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The winter holidays are a great time to show your loved ones how important they are to you. If you have young children to buy gifts for, you’re likely not facing an uphill climb to decide what to get for them — kids are usually in favor of material items, like toys. And while they’re probably less thrilled when you buy them clothes, you’re best equipped to know what they need in the socks and underwear department.

But if you have children who are all grown up and out of your home, getting the right gift for them might require a bit more thought. And while you might assume they’d love to receive more “stuff,” take a beat and think that through. According to data reported by Red Stag Fulfillment, 33% of people surveyed in 2021 expected to return at least one holiday gift they received that year.

And a few years ago, the KonMari method of decluttering (invented and promoted by Marie Kondo, an organization consultant) spiked in popularity — Goodwill stores even saw a bump in donated items as a result of the Netflix show devoted to the process. So it’s reasonable to assume that a lot of us have enough “stuff,” and purchasing a physical object for an adult child that they must then store in their home might not be as welcome as you’re hoping. Here are a few better ideas for you.

Have you considered cash?

Honestly, cash (or a personal check, which can be easily deposited via mobile banking app) is a fantastic gift for a fellow adult. The holidays are an expensive, stressful time for so many people, and having a little extra spending money at the ready can be incredibly helpful.

Your gift could pay for a takeout order during a time of year where your child has a lot less energy to cook, or it might even defray the cost of an essential (but unplanned) expense, like a car repair or higher-than-anticipated electric bill. And if the idea of just handing over a pile of cash isn’t appealing, how about buying (or making, even better!) a nice card to go with it? A heartfelt message and the gift of cash is guaranteed to be appreciated.

Gift cards for useful purchases are also great

Some folks have negative opinions of gift cards because they’re very easy to buy (you can get them anywhere, including Costco), but I think they’re great, actually. Just take the time to pick out an appropriate one for the recipient — if they live far away, don’t assume they have access to the same movie theater or discount store chains that you do. I recommend focusing on Target, Amazon, Costco (actually, non-members can visit to spend a Costco Shop Card), or a local grocery store. Or you can opt for a Visa or Mastercard gift card, as these can be used anywhere that accepts plastic payments like credit cards. Again, a nice card and a handwritten message can make a gift card a more festive present.

If you’re shopping for an adult child or another self-sufficient relative, don’t assume a hand-picked sweater or kitchen appliance will make their heart sing. Instead, give a gift that will make their life easier and less expensive — and spare them having to stand in a return line or store yet another item in their home.

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We’re firm believers in the Golden Rule, which is why editorial opinions are ours alone and have not been previously reviewed, approved, or endorsed by included advertisers.
The Ascent does not cover all offers on the market. Editorial content from The Ascent is separate from The Motley Fool editorial content and is created by a different analyst team.John Mackey, former CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Amazon, Costco Wholesale, Mastercard, Netflix, Target, and Visa. The Motley Fool recommends the following options: long January 2025 $370 calls on Mastercard and short January 2025 $380 calls on Mastercard. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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