I have too many socks.
So I’m writing a guide with gifts for busy people full of gift ideas I’d both want to give and receive.
Over the years each gift-giving holiday has become a month-long saga of decision fatigue.
- I don’t want to spend a bunch of money on some dumb arts and crafts that you won’t know where to put.
- I don’t want to give you more lame socks if you already have a bunch of socks.
- I don’t want to give you some cheap gadgets if I know you’d prefer the expensive version, but I don’t want to buy you the expensive version if you won’t use it.
And more than anything, I don’t want to be stuck in some decision gridlock about the best way to show friends and family I care.
So this guide should hit everyone you might have to shop for, starting with
- Great gifts for busy people in any category
- Then gifts you should give yourself 😉
- Your kids
- Your spouse
- Your parents and extended family
- FIRE-minded friends
- Worky friends
- All other friends
My gifts for busy people criteria
1 – It’s actually a good gift and not a trick.
What’s a trick?
I got this “gourmet soup mix” last year.
Sounds perfect, right? I hate wasting time… I like to be healthy… just add water and you have an easy, healthy meal.
Well it took me almost a year to use it! Why?
Because it needed a bunch of extra ingredients – the kind you don’t keep around the house – and soaking overnight. WTF is that?
A good gift
- Is one they don’t already have
- Doesn’t require “homework”
- They’ll actually use and enjoy.
So it’s not “an ugly sweater” either!
2 – Values your time
I’m not sending you on some wild goose chase. These gifts are in-stock (at publish date), are researched, and you’ll get them within a week.
The best part, in many cases you can get the same type of gift for multiple people from just one site and still keep it original. Minimal decision-making, maximum present-kudos.
(And if you REALLY value your time, go straight to the “gifts for yourself” section!)
3 – Good price points, but still thoughtful
I didn’t become Mr. FIREescape by being Mr. SPENDYpants. At the same time, these gifts are well-researched and original. I’m quite proud of myself, actually!
Cool gifts for busy people in any category
1. 3D World Map For the Wall
This is kind of a “big gift” but it’s ultra-cool, so it made it on my list. My family has always been into travel, and having a world map right on the wall just sparks the conversation of all the awesome places we’ve seen. It will definitely ignite a sense of adventure in your kids.
And personally, I like that it’s customizable and minimalist-looking, and you can get a world map, just the USA, or some specific cities.
2. A custom, hand-drawn portrait… as a superhero.
I just recently came across Tellinga, and this is the coolest gift ever! You send them a photo and they hand-draw a custom postcard and send it in the mail.
And it’s not some cheesy trace-job either. They draw you in any context you choose! Want your kids to be superheroes? Check. Want to see you and your wife as those blue guys from Avatar? Check.
You can even order a comic book-style saga and they’ll mail each postcard one-by-one.
And the best part is that prices start at $20!!! (And their turnaround time is pretty quick.)
Imagine getting a postcard of yourself as an astronaut riding a unicorn (at least that’s what I’ll be ordering for my kids.) Best. Gift. Ever.
3. Cookbook (by Snoop Dogg)
Cookbooks are something I’d give my parents as a gift without realizing how horribly offensive that was.
Now I’ve discovered Snoop Dogg’s cookbook and I’m a changed man. This book is a good gift.
(And it’s a good-enough gift for busy people until Mr.FIREescape drops his cookbook. 😉 )
You can click on the link to actually peruse through some of Snoop Dogg’s recipes!
4. The happiness equation book
Can you tell I’m a nerd? The word “Happiness” didn’t really do it for me, but “equation”… Well, hello there.
This book – obviously about being happy – is easy to read and is relevant to everyone. From the high performer CEO to the lazy teenager. From the stay-at-home parent to the travel-three-days-a-week sales rep.
The author actually makes fun charts and doodles that’s totally up my alley too. Like this one about confidence.
My only issue – one of his rules is “never retire”. But still… it’s the next-best-alternative until MY book “the retire now equation” comes out.
5. Matching pajamas
Okay, so this may not seem like a “Mr. FIREescape” type of gift, but bear with me. It’s the perfect gift for busy people.
