25 Awesome, Useful Gifts
To me, a good gift-giver is a person who can give you something that you probably wouldn't buy for yourself, but will definitely use. These good gift givers are not born; they are made. Good gift givers watch and listen, and they file away details about friends and family until the appropriate time comes. If you'll allow me to brag for the purposes of example, last Christmas, my boyfriend gave me a beautiful old Dutch oven that he found at a flea market. I had wanted a Dutch oven for a while (I would linger over them when we were in TJ Maxx), but I also cooked fine without one and couldn't justify the expense. Now, I use it regularly.
Sometimes, though, even when you watch and listen, it's hard to get a read on what someone wants. Or maybe you're buying a gift for a far-away relative. Or you just want some inspiration. Whatever your reason, here are 25 ideas for useful gifts. (See also: 25 Gifts You Can Make Today)
Research says that we value experiences more than stuff — why not give an experience that also teaches a lasting skill? From cooking to comedy, knitting to karate, the gift of a class can have long-lasting benefits.
2. Coffee Maker
Even if the person you're shopping for already has a coffee maker, this can still be a great gift. Upgrade their coffee by downgrading their maker from a traditional drip machine to a method that's known for great-tasting coffee, such as a French press or Chemex.
Food is delicious and, well, necessary to live. I'd say that makes it useful. Give a gift of something your friend likes but rarely buys for herself, such as a nice jar of olives or mustard.
4. Socks and Underwear
I know they're often considered synonyms for "boring gift," but the older I get, the more I appreciate new socks and underwear. I tend to wait a little longer than I should to throw out old socks and underwear, and an influx of new always makes me sort through my drawers and toss the old stuff.
This should be pretty self-explanatory. And don't think that books just means new books — used books can make great gifts too. Look for an old edition of someone's favorite book, or put a few used cookbooks in a gift basket with some...
6. Kitchen Tools
There are tons of useless kitchen devices out there — you already have a darn quesadilla maker; it's called a pan and spatula. But there are also plenty of useful items that are fun to give and super useful. A few of my favorites include silicone muffin/cupcake wrappers (no more paper to throw away!), bowls with measurements written on them, and the one tool I always have to mention in an article about cooking — a really good chef's knife.
7. Bath and Body Products
My mom is great with this one. I buy myself soap, obviously (I hope that's obvious — I swear, I keep clean). But come Christmas, my mom almost always gives me some lovely, organic soaps in my favorite scents like mint.
8. A Magazine Subscription
"A gift that keeps on giving" is a tired cliche, but it's true when it comes to magazines. Which, incidentally, can be found for crazy cheap rates. Check out our daily deals, which frequently feature magazine subscriptions as low as $4 for a full year.
9. A Haircut
I really appreciate a decent haircut, especially as a curly haired lady. But I don't go to salons frequently because they can be darn expensive. A gift certificate to a salon — or even an actual haircut if you're deft with scissors — is an indulgent, useful gift that can boost self-esteem.
10. Paying Regular Bills
There are many regular services that we have to go out of our way to deal with — it's annoying that we have to pay for them too. If you're a parent feeling generous with your cash-strapped college kid, this could take the form of paying for your child's phone bill for a month. Or go the extra step and not only pay for an oil change, but actually take your friend's car to the lube joint.
Whether it's "old-fashioned" CDs, an iTunes gift card, a Spotify Premium account, or something else, music is a gift people can enjoy over and over.
They look nice, they keep the air fresh, and depending on what you get, they can even provide food. Hearty herbs like chives or an aloe plant are always good bets.
Help out parents by offering yourself for babysitting, or ask your favorite babysitter if she'd be willing to provide a voucher for childcare.
14. Organization Tools
It's true — stuff won't make you organized. But it can help. Thrifted baskets, vintage Tupperware, and similar items can make cute, useful gifts...as long as you aren't trying to passive-aggressively suggest that your friend is too messy.
15. Placemats and Other Kitchen Linens
Like with bath and body supplies, this is another area where I find that frugal people often don't want to spend money on themselves. Pretty, colorful floursack towels, a tablecloth, or placemats are useful and can help brighten up a kitchen.
16. Athletic Supplies
Foster a love of fitness with a bicycle, skates, a baseball glove, a pedometer, or even something as simple as a Frisbee.
17. A Camera
I know many of us have cameras on our phones. But for those who don't — or who value photography beyond what a phone can do — a camera is a great gift. It provides a hobby and a way to remember great experiences.
18. Photos and Frames
Every time I want to display a photo, I'm shocked by how expensive frames are. Photos of loved ones set in a nice frame is a great gift.
19. Hobby Supplies
These can be for an existing hobby or a hobby a person might want to start. If you have a skill like knitting or cooking, you can bundle together a couple of supplies with an expert lesson from you. It's a great gift and an excuse to hang out.
I know about two people who really like to clean. For everyone else, having someone else clean their house — or even just one room — is a great gift.
Hopefully I don't need to tell you that clothes are useful — even if you don't like them, you have to go out in public sometimes. If you know your giftee well enough to buy something they'd actually wear, this can be a great route.
22. A Nice Glass
If you know someone who enjoys a particular drink, your first thought might be to get them a bottle. But giving them one or two nice glasses appropriate to the beverage is another way to support their interest. This gift isn't just for people who like wine or spirits, either — Beer Advocate has a nice breakdown of glassware for beer.
Speaking of those glasses...keep someone's furniture safe from that glassware with fun, functional coasters. There are tons of coasters you can make, including tumbled marble coasters and these coasters that fit on wine glasses.
Fuel a (metaphorical) DIY fire with tools. If your child has just moved into his first apartment, a starter toolbox is great (and you might be able to get everything you need for one by hitting a few estate sales). For homeowners who like to take remodeling into their own hands, look to tools that they'd use often enough to justify owning them instead of just renting or borrowing.
25. Money Towards Something
Money is always useful. It can be fun if you attach it a specific purpose — a fun goal that your giftee is trying to reach, whether it's a trip, a down payment on a house, or even just dinner at a nice restaurant.
What are your favorite useful gifts?