‘It’s the thought that counts’

‘It’s the thought that counts,’ is said far too often after Christmas. Of course it is the thought that counts, that’s what giving presents is about.

But when is it actually said?

When a present is a bit crap.

Because the thought of buying a present counts, but so often the thought that’s gone into it is completely lacking.

And if you can’t put thought into a present and buy something someone would appreciate, is there really much point? Too many of us feel forced into buying presents for people we don’t really know – the sister-in-law or the teenage niece or nephew. So we buy them something we would like ourselves, or our own children or grandchildren would like. We don’t consider whether they would actually like them, because we don’t take the time to find out.

And more often than not, we get drawn into buying crap by clever marketing and packaging. How many presents have you or your kids unwrapped this year that smack of 3 for 2 desperation? I don’t much like ‘toiletry sets’ myself. Scrap that, I don’t like them at all. I don’t really know anyone who does. You might like toiletries, but most people like the toiletries they use regularly, not some random set beautifully packaged to con unsuspecting Christmas shoppers.

But then your sister-in-law is stood in Boots, panicking about what to buy you – and she grabs a toiletry gift set. And she realises it’s 3 for 2. It seems pointless only buying one item. So she gets drawn into buying a pair of socks in a mug for a brother-in-law and a deodorant gift set for a teenage nephew. This stuff is all crap. Total and utter crap. Who needs socks in a mug? Buy some socks from M&S. Don’t buy them in a mug from Boots.

Where does this stuff go? At best, it goes to charity shops or the Scouts jumble sale where it can at least do a small bit of good in the world, but nowhere near as much good as it would if the money that had been spent on that deodorant set had just gone straight to charity. At worst, it goes straight in the bin. Straight into landfill where it continues to harm the environment and doesn’t do anything positive for charity or anyone.

So, before you buy a gift, take a few seconds and do a reality check. In all honesty, is it something you would be pleased to receive yourself and, most importantly, would the person you are giving it to be pleased?

Why not ask them, or someone that knows them better, what they like? There’s no harm in giving vouchers, you could even check which shops they like. If you give chocolates, find out which brand they like (I’m so grateful to my in-laws for giving me Green & Blacks Maya Gold, it’s not a traditional chocolate gift, but for me it’s the best chocolate gift you could give me and will always be appreciated). It might take away some of the surprise, but it shows more thought in the long run.

For kids, you can’t go wrong with things like Tshirts and pyjamas. They’re things they will always need and, from the parents’ point of view, they will appreciate not having to buy these things themselves and will also appreciate not having to fill their house with yet more crap.

Oh, and never, ever give a gift receipt. They’re not worth the paper they’re printed on. Because those items you’ve chosen because your own daughter likes them, but it turns out your niece or god-daughter can’t stand, will go in the sale immediately after Boxing Day. And your niece will only get back the sale price ie half the price you originally paid for it. So where’s the thought in that?

It’s too late for this Christmas, but as you queue up at M&S with your returns or take the unwanted toiletry gift sets to the charity shop, make a mental note for next year. Don’t be drawn into the crap, the gift sets, the special offers and the gift receipts. Because it really is the thought that counts.

Gift receipt, Presents, Christmas

A small number of people have picked me up on sounding ungrateful in this post. That is never how it was intended. I don’t even have any unwanted gifts. It is simply an attack on the clever marketing of retailers which make us think that deodorants in a special box is suddenly not just deodorant, it’s a suitable present. These are usually the same retailers who con us into accepting gift receipts to keep the mystery of how much we have spent on people, while making it very difficult for them to get a decent exchange for an item which is the wrong size or simply not to their tastes.

My daughter has one skirt she wants to exchange – I have taught her that it is far better for everyone to exchange something she isn’t sure about than to leave it hanging in the wardrobe with the label still on it until she has grown out of.

Author: Sarah Mummy

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  1. A very good point! Often a lot of rubbish presents are given because of a ridiculous emphasis on secrecy and surprising people. It really is worth just asking people what they want or like so that you can actually make them really happy with something they have wanted for a while. Leave the surprises to the people who know the recipient of the present best in all the world and can actually surprise them with something they really really like.

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    • Definitely! I like my husband to buy me surprises because he knows what I like, but I do appreciate it if others ask what the kids would like to save disappointment and wasted money!

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  2. Great post Sarah – although it’s hard isn’t it, not to get swept up in it all. But who really needs so much of the gift-boxed crap that fills the shelves in December. I’d not thought that about gift receipts before, you make a good point. I think some shops do honour the price paid though if you have one – not everywhere though. I feel really uneasy about gift receipts on the whole anyway. I don’t want people to take back the things I have chosen for them! Gift receipts are almost a bit of an out-clause for buying thoughtless gifts though, aren’t they…? Hope you all had a wonderful few days with each other xx

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    • Some shops do honour the gift receipt, but many don’t! I refuse them now, I’d rather give people the proper receipt. I don’t care if they know what I’ve spent, I’d rather they were able to get back the full value if they wanted to change something.
      Thank you, we have had a lovely few days. x

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  3. Totally agree and I feel sometimes a bit mean as I’d rather not buy than buy crap. I’m scared what all this crap and packaging is doing to our planet. I don’t think I’ve ever used a toiletries gift set anyway as often it’s things I’ll never use so I end up giving it to the school jumble. Who has time to body polish! My mother-in-law, who we both know I can’t stand, has to spend a certain amount of money on us each year. I’ve not spoken to her for a year yet she still insisted on buying me a load of crap (went in the bin) and bought my hubby a load of crap too, literally stuff he’ll never used, and bought far too much for the children which is all still in bags as they simply can’t use it all. Too much of what is not important. Great post!

