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Push Me , Pull You

I’ve been reading your site for several days now, browsing through the archives, and I LOVE your site. One thing I seem to be picking up on in gift giving is that most of your readers don’t like to give gift cards for presents, reasons being that they’re too impersonal.

But with my birthday coming up soon, I just have to ask. Is it ok to ask for gift cards, if that’s what I really want? DH and I live in a tiny apartment with very little room for “extras”, and neither one of us can stand too much clutter. I love to read and listen to music, so a couple years ago hubby bought me an iPod, and then last year I received a nook. This has been really great for us, because I was able to download my music collection to my computer and I’m trying to build up my collection of e-books, so I can get rid of more of my physical books. Since them ,whenever someone asks what to buy me for an occasion, I ask for gift cards to either iTunes or Barnes and Noble.

My family is perfectly ok with giving me gift cards, as they understand my reasons for wanting them, and they know my crazy passion for books and music. My MIL is being difficult, though, as she has always thought gift cards were tacky gifts and showed a lack of thought for the recipient. DH and I have tried to explain to her why I’m asking for them, and she’s seen firsthand how small our apartment is.

My dilemma comes from the fact that MIL always wants us to tell her what to buy for us for birthdays or Christmas. I’m not into clothes or jewelry, and my only hobbies are reading or listening to music, so I can’t really thing of anything else to ask for. She keeps asking me to tell her what to get me for my birthday next month besides a gift card, but I’d feel really guilty asking for something that I know I wouldn’t use.

Should I continue to tell her that a gift card is something that I really want and would use, or should I try to come up with something else to tell her? Please help! Thanks! 0226-12


Information about what one prefers to receive as a gift should be “pull” information, not “push”.   By that I mean that under no circumstances should any take the initiative to tell others what it is they want to be given as gifts.   However, if the giver takes the initiative to ask, i.e. “pulling the information” from you, it is perfectly fine to suggest a suitable gift.  As long as your friends and family are asking you for your gift preferences, replying to them that you’d prefer gift cards to buy ebooks won’t land you in Etiquette Hell.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Elizabeth February 28, 2012, 8:25 pm

    Maybe this is just my opinion, but I think there are different levels of gift cards. Visa gift cards and the like are essentially cash, but if someone takes the time to go to a store they know the receipent will like and buy a gift card, that’s very thoughtful. One of my biggest hobbies is sewing. I always appreciate it when my relatives buy me gift cards for fabric stores, since they would have no way of knowing what kind of fabric I want or need for my next project. At the same time, the fact that they made the special effort to go the fabric store shows they know me and were thinking about what I would like.

    Whenever I get a gift card, I make a point of using it, or at least part of it, promptly and telling the giver I what I purchased and how much I enjoyed it.

  • Edhla February 28, 2012, 11:39 pm

    Agree with Admin in that if they ask you what you want, it’s fair to assume they actually want to know what you actually do want. If that’s gift cards, ask. 🙂

  • Sugaryfun February 29, 2012, 2:32 am

    I’m in the same boat as the OP with a relative. I always find it a bit awkward if people ask what I want for a present and then don’t like anything I suggest. I don’t want to just say something I don’t want because that’s what they want to buy me (eg. this person keeps suggesting buying me perfume, which I can’t wear due to allergies, and handbags, which I don’t use when really I’d rather have a gift card to a bookstore too, or a charity gift like an Oxfam goat).

    I agree that it’s nice to make a point of telling the giver what you bought with the gift card and how much you like it as well as saying thankyou.

  • Vicki February 29, 2012, 1:15 pm

    In this specific case, it sounds like it’s time to say something like “you know I would use a gift card for digital music, but if you have something else in mind, that would be great.” Or “You don’t have to buy ne anything, the important thing is that I know you want me to have a happy birthday.” Don’t let her (or anyone) turn their “I want to buy you something” into a chore you have to do. (If you start coming up with other ideas, she may start finding reasons to veto those, too.)

  • Asharah February 29, 2012, 1:55 pm

    @Cat, you have my deepest sympathies over your mother.

