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Gift Guide #9: The Hard-to-Shop-For Crowd (You Know Who You Are)

Gift Guide #9: The Hard-to-Shop-For Crowd (You Know Who You Are)

Who’s left on your holiday shopping list? There are always a few people who are tough to buy for, so this week (on Instagram) we asked who was stumping you the most. Your answers: tweens and teens, co-workers, in-laws and teachers. Here are tons of ideas, most of which are under $30…

TEENS AND TWEENS:

What’s going through those teen and tween brains can be a complete mystery, but what they want to unwrap doesn’t have to be. The softest faux fur blanket to cozy up with; a Rocket Book, which lets them scan and upload handwritten notes to cloud services to limit paper waste (Greta Thunberg would be proud); smartwool gloves to make texting hassle-free and gift cards to “Urban” (as the kids say) or a local restaurant, both no-brainer winners.

CO-WORKERS:

What to get the people you see every day… maybe even more than your family? How about empowerment socks or a gold pen that looks and performs much fancier than the price tag suggests; or a luxury balm to combat your dry office-building air; a hearty succulent for that coworker who claims to have a black thumb; or rich, chocolate-y brownies for, well, anyone.

TEACHERS:

For the amazing educators in your life, a genuine thank you note from you (or your child) can mean so much. Gift cards are also fantastic, “even if it’s $5 to a local coffee shop,” says Katie Larissa. Presents to skip? “TEACHERS HAVE ALLLLLLL THE MUGS,” Katie says, as well as “millions of apple and pencil and other teacher-themed ornaments,” adds Heidi.

IN-LAWS:

For those hard-to-buy-for family members, consider a food gift, like Blue Hill jams (“these are sooo good,” says Jenny) or cheese chocolate bars. A cookbook is always useful, and we love Simple Cake, Midwest Made and the newly updated Joy of Cooking. Also, donating to a cause they believe in or making a personalized family memory game (to play with the grandkids!) both feel heartfelt.

Thoughts? Are these helpful? Any other stumpers on your list?

Note: If you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission, at no cost to you. We recommend only products we genuinely like. Thank you so much.

P.S. Last year’s hard-to-shop-for guide, and the complete 2019 Cup of Jo gift guide!

(Charity donation photo by HKI/Ian Christmann.)

  1. Erin says...

    For parents and in-laws, I’m in favor of giving tickets to events I know they’ll like. I usually get my parents tickets to the symphony. And gift certificates for a major movie theater chain are a good option, too — reasonably priced, the recipient can pick a movie they will enjoy, and it isn’t more “stuff.”

  2. p says...

    An easy and fun gift for anyone, any age – state lottery scratch-off tickets. Mail carrier, teacher, dry cleaner, barista…. it’s the only gift we exchange at work, which is a double chuckle. We know we are each gifting the same things to each other, just like last year. And if one of us hits the jackpot, the rest of us will cheer as they exit the building for the last time1

  3. Angela says...

    Another teacher here… Find out where the teachers at your child’s school go for coffee or lunch. At my school, there is a bakery down the street that I often receive gift cards to – I save the gift cards for months when money is tight and then I can still go out and get something with my colleagues. Our town also has a “teacher store” that sells books and classroom resources. Gift cards to stores like that are also very much appreciated. Starbucks and such are also great.. even $5 is enough to buy a fancy coffee.

  4. Leah says...

    My go to a couple years ago for all the women in my life was silk pillowcases. They’re supposed to be fantastic for your skin and hair, and they are a little luxury most wouldn’t think of for themselves. You can get them on Amazon for under $25.

  5. Katherine says...

    Subscriptions! To print material (magazines etc.), subscription kits/boxes/monthly deliveries, and memberships to local museums are great gifts that keep giving all year long.

    For kids, teachers, librarians, definitely consider a subscription to the Because of Them We Can boxes. Description from their website:
    “ The Because of Them We Can (BOTWC) Box is the first Black history and excellence subscription box for kids. Each month kids can use the contents of the box to learn about trailblazers, organizations or movements that paved the way!”
    https://www.becauseofthemwecan.com/pages/get-botwc-box

    These are excellently made and curated, and I’m so glad something like this exists. Highly recommend!

    • Phoebe says...

      Yes!! Subscriptions are great! I LOVE The Sun Magazine, and it is my go-to when I’m stumped, and selfishly, I love that the gift supports the magazine and helps to keep it going. Also, FLOW magazine is wonderful.

      https://www.thesunmagazine.org
      https://www.flowmagazine.com

  6. For older teenagers (girls especially!) a great gift would be this fun and fantastically illustrated book about self-discovery and horoscopes:
    The Astrological Grimoire.

