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Monday Mom challenge: This year, no gift cards

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Make the extra gift giving effort

Gift cards are so easy, aren't they? You can order them online with a minimum of fuss, pick them up in the grocery store checkouts - or even at the gas station. They serve a real purpose - last minutes gifts and the gift of last resort for the perpetually perplexed. But are they really - really! - what you want to give? Or to receive?

Woman with pile of Christmas GiftsI've given and received my share of gift cards. Sometimes I knew that the person I was giving it to really did want it; a time when a nephew was "collecting" them from his relatives so that he could purchase something larger or more expensive than any of us could swing on out own, for example. Other times, I knew my gift of a gift card was a cop out; I didn't have the time or the energy or the something to put the effort into an actual gift - at least that's the excuse I made to myself.

The same amount of time writing a nice card with an "IOU" for the actual gift likely would have been better. A few times, the gift card was an obligation to be fulfilled, and I really didn't care much.

Too easy

Gift cards, as convenient as they are in a pinch, have become too easy. It's too easy to not put a little thought into a gift - just get a gift card. And more than a couple people I know have announced they have no intention of actually gift shopping this year, they'll just buy a pile of gift cards and dole them out.

But why even bother with gift cards if they feel that scroogy about the season? If the person is worthy of a gift from you, aren't they also worthy of some thought for that gift? Aren't they worth more than an after-thought while you're buying the weekly groceries? I think so.

Yes, a little more work

Not giving gift cards does take more work, yes. But is also brings with it the possibility of more rewards. There's nothing like the feeling of finding the exact right thing for someone you care for (within the budget, of course), knowing you really thought about that person and gave a gift with love. As a recipient, you say thanks for "real" gifts and gift cards alike, but isn't it wonderful to feel that someone really made an effort to find something just for you? Find that thing they thought would make you smile? And didn't you smile, widely?

Take a risk

This holiday season, take a risk. Risk that what you choose to give a person might be something they didn't expect or didn't know they wanted. Risk that it won't be easy or fast, but risk feeling what it really means to give, both a material object and your time and affection.

Gift cards may be easy, but they are not always the right gift. You're right that whatever actual item you choose may not be exactly what the person wanted, but you still gave it with thought and love - and you can still include gift receipts.

Need help coming up with the perfect Christmas gifts? Let us help you!

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