One year our extended family made a rule for Christmas that no gifts could be NEW. Gifts had to either be made or purchased (and maybe refurbished by us) from a thrift store like Salvation Army or a garage sale. The gifts were really interesting and it was so much more meaningful and thoughtful. It was our best Christmas ever. And what a nice feeling to not be trolling for parking places in packed shopping malls, wandering around like a zombie looking for “something”. Oh and it probably saved us a lot of money as well.
That's a great policy. "It's the thought that counts" is a cliché, and I'm not proposing that we should be skinflints in giving to folks we love, but hunting for or making a gift for someone if a way of giving a lot of thought, of giving some brain time to who the recipient is and what he means to us.
The perfect gift is something that could not have come from anyone else, and could not have gone to anyone else. That matters far, far more than how much you spent on it, which is too often the focus.
A close friend and I used to joke constantly about pandas and pirates, for reasons I won't get into. For her birthday, I went to Michael's (a craft store, in case they're not everywhere) and a few other stores, picking up a small panda figurine and some modeling clay that sets solid at room temperature. I crafted a pirate hat, an eye patch, a sash, a big hoop earring, and a scar on the panda. I found a cutlass from an action figure, cut it with an X-Acto, and glued it in place so it looked like that panda was holding it in his teeth. It was waiting for her when she arrived at work i the morning.
I spent a few bucks, and a few hours. The pirate panda was far from being the most lavish or most expensive gift I've ever given, but it was by far the best. Because it was the most personal. I try to remember that any time I give any gift. I don't buy greeting cards any more -- I have the hardware and the skills to make them, and to send a card that could not have come from anyone else or gone to anyone else.
Little kids want the hot toys. Older kids love the cold, hard cash. But for grown-ups, it really is the thought that counts -- it's easier to slap a credit card on a counter than to put in the time and effort into something unique, That difficulty makes it more precious.