This year presents us with a different holiday shopping challenge. You likely have friends and family members who are struggling to make ends meet through this tough economy. Maybe they’ve lost their jobs or had to manage on unpaid leave for several months. For those folks, it doesn’t feel right to gift indulgences when they really need ultra-basic and practical gifts like cash and food. Though it’s equally awkward to give your proud best friend a $50 bill for the holidays.
Fortunately, there is a middle ground where you can satisfy a good friend’s basic needs without being offensive. That’s the inspiration for this list of practical gifts. They’re functional picks that can be appreciated by anyone, but will be especially loved by those who aren’t as financially strong in 2020 as they’d like to be.
Best practical gifts for 2020
You knew gift cards would be on this list. They’re as good as cash and can serve nearly any purpose, from putting food on the table to paying the streaming bill. Here are six different practical gift cards to consider for this year’s giftees.
1. Walmart or Amazon gift cards
If you know a friend is going through a tough time financially, but you don’t have any specifics, a Walmart or Amazon gift card is the right choice. These retailers carry every basic you can think of including food, clothes, shoes, and toilet paper. Don’t worry about a Walmart or Amazon gift card feeling too generic, either. You can easily add a personal touch by making a card or holder for that gift card. For inspiration, see this tutorial for adorable, hand-made fabric gift card holders. Or, if you’re not crafty, pair the gift card with a simple bouquet of flowers. It’s a nice touch that’s sure to brighten your friend’s day.
2. Grocery gift cards
A grocery gift card tucked into the default sleeve might feel like a handout. Here’s how to get around that. You know your friend’s favorite foods. If she loves the gooey butter cookies at the local Schnucks market, for example, buy a package of them along with the gift card. Present the cookies and the gift card together. Your message could be something like, “I know you love these cookies. You can use the gift card to refill your supply when these run out.” Of course, your friend can use the gift card for whatever she wants, be it wine, cookies, or even toilet paper.
3. Pet supplies gift cards
Your pet-owning friends will appreciate a Petco or Petsmart gift card. Since they have to buy pet food somewhere, this gift card directly helps with the monthly budget — though it’s also a thoughtful idea on your part. Your giftee could use it in the most practical way by restocking on dog food, or to indulge in a few treats for Fido that would otherwise be out of the question. Either way, you probably bring a smile to her face (and to Fido’s).
4. Local restaurant gift cards
A touch more indulgent is a gift card for a local restaurant. It’s still food on the table, though, and helps your giftee stretch her own funds just a little further. Look for local restaurants that are reasonably priced, so your friend doesn’t have to spend more than the gift card amount to get a complete meal. Also, make sure the restaurant offers take-out, since not everyone wants to dine inside during a pandemic.
5. Netflix gift cards
Netflix allows existing subscribers to use gift cards to pay their bill. That presents a fabulous gifting opportunity for you. In this era when we’re all staying inside more, a streaming subscription may be one of the last indulgences to be cut during hard times. Imagine surviving the COVID-19 era without Schitt’s Creek — sounds like torture, right? Gift a Netflix credit and you’ll help your friends keep their streaming access even when their finances say it’s time to cancel.
6. Gift cards for household tasks
Have you ever seen a friend’s housekeeping skills go out the window when she’s under stress? I have and it’s not pretty. It happens because household tasks like cleaning and laundry can be exhausting in times of stress. Your friend who’s struggling is probably spending all of her energy trying to resolve bigger problems, like not having enough cash flow to pay the bills. If you’re seeing that happen with someone you know and love, look for a way to fund some of those tasks. Depending on where you live, that might involve a gift card for a cleaning service or the local fluff-and-fold laundromat.
Underwear may be the world’s most practical gift idea, but it’s hard to pull off. From lacy Calvin Klein panties to a bulk pack of hipsters from Target, you risk guessing the wrong size or grossly misjudging your friend’s preferred style. Get around the risk and the awkwardness with an AdoreMe gift card. AdoreMe is like Fabletics, but for underwear. You can subscribe and get VIP perks or you can shop full price on the website.
8. Meal subscription
A meal subscription is a fun way to put food on the table. It’s particularly appropriate for your friends who (1) like to cook and (2) like to throw themselves into tasks when they’re stressed. Personally, I get a lot of satisfaction from chopping vegetables; it’s a clear task that’s easy to complete as long as I am focused. And being focused on chopping means I’m not thinking about my budget or coronavirus or politics.
My pick for meal subscriptions is Dinnerly. It’s affordable and the recipes are tasty without being overcomplicated. A two-person meal is less than $10. Dinnerly doesn’t have an official gift program, so you’d have to get creative by setting up a subscription in your friend’s name. Hello Fresh is another option. It’s more expensive, but Hello Fresh does offer gift cards.
9. Bulk food
Omaha Steaks is the clear choice in the bulk food category. During the holiday season, you can gift your cash-poor friend a giant box of frozen meats, burgers, and side dishes for a fairly reasonable price. You can also purchase Omaha Steaks gift cards on Amazon, but that’s a somewhat less exciting gift to open.
10. Home spa gift basket
If a gift card or food-related gift seems too pointed, look for gifts that will add a tiny bit of luxury to everyday experiences. An aromatherapy kit for the bathroom is an example. This home spa gift basket holds nine lavender-and-jasmine scented products that’ll turn the morning shower into a sensory getaway. That 10 glorious minutes of selfcare will hopefully distract your loved one from her money troubles and serve as a bright spot in her day.
11. Luxury toothpaste
Luxury toothpaste can serve the same purpose. And yes, luxury toothpaste is a thing! Take a look at the Marvis flavored toothpaste collection, which includes jasmin mint, mint, ginger mint, and cinnamon flavors. The set has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon, based on 759 customer reviews.
12. Scented shower head filter
I have a scented shower head filter and it is AMAZING. This makes for a lovely gift that your giftee can enjoy each and every day. This filter infuses shower water with Vitamin C and hyaluronic acid for healthier skin and hair. Plus, it leaves behind a romantic rose fragrance.
13. New bath towels
New bath towels are very practical gifts, but they’re also experiential. They add color to the bathroom as well as comfort and texture to the post-shower ritual. Choose the color strategically. For the friend who’s feeling down, a brighter color can add some zing to her morning — but you don’t want to clash with her bathroom either. A neutral like navy is almost always a good choice, because it’s more interesting than gray or beige and it goes with nearly any décor.
Try Ikea for affordable bath towels. And don’t skimp on size. No one likes a bath towel that fits like bodycon.
14. Cashmere socks
Fuzzy socks are a touch cliché as a holiday gift, but cashmere socks change the game just enough. This four-pair set from Amazon is affordably priced and they’re not so fancy that your giftee won’t want to wear them.
15. Soft blankets
Finally, you can spread warmth and comfort with a Sherpa fleece blanket. You know, just in case your giftee has considered turning down the heater to save on utility bills. If things aren’t quite that bad, she can at least enjoy some cozy TV watching on the couch. Pair this blanket with her favorite tea and a cute mug to make it a complete experience.