    It’s by by two feminist artists who go by the names Beatrix Gravesguard and Shewolfe — and is a super approachable and thoughtful introduction to astrology and to self-love. Published by Chronicle and available at lots of indie bookstores, but also a great last minute gift because you can Prime-it from Amazon ;)

    • Please boycott Amazon! Its employees have absolutely disgraceful work conditions and this needs to be talked about… I was actually very happy not to find anything from amazon on this list.

  7. Sarah says...

    Turkish bath / beach towels. Usually under $40, (Nordstrom has a bunch but they are everywhere). Useful but special.

    They are attractive and very light weight & easy to tote to the beach. Also big enough to use as a picnic blanket, cover a table, or wrap around body when cold.

  8. C says...

    Hello. UK reader here. What is the connection between apples and teachers about? Divided by a common language and all that!! C

    • mindi says...

      The answer I found (after Googling…because, as a teacher and an American, I had no clue why, either!) that seems the most plausible: apples are harvested in the fall, the standard school schedule begins in the fall. Apples are portable, inexpensive, and a sweet treat. Easy gift for a teacher! No one really knows the exact origin of the connection, but I love apples (just tried a Kiku this week…not as good as a Pink Lady!)

  9. anon says...

    Teacher here. I read in the comments a number of people who like to give cash to their child’s teachers, instead of even, gift cards, as a way to make it more flexible for the teacher in terms of spending. Please reconsider this. As well meaning as it is, the actual cash gift is a no-no for many schools, and even if there isn’t school policy written on it, it is still a very awkward situation the teacher is put in. It can be looked at as a bribe or favoritism. A VISA or MASTERCARD type gift card is a much better choice.

    • Kari T. says...

      Thank you for the information!! My child just started school this year and I was unsure if Cash was acceptable or not. Noted!!

    • Lor says...

      Hi, teacher here.
      No qualms about cash here. I’m poor. ?

    • J says...

      Disagree, teacher here and would feel 100% thankful and 0% awkward about a cash gift ?

  10. Taylor says...

    agh hopefully someone will see this and help: gift ideas for a very cool 11 year old girl who lives on Maui? (no real access to mainland cool stores, though I could order something and bring it to her before I go visit!)–she likes soccer, making tiktok videos, and dancing–she’s still a little too young for a cute makeup set, and I want to get her something that she can show off to her friends so I can be a cool aunt :)

    • kath says...

      hi! i’m also shopping for my nieces who are the same age group (10 and 13). I felt like the juniper home gift guide had some great stuff for that age group. my nieces are starting to get into clothes, accessories, etc. I gave the 10 year old Guts by Rania Telgemeier and some earrings for her bday and she seemed to like them. Good luck!

    • Jlewis says...

      How about a soccer jersey from one of the US Women’s National Team? http://www.ussoccer.com

    • Rosie says...

      A Sephora gift card is my go-to for any woman over 10. There is a store in Maui, but she can order online too. She can buy a cool lipstick she saw on Instagram or nail polish or perfume or bath stuff or sunscreen. It will make her feel grown-up to have access to something fancy.

    • Kat says...

      My daughter is this age and has a lot of the same interests. She has asked for a hydro flask, PopSockets, and AirPods. She also believes that she can never have too many scrunchies.
      If your niece is really into making videos she might like a tripod or lights or other accessories related to that and even though she is young for makeup a lot of the tiktok trends include weird face painting so maybe something that is clearly not for everyday but that she can use for fun.

    • Stephanie says...

      Hydroflask water bottles.

    • Diana L. Tisdale says...

      Lighting set up for her tiktok videos? Is that a thing?

    • Loesie says...

      I once got my niece a pair of earrings. You could also get a necklace with a bit more of a ‘mature’ look, so she can wear it for years to come.
      I got my then 10-year old niece butterfly earrings, but I can imagine her not wanting to wear those when she’s 16 and up.

    • Jillian says...

      I got my 10 year old niece 32 feet of led strip lights to put around the ceiling of her room. They change colors with a remote control and I think they somehow connect to her music? Anyway, it was her top request!

    • Caitlin says...

      I’ve started gifting the teens and tweens in my life a 100 pack of gel pens…this has been very well received!

  11. Caitlin says...

    My sister in law (who is raising three girls as a single mom on a very limited budget) usually sends a card, has the girls draw something in it, and includes a quote from the girls. Examples: “Tell him happy birthday! Yeah, he’ll like that.” Or “His card sings a song! And has a cat! I laughed.” Always makes us smile.

    • P says...

      that is a brilliant idea!!! Stealing it from your sister. Thanks!

