7 Holiday Gifts That Almost Always Disappoint

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woman not thrilled with holiday gift
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The holidays seem to approach like a giant snowball rolling downhill, quickly gathering speed until they are almost upon us. So it’s easy to make holiday purchases on impulse, snatching up a gift or decorative item without really thinking it through first.

Some impulse buys can be huge hits, of course. But generally, it’s smarter to carefully consider a purchase before handing over hard-earned money for it. Here’s a look at holiday purchases that givers are likely to regret — or recipients are likely to be disappointed with (even if they don’t say so).

1. Pricey jewelry or watches

Man looking at jewelry store case.
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There’s a stereotype that everyone, especially women, will swoon at a gift of jewelry. But more than almost anything except clothing, jewelry can be difficult to purchase for someone else. Personal tastes are very individual.

Does your recipient shun heavy earrings or dislike the jangle of a bracelet? Maybe they already have a set of rings they wear daily and don’t care to get any more. Do they prefer choker necklaces or dangling pendants? Silver or gold?

Jewelry can also be expensive, and many buyers are simply uninformed as to what a fair price is, especially if diamonds or gemstones are involved. Unless you know your recipient’s tastes and have discussed them at length, consider holding off on the jewelry.

2. Pets

Child excited about a puppy gift
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Animals aren’t toys, they’re daily — sometimes hourly — commitments of your time and money, and for the length of their lives. Sure, puppies, kittens, bunnies … they’re just adorable, and it’s fun to imagine a kid coming downstairs and seeing a fluffy furbaby sitting under the tree. (Who are we kidding? They’re more likely to be chewing on or climbing the tree, not sitting quietly beneath it.)

But a pet just can’t be returned or discarded when it gets bigger or a child gets bored. Discuss a pet purchase with your family at length before adopting a furry new family member.

3. Extravagant toys

A child opens a present with her mother
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Toymakers know how to hit parents right in the guilt gene. Lego sets with thousands of elaborate pieces, child-sized Porsches, fancy stuffed ponies that actually take kids for rides and pricey video-game consoles are among the expensive toys you might find. Here’s the truth: Most kids will be just as happy with a gift that didn’t cost the equivalent of a semester’s college tuition.

4. Home exercise equipment

Exercise bike in disuse
Greenseas / Shutterstock.com

Take a look through your local Facebook Marketplace, and you’re almost certain to see plenty of people begging strangers to come haul away a treadmill, elliptical machine or stationary bicycle, often for free.

Those original purchases were surely made with the best of intentions, but settling into a home-exercise groove isn’t as easy as it seems. A rowing machine with a giant bow on the handlebars may look impressive, but with some exceptions, it’s likely to turn into a place to pile laundry before the summer.

Still want to get fit? Check out “9 Frugal Ways to Get Fit.” Or, buy a used piece of equipment.

5. Fragrance

Man shopping in perfume store.
Matej Kastelic / Shutterstock.com

Like jewelry, fragrance is a very individual indulgence. Unless you’re heading to the store with the name of a very specific scent on your list, stay away from it as a gift.

One person may love the scent of musk while another associates it with grandmothers. Vanilla scents delight some people, but others never want to walk around smelling like a cookie. And some people can’t wear strong scents at all due to allergies or simply personal choice.

Guessing at a fragrance gift just makes no scents.

6. Trendy kitchen appliances

Cake pop maker
seramo / Shutterstock.com

Few items are more aspirational than those one-purpose kitchen appliances. You know what I’m talking about: cake-pop makers, s’mores sets, hot-dog toasters. You can just imagine the fun you’d have pulling out that item and making … whatever it makes. But hold off.

Single-purpose appliances often grow dusty in the back of cabinets or take up precious counter space that you really need to use to make sandwiches or something more practical. It’s nice to think that a recipient would use your gift to suddenly become an expert crepe maker, but it’s just not likely.

7. Personal-care gift sets

Personal care holiday gift set
Gagarin Iurii / Shutterstock.com

Be wary of those pre-packaged gift sets, often including a bottle of lotion, spray cologne, perhaps even an antiperspirant. It’s possible your gift recipient might like one of those items, but what are the odds they are fans of all three?

The items usually all carry the same scent too. Even if you think your gift recipient loves roses, it’s unlikely they’ll want to live every day smelling like they fell into a rosebush.

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