Mission Impossible: Shopping for Gifts for Your Parents

Smart strategies for successful gifts for even the toughest-to-shop-for moms and dads.

If you struggle to find gifts for your mom or dad, you’re not alone: Even experts have this issue.

“I have one of those parents,” says Aileen Avery, author of Gift Rap: The History and Art of Gift Giving. “My mother always says she never wants anything!”

Gift giving should be a fun process, but if you have a parent who is hard to shop for, you know it can morph into a stress-triggering hurdle—and one that you must jump often, with birthdays, holidays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and other events continually popping up on the calendar.

Like many grown children shopping for gifts for their parents, Avery also knows the stress of trying to come up with the perfect idea. “It’s so hard because if you’re an adult, over the years you have given your parents everything,” says Avery. “It seems like you are running out of ideas—and you don’t want to repeat things.”

But picking presents doesn’t have to be anxiety inducing, even for the most difficult recipients. To prove it, Avery breaks down the various types of parents that are impossible to shop for and offers solutions for each.

Gifting with GiftNow is also a great option for those struggling to find a great gift for Mom or Dad. With our digital gift-giving capability, they can exchange the size, the color—or the whole gift!—before it ships, so everyone ends up happy.

1. The Picky One

If you’ve agonized over the perfect present, only to get a tepid word of thanks when Mom or Dad opens it—or possibly worse, you find it buried in a closet a year later with the gift receipt long expired—we’re sorry to say you’ve got a picky parent on your hands. In this case, it’s best to save you both time and money and opt for a gift card, Avery advises.

“Gift cards are the best gifts for picky people because they can spend how, when, and where they want.”

– Aileen Avery, gifting expert

A gift card can be a thoughtful, personalized gift. Start by figuring out what their favorite stores and restaurants are—which can be as simple as asking directly—and buy one from their go-to spot. Avery suggests also giving them a gift that complements the choice, such a bottle of wine to accompany a gift card to a restaurant. Or, if Mom or Dad is a lover of museums or botanical gardens, gift them a membership.

As a bonus, gift cards work well for parents who live elsewhere, Avery points out. If you’re not nearby, “ask their friends if there’s a certain bakery they go to all the time to get coffee, and then call the bakery and ask them to have a special treat ready for their next visit,” says Avery. “This shows you took the time find out what they like. Any way that you can surprise them is great. It’s really fun when someone has been thinking of you and takes that extra little step.”

2. The One Who Always Gives the Perfect Gift

When Mom or Dad always knows exactly what to get you, it can really put the pressure on you to reciprocate.

After all, gift giving isn’t about outdoing one another, or having things come out exactly equally. Taking that approach, “all you’re going to do is stress yourself out,” Avery says. “Gift giving has to come from the heart. It should never become a competition.” Remember that if your mom or dad aces every present, they’ve just got a knack for it. Focus on the fact that they want to give to you—and that’s really sweet.

Instead of stressing yourself out when it’s your turn to shop, “use your sleuthing skills to surprise them,” Avery suggests. Ask their spouse, your siblings, their siblings, or their co-workers and friends for gift ideas, or even just topics and interests that your parent has been talking about recently. Scan their social media sites, too. If Mom posted on Facebook about wanting to try making sourdough bread, get her bread-making tools such as pans, bowls, and covers.

3. The One Who Never Wants Anything

Although this is a frustrating situation for a gift giver, there’s a logical reason behind it. “When kids go off to college or move out, and people are downsizing their houses and trying to live a more minimal life—without all the stuff—this is when you get them an experience,” says Avery. That might be a knife skills class, a distillery tour, a sailboat ride, a private yoga session, or some other experience. (And happily, those types of experiences usually have a year or more of redemption time; make sure to ask before laying out the cash.)

Again, do some detective work to discover their interests, and then include a hand-written card with the gift, Avery says. In the note, explain why you treasure them and include all the details of their gift.

If you can’t be there to join in the fun, she says, include a friend or loved one that they enjoy spending time with. “Parents don’t always schedule time with the people that are important to them because everybody gets really busy,” Avery says. Those experiences will be extra special after the hard times we’re currently dealing with.

4. The Cheapskate Who Says You Shouldn’t Have (and Means It)

“This is the person you give the gift of time to,” Avery says. When the time is right, spend a day at the beach or bring over popcorn for a movie night. Another option is to take them on a free tour. “Every city has a conservancy, library, or museum that has a free tour,” Avery says.

If they live far away, send balloons and homemade decorations and cards. This is a great opportunity to get grandkids involved, too. “You can give your parents a hand-written card too, expressing how much they mean to you,” Avery says. “Some of the most touching gifts of all can be the cheapest, if you put thought and intention into them.”

Keep in mind your parent’s overall rejection of gifts might be because they’re mindful of your budget, and focus on how thoughtful that is—instead of how hard it makes gift giving for you! For these folks, never splurge on an over-the-top gift—it’s likely going to flop. But undeniably practical and useful things, like work clothes or comfortable shoes that will make their day-to-day life more manageable, are a lot harder to say no to. (And if you gift with GiftNow, you’ll also be giving them the option to easily swap out the gift or change the color or size.)

If you’ve got that really difficult type of parent—let’s call them The One Who Doesn’t Accept Tardiness—we’ve got you covered, too. When you gift with GiftNow, you never need to rush to the post office or pay for expedited shipping. Your gift is always right on time with text or email delivery.

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