  • JGM February 29, 2012, 3:55 pm

    I have mixed feelings about gift cards. I usually end up giving my parents gift cards for their favorite restaurants or for a movie theater for birthdays and Christmas because at this point in their lives, they don’t really need more stuff cluttering up the house and the best thing I can give them is a night out. However, I feel like giving gift cards for stores or such to someone with whom I am very close seems like a cop-out.

  • Mabel February 29, 2012, 10:47 pm

    Ugh! This sounds like my mother. She likes to “surprise” people and shop and never asks, ever. She’s always giving me junk I have no room or use for. I prefer gift cards to my favorite stores because it’s like a free shopping spree, and obviously I will get something I have made room for or will actually like. I don’t think that is impersonal at all. 🙂

    I think it’s okay to say you would prefer a gift card. You might tell her something like “I really like all the possibilities I get with a gift card! I would just love it.” Let her know that it in fact does make you very happy to have that experience. If she’s ignoring the fact that the two of you don’t have space for presents, then that’s just being selfish. Getting someone a gift is about the person you’re getting it for, not about shopping.

  • Lady Antipode March 1, 2012, 12:10 am

    Bethy has the right idea – she can give you a gift card with instructions to buy a particular book or album with it.

    My mother bought me wine glasses once, from another state. She sent me gift card for the department store, with the details of the glasses she wanted me to have. All I had to do was go in and pick them up. It saved shipping a fragile item, and she was still able to give me what she wanted to.

  • Jessica March 1, 2012, 3:06 am

    A gift card can still be very personal, if you get the right one. I also love to read, and when I get sent gift cards for my favourite book store, I feel so happy that my family knows what is important to me. It’s impractical for them to purchase books for me, as I have a lot and most family members can’t keep track of what I have and don’t have. Next time she asks, just say that you are very grateful that she wants to get you something personal, and gently explain why a gift card would mean so much to you. If she still insists, maybe suggest that she can pick an e-book out to purchase for you.

  • Wink-n-Smile March 1, 2012, 10:52 am

    If she asks what you want, and you know she hates to give gift cards, but prefers to choose actual items, why not ask her for a flash drive with some of your desired music and/or books loaded on it? That means something physical (yet tiny, and dead useful) to unwrap, and you get the music and books you want. Also, it’s great for back-up of your electronic files.

  • Jen March 2, 2012, 2:24 pm

    My favourite two solutions for this with my family. I don’t like giving gift cards, but I also don’t like giving clutter.
    1) “Experience” gifts. I find some experience I think they would enjoy, like dinner, admission to a museum, a trip, and either give them passes for that or take them on the experience with me.
    2) Food gifts. This is particularly popular with my friends, come to think of it. A small bottle of something decadent, like a truffle-infused balsamic vinegar, unusual spices, or high quality pastas, fruits, teas, or other things that you wouldn’t treat yourself to.

  • erica September 10, 2012, 1:52 pm

    I too love to receive gift cards.

    I received a Hallmark one for christmas last year and just took my son to buy a gift for his girlfriend with it. It was a double win for me. I loved the card. it saved me money when it came time to shell out my money for a gift for someone else…kinda a more appropriate type of regifting.

  • Shnon October 4, 2012, 4:30 am

    Presents, ah the bane of so many. I know I dread my birthday and Christmas when it comes to my bf’s family, as they always give me household items (cooking pans and linen) EVERY year after the first two years my guy and I dated (5 years of linen starts to get a bit cluttery). It wouldn’t bug me if he got some too, or it was a gift to both of us at Christmas, but its hard to smile away and not to be annoyed seeing him get things for his miniature modelling hobby, new clothes and other things of the like while I get a comforter for our bed… especially when they ask for a list every year, then promptly ignore it, am I being too grumpy about this?

  • NostalgicGal December 26, 2012, 5:08 am

    @ Shnon
    I became family cook when I started Junior High, I produced lunch and dinner… I’d been such for three years and my Mom’s birthday came up, and Dad bought her a new blender.(old one had died a hard death) I looked at it and said “Oh Gee, thanks Dad, I appreciate you getting a new one for me to use.” Honest truth. It had her name on it but she no longer did any cooking…. three days later we went to Big City for shopping and he bought her something else! Moral: old habits may die hard. Try maybe giving the family a combined list of items that would be used jointly (with BF involved in making and presenting list) and insist this is what WE want. If not just smile.