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    • Thanks very much. I can’t believe your MIL bothers to buy you a present when you’re not even speaking! And what is the point of all that crap? I worry about the effect on the planet too. I’d rather buy someone a voucher for a shop they like than something which looks pretty, but is essentially pointless!

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  4. This is a tough one – as I even struggle buying for the people I know really well! Like my Mum and Sister! However, I try not to buy cheap gift sets anymore because I too have not used them over the years. Having received so many. I try to buy things that people can use (I’m a practical kind of gift buyer!) Boring perhaps??!! But I always struggle with teens and the men in my family! Jess xx

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    • I think boring, useful gifts are so much better! They might not be exciting on the day, but they’re appreciated in the weeks and months that follow! I know what you mean though about struggling to buy for people – I struggle with my own parents, just because they have everything they want. I often buy them something like a voucher for the theatre, because I know they enjoy that. x

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  5. I hate gift sets with a passion. I have showers not baths, are quite specific on the toiletries I do use. And as you say, I’d rather they just kept the money, or bought me a book token for a fiver instead. I have 3 gift sets unopened from my birthday in October, and they’ll be either sold on Facebook selling groups for a couple of quid or given away for a jumble sale. I also hate chocolate gifts because people buy whatever’s on offer (I seem to get given lots of bleurgh greasy Lindt Lindor) or Thorntons (bleurgh) because they think it’s posh. It’s vile. Given I used to work for a chocolate company and am permanently trying to lose weight I have no idea what possesses people to buy me such things. It’s not like I never see them, we live within 2 miles so know each other pretty well.

    I always try and put a lot of thought into gifts. They always seem to go down well, and I’m always jealous, and wonder why the people who receive them never give me anything similar back. Our older nephews we’ve started giving money or gift vouchers, although they do tend to give us a list of ideas anyway, although N has ended up with 3 radio controlled vehicles this year. I told my brother that he’d love one, then both aunts got him some too…one though is a kiddy one and doesn’t seem to work, the other was a second hand one but immaculate and looked like new. Would much rather he have a second hand gift which works than one which wouldn’t last him long because he prefers older toys that he can still work.

    Thankfully for Christmas we don’t really do presents for parents, only the niece and nephews, so I just tend to make a foodie gift for the family. It’s more personal, they’ll always get eaten and be appreciated, rather than struggling with more socks, jewellery and smellies.

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    • Thanks very much for taking the time to comment so fully, it is much appreciated! I have obviously hit a nerve!
      It’s good to know that your gifts to others are always well appreciated, but it must be frustrating when they don’t put as much time into gifts for you and N.
      You get where I’m coming from about chocolate. I love chocolate, but specifically I love Green & Blacks Maya Gold. I don’t really like other chocolate, I don’t even like other Green & Blacks! It might be boring to get me what I always buy myself, but I love it and appreciate it!

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  6. Ooops, sorry, that was a mammoth comment! Got a bit carried away there. Can you tell it really winds me up when people spend money on rubbish things?

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    • Ha ha, I love your comment! 🙂

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  7. Interesting post. ‘3 for 2 toiletry gift sets’ is definitely a ‘useless’ present for someone (a lot of people) who doesn’t care for random lotions and the likes. I must say that I try to use those given to me though they tend to sit in the house for ages; and I do avoid giving them.

    I hate buying present under pressure and prefer to take my time. I sometimes prefer not to buy for the desired time if i can’t find something that I think will be of use.

    I think it’s good to be thoughtful to buy and better to be thoughtful about what is bought.

    Thanks for your point about the gift receipt, I didn’t know that they’re only worth the current value of the product at the time of return.

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    • Thanks very much, and well done to you for trying to use up your toiletry gift sets! I just don’t like using things which aren’t my preferred products!
      The gift receipt thing doesn’t happen in all shops, but it happens in many of them. Next is the main offender for us! I will always give people the actual till receipt – it’s not exactly difficult for them to find out how much something cost anyway, so there’s not much need for secrecy!

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  8. I like getting toiletries as I never buy myself the nice stuff! Mind you, I rarely use the body creams they always come with so actually people would be better off buying me the big bottle of bubble bath instead! I often give vouchers, esp to my nephews who have a birthday on New Years Eve- I usually manage to get them a present for Xmas but have no ideas left for their birthday so get vouchers!

