25 Awesome, Useful Gifts

By Meg Favreau on 23 April 2012 (Updated 25 November 2013) 20 comments

If you're like me, you want to give something useful to the people on your list. Here are my ideas for 25 useful yet awesome gifts for almost anyone. (See also: 31 Gifts That Keep On Giving)

1. Classes

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.

3. Food

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.

5. Books

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. (See also: 20 Great Gifts for Home Cooks)

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.

11. Music

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.

12. Plants

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.

13. Babysitting

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. (See also: The 5 Best DSLR Cameras)

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.

20. Cleaning

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.

21. Clothes

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.

23. Coasters

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.

24. Tools

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?

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Guest's picture
Carl Lassegue

"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" Those are the best gifts.

The best gift I've gotten this year was a Miami Heat jersey. I really wanted one but I could not justify spending $50 for it so I never bought one. I was so happy when she gave it to me.

Guest's picture

Wonderful idea for a list!

My favorite type of gift is something consumable. It can be anything: bubble bath, perfume, cookies, stamps, fruit, pretty note paper, hot chocolate mix, movie tickets, etc. These kinds of things tend to create experiences instead of clutter.

Guest's picture
Thrifty Writer

I totally agree, as both a recipient and a giver!

Guest's picture

A lot of these are really good gift ideas especially the ones that are helpful to those close to you. Cleaning for someone, getting their car detailed, and babysitting are all awesome things that would certainly make the receive-ee appreciate your thoughtfulness and willingness to help them out with something. The gifts that keep on giving - classes, magazine subscriptions, a new coffee maker, etc.- are all awesome things to give a good friend. Hey, maybe they'll even invite you to join in on the class with them, and experience you can sure together!

Guest's picture
Heather

I don't know...if someone were to get me kitchen supplies or exercise equipment I might well be insulted. I would be careful with those, especially husbands! :)
I think the hardest thing about picking out a gift is remembering what the person likes, not what YOU like, right? I like to get people nifty new things where they say "What does this do?" and you show them and they are like, "That's so cool!" and show it to everyone else.

Meg Favreau's picture

I totally agree -- getting something that the giftee would love, not you, is another hallmark of a great gift-giver.

As for the nifty new things, one of the best gifts my ex-boyfriend ever got me was very small -- a set of those small magnetized balls that you can mold into shapes. He was so stoked to show them to me, AND they were a great gift for me -- I often sit and fidget while thinking about writing I'm working on.

Andrea Karim's picture

I know that I share this one, like, every time, but the best gift I ever got was a packet of car wash certificates. I never wash my car, because I always balk at the cost, but when I had those certificates, I had the cleanest car on my block. Well, for a couple of months, anyway.

Guest's picture
Sharon

The things I often myself gifting are glassware, photo frames, photo albums, bed spreads etc. These are kinda unisex and anyone can use them

Guest's picture

Yes! New tools! I get them for people all the time! My sister is now the proud owner of a hammer becuase I couldn't stand the thought of her hammering in nails anymore with the broad end of a knife, the handle of a screwdriver, or with big books.

Guest's picture
Katie M

This is an awesome list. I am always feeling like I have no idea what to get people for gifts, and while I was reading your list I assigned at least one to every person I would ever want to give gifts to! Honestly, I need to save these suggestions, because even though I often want to get an amazing gift that someone will actually use, I feel like I often fail in that department. I can't wait to get someone a magazine subscription or find some awesome used books to add to their collection. Thanks for the awesome and very useful suggestions!

Meg Favreau's picture

I'm so glad you found the list helpful, Katie!

Guest's picture
Miss Lissy

So many of these are great ideas! I just have to say though, the best gifts are the ones where you know the person. I, for example, would never put coffee maker on a list like this, just because I don't think it's universal. Neither my husband nor I drink coffee, so it would basically just be a space taking up appliance in our kitchen that would never get used. Knowing your recipient is most important!

Meg Favreau's picture

I definitely agree. Like I said in the introduction, the best gift givers are keen listeners!

Guest's picture
Rebecca B. A. R.

The item I always get for others for a wedding gift is an oil lamp (with oil). It is a romantic gift, not something you would think about getting yourself, but very practical, especially when the electricity goes out!

Guest's picture
Amanda

These are all really great! I'm definitely going to save this article the next time I need to get a gift. I've always considered myself a pretty good gift giver but sometimes it's hard to just not ask the person, "What do you want??" This is so helpful.

Guest's picture

I never thought I am a good gift-giver. LOL. I hit a few on the list.

When my cousin got married, I gave the newly-married couple a 3D/2N vacation. Of course, I bought it in Groupon at a discounted price. In as much as I would love to receive books, I also love giving books to children, especially toddlers and preschoolers. To other family members and friends, I have gifted them with personalized music CDs and framed photos, gift cards, herbs on pots, dried herbs on cute bottles, gift baskets, and crocheted tablecloth.

The best gift I received on my last birthday is a spa/massage treat from one of my friends. I would love to receive an aromatherapy oil burner (with oil, of course!). I hope a friend reads this.

Guest's picture
Felix Lee

I am not really a good gift giver. But when I have to buy a gift for someone I don't know that much, I usually bath and body products.

Guest's picture

Books make for an excellent gift. It's been said that you'll stay where you're at in life except for the people you meet and the books you read.

Just make sure that if you're gifting a book, you're doing so with the right heart. The last thing you want to do is get someone who's struggling with money "How to Manage Money for Dummies" if they're not open to your input! Ha. Thanks for the post!

Guest's picture

I really like your idea of giving classes as a present. Experiences are often talked about but rarely acted upon. I think it's something the recipient will not only enjoy but remember for a long time. Great idea.

Guest's picture
CClotus

I love the idea of experiences (or services) vs material items! I have been doing this for others for years! House cleaning, spa days, hotel vouchers, home maintenance, car washes, event tickets; you name it I have given it, carefully and thoughtfully. I can only hope-upon-hope that someday I will get one too (Insert Private Pity Party Here). In the meantime I LOVE the happy glow of someone on the receiving end!