  12. Isabel says...

    Mom of a tween here (and barely making it). These are great gift ideas. Here’s a couple more, in case they are helpful:

    * Gift certificate to Brandy Melville (it will go a much longer mile than an Urban Outfitters one)
    * Hydro-flask (all that VSCO girl stuff is real)
    *VSCO stickers for said hydro-flask (or any other surface). Cute ones here, starting at $2.50 for a large pack https://www.etsy.com/market/vsco_stickers
    *Vans sneakers
    * Anything from “The Office”

  13. Erin Keast says...

    Oh, thank you! That notebook looks perfect for an extremely difficult to shop for relative! I just hope she doesn’t already have one. (she has *everything*)

    And the smartwool gloves are going on my own list.

    • Kate says...

      Whoops, I see the pages are reusable. That’s good.

    • mindi says...

      I had NO IDEA. Thank you for sharing!

    • Joy says...

      Wow, I had no idea. Thanks for posting this.

  14. Robin says...

    I teach masters students and one of my students gave me a card that said Number One Coach. Best gift ever!

  15. Sheena says...

    I’m giving reusable produce bags for my work
    (4) and filling the one that holds the others with assorted Christmas chocolates.

    I’m topping the bag with a tag and a curly ribbon.

    • Joaquina says...

      Love this idea! May have to steal it.

    • jane says...

      What an excellent office gift idea!

    • Cyn says...

      LOVE THIS! Doing this. Thank you!

  16. Bevin says...

    I have a 15-year-old daughter and thought some might want to see her Christmas list, which she of course texted me :) Keep in mind a lot of this is stuff she would never even dream of asking for in “regular” life, so she’s really going for it… • navy blue platform supergas
    • black ski smith holt helmet
    • grey and white herman reebok sneakers
    • CLOTHES (princess polly, verge girl, isabelles cabinet)
    • glossier stuff
    • medium gold hoop earrings
    • lululemon leggings and sports bra
    • free people workout stuff
    • fancy belts
    • soul cycle classes
    • skin care
    • apple pencil!
    • nice small purse
    • swimsuits
    • coco and eve fake tan
    • coco and eve like a virgin hair mask
    • ray bans
    • camera
    • billie razor set

    • Em says...

      This is fascinating! I am 31 and don’t have any teenage girls in my life — I had to google half of the things on this list! Very out of the loop with what’s hip it would seem :)

    • Michelle says...

      Wow I am so fascinated by this! Never in your life are you more specific than when you’re a teenager.

    • P says...

      this is gold. Joanna: going forward I need this to be a thing with your gift guides. moms posting real lists from their kids for 10, 11, 12, 13, etc. up to… 18?? girls and boys. brilliant. thank you very much!

  17. brie says...

    Rocket books are amazing, for adults too! I received one last year for Christmas and use it most days, its wonderful to be able to make handwritten notes without having to use paper.

  18. Maranda says...

    I have another recommendation for hard to shop for family members! Every year I send out flower arrangements to my aunts and uncles. It is such a breeze since there the whole process is online and the delivery is done for you. And I feel like it’s still thoughtful, who doesn’t love receiving flowers!

  19. Ari says...

    I’m in the “JUST GIVE PEOPLE CASH” camp, especially for teachers. I used to think it was impersonal, but now I feel like others know best about what they want and need in this moment and everyone has too much stuff anyway. Cash is also more flexible than a gift card. Bonus for me: I’ve freed up time, energy, and mental anguish I would have spent shopping. Granted, this isn’t my “love language”, so I could very well be in the minority…or WRONG!! :)

    • Abbie says...

      CASH IS QUEEN!!! (Former teacher, current parent and giver of cash and sees chocolates to EVERYONE)

    • Kari T. says...

      I was just wondering this, would cash be more appealing to Teachers than gift cards? Tucked inside a nice thank you note to keep it from being to impersonal… ???

    • Sara says...

      I have finally given in on this as well. The sticking point for me was our young nieces and nephews, who I always felt like it was weird to give cash to but kids get PSYCHED when they open a card and find cash inside! Especially since it’s usually a bigger bill than they’re used to seeing – my nephew’s eyes got HUGE when he pulled a $50 bill out of his birthday card this year haha. My new thing I started implementing last year is a book + cash for all gifts. Makes my life soooo much easier but including the book still makes it feel personal, and that has always been the most fun thing for me to pick out.

    • Emily says...

      I think cash can send a strange message, like a ‘tip’? I would think a gift card is better, but I don’t know what a classroom teacher might think! I teach in a museum where I get gifts just from colleagues.

    • Jill says...

      I appreciate this idea, and wonder what the minimum appropriate amount would be to give teachers? We have three teachers “in our family” to buy for. $5 wrapped around an inexpensive candle?

    • Amy says...

      I also hesitate with cash for teachers because it comes across more like a “tip” than a “gift”. I do a gift card for Indigo/Chapters (Canadian bookstore chain) and say it’s for their “Summer reading list” or whatnot.

