Becoming the Birthday Master: A Guide to Ridding Yourself of Gift Anxiety

Becoming the Birthday Master: How to Rid Yourself of Gift-giving Anxiety

From friend of a friend (alcohol), to your best friend in the entire world, here’s what to get every special someone in your life.  
May 31, 2016
8 mins read

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

From friend of a friend (alcohol), to your best friend in the entire world, here’s what to get every special someone in your life.

By Olivia W. McCoy, University of Georgia

Growing up is hard. Literally.

As in, the actual day of the year that you become one year older. And it’s even worse if you’re a friend of someone on their birthday, because as much fun as a party is, the act of planning, achieving and giving the perfect gift is damn near impossible.

It’s worse if you have the added pressure of the birther being your best friend. It’s quite literally impossible if you barely know the person.


You may have suffered in the past, but no more. You see, due to the generosity of the internet (hallelujah) and superstores like Target and Wal-Mart, we are the luckiest generation of them all. Follow me into the light, my friends, and experience the admiration and awe-inspiring magic of being the Birthday Master.

This science is most easily organized by relationship level. So follow along at your leisure or jump to the section that most clearly pertains to you.

1. No Relationship 

Alcohol. This is assuming everyone is of age of course. But wine, whiskey, vodka, tequila and the likes are perfect for a quaint little gathering.

I say quaint, but we all know that if friends of friends are being invited, “quaint” is not the best adjective for the blowout that’s about to happen. Either way, buy a simple host(ess) gift—or re-gift something (no one will ever know)—and be done with the menacing task of present-buying.

2. Acquaintance

I actually enjoy buying for acquaintances the most of all the relationship levels, because there is absolutely no pressure involved.

It’s simple.

Set a budget: $10-15 is best

Visit a humongous superstore: When you get there go to the dollar sections—there are usually two: The general front-of-store section and the pile of discounted goodies in the kid’s aisle. I bet you didn’t know that, now did you?

Go wild: Bubble wands, stickers, temporary tattoos, air horns, silly string, those stretchy bracelets that are shaped like animals when you’re not wearing them (what’s the point of those anyway?); give them all the materials to experience being a kid again, even if only for a day.

I promise, they’ll love it. And if you’re feeling particularly generous, get enough silly string and water balloons for the rest of the party and go wild!

3. Friend

This one is tricky, because you’re close enough to be expected to give something mildly specific to the person in some way, but you might not be close enough to that person to think of something.

You could always just go with a gift card, but what’s the fun in that? I always find gift cards to be a cheap way out and they’re unpersonal. So we’ll have to get creative with this one.

But even with the added difficulty of an added relationship level (even a small one), you still have a few options:

You can give them a gift card substitute. Instead of buying them a card to the movies, give them a movie night with popcorn, soda, candy and a cheap movie from the $5 selection at Wal-Mart. Or, if they like books, give them a reading day: An inexpensive, comfy blanket, hot chocolate or tea, a new bookmark—bibliophiles NEVER have enough bookmarks, mind you—and the next book in their series.

Think of their hobbies. If they write, get them new pens or a journal and write a sweet-nothings note on the inside of the cover. If they play sports, get them those icy-hot patches, ace bandages and the largest bottle of Gatorade that you can find—seriously, if you happen upon one of those water coolers you see all the time on the sport’s channel then go with that. In fact, skip the middleman and just dump all that godliness right onto their shoulders.

Athletes love that shit, right?—I’m seriously asking, I really wouldn’t know.

What have you been bugging them about recently? Did they misuse a word? Then get them a dictionary! Are they constantly injured? Band-Aids—or the more extreme full-on bandages and wraps. Did they lose a bet in some way? A reminder of their recent financial loss!

For example, you bet your friend that you could fit thirteen jumbo marshmallows in your mouth all at once, and that son-of-a-gun was dumb enough to take you on. You showed them now didn’t you? As the winner of a fair bet, you are perfectly entitled to rub some salt in that wound by showing up with thirteen bags of jumbo marshmallows and a mocking smirk to go with it. Double win, am I right?

4. Best Friend

There’s not much I can do here except tell you to plan ahead. If it’s your best friend, then you obviously know their birthday—or at least I hope you would. Luckily if that’s the case, then you have plenty of time to prepare. I would give yourself two to three months depending on how creative you are: a couple of months to think of something, and a month to get it ordered online and delivered.

Question: What do they like? What do they rant, babble, ramble, jabber, and prattle on about endlessly about? Do they have an obsession? An (hopefully legal * wink *) addiction?

It can be anything really. And I do mean anything. A favorite aquatic mammal, a favored hue of blue perhaps? Once you’ve thought of the noun, adjective, adverb, then google it. It’s as simple as that. There are strange, dark corners of the internet that may seem jeopardizing to your psyche, but it’s these crooked pages that will get you where you need to go. I once found glow-in-the-dark Pacman boxers that said “Eat Me” all over them repeatedly for my best friend’s 18th. It’s possible.

Or you could just plan a date. Take them out on the town and pay for their drinks, manicure, tattoo. Give them a hundred in ones and tell them to go wild, no one is judging here.

Olivia McCoy, University of Georgia

English and French
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