every year. We have a family member who gives us a Home Depot gift card every Christmas. He was saying "For the new house!" for the full 6 years we lived at our old house. We didn't even shop there often, and didn't need anything from there, weren't working on a project, and never mentioned our love of Home Depot to this man. It was like "Merry Christmas, buy yourself some nails or plumbing doodads." Eventually I figure out that someone is one of these CGCGs, and I stop busting MY ass to pick them out the perfect thing that says "Hey, I love ya and know you well, and I want you to have this special thing I picked out just for you." Then I start getting them gift cards, too. So, now we're in a virtual money-swap. That is NOT the spirit of Christmas or gift exchanges, in my opinion. That's thinking of someone in the most minimal way possible... that is thinking of them enough to remember to get them a gift, but not making it specific to them at all (especially getting them cards for places you do not know they shop at!), and when you give them to each other it's like saying "Here's $25 bucks." "Oh, here's $25 bucks for you, too!" but instead of just swapping the money, you are demanding they use it at some certain location that they may not even like. Keep your damn money and I'll keep mine. It's clear you aren't into this, and it's fine. Let's just get together and have fun, and no money-with-restrictions-swapping.
The gift card has a purpose. For example, you know someone likes to eat at a certain restaurant, but maybe they don't treat themselves to it too often, get them a GC and give them the treat. You can't really box up a dinner from somewhere and have it still be good on Christmas. Or, like my sis did for my bday, you get them a GC for a spa... a treat for themselves that you know they will enjoy (if you happen to do sister mani-pedis), and you can't really just present them a box with a little manicurist in there for them. You NEED gift cards for that. Or maybe they are saving up for something at a specific store, and they want GCs, or they like to buy their own clothes, and you know where they shop for clothes and they want clothes... see... you have to still THINK about the person and what they want or need or where they'd like to spend their money. That is when a gift card is a good choice. I do give them, when I know it's really wanted, and never chronically (as to avoid saying "I can never be bothered to pick anything out for you."). So... remember... no money swapping with unwanted restrictions!
The most infamous CGCG in our family also gives gift cards to our children (it's either that or a coloring book, if we're lucky). GCs for less than almost any item in the store. So, essentially, they are telling me to go buy them a gift from them, and to pick up the extra cost myself. My kids don't shop anywhere. They certainly can't drive themselves to the store. They can't really pick out anything, especially the baby. My 4 year old can, if I remember I have the card, and then I have to use my money to make up the difference for whatever he picks out. He never remembers he has the gift card either. So, look, I have already bought them a ton of gifts. As a matter of fact, it's Christmas, so I've been shopping excessively and have bought enough shit for everyone else, and my own kids, and I don't really need you to add your shopping list to my list. I understand that this may sound ungrateful to some folks, but I'm just not interested in it. I always put "college money" on the boys' wish list, so if people don't want to shop, but want to give them something that is a great choice. My oldest loves to put money in his piggy bank (which we take out and deposit into his college fund). That is much better than a piece of plastic they don't understand, that I might forget about before the magical time frame you need to use them and it starts losing money, and that doesn't make me have to go do the work FOR the gift giver (or gift suggester, really... "here, I suggest you use $10 at Home Depot. Get yourself something you've been wishing for! I hear they have some fantastic batteries, or maybe you'd like some potting soil, I dunno... the sky's the limit! or, well, $10 is unless you pitch in some of your own dough.)
What my kids want is to unwrap a present from their family member. They don't care if it's a box of cookies, an xbox, a sheet of stickers, money for the piggy bank, or anything that their family would know they love... but do not expect a 4 year old or baby to get excited over a piece of plastic they can't do anything with. They will forget it exists in about 5 mins, and so will I, until you do it again next year.
Since I am such an ungrateful gift snob, I must point out that I did, indeed, request no gift exchange for my husband and I with this particular couple in the family. I am totally over the money swap that's been going on for 12 years now. When I realize that gift exchanges just aren't someone's thing, I am happy to bow out and just suggest enjoying time together over these awkward, store specific hand outs. Of course, I do it with a smile and a giggle, and not by telling them I hate our Home Depot and would rather have spent my time using that awesome Spa gift card on some much needed me-time, than taking hours out of several days to pick out the perfect gifts for you and your wife, buying them, and wrapping them just so only to get handed credit for part of a toilet seat (but only part of one from Home Depot, don't even think about Lowes).