      They also carry a lot of random miscellaneous (home goods, gift items, stickers, etc) that they could purchase as gifts for others, or even as classroom books/supplies if they really want.

    • Meredith says...

      My sister is a middle school teacher and she cried tears of joy when she got cash in a card from a student last year! The sweet notes from the students apparently get kept forever and are helpful on days she wants to quit/cry/die (her exact words). The official word for those looking to spend money on a gift: cash is definitely better than ANOTHER mug, but notes from the students are always appreciated!

    • Anon says...

      Hi. As a teacher, I have to be honest that I would feel very uncomfortable accepting cash as a gift. (It could even be misinterpreted by others as a bribe). So, for a teacher, a card and gift(or gift card) are best. At least that is the Canadian perspective. On the other hand, for nieces, nephews, grandchildren, and even for my mom…money is perfect!

    • Laura C. says...

      Two years ago and last year, I gave my kid’s teacher a coffee card for 8 coffees at the café close to the school. Later that year the waitress told me that the teacher had told her that that was one of the most useful gifts he had ever received. So I’m doing it again this year!

  20. Cyn says...

    COJ, always my favorite gift guides. They always spark new ideas, and are so fun to read. I’m sad to see them end.
    Thank you Team!

  21. Lindsey says...

    One of my sister’s students brought her a case of Diet Dr Pepper for Christmas, her favorite! Seeing that tiny kid hauling all those cans with a huge smile on his face was priceless :)

    • Mary says...

      That is so sweet! Your sister must be an awesome teacher for him to do that.

    • ErikaMC says...

      I asked my son what he wants to get his teacher and he said “7up! It’s her favorite.” So that’s what we are doing!

  22. Ally says...

    My in-laws love to cook (and are so so good at it) so I am getting them all of the (non-perishable) ingredients to make a Korean dish they’ve never made. Bibimbap! They get a date night, get to do something they love, and it takes away to emotional labour of having to figure out what to cook. Not that I’m bragging or anything but after 5 years, I think I’ve nailed it.

    • Blythe says...

      What a great idea; I love it and am copying you :)

  23. Lisa says...

    My favorite Christmas gift received as a teacher (besides the gift cards of course) was a small basket of beautiful apples and pears and a sweet heartfelt note from the parent. The elementary aged kids are generally very loving and thankful, but it’s the parents we usually don’t hear from very often. A little kindness goes such a long way.

  24. sugarcactus says...

    I’m an English teacher, too! My best gift would be everyone grading his or her (or their!) own essays, ha! But one year when I taught ninth grade up in the Bronx, I had this sweet kid who gifted me a Dunkin’ Donuts punch card–he had bought the required five drinks, which were punched out, and all that was left was the free drink! It was such a thoughtful gift from a 13-year-old boy that I couldn’t even redeem the free drink. I still have the card hanging up on a bulletin board and smile whenever I see it.

    Working in a public school, I have started telling parents at the beginning of the year that I don’t accept personal gifts. For me, I am always worried that the students who can’t give me gifts will feel that I value them less than the students who can. Plus, I don’t want parents to feel pressured. But I do tell parents they can donate something for the classroom. I’m on a drug that lowers my immunity and the best gift I got from a parent this year is a 3 pack of Kleenex and a humongous bottle of hand sanitizer. Love.

    But no shade for those teachers taking gifts. I have accepted many, especially in my first few years of teaching when I wasn’t as financially stable. And if I were being completely honest, I would of course love gift cards and cash! Perfectly punctuated letters of appreciation supported with very specific examples! A bottomless bucket of pencils! :)

    • Katie says...

      The “free drink” punch card – made my day and reminded me of working in a high school many years ago. Thanks for sharing! What a sweet gesture.

    • sarah says...

      tears in eyes at this dunkin’ donuts story! the sweetness of teen boys!

  25. My go-to teacher gift since our daycare years (now I have one in pre-K and one in first grade) is a nice kitchen towel from Target + a seasonal Mrs. Myers dish soap – I love the Iowa Pine scent the best. It’s useful, seasonal, affordable (especially when my boys had so many different teachers in their daycare rooms) and importantly NOT a coffee cup or anything apple themed which I’ve heard from teacher friends is what they are sick of. I’ve had several recipients tell me how much they love it!

    • Kelsey says...

      Oh and I always write a very heartfelt thank you note!

  26. lomagirl says...

    I’m one of the toughest people- and I’m trying to do my Wish list! Last year I got several things off your lists- thank you!
    This year I’m not quite as inspired. I like the cake book, though!
    Help!
    Also, for teachers, I like to give a gift card from a place the kiddo likes. I think this year we are doing Chick Fil A since both he and his teacher like it.

  27. LG says...

    Why does the written note idea always end up in the *for teachers* category? Why have I never seen it in the for tweens, in-laws, coworkers, kids, etc. category? Perhaps because it would be a little underwhelming?

