2021 Gift Guide – Sales are on Now!

A few weeks ago I shared my top tips for picking out a personalized gift. For anyone seeking concrete ideas for their gift list, I’ve put together a few selections of items at different price points. I either have or have given several of these items myself! In full transparency, I also wanted to practice my Photoshop collages. Retailers are running major sales right now to get ahead of supply chain and shipping delays, so be sure to comparison shop and snag a good deal! Prices listed are as of posting time.

Le Creuset 5.5-qt Dutch Oven ($300, on sale), TRUFF Hot Sauce ($17), Adult Paint by Numbers ($13), Nerds Gummy Clusters ($12.50 for 3), Photo Ornament ($15 on sale), Photo Mug ($10 on sale), DIY Ravioli Kit ($32), Smart Plugs ($16), JBL Waterproof Speaker ($130)
Faux Fur Cable Beanie ($19), Twisted Satin Headband ($17 on sale), Pearl Climber Earrings ($17 on sale), Fresh Lip Balm Set ($25), Himalayan Salt Scrub ($10), Barefoot Dreams Cardigan ($116), Printed Joggers ($10-20 by print), Turtleneck Sweater ($68 on sale), Orthotic Slippers ($16-40 by color), Rebecca Minkoff Leather Bag ($300)
Jack Black Toiletry Set ($48 on sale), WoodWick Crackling Candle ($24), Large/Whiskey Ice Cube Mold ($14), birddogs shorts ($68), Melin A-Game Hydro Hat ($59), Moccasin Slippers ($30), Carbon Fiber Slim Wallet ($125), Flannel Jogger Pajama Pants ($27)
Okay, mostly for dogs and dog owners. White Paw Toy ($14 for two, on sale), Benebone Chew ($11), Photo Mug ($9 on s ale), FURemover Broom ($12), GoDog Dragon Toy ($10-15), Puzzle Treat Ball ($14)

Background graphics from Canva.

Gift Guide: Tips for Picking Presents

I love to get presents for other people. The only problem is a lot of my friends and family are lucky enough not to really need or want a lot of items anymore. So the standard gift guides of “get her a robe!” or “get him more tools!” are not all that helpful.

Over the last few years, I’ve tried to get a little more creative for finding gifts that my loved ones will still enjoy and use well, and I’m sharing those ideas here.

1. Food

Homemade pecan tassies

It’s hard to go wrong with food-based gifts. At the most basic level, you can pick up pre-made goodies or a bottle of wine. If you’re so inclined, you can gift something homemade! A budget-friendly DIY is making a bulk amount of pre-made mixes, such as cookie ingredients in a jar or spice blends.

Another great food gift is something your recipient loves but cannot find where they live. Examples here are Trader Joe’s items, ethnic ingredients, or local specialties. One time my mom schlepped a dozen bagels across the country in her carry-on luggage so I could have my favorite ones from home.

2. Things they use frequently or must restock

Nespresso pods

That doesn’t sound super clear, but my example is last Christmas we put Nespresso pods (coffee) on our wishlist and our families delivered. We were set on coffee pods for a couple months. Not only do we like Nespresso, we got to try different flavors and varieties that family members selected.

There are tons of items that could fit in this category, but some other ideas I’ll quickly put out there besides favorite foods include entertainment subscriptions, pet treats/toys, or candles.

3. An experience-based gift

At the cocktail class my mother-in-law found us

Classes, adventures, experiences, or subscriptions can be a fun, personalized gift. Examples include cooking class, bartending class, candle making, museum passes, food tours, book club subscriptions, food sample subscriptions, and more. Depending what you choose, these can be on the pricey side.

A more budget-friendly approach is a gift for an at-home experience. This can be a DIY kit (Uncommon Goods has great ones) like make your own mochi or mini garden kit. Puzzles, games, or things like Lego kits are also great. A fun way to make this personalized is to order a custom photo puzzle or something crafty and custom, like photo paint-by-numbers.

4. Something handmade

Grogu wreath

Let me qualify this by saying this should be something you are either good at and/or the recipient will really enjoy. Last year I made my dad a Christmas wreath of hand-felted baby Yodas because he really likes The Mandalorian. If you have another crafty hobby like knitting, painting, or homemade bath or beauty products, those are fun gifts as well.

If you’re not so crafty, you can check out Etsy. I’ve ordered handmade jewelry, succulent planters, and personalized water bottles from Etsy to give to other people.

5. Lastly, gifts that complement an existing hobby or interest

Cross stitch in progress

Your mind might jump to something like camera accessories for photographers, but these don’t necessarily have to be expensive. I started doing cross-stitch a few years ago, and one of my co-workers gave me a cute little magnetic flamingo “needle minder.” My husband’s grandmother sent me a multi-pack of embroidery floss. I really loved getting these because they were such normal items but they were highly personal selections!

Great options are either supplies they will use up, or something that will help expand their hobby. Some examples are wine glass markers, fishing lures, state/national park parking pass, or spice blends.

Online Shopping: Loyalty Programs and Credit Cards

This is a continuation from tips for online shopping. You can view part 1 here. The advice below on loyalty programs and credit cards could also apply to shopping in store.

Loyalty Programs and Credit Cards

Consider a loyalty program or credit card for the retailers you shop at regularly. Most sites have an email marketing list, but this steps up to a loyalty program generally when they can track your purchases by that email address or phone number. In exchange for tracking your purchase trends and occasional surveys, you can accumulate points for store credit and other special offers like early sale access and discount codes.

