Your mother was right: it's the thought that counts.

Yet no one can deny the pure satisfaction of giving – or receiving – a well-suited gift. You know, the kind that's useful, a nice indulgence, or just a pleasant surprise.




A gift doesn't have to be perfect to be wonderful. In fact, finding the "perfect gift" is an almost impossible task – that's why gift cards and return policies were invented. But finding a nice gift isn't as hard as you might think. Much of the stress tied to gift-buying is no doubt connected to the pressure to find the ideal present. So abandon that goal and we unscientifically estimate you'll reduce your holiday-shopping stress by about 75 percent! (The remaining 25 percent covers store lineups and navigating the mall parking lot.)

Everyone's gift list includes classic hard-to-buy for people. Here are some of the most challenging giftees, along with common "don't-go-there" gifting faux pas. We've made your holiday shopping a snap with easy, pleasing and affordable gifts they'll love – or at least really like.

The best part? You can find them at every price point, from $5 and up.

TEACHERS OR CHILDCARE WORKERS

Don't gift these: Framed pictures of your child, homemade crafts by your child, or a calendar of your child (notice a theme?)

Why: Teachers and daycare workers have homes filled with their own family pictures and their own kids' crafts – they don't need other peoples' family memorabilia, no matter how cute. Gift them something they can actually enjoy.

Gift this: Something that will make their day without contributing any clutter to their home or classroom, like:

THE BOSS

Don't gift this: Something expensive that shows your deep respect for an inspiring leader and, may I just add, a wonderful person besides...

Why: Pricey gifts may be seen as an attempt to curry favour or to "brown-nose." And if your boss bought less expensive gifts for her team, the imbalance can create additional awkwardness.

Gift this: An inexpensive token ($20 or less) that celebrates the season. Try:
  • A little box of seasonal sugar cookies or truffles from a local bakery
  • A seasonal tea or coffee blend from a local café
  • A donation to the main charity your company supports – in many Canadian offices that may be the United Way. (In any case, avoid donations to controversial causes.)

COLLEAGUES (SAME LEVEL OF SENIORITY, OR LOWER)

Don't gift these: Gag gifts (especially anything vulgar), overly personal gifts, pricey gifts (over $20) or cheap gifts from the dollar store

Why: You may think you guys share the same sense of humour, but it only takes one poorly chosen box of penis-shaped pasta to show that's just not the case. (Try explaining that one to HR!). Pricey gifts create an imbalance, and finally, dollar-store gifts don't fool anyone (an aluminum frame from Dollarama does NOT look the same as an aluminum Umbra frame, so let's not even go there).

Gift this: The ideal approach would be no gift at all, just cards. But if the office culture includes gift-giving, you don't want to look like a Scrooge -- so why not lobby for either an Office Santa exchange? Better yet, have everyone donate $5 to a charity chosen by team vote?
When buying an Office Santa or other colleague gift, aim for inoffensive, office-friendly stationery and a low price tag ($10 or less). For instance:
MOTHER- OR FATHER-IN-LAW

Don't gift these: Socks, cheap wine, home-fitness equipment "they really should use"

Why: Socks and cheap wine make you look – hello! – cheap. (Even non-drinkers can tell a cheap bottle of wine from a decent one!) Workout equipment falls into the Unsolicited Advice category.

Gift this: Practical items that are luxurious enough to make them feel pampered, but not so expensive that your in-laws worry you're frittering away your savings!
  • Slippers are warm, cozy and highly practical. Anyone tooling about in old IKEA slippers will be delighted by a pair of shearling Uggs or knit sweater-booties from Old Navy.
  • A mall or department store gift card: This approach provides more freedom than boutique or spa gift cards.
  • High-quality liquid hand soap or kitchen cleaners... Weird? Not really – everyone needs 'em, but who wants to splurge on non-supermarket brands? Fruits & Passion and Williams-Sonoma products are hard-working, smell great, and give a "prop-styled" look to the bathroom vanity of kitchen counter. BONUS: The store bags are chic enough to count as gift wrap.
OTHER PEOPLE'S CHILDREN

Don't gift these: Toy guns, dolls that look like what your grandma used to call "women of easy virtue," pets

Why: Guns and "sassy" (marketing speak for "sexy") dolls are two parenting minefields that, as an outsider, you really have no right venturing into.

Ditto pets: sure, you're very close to the kids in question, heck, you may even be related to them, but even a pet goldfish or betta has needs the giftee may not be able to meet.

Gift this: The easiest thing is to ask your own kids what they'd want. Kids tend to know what's hot, even if it's for age groups just outside their own. Otherwise, consider:
  • An iTunes gift card so they can download the music, videos or shows they want.
  • A camera. Digital cameras come in stocking-stuffer prices these days, but we love the old-school Lomo Diana+, an under-$100 film camera (it uses 120 film but you can buy an adapter for 35mm film). This re-issue of a classic 1960s camera produces arty, super-saturated colours and will please creative kids to no end. Be sure to include extra film.
  • Sponsoring an endangered animal or helping to protect wildlife habitat through a donation to World Wildlife Fund. Sponsorships come with an animal stuffie and information package, perfect for putting under the tree!