    A genuine thank you note is great, but what’s wrong with pairing that with an actual gift?

    Just pointing out that we are regular people too, and get so, so, SO much lip service already as it is. Please just think of us as normal people who are likely and/or grossly underpaid for the extreme amount of work we have to squeeze out of ourselves, and a normal gift or a tiny bit of cash would go farther than you know!

    • R says...

      As someone who has worked in MANY public service jobs (including a school library) and has rarely received any sort of gift (holiday, end-of-year, teacher appreciation day, whatever) I would be THRILLED to receive a handwritten note. I would never assume that anyone I serve owed me anything other than a nice thank you. Sure, a gift is nice… do you do the same for others in your life who are “grossly underpaid” for the work they do? Janitors, librarians, after school providers, and coaches all come to mind, along with other classified staff at schools (and kudos if you already do!!! To be clear, I appreciate how much teachers work and think they should be paid accordingly, along with all other public service workers).

    • Kate says...

      LG, what do you mean by a normal gift? Will you please provide examples? I’ve always heard teachers and others who play enormous support roles in our lives (nurses, nannies, etc.) don’t want food, and I wouldn’t dare presume to know my kid teacher’s favorite lotion scent or assume they’d want the responsibility of a nice plant. So ideas of helpful gifts that are not thank you notes and gift cards (my two go-to things) would be great!

    • Hi LG, thanks for saying that! My daughter is 3 years old and has just started kindergarten, and we were wondering what gifts to give to her teachers! I wasn’t sure about gift cards, thinking that a teacher may take it as diminishing (especially if it’s a small amount), maybe, or not heartfelt enough? Am I wrong? May I ask what’s the best gift you’ve ever received from a student?

    • Karen says...

      I hear you on this, and have heard the same sentiment from my grade school art teacher friend! My Christmas gift to my girls’ teachers is always one of the “batch gifts” I make, a card they handwrite (gotta keep them involved!), and a $50 bill . Whenever I am giving a gift to someone whose specific interests I don’t know – like our teachers, our housekeeper, our gardener – I give cash. Who doesn’t love cash?

    • Betsy says...

      My teen and tween are never underwhelmed by the drawings their little brother gifts them – disheartening to know some educators don’t appreciate my child’s thoughtful gesture or don’t think it is enough.

    • Hannah says...

      I think it would be *wonderful* to give a note to tweens or kids or grandparents (I”m not sure my in-laws would want to read the note I’d write!).

      I’m a teacher, and a note, especially from the student (or dictated by the student if they’re little), means so much. If they are thoughtful and specific, they are completely overwhelming, not underwhelming!

    • As a teacher, I agree with you 100%

    • Em says...

      The COJ team has been including hand-written notes in pretty much all their gift lists, but I think they included it here as well (along with things that can be eaten, plus a gift card) since so many teachers had chimed in to say they didn’t want or need more material items, and that they had enough knickknacks from kids to fill their entire house. Many said a note was just enough and that it felt very special to them.

    • Amy says...

      My impression from this post was that a note is in addition to a gift? As a daughter of a teacher, my mom adored getting thank you notes from her students — words she didn’t hear enough imho! And totally agreed on the mugs, lol, and candles! Our house was overflowing with mugs and candles. As a parent myself now, I give a card and some cash.

    • CM says...

      LG, I don’t know if you’ve looked at the other CoJ gift guides, but most of them include something like, “a note to say ‘I love you’, since that’s all they really want anyway.” I get where your sentiment is coming from, and I’m glad to have enough economic stability that I would always put cash in that thank-you note envelope.
      p.s. I write thank-you notes to my coworkers all the time :)

    • Hilary says...

      Teacher here (and I was interviewed for a past CofJ article on teacher gifts). I think the handwritten note is great for a few reasons.

      1. Teaching is a really thankless job. I LOVE hearing from my kids and parents about how they enjoy my class, my jokes, whatever. I had a long teaching day this week and someone sent me an email with a very specific thank you for me. I got teary-eyed and sent it to my husband.

      2. Not everyone can afford gifts for all of the teachers. My students have 7 teachers. Multiply that by 2-3 for siblings and you’re looking at 20-30 gifts. Even at $5 a gift card, that’s a lot of money. A card lets me know that I was thought of this time of year and some time and effort was put into a note.

    • Kari T. says...

      For what it’s worth, when I saw the thank you note idea I imagined it to be a great addition to a gift card for my daughter’s teacher :) and I imagine those parents who have the means (as not all parents are well paid either) will go the extra step with gifts for teachers in their lives.

    • Joaquina says...

      I work in a low-income neighborhood school and would never expect these families, who already financially-strapped, to spend money on gifts.
      As others have noted here, Cup of Jo often recommends written-heartfelt notes for a variety of people in our lives, not just educators.

