23 Gifts for busy people | Gift ideas if you hate shopping

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

But first… 

My gift 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? 

gifts for busy people (bad gift)
Missing from photo: fried bacon. This “ready-made-soup” is a trick! 

A good gift 

  • Is one they don’t already have
  • 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

A custom, hand-drawn portrait… as a superhero. 

gifts for busy people ideas
Image source – Tellinga

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. 

Cool right?!

And the best part is that prices start at $10!!! (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. 

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. 

From The Happiness Equation
Fun charts is what I’m talking about!

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. 

Matching pajamas 

Okay, so this may not seem like a “Mr. FIREescape” type of gift, but bear with me. 

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.) 

Image from Old Navy

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 $15 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. 

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. 

I have an extensive review of the top real estate investing courses here, but I’ve reached out to my favorite one to get my readers an amazing deal. (Follow my link for the mega-discount.) 

But the real gift is that you’ll actually follow through on your commitment. 

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.” 

Roomba 

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! 

Little Robot, you bring me so much happiness! ($230 on Amazon)

Virtual assistant

I kid you not, get a virtual assistant. 

Set up an account on Fiverr 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 on Fiverr 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:

I have small kids, and by far the best gifts are board games. We like to play “surprise slides” which are not too complicated but still require some thinking. 

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.) 

We also like to play “Kings of Tokyo” and “Exploding Kittens” but we change the rules up a bit. 

On that same note, you can get them a chess set or a coloring book. Or 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 these:

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. 

Otherwise, get each other something from the “gift for me” section. That, or alpaca socks. So much better than normal socks. 

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?

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! 

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. 

  1. It’s an activity the kids and the grandparents can do together. 
  2. They probably don’t need or want any other weird stuff. 
  3. Proceeds from this book go to a children’s hospital (in honor of the author’s grandmother.) 

Vitamins 

I have no idea why, but everyone’s obsessed with being healthy these days.  Buy them some chewable vitamin C with zinc. It’s basically a healthy version of Terry’s chocolate orange. 

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: 

Go halfsies on the FIRE through Real Estate course with them (but don’t tell them about the sweet discount you got by being my reader, hehehe.) 

Hire them a virtual assistant on Fiverr and show them the light in dumping annoying tasks. 

Or give them some FIRE-inspiring books: 

Vagabonding and Escape 101 were the two books that set me off on my FIRE journey. 

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:

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! 

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. 

Books

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 UKTRA successful in your spare timeon 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!) 

  1. My first pick is cheap-ish wine – usually can’t go wrong. 
  2. Next best thing, some sort of spices or sauces. 
  3. Next, chocolate or cookies. Maybe jams if they’re fancy. 

TL;DR – Gifts for busy people

  • Best Expensive Gift (for yourself) = Roomba 
  • Best Gift 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.)

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