Free Loyalty Programs

There are plenty of good loyalty programs that are completely free. Most people are familiar with these from grocery stores and pharmacies, but nearly every major retailer has their own form of this as well, such as Starbucks, Express, Ann Taylor/LOFT, Best Buy, and Sephora. These programs send you occasional discount codes or sale notifications, special access to new items or sales, birthday rewards, and rewards back for spending certain amounts.

Generally, the more you spend, the more rewards you accrue in free merchandise, points, or credits back. Several stores (e.g., Sephora) will directly offer better perks once you surpass specific spending tiers, but there are no other requirements than signing up to get the entry level perks – this is pretty similar to how airline and hotel programs work.

Paid Loyalty Programs

Only go for a paid program or subscription if you are certain you can realize the benefits of it. Don’t bank on future potential purchases, and make sure you really weigh the cost of it against your benefits. Right now my only paid loyalty-type shopping memberships are Costco and Amazon Prime, which I can share with my household. Last year I also signed up for one year of the Overstock.com rewards club because the discount on the patio furniture I was buying immediately saved me more than the cost of the membership. Make sure to set a reminder to cancel any free trials or subscriptions that will automatically renew.

Take advantage of any free subscriptions you receive with memberships you already hold (e.g., from your credit card, your alumni group). Through my credit cards, I get free two-day ShopRunner shipping and airport lounge access. I also get free Hulu through my paid Spotify account. Recently, I booked a rental car for an upcoming trip and the cheapest option ended up being through the Costco travel portal, after comparing several providers and alternative memberships/promos (direct, AAA, car insurance, alumni club, credit card rewards portal).

Store Credit Cards

For the stores you shop the most at, it can be worth jumping from a normal loyalty program to a credit card. Typically, in this case they will offer a higher percentage of cash back or the equivalent for that specific store. This can work great for anywhere you already spend a significant amount of money. I know several fans of the Target RedCard. Most retailers do not charge an annual fee to have the card, but be very careful in your selections as these tend to charge higher interest versus a bank card if you’re not paying it off in full.

I am in no way a financial adviser, but this strategy works best to save more money in discounts and rewards for places you are already spending money. This will impact your credit score and isn’t as light a decision as a free email sign-up. There are plenty of other bank credit cards or free loyalty programs out there that can be a better fit if this doesn’t meet your needs.

I do have a Banana Republic credit card. This covers all brands in the BR family (Old Navy, Gap, BR, Athleta). A decent portion of my clothing comes from these stores, since they offer petite sizing aka pre-tailored clothing for short people. The credit card gives me an extra discount on top of most sales, money back for future purchases, free basic alterations, access to cardmember only sales and events, and faster free shipping, among other perks. If nothing else is going on, I can also get 10% off purchases on Tuesdays for no other reason than being a cardholder. This adds up to a nice chunk of change saved in discounts for things I am buying anyway from their brand.

Those are my top tips here! Do a little searching to see what works best for you!

Getting the Best Online Shopping Deals

I spend an embarrassing amount of free time shopping. Not always buying things, but browsing in person or online, especially since websites are open at all hours. It’s a great way do to thorough research on your purchases, find deals, and for short people like me, sometimes online orders are the only way to get specific petite size ranges that aren’t carried in store. The focus on my shopping tips is for items that truly go into “shopping” on your credit card statement – so things like clothing, electronics, Amazon purchases, and not groceries or utilities.

Never Buy Full Price

The only time you should buy any retail item full price is if you absolutely need that specific item right then and now. For example, you are traveling, lost your luggage, and need new clothes. Or you need to replace a tool right away to use it the same day.

Otherwise, you should wait for a sale or seek out a way for a discount to come to you. Most retailers hold sales on major holidays. For a weekend holiday, the sale cycle is usually Thursday-Sunday, but it’s becoming more of a trend to extend these so they can better handle demand and logistics.

Get on the Email List

Most retailers also offer a discount if you sign your email up for marketing communications. You can use an email account specifically decicated for this purpose, or filter these emails so they don’t take over your inbox. All of mine automatically filter into a single folder in my email account. For any sites or stores you frequent, this is a great way to be notified of any deals or other special loyalty perks like birthday discounts. You can unsubscribe from any if you’ve utilized a sign-up discount and no longer want their emails.

On the Fence? Leave it in Your Cart

If you’ve signed up with your email and leave things in your cart without purchasing them, most retailers will email a reminder about your item. Some of them will also offer you a discount to complete the purchase. Walking away and waiting on the item can also help you decide if you really want it. There are some browser add-ins that will let you save those for later or track price change alerts as well.

Promo Codes

Always do a quick search for promo or discount codes if you have not applied any to your purchase. You can add apps like Rakuten to your browser to automatically search for these and earn other cash back on top of your credit card or retailer deals. (A note that Rakuten works best on desktop – I find it cumbersome to use it on mobile because you have to launch websites within the Rakuten app but many retailers have their own app.)

Price Matching and Adjustments

If you see something you want discounted on another site, request a price match. Large retailers will match this under their listed conditions. Some sites, like Nordstrom or Best Buy, will automatically adjust their prices online.

Likewise, if something goes on sale or is discounter further right after you buy it, check for the price adjustment policy. Most major retailers will grant a price adjustment within a couple weeks and will refund the difference.

If you’re buying from an individual seller (Ebay, Poshmark), check out that seller’s policies for bundle discounts or ask nicely if there is any wiggle room on price. You can also submit offers on prices or message the seller directly. Be reasonable with these in terms of what is a fair sale price that meets your budget needs.

Want more?

In the next post, I’ll dig into store loyalty programs and credit cards.