    • Cynthia says...

      As a retired teacher, here are some suggestions. I taught middle and high school, which means I didn’t receive all the gifts elementary and preschool teachers do. I have had students give me beautiful cards with handwritten notes, and that means more than anything they could have bought. Even a $5 Target gift card is great. One year a student gave me a gift card to a local supermarket, which was really handy. Give gifts for the classroom, such as kleenex, hand sanitizer, pencils, looseleaf, or any other school supplies. Donate a book to the school library in honor of the teacher, and give a card explaining what you’ve done. Ask the librarian for suggested titles.

    • Just want to say to all the people not understanding why a teacher doesn’t want a drawing and why a tangible gift is appropriate … BECAUSE like the OP said teachers are grossly underpaid. Everywhere. No, if I were a teacher I wouldn’t want your child’s artwork. I would see enough of your child’s artwork through out the school year to receive it in lieu of a gift. Sure it’s sweet gesture coming from a child but if an adults involved, than the adult should know it shouldn’t replace a real tangible present. That’s great if you enjoy receiving children’s artwork but you probably have all your basic needs covered and a well paid job or a partner in a well paid job.

      I love my niece and nephew’s artwork but my sister completely understands when I can’t hold onto all of it. But from a kid I’m not even related to though? No, I don’t want that as a present (and I’m not even a teacher). And yes, I do do presents for the people who provide services in my life. Sometimes they get presents when my family members do not. It can be something like a giftcard for a coffee shop. As a child I remember giving the bus driver a present, the janitor, the piano teacher and that attitude has continued into my adulthood. I give presents to regular delivery drivers (Woolrich socks have always gone down well) and folks like my dance teachers.

  28. Abesha1 says...

    Thanks for the Zingerman’s link. They’re a great company and this year their Santa (on the website, in all their holiday advertising, etc.) is brown! Made me so happy. And we don’t even do Santa!

  29. Mindi says...

    Yes! The sweetest gifts from my students are notes (my dog ate all the fudge a student gave me one year). The best gift I received from a parent was an email asking what I wanted for lunch the next day. I hate making my lunch, so it was like two gifts in one! Someone bringing me a favorite lunch, that I didn’t make or have to rush out to get?! So, so thoughtful.

    • Miriah says...

      As a fellow teacher, YES to this! I am so grateful for notes and gift cards, but I get 25 minutes to eat my lunch each day (if no students comes to ask for help, or I don’t have a meeting) and I leave every day by 7:15 am. It is SUCH a hassle to have healthy lunches ready for myself. It would be so luxurious to get a break from that grind!

    • JennP says...

      A couple years ago, the parents at my school decided to make lunch for us teachers EACH DAY during Teacher Appreciation Week. They even decorated the teachers’ lounge based on the menu. Not only that, but they even knew I was a vegetarian and made sure I had an entree suitable for my dietary needs. Their thoughtfulness and kindness moved not just me, but my colleagues as well.

  30. alexa says...

    A seemingly-impersonal but truly great gift for hard-to-shop-for folks/office Secret Santas/people you don’t know very well: a waterproof bluetooth speaker. It’s something you don’t think to buy for yourself, but once you’re in the shower blasting Spotify or your favorite podcast without getting your phone wet, you’ll wonder how you managed without it. The JBL Clip 3 is awesome, and they go on super sale ($23) at least once before the holidays.

    • Rachel says...

      Thank you! I’ve been having the hardest time figuring out a gift for my niece who turns 16 on Christmas Eve and never stops singing show tunes. This is perfect!

    • Em says...

      oooh yes that does sound like a great gift!

    • Tiffany says...

      THANK YOU! This is the best gift idea! My husband is always trying to listen to podcasts in the shower and precariously perches his phone on a shelf or on the side of the tub. Well, this week, the phone made a leap off the shelf and is still suffering the effects of getting soaked. I am buying this speaker right now!

    • Hilary says...

      YESSS. I received two as gifts and now one resides in our playroom (for jamming out with the toddler of course!) and one is on our patio. I would never have thought to buy one, but we love them!

    • KG says...

      My 20-something brother told me this was the best gift I ever bought him! It was $10 and not great sound quality but he couldn’t tell anyway while he was in the shower!

  31. Jaidy says...

    I’m a teacher and my favs are target and amazon or Barnes and noble gift cards so I can buy books or supplies for my classroom- and yeah, $5 is totally fine. Not everyone drinks coffee or has a taste for chocolate- sorry. A note is lovely- especially on a card bc I save them all and find them years later and smile. I’d be super happy for a donors choose donation or even heifers.org donation too. But please save your money on the stuff – I feel my calling is in Education it does not encapsulate me- ie I have a cat, doesn’t mean I want to wear, have a plastic figurine, calendar or live 24/7 cat- I just have one.

