Holiday Gift Guide #3: For The People on Your List Who Are Impossible to Shop For

(We're not naming names. Couples, difficult family members, your boss... you know.)

Shopping during the holidays is a mixed bag. There are some people I love to get gifts for (stay tuned for my gift guide inspired by Meg, coming soon). And then there are the people for whom finding a present feels like pulling teeth. While I’m not going to name names, you know exactly who and what I’m talking about. The couples’ gifts. The group gifts. The people in your family who are impossible to please, and refuse to ever give you a list. The people in your family who give you the insane unhelpful overly specific list. Your new boss. Your cousin’s girlfriend. The list goes on.

It’s especially hard when you’re trying to impress someone with your gift, and just don’t know them well enough to do that. (Your boss mentioned that she likes… the color green? One time? You think?) So today we’ve rounded up a list of low-effort holiday gifts that are sure to please and impress everyone you need to buy for (fun or not). Because you have more important things to do than stalk a hundred different Pinterest pages right now, like perfecting your mulled cider recipe.

For this guide, we’ve combined super easy low-effort gifts (because you really don’t need to be pulling out all the stops for your cubicle-mate) with more DIYish combo gifts for when you want to put a little more effort into things. Whenever I’m shopping on a budget (and even when I’m not), I like to put a handful of smaller items together, slap some cellophane around them (if I’m feeling inspired), and give theme gifts. It always makes me feel like I’m putting that personal touch on a present, without breaking the bank. (And without going the full DIY route where I end up crying into my paintbrush because I decided I wanted to hand paint “Starry Night” on a pair of wine glasses for my mom. Not that I’ve ever done that.)


According to Colin Cowie, fancy ice is all the rage right now (I can’t even make this stuff up). Whether you agree with that or not, this whisky wedge is a great novelty glass and ice mold combo, and it’s new enough to the market that your friends probably don’t already have one. Pair it with a fancy tray and your favorite booze, or with a few nips and a set of bitters to encourage an evening of craft cocktails next time you’re over their house. For the non-whiskey-drinkers (or if you just think Colin Cowie is full of it), this highball glass is cheeky, and best of all, only $8. Complete the set with the first and third designs in the series. (Whiskey wedge, $14.95. Tray, $14.99. Bitters, $11.67.)


Every year, my mom used to eagerly look forward to exactly one Christmas present: the state park pass my grandmother was bound to give her. It gave her access to every beach in Maine, and it was just one of those gifts she was never going to get herself, but she would use the heck out of if someone else bought it. Which is sort of the secret sauce of every low-effort gift. Bonus: If you do something like this for a group, it also gives them an easy way to hang out together, which is like a gift within a gift. Bonding plus beach time? Win. (Check your local government for park passes, prices vary.)

Do you live somewhere cool? Does your gift recipient live in a different state? Give them a taste of something they can’t get nearby. I did this combo for New York, because this is the first year I won’t be staying in the city during the holidays, and I miss it so (and you just can’t get good bagels like these on the pony farm). But you could easily do this for your hometown by putting together a few local favorites. BBQ from Texas? Wine from California? APW contributor Elisabeth told me that she once sent her father a full Maine lobster dinner for Christmas, which makes me think you can ship anything if you put your mind to it. (Vintage New York postcards, $14.95. Half dozen Zabar’s bagels, $9.98. Coffee cup, $15.00.)

Some people are just impossible to shop for. As in no interests, doesn’t even have a favorite color kind of impossible. But if they’ve got a car, well, car’s gotta get washed sometime. Substitute car washes for house cleanings, movie tickets, and any other gift certificates that are guaranteed to get used. For extra thoughtfulness, try and find the location closest to where your recipient lives. (Prices vary.)

Did anyone else get those giant tubs of popcorn every holiday season? I don’t know about you, but I used to look forward the delivery of that tin more than my actual presents. (Caramel corn for breakfast? Don’t mind if I do!) Food gifts are especially great for people who complain about not needing another thing in their home. (The magic of eating something is that then it’s gone. Ta-da!) If you know the recipient well enough to be familiar with any dietary restrictions (and those restrictions don’t include meat), this breakfast basket is filled with wonderful things like bacon and more bacon. ($34.95)

If your recipient isn’t a meat eater (or a pork eater), not to worry. There are food gift baskets for practically every palate and dietary restriction, from cheese baskets to kosher gifts and more. Google is your friend here. Don’t be afraid to use it. For your Kosher friends, Zabar’s offers more than just bagels, like this Babka and Rugelach crate. Take it from someone who knows, New York pastries are impossible to replicate and wildly appreciated (cough, don’t forget your friends living in rural California, where breakfast pastries and bagels are practically endangered species). While their gift baskets can be pricy, you can also put together a collection of Zabar’s treats (sans basket) for way less, and send it all in one box. They’ll get the idea. ($79)

The only person who pulls into the driveway more frequently than Michael and I is the FedEx guy. Our Amazon Prime account is treasured in our household. You get free two-day shipping on all Prime-eligible items (which is a lot), you can set up recurring deliveries for household items like paper towels, toothpaste, and all that other stuff that you never think to buy at the store and then suddenly panic when it’s gone. Plus, you get free movie rentals (on some movies) and books from the Amazon Lending Library. It’s the ultimate gift for the practical, but sorta lazy person. I guess what I’m saying is… does someone want to buy me a Prime membership? ($99)

For when you want to impress someone throughout the year, give the gift that keeps on giving (like, actually, keeps on giving—many times, directly into your mailbox). Once upon a time, there were only a handful of monthly delivery services (wine, cheese, etc.), but now there’s a delivery service for every interest under the sun, from makeup, to pet care, to snacks, to clothing and accessories. This list from Real Simple is a good one for out-of-the-box subscription services. And the best part? With a lot of these subscription services, the recipient gets to tailor it to their interests, so the pressure to find just the right thing is off your plate. (Prices vary, but can be as low as $10 per month.)

Couples can be especially difficult to shop for, especially when you’re trying to stay on a budget. There are not a whole lot of gifts that Michael and I would both excited to receive. (Does it have sequins? Can you also hunt with it? If it does both, you’ve won us over.) Board games are a cost effective gift that gives couples something to do together, and gives you something to do with them. If you know your crowd, and your crowd happens to have a messed up sense of humor, Cards Against Humanity is a staff favorite. Nothing says the holidays like being a motherfucking sorcerer. (Cards Against Humanity, $25.)


Nothing says, “Congratulations on being adults” like fancy serveware and expensive cheese. And you don’t even have to know what kind of movies they’re into these days for this to work. Score. (Serving board, $48. Cheese, $60.)

P.S. Gifts for your in-laws, and all our gift guides so far.

Have other ideas for low-effort, big impact gifts for the holidays? Don’t keep them to yourself! Share them in the comments.

Featured Sponsored Content

Please read our comment policy before you comment.

The APW Store is Here

APW Wedding e-shop

go find all our favorites from around the internet, and our free planning tools

Shop Now
APW Wedding e-shop

Planning a wedding?

We have all the planning tools you need right now.

Budget spreadsheets, checklists, and more...

Get Your Free Planning Tools