The Gift of Choice


We were in Michigan at Thanksgiving and my mother-in-law asked me if there was anything I wanted for Christmas.

“As long as it’s not a gift certificate,” she added.

I come from a long line of people who are difficult to shop for.  We bought my mom’s dad a carton of cigarettes every Christmas for more than a decade because – well, that’s all he wanted.  My Grandma and Grandpa Francis stopped staying abreast of current trends around 1942.  Anything made after that year was usually clucked over at Christmastime then chucked in the closet in their back bedroom.

In my case, there are things I want, but they would never be a good gift.  I’d be excited to get my camcorder repaired.  However, I would be the only one.  Wish lists don’t seem to work well either.  I have a wish list on Amazon and I update it once a year.  Since it helpfully lets me know when someone has bought me something, it doesn’t get used much.

Gift certificates seem to be the gift equivalent to making the best of a bad situation.  However, I don’t feel that way.  I don’t really want to spend a lot on dental bills or car repairs, but those seem to have a much higher priority when I look to see where I can blow my paychecks.  I don’t feel like I get to spend a lot on myself.  I “splurge” and get the Mega-Gulp sized Diet Pepsi at the neighborhood gas station, but even then I get it for half-price because I wash and refill the plastic cups.

A gift certificate essentially forces me to buy something I wouldn’t normally buy for myself.  To me, that’s the best part.  I like the fact that I can go on-line or in a store and know that – if I wanted to – I could just pick something out and throw it in the cart.  I wouldn’t have to think about it.  I wouldn’t have to worry about it.  I wouldn’t have to feel vaguely guilty.  There have been many years that I’ve held onto gift certificates for months, relishing in that feeling of potential selfishness.

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