It's December. Have you started your holiday shopping yet?
Judy has… or at least she tried. When we chatted yesterday, she confessed that she was having a completely new and different kind of holiday challenge this year: with her kids and grandkids all over the country, her maternal instincts have kicked into hyperdrive. In short, she wants to be the one who will make this odd—and possibly lonely—holiday special for everyone on her list. Despite seemingly unending options, nothing seemed good enough. She couldn't find the 'perfect' gift. By the end of Cyber Monday, she was a wreck. The few gift items she had managed to purchase felt imperfectly suited to the recipients. She wants each person she loves to receive a gift to help them end 2020 with a smile.
When she sought my advice, my first words of wisdom were that trying to make everyone happy would make her miserable. Frantically shopping, even online, for the 'perfect' gift is certainly not the answer. It seemed to help, at least a little. Then I offered Judy something that I hoped could put all her gifting worries to rest: my very own, very official 'Best Gifts List for 2020.'
Who needs another 'best gifts' list, you ask? After all, every paper, website, and media outlet has a list (or even a list of lists) to help you find a gift for everyone. Personally, I love Wirecutter's Most Popular Gifts of the Year, the Washington Post's Holiday Gift Guide, and The Gift Guide from the Los Angeles Times (which is all about LA-themed and sourced gifts). They're a great place to start.
But my list is different. And (according to me!), it's better.
Why? First, I am a lover of lists. I devour lists of best books, best TV shows, best movies, and best recipes. If there's a 'best' list out there, I've probably seen it. My list is better because I'm a huge believer that, in the words of the great Jonathan Clements: "We place too high a value on possessions and not enough on experiences." (For more on Jonathan and his ideas about money, read my blog post Money really can buy happiness!) Think back to last December. What made you happiest: the things you received or the experiences you had? I'm guessing it was your experiences that brought you the greatest joy. Cooking with your family. A laughter-filled party with friends. A concert or a movie night with your grandkids. (In my case, it was a Caribbean cruise with the Klein clan). Unlike the many things you could buy during holiday sales, creating memories stands out as the 'perfect' gift. So you won't find many 'things' on my list unless they are things that create experiences.
So here it is: My Very Official Best Gifts List for 2020! Some ideas are uniquely my own. Others are gratefully stolen from some of the best lists I stumbled across in recent weeks. I hope at least a couple of them help make your gifts ‘perfect' and your holidays bright!
For the COVID-Inspired Cook (who may need a few tips in the kitchen!)
The LA Times Back to Basics Zine
This limited-run, 32-page zine, includes a collection of basic cooking techniques and easy ways to use them through a story and an accompanying recipe. Many recipes are inspired by readers' real-life cooking dilemmas and questions, while others are skills any home cook should master.
For the Money-Minded Reader
The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth Greed and Happiness
The connection between behavior and financial success is one of my pet topics, and Morgan Housel tackles that and much more in this easy to read book. In 19 short stories, he explores the strange ways people think about money and teaches how to make better sense of one of life's most important topics: money.
For the Lifetime Learner
MasterClass took online learning to a whole new level long before the pandemic hit, and the series just keeps getting better. If anyone on your list is interested in learning… well… anything, there is probably a MasterClass that fits the bill. Taught by some of the world's most celebrated experts in their fields (think Dr. Jane Goodall, Meryl Streep, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Wolfgang Puck, and Annie Leibovitz, just to name a few!), these classes may be the perfect antidote to 2020.
For the Traveler (who is sooooo ready for a post-pandemic adventure!)
Airbnb Gift Card
Cost: From $25
The pandemic has kept most everyone grounded for almost a year, which has anyone who was born to travel ready to pack up and run—anywhere! Not only has Airbnb been touted as one of the safest ways to travel until the virus is finally behind us, but it's a gift that can help fuel the post-pandemic dreams of your favorite nomad.
For the Music Lover
Joni Mitchell Archives, Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963-1967) CD Set
Cost: $48.90 (on Amazon)
Whether you are giving to someone who already knows (and loves) Joni Mitchell, or someone who may have never heard the magic of her voice before, this newly released five-disc collection includes radio appearances, live performances, home recordings, and demos that are sure to hit all the right notes.
For the Political Junkie (who loves a great read!)
A Promised Land by Barack Obama
Cost: $24 (on Amazon)
OK, yes, that's me. And yes, I read this already—and I loved it. Barack shares his story and his fascinating path from his earliest days as a community leader and activist through his presidency. In true Barack style, his memoir is personal, emotional, and inspiring. Truly a must-read. And though I read the book, the audiobook is read by the man himself. I expect it's wonderful.
For the friend or family member in need!
Cost: From $1
I love financial security, and it's a blessing to lift a financial burden or plant seeds that will grow. Monetary gifts are gifts that keep giving, and they may be the ‘perfect’ gift in a year full of challenges—including rising unemployment. If you give directly, remember that the annual gift exclusion amount is $15,000 per person, per donee. You can also give indirectly, which means you pay someone's medical or tuition bills directly to the institution. Other ideas: contribute to a 529 for your kids or grandkids, open an investment account for a teen to teach them about the market, or give a low-income earner cash to fund a Roth IRA. It's OK for charity to begin at home. The key to successfully giving to those you love is knowing the difference between helping and enabling.
There it is! During COVID, shared experiences are hard to come by, but I hope my suggestions will help you find a way to bring joy to the people you love—even if you can't be together. And if my ideas inspire a 'best gifts list' of your own, please share! I would love to hear how you're making the season sparkle this year!