You go on one site, buy a thing for each person, and that’s it. You’re done.
You can get matching pajamas from Gap, Old Navy, and even Amazon. (And you can even get a set for babies and pets!)
No thinking. No price-comparing. The only awkward part is guessing people’s sizes. But apparently, people love stuff like this. (At least that’s what my wife says.)
6. Paint-by-numbers for adults
Do you have people in your life with too much time on their hands? I know. Annoying.
But paint by numbers is for people like that. It gives them something to do – AND they get a thing to show for it. (These pictures are pretty nice, and there are LOTS of options.)
PLUS I betcha they don’t already have one!
Pretty nice! And under $10 on Amazon
A gift for yourself
If you’re thinking about what to get other people, you should think about what you want for yourself.
I treat gift-giving holidays as an excuse to get myself something I really want. And the thing I REALLY want is to generate more time.
7. A biweekly cleaner
My wife and I go back and forth about the need for a cleaner. On the one hand – we can just clean our own house. On the other – WHY?
Having a cleaner not only frees up your time, it makes you value your time.
Think about it. If someone downstairs is getting a hundred bucks to dust your shelves and wash your floors, you know you’ll do what it takes to make it count.
Plus it will force you to maintain a neat-ish place so that you don’t have to go through the manic of “clean before the cleaner gets here.”
If you’re not ready to take the plunge and hire a cleaner, at least get a robot vacuum.
I bought this for my wife on Valentine’s Day (I know, I’m a hopeless romantic) and the return on investment has been at least 500% … in happiness.
Seriously, my wife’s only pet peeve is that I drag dust around the house and now I don’t have to hear “why are you dragging dust around the house?” anymore. Robot vacuum = happiness.
Plus it picks up the cheerios my toddlers drop on the floor. So it’s kind of like having a dog – but cheaper!
Update: Yes, I still love my Roomba, but I’m ready to upgrade!
I’m getting a Roomba that self-empties; and maps your house. The one I had before just wandered around and bumped into walls and furniture. No sweat off my back, but it’s kind of loud so you can’t run it overnight. The new one is like a quiet floating angel.
If you want an upgrade, but not that much of an upgrade, I’m also super into the Roborock E4 Vacuum (for about $240.)
The coolest feature is that it mops. Also, if it has to stop midway through the job, it will come back to where it left off. That’s pretty awesome, and it costs as much as the original Roomba.
The Roomba that self-empties and maps your house (around $750)
The Roborock E4 vacuum that mops! ($240)
9. Virtual assistant
I kid you not, get a virtual assistant.
I have a full guide on why you need one and how to hire here. Actually, a virtual assistant is one of the best gifts for busy people period. Set up an account on Virtual Staffing Solutions and hire someone to do something. You’ll be amazed by how powerful it makes you feel. Need to…
- Create a powerpoint?
- Set up a business profile on Facebook?
- Cold-email HR managers offering your consulting?
There’s someone who’d gladly do it.
(Ooh, and maybe next year, you can get your assistant to do all your shopping. Just send them this guide 😉
The best part though, once you start you begin to realize how many tasks you can just delegate.
It’s kinda like hiring a cleaner. You could do it yourself, but… why?
For your kids:
If you’re shopping for your own kids you probably already have some idea of what you want to give them, but if you’re shopping for someone else’s kids – follow these three DON’Ts:
- Don’t get something huge. Yes, the kids will love the giant inflatable bouncy castle, but the parents will curse you for essentially turning their living room into a shrine to you.
- Don’t get something noisy. Noisy things are annoying.
- Don’t get something that gives “homework” to the parents. “All it needs is a few screws, a bracket, and an adapter.” Is a recipe for “we’ll never be playing with this.”
- Also be a good friend and provide the batteries if the toy needs them. Otherwise you’re just giving a gift of disappointment.
10. Board Games
Board games are great because they
- Make kids follow rules and take turns
- Require logic and planning
- Can be either calming or rowdy (depending on who else is playing.)
