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How to Pick Out the Perfect Gifts for Your Friends

The most wonderful time of the year has officially come and gone. Holiday decorations have been taken down, temperatures will soon start to go up, and hopefully, “Mistletoe” by Justin Bieber is no longer stuck on repeat inside your head. The holiday season is such a cheery time, but as you get older it can definitely become more stressful – as little kids, our only job was to receive gifts, but growing up means it’s time to start giving them, too. This remains true for any gift-giving occasion, but let’s face it: waiting in long lines or spending hours searching for the perfect gift online can really drain you of the gift-giving spirit. 

Gift giving is a way to physically show appreciation to the people you love. Yes, gifts can often seem too materialistic to many people, but it’s the act of giving that is important. Picking out meaningful gifts for your friends can certainly be challenging – lots of people don’t even know where to start. I apologize in advance for not being able to interview the most famous gift giver of them all, AKA Santa Claus, but read on for some helpful tips about how to master the art of giving gifts to your friends. 


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Getting ideas 

One of the most daunting things about gift-giving can simply be finding the right thing to give. If you know your friends well, you may know just what to get them. Maybe they’ve told you what they want or maybe they didn’t, but any good gift giver will tell you this: always be looking and listening. You know your friends best; just being with them can give you a good sense of what they like. When you’re shopping together, keep an eye out for the things your friends are picking up and looking at. Listen during conversations for things they like or may be wishing for. And be sure to make a mental note of their favorite stores—you can never go wrong with giving a gift card! 

If you’re really lost on what to get someone, you could even go into full stalker-mode and check their Twitter likes or take a peek at what stores they follow on Instagram. I’ve heard of friends doing both of these things, and they’ve ended up finding some pretty cool gift ideas, but you can even pick out a gift based on someone’s zodiac sign if you’re still stuck!

Buying gifts on a budget 

As college students, we’re always ballin’ on a budget. When it comes to buying gifts, it can be hard to find things that express the love and appreciation we want to show our friends. Or rather, it can be hard to find these gifts without them being crazy expensive. Sofia, a sophomore at Loyola Marymount University, shares some insider info she discovered while working in retail. “Some of the best deals can be found on black Friday, but they don’t stop there! A lot of stores are still having really good deals, especially in sale sections. Madewell, which is usually on the more expensive side, has really great items (from clothes to jewelry to little accessories) that are really cheap seasonally. Make sure to check what stores are having good sales.” 

All those commercials and ads you see about sales? Yeah, it’s time we start paying attention to those. When it comes to shopping for gifts, one of the biggest game-changers is having to actually shop with your own money. This is why finding deals and searching for sales is so important. A future tip for all you gift givers: it’s never too early to stock up on gifts. Growing up, my mom always had a “gift cabinet” where she kept extra items that could be used as gifts if needed. I used to think it was silly, but now that I’m buying my own gifts I think differently. It’s extremely stressful trying to find a gift for a friend the day you’re supposed to be gifting it to them. So, stockpiling little things or getting items in advance (especially on sale!) can make all the difference for your stress levels—and your wallet. 

Related: How I Shop on a Budget and Still Save Money While Doing It

Homemade gifts 

My personal favorite things, both to give and to receive, are homemade gifts. Great for when you’re in a bit of a financial bind, or just when you’re feeling extra creative, giving handmade gifts shows extra effort and thoughtfulness. You can make a scrapbook full of you and your friend’s most treasured memories together. You can make “open-when” cards or write letters to your friends; they’ll keep them forever, believe me. You can decorate a photo frame and put your favorite friendship picture(s) inside. You get the idea; there are so many D.I.Y. gifts that top even those fancy, store-bought items. 

Natalie, a junior at Loyola Marymount University, agrees. She says, “I find that the less expensive a gift can be, the more thoughtful a person will think it is. There are so many creative (and handmade) gifts you can tailor to a friend’s personality. They’ll surely be blown away by the amount of thought and time you put into their gift, rather than just the money!” 

Handmade gifts can even be food! Sabrina, a sophomore at the University of San Diego, talks about her favorite homemade gift that she’s been cooking up and gifting for years. “A big tradition in my family is to bake and give out homemade cookies to our friends every year for Christmas or birthdays! It’s a fun and simple homemade gift that’ll definitely make your friends smile.” No matter what gift you choose to bake or make, you really can’t go wrong. Homemade gifts are made with thoughtfulness, love and, most importantly, they’re made to be cherished forever. 

Gag gifts 

Some of the best memories I have of holidays past are from White Elephant gift exchanges. The Oxford Dictionary’s definition of a ‘white elephant’ is “a possession that is useless or troublesome, especially one that is expensive to maintain or difficult to dispose of.” I would argue that the last part isn’t true—a silly gag gift can really come in any shape or size. However, the words “useless” and “troublesome” really do fit the bill. When it comes to picking them out, a gag gift can correlate with an inside joke or be something completely random. Don’t tell my roommates, but they’ll be getting balsamic vinegar and Gemini underpants from me before the end of this school year … don’t ask!  

Haley, a sophomore at the University of Michigan, describes one of her favorite White Elephant stories. “My family does a white elephant gift exchange every year and I bought a fish from Petco as my gift one year. My cousin got it and the fish ended up living for 2 years! We still laugh about that exchange to this day.” Emmy, a sophomore at UCLA, also shares a funny gag gift she received. “Once my friend gave me a can of spam for Christmas and it’s still sitting in my kitchen cupboard at home, because I’m honestly scared of it.” Through gifting a pointless and random gift, you’re also gifting a laugh and a funny memory that’ll last forever. Sometimes that’s all someone needs. 

Gift an experience 

Sometimes the best gifts aren’t even things. Cue Groupon and LivingSocial, please! One year, my mom gifted me a Groupon that allowed me to go to unlimited barre classes for a month at a super discounted price. I didn’t want to go alone, so I gifted the same Groupon to my best friend. We ended up going to barre classes every day we had the membership, and we were undoubtedly in the best shape of our lives. For those of you that don’t know about Groupon or LivingSocial, they’re both online marketplaces that allow users to buy things to do in their city. Both of these sites will help you find screaming deals on fun experiences you can gift to your friends. The best part: usually you can include yourself in the experience you’re gifting, too! 

Jenna, a sophomore at Auburn University, shares how impactful gifting an experience can be. “Some of my favorite memories growing up are from the trips my family would take to Disneyland, because every time we went we’d have a different adventure. The experience, though not tangible, was all about spending time with my loved ones and strengthening our bond as a family. Gifting an experience provides the opportunity for a lasting memory in addition to the experience itself, which makes it a gift that keeps on giving.” 

Giving meaningful gifts often becomes a gift in and of itself. Not only will you put a smile on your friends’ faces, but you’ll find one on your face, too. Here are some fun places you can begin looking for gifts – each example is based on the different types of friends you may have. So go start your searching, and happy gift giving! 

Rylie Walsh is a senior majoring in Communication Studies and English at Loyola Marymount University! She is President of Her Campus LMU and is also a Her Campus National Writer & Lifestyle Section Editor. When she's not reading or writing, you can find her hanging out with friends, exploring Los Angeles, or enjoying her all time favorite dessert: a freeze from Pressed Juicery.
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