    • Katrina says...

      I always give my kids’ teacher amazon gift cards with the hopes they’ll get something nice for themselves! I always ask if there is any supplies that is needed for the classroom in hopes that their teachers will say yes!
      My MIL was a teacher and I know how much teachers spend on supplies from their own pocket.

    • jane says...

      I’m not a teacher so I don’t have any insight into the phenomenon of those who use their own money to purchase work supplies but it seems to be the norm? This flies in the face of all I understand about financial boundaries.

      Why, as tax-paying Americans, do we allow this? It seems a travesty! Why are teachers not striking about it? In France they strike at the drop of a hat, lol. Really very concerned and wondering.

    • Cynthia says...

      A reply to Jane. Many states do not have teachers’ unions, so those teachers can’t strike. While my foreign language department had a budget for basic supplies, sometimes I saw something I wanted just for myself and my class, so I bought it. In recent years, there’s been an educators’ deduction up to $250 on the Form 1040, and you have to save your receipts. I know it’s a hard concept to understand for those who were never teachers.

    • Anon says...

      To Jaidy and other teachers in the USA – I am so sorry to hear that your hard work and value is so under appreciated in the USA. Education is so important, and teaching is such a tough job. Love to you and I hope a better day will come when you have a government and system where teachers are paid fairly and their schools are supported properly to do the incredibly challenging job you do. Xoxo … (And same goes for public healthcare and the healthcare workers)

    • Angela says...

      Another reply to Jane. Also a teacher and I spend $500-1000/year on my classroom. I have a small school budget (around $100) to spend each year. Beyond that, I typically buy things myself because a) presenting an idea to the principal and getting it approved could take months, or I could go out and spend $5 and use the thing in my lesson tomorrow. Or, b) there just simply isn’t room in the budget for that great new resource and I know before I ask the answer will be no. I see how much those resources will improve my students’ learning and so I feel it is worth it for them

    • Emily says...

      Even in states that do have strong teachers’ unions, striking is not a viable option. Proud Michigan public school teacher and MEA member here. Striking has been illegal for public school teachers in Michigan for many years and even when teachers find work arounds, like the sick outs in Detroit a few years ago, legislation is almost always introduced to make things like that more difficult in the future.

      But I second the gift ideas here. A note of thanks is more than enough, but if you must, supplies for the classroom, generic gift cards like Target or a local grocery store, or an offer of breakfast or lunch is GREATLY appreciated.

    • I have 3 kids in preschool/daycare, kindergarten, and elementary. Besides schools, the older two attend swimming class, music class, mandarin class, marching band and a religion club (very common in Asia whatever your religion might be).
      Our family don’t celebrate christmas (we’re moslems) but come the holiday (christmas/raya/vesakh day/galungan/lunar new year) I always thought about their teachers/coaches who celebrate, and so we ALWAYS give them something. We never do birthday presents as it is forbidden by their school, but for whatever holiday it is, my children will make a handmade card for all their teachers, and I will hand them that along with some cash. I know that for some people it might be awkward, impersonal, even considering rude in some cultures (believe me I thought of that too) but never in years I don’t receive heartfelt messages/thank you notes saying how grateful they are for such a toughtful ‘gift’. If I knew that said teacher/coach well and I knew exactly what they want for the holiday, then I give them that (usually make ups and skincares, or jewelry). For the janitors, drivers, cleaning services and people who make my life easier, I also give cash. I know that sounds like a lot of money to spend, and I’m not super loaded either (but it helps that people surround me celebrate different holiday so that cost being shared in a span of a year). I also said beforehand to all teachers not to feel obligated to keep their cards, they can recycled them or toss them and I won’t be offended. I think what’s important in holiday gift giving is the spirit, and I always believe it’s the thought that count, too.

      As for me and my family, we agreed on a no gift giving policy, but if an extended family insists to give us or my kids gifts (or cash) then that’s okay too.

  32. Jess says...

    A plant/flower of the month club. My mom’s birthday is in December, so I bought her a 3 month subscription (what I could afford at the time). She loved having flowers in the dead of winter & she replanted them outside in the spring, so she has them blooming each year.

    And as a Columbus, OH resident, I love sending pints of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams to friends & family living in different parts of the country.

    • Mary says...

      My other would love plant/flower of the month. Do you have a recommendation for a subscription service?

    • Hilary says...

      What a great idea! I’m a teacher and had a parent bring me a small bouquet for my desk. It made me smile all week and was something I wouldn’t normally treat myself to!

    • Jess says...

      Mary, I just googled “flower of the month club” & picked one that was in my budget, & I also specifically chose flowers that would bloom from a bulb (as opposed to cut flowers) so my gardening-loving mom could transplant them outdoors in spring. Harry & David is the most well-known company. I’ll see if I can find which company I used.

