I like presents that are practical, unique, beautiful, and don’t cost more than $100—MAX. I am also not recommending specific brands/products here, unless I really, really personally adore them and have used them deeply. But the most important thing is to suit the gift to the recipient. This requires some study and attention to your intended recipient’s habits, preferences, and expressed wishes—as any girlfriend will tell you. The time spent listening and understanding is the REAL present.
Even though everyone downloads songs now, I still believe in the statement that artists try to make by releasing CDs, and I think you can receive an aural experience from CDs that is deeper than listening to individual songs. Also, a CD is inexpensive and wraps up neatly.
You can go several ways with this. 1) Get a new release from a current author the recipient is following (cheap), 2) find a beautiful, hardback, leather-bound edition of one of the recipient’s favorite books (expensive), 3) complete a set in a series the recipient owns (cheap or expensive).
If he/she is into making things—you know, crafting of any sort—pottery, knitting, painting, buy some high-quality supplies from a supplier he/she normally patronizes. You can find out this information by casually asking, “Where do you get the materials to make this stuff?”
If the recipient is into cycling, triathlons, running, kayaking, hiking, climbing, or any other of a multitude of activities, you have a goldmine for gifting. Athletes always need equipment, and I must confess that this is the one area where the latest and greatest gadget truly excites me. I want it more than jewelry (cheap or expensive).
Get a DVD of a film that the recipient thinks is a masterpiece. Caveat: really make it a masterpiece, since this can be a sort of lame gift (as well as cheap). Make sure it’s one that the recipient would watch over and over, preferably throughout his/her life. For me, personally, that means, like, Fanny & Alexander, Spirited Away, or Babette’s Feast. Notice I’ve also chosen films that will go very well with the holiday season, and, while complex, can be appreciated by children of all ages, as well as the most hardened cinephile. This will be one of the few times I recommend specific items.
If you know what you’re doing and have the cheddar, this can be an unforgettable gift. But be warned: if you do this, it’s usually very expensive. Don’t do this if you can’t spend something. Also, if you don’t know what you’re doing, enlist the help of professionals. This is not just a gift; it’s an investment.
Tickets to a play, concert, dance performance, or comedy act.
This can also be expensive. Major caveat: do your research beforehand, to make sure the performance agrees with you and your recipient’s taste, and that the quality of the piece is worth the bucks you’re going to spend on it. Nothing is worse than paying top dollar for great seats at a performance that totally sucks. And I’ve done it, so I know.