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    • I think vouchers are great for bigger kids. My boys are always happy to receive them and don’t usually mind where they come from (as long as it’s not M&S or Tesco!).
      If you like the toiletries, that makes them a thoughtful present for you! 🙂

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  9. I never knew that about gift receipts, I always thought they would get the full value back!

    Anyway, I know what you mean about 3 for 2’s I was stood in Boots not long before Christmas and had picked up a tagine for hubby as he’d mentioned he wanted one As it was a 3 for 2 I desperately looked around for 2 other gifts to make the most of the offer. After twenty minutes I concluded I would just be buying tat that nobody actually wanted I went and paid for my single item!

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    • Love that you deliberated over making up the full 3 for 2 and decided against it. When I say to the woman behind the till ‘actually I don’t want anything else’, they don’t seem to get it.
      There are some shops where they give the full value back on the gift receipts, but most of them don’t!

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  10. Sorry but I love gift packs, I love receiving them and I love trying out new products, esp the sample size ones, without the expense of having to buy them myself. I particularly love the Boots ‘3 for 2’ offers, my mum buys them for me, nail varnishes, creams, make up etc etc. I love the novelty gifts, although I’ve never had ‘socks in a mug’. However I never buy them as gifts, I listen to what family and friends say over the year and the build up to christmas, I observe friends preferences and will ask directly if there is anything in particular they would like to be treated to.

    My bug bear with christmas gifts is people that think ‘oh Suzanne likes her tea’ and buys herbal tea, which I’ve never drunk and I’m very vocal on the fact that I don’t drink it’ or buy me yet another tea pot, despite the fact I’m still not using the one they gave me last year.

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    • It’s good that you like the gift packs and the 3 for 2 offers – it means they’re a thoughtful present for you. I like that you listen out to what people want throughout the year – that’s what I do with my own kids, although kids do have a tendency to keep changing their minds!
      The tea thing is typical of this whole phenomenon. Just because you like tea, it doesn’t mean you like all tea, just as because I like chocolate it doesn’t mean I like all chocolate. It shows a lack of thought and imagination.

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  11. I like gift sets too – but not body lotions! Hair ones are great I love having a stock up of shampoo and conditioner!

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    • if people know you like shampoo and conditioner gift sets, they’re a good, thoughtful gift for you! 🙂

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  12. I hate that with next gift receipts. It feels so rubbish when you return something to only be able to spend half the amount the gifter intended and know you’ve just lined the endless pockets of a company. There is no point in a gift receipt if you only get the value of the item in the sale, it might as well have been brought in the sale and not weeks before. Grrrrr to next.

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    • Exactly! We buy a lot of clothes from Next as I happen to really like them, and I appreciate it when people buy clothes from there for the kids too. But I seriously have to hope those clothes fit because it’s so disappointing when you can’t get the full value back on an item.

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  13. Ohhh interesting! I will be honest I LOVE a smelly set from Boots so much so my Mum buys then in the January sale and then keeps them for the next Christmas! Ha ha. I must admit I do try to make presents a little personalised. You’re right with socks and mugs. Boots is not the place to buy them! I generally ask people what they want so they don’t get disapointed. Even the hub x

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    • Bless your mum! It’s great that she buys the gift sets for you.
      My husband usually buys his own present! I would happily choose something for him, but he usually has something in mind for himself! x

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  14. Exactly! And it’s nice for whichever charity receives it, but I’d rather the person who bought it didn’t waste their money in the first place. It’s always sensible to have an idea of what to get someone.

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  15. One of the most thoughtful presents I’ve ever received was something I didn’t actually receive myself. Last year a friend made a donation on my behalf to a charity and the money was used to buy blankets for babies in needy communities. I thought this was a really lovely gift, and something that would be useful and appreciated by the people that physically received the gift. It’s also an great present for people who “have everything” (I’m not in this category!) and when you have no idea what to buy for someone or no idea what they would like. You can be sure you are at least giving them a warm fuzzy feeling! And it’s totally in the spirit of what Christmas should be about.

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    • I totally agree! My mum and dad buy a present like this every year for my husband, brother and brother-in-law. They also buy them for each other. You’re right, they’re perfect for people who ‘have everything’. I would certainly be happy to know a donation had been made to charity for something which will help people on my behalf – I’d rather that to giving a toiletry gift set away to the Scouts jumble sale where it will raise 10p!

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  16. This is a great post Sarah and I don’t think you’re ungrateful at all, just trying to highlight that we are pressurised by marketing to buy so much that others neither want nor need. I read a very interesting article recently on how we are wasting the planets resources by doing so and it really made me stop and think. There are so many Christmas gifts that end up in the charity shop or in raffles after the festive season is over and it would make such a difference if we all thought more about our gift-giving. For the last few years, I’ve given my mum a “flowers for a year” voucher which basically translated to a small standing order into her account each month for her to buy fresh flowers which she loves having in the house. I’ve done pocket letters for friends and small hampers for family with food and drink I know they like – it takes a little more time and effort but I know that they will like them. And failing that, I go for the gift card so they can choose something they really want instead. Thank you for sharing and for encouraging us all to think a little more.

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