  33. Thank you for mentioning donations as a gift!
    Last year I sent my family a message that I wanted NO gifts, but if they felt generous they could give a donation in my name to my favorite organization. Likewise, I ask them to tell me what gifts they hope to receive (if any), or respond with an organization that I could donate to for them!
    I really prefer to focus on what I have and what I’m grateful for all year, but especially this time of year. Plus, making a donation makes gifting with family members spread throughout the country much easier… ;)

  34. Jade says...

    Just looking at the photo memory game and found out they also make dominoes and tangrams that would be fun for adults too or for pet lovers (can you image dominoes with photos of your dog!)

  35. Katrina says...

    The memory game personalized with photos is such a sweet idea. Although not in time for Christmas, I’m thinking I can get it to give to my Dad who is in assisted care with Alzheimers. He still loves to/can do simple puzzles and games but since some family live across the country it might be a nice reminder :)

    • Sarah says...

      I’m a speech therapist that works with patients with dementia. That is such a great idea. Thank you!

    • jules says...

      that is such a nice idea for him. sending love as you care for him, especially during the holidays <3

  36. Michelle says...

    This year I had trees planted for all of my hard-to-gifters. They all received an e-certificate sharing that they had trees planted in their names and their gifts go to help reforestation efforts, which are particularly meaningful with wildfires and climate change. I supported:
    https://onetreeplanted.org/

    but there are many other programs as well:
    https://www.nationalforests.org/get-involved/tree-planting-programs

    https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/plant-a-billion/

    • Em says...

      Thank you for sharing this Michelle! I ended up doing this for my dad, who is very hard to shop for :)

  37. maywyn says...

    Chocolate dipped figs!
    Your gift lists are a favorite source for ideas.

  38. katie says...

    thank you! so helpful (:

    as a middle school English teacher – please know it’s my job & my joy to teach – no presents necessary! If you’re especially grateful, a note from you or your student is indeed more than enough. One of my favorite things I ever received was a post-it from a student that just said, “thanks for all of it. Sorry I didn’t capitalize the “T’. ”

    HAPPY HOLIDAYS ALL!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is so cute :)

  39. M says...

    For the teachers just get them gift cards to Target, Coffee shop, movies, whatever. I have lots of family and friends who are teachers. They have to throw out all food! The gift cards are a nice treat and if you are tight as Joanna says get a $5 card with a nice card to a coffee shop because that is a nice treat.

    Also with in laws I send food. Nice meals or packages—- Omaha steaks (they have already cooked meals my in laws love the tilapia and steak), or a gift card to a restaurant by them as it’s a nice treat. Also if I miss a holiday we usually send a cake or cheesecake for them to use at their home for Christmas. Many places sell these. Always a hit! Or plan a day when you visit them— everyone likes to have a day or meal planned. In my opinion, we all have enough “stuff” experiences are great.

    • alexa says...

      So true about the gift cards! People think they’re an impersonal gift, but they make so much more sense for teachers. Same goes for your mail carrier/UPS driver/etc. A Starbucks (or local coffee shop gift card) is always appreciated during the cold winter months!

  40. michaela says...

    I have those Smartwool gloves and they are surprisingly great. It never gets super cold where I live, but they really keep my fingers toasty while I’m waiting for the bus on those 35–40-degree days. I also wear a large ring everyday and they stretch around it and haven’t snagged/torn yet (had them one year so far.)

  41. I am a teacher and I 100% agree that a thank you note is the perfect holiday gesture. I save each and every one and read them after particularly discouraging or bleary days.

    I do not consider myself to be a great gift giver but after spending more time with my father-in-law this year and getting to know his quirky sense of humor and love of antiques, I commissioned my sister to do a painting of basset hounds (his favorite dog!) playing poker (one of his favorite activities). It is so delightful and I am so excited to give it to him!

    • Erika Tracy says...

      What a great gift!

    • Kate says...

      That is adorable!

    • Erin Keast says...

      HA! That’s a great gift!

      I can relate to your excitement. I gifted my husband a portrait of our deceased dog two years ago and was more excited to give it to him than any other gift I’ve probably ever received or given!

  42. Meredith says...

    I’m always a little sad when it’s the “complete ____ gift guide”—I love them so much!

  43. Jenn says...

    Those chocolate dipped figs are so delicious and they are available at Trader Joes!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      ooh thanks for the intel!

    • Abesha1 says...

      Can’t compare with Zingerman’s, though! They’re the best!

    • Jenn says...

      Trader Joes sell the same brand – Rabitos Royale. But nab them quick because they only stock them for a short time and they sell out. I first bought them in 2017 as gifts in November and when I came back mid December, the store was out!