11. Chess Set
If those kids are ready to upgrade from board games – help them grow up to be calculated little geniuses. Get them a chess set.
12. Playdough Set
My kids are basically eruptions of energy, and nothing gets them to slow down and focus like playdough. It’s just so satisfying.
As a tip, get a set that has a bunch of tools and molds but not too many colors. They’ll all converge to a brown-gray mush anyway.
13. Custom Name Puzzle
A custom name puzzle is a nice gift and keepsake for babies and toddlers.
It’s unique, cute, thoughtful, and will help the kids learn their letters.
14. Toy Piano
Okay, so this goes in the face of the “don’t get a noisy gift” rule, but I don’t care! Look at how cute this is! And it’s got a little microphone.
Secretly, I want this because I’ve been kicked out of every karaoke night I’ve gone to, and now I get to live vicariously through my family. They wouldn’t dare kick me out while I play and sing “the ring of FIRE.”
(Toy Piano, $35)
15. Science Kit
Every parent wants their kids to love science. This is a kit of tools for 20 science experiments designed to be like a magic show. They’re fun, super-engaging, and will spark a curiosity to learn more.
(National Geographic Science Magic Kit, $30)
Like the idea of “STEM” gifts, but aren’t keen on the science kit? That’s cool. Give the kid an abacus.
These are actually really cool for kids of any age. Babies like to just play with it, and kids start to develop their own sense of “mental math.”
(Melissa and Doug Abacus, $12)
17. Coloring Book
Coloring books are a nice, cheap, easy gift for kids of every age. You can even get them this “coloring book” that works with a brush and water – they can do that while their grandparents paint by numbers. 😉
For your spouse
If you two already have a Roomba, I’m out of ideas. Except…
18. Speaking of games…
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever asked your spouse?
Being weird is my jam, but I don’t think I’ve ever asked “What’s one thing you’ve tried that you’d never try again?”
If you’ve never asked that either, you should try a “conversation starter” game like this one for under $20.
For parents, grandparents, and extended family
Do you remember reaching that stage where you no longer wanted some dumb, kitchy gifts cluttering up your house? I’m pretty sure your parents and extended family reached that point a long time ago.
And yet, we still buy them presents to show we care. Which can be doubly annoying if:
- You don’t want to spend a lot of money, knowing they have no use for an artisan cheese board (even if it’s regifted.)
- You don’t want to be the only Mr. Cheapo who gifts a second-hand Sudoku book.
So what else is there?
19. A Book About Loving Grandparents
Special Day Way – this is a children’s book about loving your grandparents, and it is such a good gift on so many levels.
- It’s an activity the kids and the grandparents can do together.
- They probably don’t need or want any other weird stuff.
- Proceeds from this book go to a children’s hospital (in honor of the author’s grandmother.)
As an update, I also recommend Paul McCartney’s two children’s books about an adventure-loving Grandude. There’s Hey Grandude! – which actually reminds my kids of their own thrill-seeking grandpa, and there’s also Grandude’s Green Submarine. Which involves Nandude (the grandma.) You can get one for each grandparent if you want.
(And yes, I’m ashamed to admit that it took me a few reads to get Paul McCartney’s Yellow Submarine reference.)
20. Arts and Crafts From Your Kids
Did you know that your kids can actually serve as Christmas elves? Buy some Dollar store wooden ornaments and let your kids paint them. It’s meaningful but not overwhelming.
21. 3D Wood Puzzle
I’d only recommend this for someone who has time on their hands (ahem, retired,) but you have to admit – this 3D wooden puzzle is pretty cool.
It’s actually a DIY mechanical music box, and there are a few variations like flying airplanes or twirling carousels. This “starry night” is my favorite though.
I have no idea why, but everyone’s obsessed with being healthy these days. So buy them some vitamin C with zinc. It’s basically a healthy version of Terry’s chocolate orange.
23. A twist on photos
Gone are the days of simple photos and picture frames. So long. You’ve had a good run.
The new thing is photos in some sort of usable form. Think puzzles, calendars, pillows… you know… usable stuff.
Actually, what I really like are photo books. They’re fairly unimposing and nice to flip through year-after-year.
But wait? Aren’t those expensive?
Yes. Printing custom stuff and getting it shipped costs a lot of money. Unless you use groupon.
This way your gift looks expensive but is actually quite cheap. (Just double-check shipping costs – they’re likely extra.)
But wait! There’s more!
Make a book of your kids’ pictures and order the same one for each set of grandparents! Huzzah! Two gifts in one!
For your FIRE-minded friends
Now we’re talking!
First of all, send them my “Why I’m the LeBron of FIRE” article for some super-motivation. That’s all the gift you need.
You can also fuel their FIRE-mindset.
24. Course about investing in rentals
It’s no secret that I built my wealth by owning rental properties, and it’s not something I want to keep just to myself either. I want EVERYONE to reach financial independence.
The best way to jump in is to just JUMP IN. But if that was so easy, you would have an income-generating property already. So the next best thing is to commit to this dream but start by taking a course. You’ll get mentorship by people who are where you want to go, SAVING YOU, time and money you’d waste with trial and error.
But the real gift is that you’ll actually follow through on your commitment.
Or… Hire them a virtual assistant on Virtual Staff Finder and show them the light in dumping annoying tasks.
Honestly, anything from the “gifts for yourself” section would be awesome too.
25. Or give them some FIRE-inspiring books:
Vagabonding is about slow travel, I know, Covid makes travel a bummer, but that’s okay because buggering off for a long time takes lots of planning AND convincing your boss to give you extended time off – which you’ll learn how to do in Escape 101.
(You can also send them a copy of my forthcoming cookbook when it comes out. It will be a time-saver)
For your employees or employed friends.
If you have work friends (or friends who work) here are some gifts they’ll appreciate:
26. Standing desk
I have a standing desk at home (and had one at the office) and I swear it makes me more productive. (As opposed to when I work on the couch and somehow end up napping.)
This one’s not as wide as I would like, but it’s versatile and surprisingly cheap for $70! (Update: It’s currently on sale for $30!)
27. Mugs and Cups
Is it cheesy? Yes.
But it’s the sort of thing you can keep at the office and show off your personality. Plus they’re relatively small and actually useful. So go for it. (We love this Lego mug!)
Everyone likes books. Unless they can’t read. In which case they like audiobooks which are pretty much the same thing.
As a manager, I love the book Dream Teams which teaches the makeup of great teams (from political to corporate to the WuTang Clan) and how you can strike that dynamic at work.
If you’re a manager, print out a copy of “10 ways to become ULTRA successful in your spare time” on red paper and place it gingerly on your employees’ desks. I’m sure that gift will be the talk of the office well into the new year!
(And in your case, don’t send them directly to my blog. You don’t want all your employees planning their early retirement over the holidays!)
For close friends, neighbors, and everyone else
Give them what you’d want for yourself. No, not the oculus rift (unless you’re getting it for them so you can play with it at their house instead of messing with yours.)
And not the Rumba – that’s too expensive and could probably be interpreted the wrong way.
And not a “usable photo” of yourself – because they’ll give you one of themselves next year.
My favorite thing to receive are things that are consumable.
- You get to actually use it and then get rid of it
- You don’t have to keep up a charade about displaying it when your friends come over
- That’s it
Oh, but don’t give them a “gourmet soup mix” that’s actually a trick. That’s a bad gift. (Unless you’re regifting it, in which case Bravo!)
29. My first pick is cheap-ish wine – usually can’t go wrong. (Frugal tip: Add a “custom label” and then they really won’t know what a cheapo you are!)
30. Next best thing, some sort of spices or sauces.
31. Next, chocolate or cookies. Maybe jams if they’re fancy.
TL;DR – Gifts for busy people
- Best Expensive Gift (for yourself) = Roomba
- Best Gift for busy people otherwise – wine
- Best cheap-ish but original gift – a hand-drawn saga from Tellinga
- Worst gift – artisanal soup and socks (unless they’re alpaca… the socks, not the soup.)